The Priority of the Heart
What we treasure in our heart says everything about who we are.
How much consideration have you given to your own heart lately? My guess is that most of us, if we’re being honest, struggle to give our hearts enough attention. In the busyness of our consumerist and success-driven world we may simply feel like we don’t have the time for that kind of self-reflection.
The Bible, however, instructs us to pay close attention to the heart. “Above all else,” Proverbs 4:23 says, “guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
The Biblical understanding of the heart is utterly unique in human thought. Most ancient philosophers in the West tended to believe that a good and virtuous life was realized only by overcoming the emotions through reasoning with the mind.
Today, however, we believe in fulfilling our passions and desires, not in overcoming them. Social philosopher Charles Taylor called this “the age of authenticity” because he saw that we tend to define ourselves by what we are most passionate about. Far from learning to control our emotions, we tend to live by following them and by rejecting the forces which keep us from realizing our desires.
But Scripture views the heart differently than either ancient or modern philosophies. In the Bible, the heart is seen as the true control center of the human will, involving the mind, the emotions, and the spirit. It is the place where our deepest affections and core commitments reside; what we love and trust in the most. As the Proverb above says, “everything you do” flows from the heart.
In other words, the Bible teaches that what our hearts are most oriented towards will ultimately determine how we live. As Jesus Himself says in Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Put another way, Jesus is saying that what we treasure in our hearts is what truly defines us.
But if we believe this biblical teaching, we are at once presented with a great challenge: many things compete for our hearts. Indeed, the affections and core commitments of our hearts are constantly changing; what we love and what our hearts trust in most is constantly up for grabs. As pastor Tim Keller has written, “The main human struggle is not between the heart and something else, but between forces that tear it in different directions.” Our task then is to learn how to discipline our hearts to trust and to love the right thing. How might we do that?
First, given the primacy of the heart in Scripture, we must learn to make our hearts a top priority. This means that we will have to learn to take time to slow down and to examine what is really going on inside of us through reflection, meditation, prayer, and conversation. This, Scripture pleads, is of the utmost importance.
Second, we must name the things that compete for our hearts. In the world of politics like in Washington D.C., it is easy to make vocational success, money, building a legacy, or even just making a positive impact the treasure of your heart. Scripture, however, calls us to make God our ultimate treasure (Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30). But if we are to do that, we will have to name those things which compete with Him for the throne of our hearts.
Finally, we must recognize that because the heart is so complex, it only changes holistically. Intellectual stimulation is not enough to change the heart, since it is possible to believe in God and still not give your heart to Him (Matt. 7:22). For the heart to really change what it loves the most, it must be engaged fully, capturing the imagination and the affections as well as the mind. Thus, if we are to make God the true treasure of our hearts, we must come to see and experience Him in all of His beauty, goodness, and love. Indeed, we must see His heart for us if we are ever to give our hearts fully to Him.
Are you struggling to place Jesus on the throne of your heart or to make your heart a priority today? If so, here is a place to begin, by praying as Paul did:
O Lord, out of your glorious riches, strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith. Grant me power, together with all your saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians. 3:16–19)
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident with Ministry to State in Washington, D.C.