In Christian circles these days, a lot can be and has been said about the heart, and how God views its condition. Much of what is said is good; other times it can be a little vacuous, if statements like “well, God knows our hearts” go without much explanation, and seem to contravene the facts in place (as though, for example, the above statement would cover for repeated intentional sin).
But the Bible, and Jesus Himself, had and have a lot to say about the heart, and it is to this that we turn some particular attention.
I have been reading the gospel of John again recently. It is not that I am unfamiliar with the book, but I love how every time you read one of the books of the Bible that you know you’ve read many times before, yet more things emerge that you had never previously noticed. Here’s something of what I have been stumbling across recently.
First of all, in John chapter 11, when Jesus is at Lazarus’ tomb about to raise him from the dead, the Bible uses some slightly unusual language to describe Jesus’ intercession. Verse 33 states in my version (NASB): ‘…He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.’ A margin note indicates that this isn’t just that He ‘was troubled’ but that actually He ‘troubled Himself’. Obviously this was some sort of inner troubling, as opposed to causing trouble with other people.
Then in chapter 12 and verse 27, Jesus tells his disciples that “My soul has become troubled”. Again this is an inner troubling, specifically of His soul.
Move on to chapter 13 verse 21, and it says that Jesus became ‘troubled in spirit’. We are learning more about where this inner troubling is taking place. It seems to be increasing, and I have no doubt that it was because pressure was mounting against Him, the crucifixion was approaching. His soul and His spirit are being troubled. The Lord Jesus! I wonder how many of us would really accept that if we thought about it. Yet as we have seen, the troubling of His soul and spirit were nothing to do with insecurities, or things He couldn’t handle – they were nothing to do with weaknesses. It was intercession, it was battling against the forces of darkness that were mounting against Him, or in the case of 13:21, one of His friends betraying Him.
In light of all this, I then continued to read and came across chapter 14 and verse 1: “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Ah! Wow. So Jesus, who has been becoming increasingly troubled in a number of areas, yet gives this sure piece of advice (which He also repeats later in verse 27). You can bet that if He said it, then He Himself did not have a troubled heart, despite everything else. Wonderful! So why the heart?
You see, in our souls and our spirits we often pick up and discern the things that are going on, and if it is contention, we may become troubled in these areas. This is okay so long as, like Jesus, we know how to deal with and overcome them. But His advice is, do not let it get to your heart. Don’t let those troubles overwhelm you in that place. Why?
The heart is the place of your affections. Or, more accurately, the place of your affections is where your heart is. You love with your heart. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:21). It anchors our thought life and our motivations, and so if our thoughts and motives are pure it is because our hearts are in a good place. If, on the other hand, we speak evil things and commit evil, it is because our hearts are in a bad place, for our mouths speak out of that which fills the heart (Matt 12:34).
It is with the heart a man believes (has faith), says Romans 10:10; so too we understand with our hearts (Matthew 13:15) – not just, or even, with our minds. The heart is the place we can truly understand God, because our heart can wrap itself around things that the mind would take a long time to grasp. Therefore, putting the two verses above together, we can confidently say ‘by faith we understand’ (Hebrews 11:3), knowing that here the heart is involved, before ever the mind is. Many look at verses such as ‘with God all things are possible’ and are turned off by them, because they are trying to engage the concept with all that their minds know, which is often ridden with bad experience. But the one who has a heart surrendered to Him and has made loving Him the route to true understanding, embraces a verse like this in abandonment and seeks God to do the impossible in their own life too.
This is but one illustration, to try to point out how important the role of the heart is in having faith and truly understanding the Lord in a supernatural, not just a natural, way. Therefore, no wonder that when Jesus has said “Do not let your heart be troubled,” He immediately follows it up with “believe in God, believe also in Me.” There it is again: the connection between the heart, and having faith!
It echoes with scriptures such as Proverbs 4:23 which says ‘Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.’ It is a place which must be guarded and watched over as that essential place from which life itself springs.
And so, as the disciples witnessed Jesus becoming increasingly troubled in certain manners as He drew nearer to the crucifixion, these words must have impacted them in a particular way, as He said “Don’t let the troubling get to your hearts”. It is sobering, yet true when I look back over my history with God (and praise the Lord, I’m still on track with Him and going forward in faith!). When my heart itself has been affected by the troubles around me, it has rocked my faith in the God of the impossible. I’ve decided, I don’t like it when this happens, because it renders me powerless to deal with those situations! But when my heart has been covered and guarded, anchored in God’s love for me and for the world, and I have encountered the troubles, by faith I have been able to overcome those things. “This is the victory that has overcome the word – our faith.” (1 John 5:4) If we keep and guard our hearts with all diligence, we will be set up to live by faith, and understand more of God, and overcome the evil one!