I have a new Fit Bit watch that was provided to me by my health care program. On my watch, attached to my wrist, I can constantly check the number of beats my heart beats per minute. My friend’s Apple watch does that and more. I am not trying to promote any product; I just think it is great to have such information so easily available. In today’s medical world, we have wonderful technology to check and monitor our physical heart organ. Cardiovascular health is primary to one’s good physical condition. An incredible organ, the heart is the “engine” that pumps our blood and keeps us alive. It seems critical to keep our physical hearts in good condition, so that our whole bodies are working correctly.
But, is the “heart” something more than a remarkable organ in the human chest?
In the Old Testament, the word “heart” (Hebrew: lēb, lēbāb) is mentioned some 851 times, sometimes in reference to the physical organ (Isa 1:5) but more often it is used metaphorically. It is the inner nature of human beings, the whole person in his/her entirety. The heart is the center of human thoughts and feelings (Isa 6:10; Mt 13:13-15), and the human will. There was a close connection between the human “heart” (lēb) and the “soul” (nepeš), between the spiritual and intellectual processes (Dt 6:5; 1 Sam 12:24). It is interesting to note that the “heavy organs,” the kidneys and the liver, for example, were thought to be the emotional center of people (deep, personal grief in Lam 2:11). The “gut” or the kidneys – in a metaphorical sense – were the seat of the deepest spiritual emotions and motives (Ps 4:7; 7:9). Taken all together, the “heart” was a comprehensive term for the person in totality – one’s inner life and character.
Have you ever felt something “in your gut?” Have you ever felt your heart “ache” inside of you? Do you ever feel “sick” inside at bad news or feel an emptiness deep inside? Did someone or something ever “break your heart?” The ancient Hebrews were right on target as they tried to explain the deepest, most indescribable thoughts and feelings of human beings.
In the same way, the New Testament word for “heart” (Greek: kardia, from which we derive“cardiac”) is also used in a literal sense and a metaphorical sense. Again, it can refer to the whole inner person, the center of personality. It was considered the center of the human will, desire, spiritual and intellectual life (2 Cor 5:12). It is the source of human emotions and passions (Jas 3:14-15), as well as human understanding, reflection, “thoughts and attitudes” (Heb 4:12). The striking feature of the “heart” in the NT is its connection with the human “mind” (nous). Heart and mind can be parallel; emotions and knowledge can be in sync with each other, or they can be in conflict (Ro 8:26-27).
However, it is true that sin can spoil or even dominate the person, not only in his/her thinking and willing but also in feeling. If the heart (the innermost being) has given in to sin, the whole person is in bondage. Evil thoughts come from the heart (Mk 7:21; Mt 15:19), along with evil desires (Ro 1:24). The heart can be willfully disobedient, faithless, darkened and hard (Ro 2:5; 2 Cor 3:14; Ro 1:27; Eph 4:18). Self-centered human nature is just like that.
The OT prophet Jeremiah said that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Human nature and human actions are vexing, and no one can fully understand his/her own heart, much less the heart of someone else. No one can truly change a heart, except God. People without God live under the power of sin and destruction, but knowing and loving God can alter the human situation.
The Lord said to the OT prophet Ezekiel, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh…they will be my people and I will be their God” (Eze 11:19-20; 36:26). The Lord promised inner moral and spiritual transformation to his people that results in a total commitment to him and to his will.
How do we have spiritual cardiac health?
Perhaps we need a watch on our wrists that mechanically calculates our spiritual hearts, our relationship with God, and our behavior towards others…..or, it might be too revealing. God has given us exercises for our hearts in his Word, as we “run the race” of this life with strength and perseverance (Gal 5:7; 2 Ti 4:7; Heb 12:1). Here are just a few:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Dt 6:5; 10:12; 13:3; 30:10; Lk 10:27).
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). This is interesting, because the word “create” implies that God is making something completely brand new.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Pr 4:23).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:34).
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you many know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…” (Eph 1:18-19).
“Serve whole-heartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do….” (Eph 6:7).
“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22).
It seems critical to keep our spiritual hearts in good condition, constantly checking the pulse of our faith, so that our whole bodies are working correctly, tuned into the will of God. The result is eternal life that lasts longer than the beating of our physical heart!
Henri Nouwen said that “the spiritual life demands a discipline of the heart. Discipline is the mark of a disciple of Jesus….It means making available the inner space where God can touch you with an all-transforming love….The more agitated we are, the more compact our lives become, the more difficult it is to keep a space where God can let something truly new take place” (Befriending Life; Encounters with Henri Nouwen).
Finally, Nouwen says, “Let me keep saying with my heart as well as my lips, ‘I love you, Lord, with my whole heart, soul, and mind.’” Amen.