‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?’ ~ Jeremiah 17:9
The anatomical structure of the heart has been understood by professionals in the medical industry. The heart is the organ that pumps blood and oxygen in our bodies, ensuring we keep alive. This is well understood. The heart also sits enthroned in man and is central to human emotion, so that ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matthew 12:34). The heart governs our emotions which shift like shadows, and this, no one understands. In spiritual matters, the heart is known for pumping all that is of our fallen flesh, and thus is deceitful above all things. Jesus says, ‘For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immorality, thefts, false testimony, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man’ (15:v19-20). While the heart is essentially responsible for keeping man alive, it is also responsible for keeping sin alive in man. The heart is beyond cure, because it is desperately wicked. Its evil desires only cease to exist when it stops beating.
The story of the heart does not end with man. It ends with God who says, ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve’ (Jeremiah 17:10). Solomon cautions, ‘Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgement’ (Ecclesiastes 11:9). God knowing ‘that every inclination of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5), still promises a reward- whether good or bad. This means that God Himself has found a cure for the heart and only those who receive it will be rewarded positively. David makes this realization and says, ‘How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Psalm 119:9-10). Solomon adds, ‘So then, remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh: for youth and vigour are meaningless’ (Ecclesiastes 11:10).
While the evil desires of the heart have no natural cure, the heart can be given a spiritual alternative to thrive in. God Himself gives the heart a flexibility to absorb and turn to whatever it is fed. In essence, the heart needs a continual spiritual surgery to incline to the right side and avoid its natural inclination to the left, to its evil tendencies. David writes, ‘I have inclined mine heart to perform your statutes always, even unto the end’ (Psalm 119:112). The inclination is not done by human hands and with a scalpel, rather it is done by a harbouring of God’s Word in one’s heart. Paul notes, ‘For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). Paul introduces a mystery that the Word of God separates the soul (where the heart lies) and the spirit, thus enabling one to distinguish what is of the heart (fallen), and what is of the spirit (true). The Word of God exposes the camouflage of the heart, which deceives people that their heart and spirit is one, and so invoke the saying, Follow your heart. But the fact remains that ‘there is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death’ (Proverbs 14:12).
The heart can’t stand the Word of God. Since its inclination is set on evil, when a foreign entity of truth is introduced, it tries to repulse it. It can’t make sense of it. It takes time to incline to it. But the more the heart is fed on God’s Word, it has no option but to gravitate toward the right because the pull of God’s Word is stronger. That is why God urges, ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates’ (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). In other words, ‘Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful’ (Joshua 1:8).
For the heart to be inclined rightly, the Word of God needs to be impressed upon the heart. An impression does not take a day to make. The deeper the impression, the longer and harder it has been pressed. Thus, God urges people to teach His Word to their children, because the earlier the better. Solomon says, ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1). For an impression to be made in the heart, the Word of God also has to be continually dispensed. The heart has to be daily inclined to the right, because its inclination is not a one-off affair. By meditating on God’s Word day and night (continually), we give no room for the heart to assume its natural deceitful position. It is only then that we can be prosperous and successful in keeping God’s command which Jesus summarizes as, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment’ (Matthew 22:37).
Those who refuse to ‘listen or pay attention’ (Jeremiah 7:24) to God’s Word and instead follow ‘the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts’ (v24) only follow deceit. For such, it is the heart that governs them. They are depicted as having ‘cast your (God’s) law behind their backs’ (Nehemiah 9:26). God even says to such, ‘You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you’ (Psalm 50:17). Those who also are double-minded are considered to be following their evil heart because the heart can only be inclined to the right. An inclination has no middle-ground and that is why David says, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting’ (139:v23-24). Those who remain double-minded and partly follow their hearts, alongside those who altogether fully follow their hearts bring judgement upon themselves. Solomon advises such by sharing his experience; ‘I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless and vexation of spirit; nothing was gained under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). Solomon concludes by saying, ‘I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness’ (v13).
‘He (God) taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart, keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them’ ~ Proverbs 4:4-5
‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened’ ~ Psalm 66:18
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight’ ~ Proverbs 3:5-6