Most of us remember the Christmas story in which a Grinch’s heart grew three sizes in one day, all the result of seeing how the townspeople deep down in their hearts valued love and fellowship above that of Christmas presents. But what really is behind changing one’s heart? In the Holy Bible, Jeremiah 17:9 states: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” And so the challenge begins …
Interestingly, science recently discovered that the heart has its own brain. There also is evidence that the heart receives and responds to stimuli before the mind processes it. This suggests that this internal organ is much more than a muscle that pumps our blood. Mark 7:21-23 enlightens us further: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
Perhaps a good place to begin in purifying our insides is to reflect on how God measures our hearts. Even though King David killed to gain Bathsheba, thus making him an adulterer and a murderer – God called David “a man after My own heart” – David continually had a heart for seeking and knowing God. He never made excuses for his sins and always went to God with his problems, pouring out his heart to him.
Conversely, Jesus made it clear that the Pharisees did not have the heart that Matthew the tax collector did. The Pharisees focused on traditions and “looking good” on the outside but did not practice the humility and sincere repentance of sin on the inside, the way that Matthew did.
And so we search our own hearts: are we focused upon our own pursuits and pleasures, or upon God? In Matthew 6:21, Jesus observed, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In Scripture, He also said that the measure of whether we are serving God is indicated by what comes out of our hearts. And an added bonus is that if we keep our hearts pure, we will not stir up extra struggles in our lives. This is confirmed in Proverbs 4:23, which tells us: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
Since we cannot be confident of perfection in either our hearts or our minds, we need to open our hearts to God, who will cleanse them for us. Yes God can, and does, change hearts. Our beloved Billy Graham said it best: “This is one reason why we need God, for only He can give us a new heart, and replace our self-centeredness with His love. God’s promise is true: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.'” (Ezekiel 36:26).
We know that God uses trials and testing to show us our hearts and where we need improvement – and that this leads to physical and spiritual blessings. Some of our most trying battles in life involve a subtle form of conflict: the love of money, luxury and pleasure. Yet the Bible cautions that while sin can bring pleasure, it is only for a season.
However, when we willingly turn our hearts over to God, He will make it so that we desire what He wants for our lives – all that is true and good and righteous. God’s heart toward us is pure love. From John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And we are to follow God’s example, and ‘”love one another,” as commanded throughout the Bible.
Indeed, it would be wise counsel to guard this, your most inner sanctuary, most carefully – for your heart, and your heart alone, will decide your eternal destiny.
(Originally published February 11, 2016 in USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)