February 14 is that special day when hearts appear on Valentine’s cards, people are smitten by love, and many a marriage proposal occurs. Some of you may be old enough to remember Elvis Presley’s song, I’m All Shook Up:
“Ah well I bless my soul, What's wrong with me? I'm itching like a man on a fuzzy tree, My friends say I'm actin' wild as a bug, I'm in love, I'm all shook up, Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!”
Please don't ask me what's on my mind I'm a little mixed up, but I'm feelin' fine When I'm near that girl that I love best My heart beats so it scares me to death!"
Elvis was trying to tell us his heart was smitten with love. No doubt, some of you have experienced that feeling. The heart has come to symbolize love and affection. Some early philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle, considered the heart as the seat of thought as well as emotion and passion.
Aside from any philosophical consideration, the Bible provides a preponderance of information concerning the heart. The word heart occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scriptures. It denotes a person's center for both physical, emotional, intellectual and moral activities. In short, it plays a critical and central role to all of life. Paying attention to and safe-guarding our hearts should be a top priority.
Several years ago, the world was shocked to hear about the tragic death of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. We were stunned, not that he died, for we knew he faced tremendous dangers daily in the line of his work, but we were surprised by the way that he died. About the only way a stingray could kill you is to stab you directly in the heart with his barbed spine; and that’s exactly what happened to Steve Irwin.
Who would have ever thought that the great Crocodile Hunter would have died in such a manner? Surely, if anything, people expected that if Steve Irwin were to have a great injury, it would have been his leg, his hand, or maybe his head, but no, it was his heart, and in Steve’s case it proved fatal. If Steve Irwin would have known the fatal danger he faced that day, I am certain he would have taken every precaution to protect his heart.
In a lot of ways, our society mirrors Steve Irwin. Adrenaline junkies do some pretty daring things these days to obtain their rushes and thrills. While most of us do not function at the far end of the adrenaline spectrum, we do subject our bodies to some pretty extreme challenges, and like Steve, we never give a thought to the vulnerability of our hearts. Many people love to live life on the edge, and not just physically, but morally and spiritually as well.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, people often leave their hearts vulnerable and unprotected. Proverbs 4:3 cautions, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do”. Obviously, there would be no reason to guard our hearts if it was not at risk of danger. We dare not throw caution to the wind when it comes to our hearts. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus warned that "... out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." Can you think of anyone who has derailed their career or destroyed their family because of anything on that list? I bet you can. In fact, I know far more stories of failure rooted in these issues than any resulting from a lack of competence or skill.
Look at Jesus' words again. Everything we say and do springs from our hearts. The implications of this verse are huge for parents, spouses, leaders and educators to name but a few. What's in our hearts affects us as individuals and our relationships with others. Consequently, learning to guard or monitor our hearts is critical to being the kind of Christian our Lord calls us to be. We live from the heart. We love from the heart. And yes, we influence from our heart. So, we certainly need to pay attention to our heart. It impacts everything we do.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. This is one of the greatest utterances in all the Bible. It broods over everything else revealed in Scripture. Purity of heart—being necessary to see God—is a vast and infinite biblical theme.
The problem is we tend to measure ourselves by looking at the other person. The Pharisees were masters of this. Whenever you desire to test your character, morality, ethics or goodness, all you do is find somebody worse than you, and you are okay. The Pharisee would pray like this, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men . . . even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).
When God set a standard for acceptable behavior, He did not say, “You had to be better than others”. He said, “If you want to see God, you have to be pure in heart.” You can’t seem to talk about purity in our world without becoming very unpopular. People think that purity of heart is some flat, insipid, rather vague, unattractive commodity that belongs to strange people in long robes who live in monasteries. But it is not.
What then does it mean to be pure in heart? The Greek word for pure is katharos. Katharos is a noun form of katharidzo which means to cleanse from filth and iniquity. It means to be free from sin. Medical people know that a cathartic is an agent used to cleanse a wound or infected area. When somebody goes to a psychologist or a counselor, and they have a “catharsis”, they are said to have had a soul cleansing or inner-purging.
It is interesting to note that katharos can also mean unmixed, unalloyed or unadulterated. In other words, to be pure means to have no added foreign element. Our Lord was in effect saying, “I desire a heart that is purged from iniquity and unmixed in its devotion toward me. This is at the crux of what Jesus meant when he said, “No one can serve two masters. The person will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve both God and worldly riches” (Matthew 6:24).
A pure heart is about attitude, integrity and singleness of mind, as opposed to duplicity and double-mindedness. Our Lord said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our hearts can be focused on many things other than God. The Apostle James reinforced the need for heart purity and singleness of heart when he said, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).
It is interesting to note that when David wanted a changed heart, he prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” David understood clearly what God wanted. No wonder he was referred to as a “man after God’s own heart.” David knew that a pure heart, one without mixed allegiances, was the only way to a healthy relationship with God. In a heart that is unpolluted, the natural cry will be like King David’s, “My heart says of you, “Seek His face!’” Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Ps. 76:8).
If, on the other hand, our hearts are sinful and impure, we will feel estranged from God. This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps.66:18). In other words, we cannot go about our selfish and sinful ways and expect to have a good relationship with God. Hearts polluted with sinful ambitions and motives affect that relationship.
If you want purity of heart and a healthy relationship with God, then realign the focus of your heart. That transformation begins by following the advice of Jesus when he told us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). In other words, your heart needs to be smitten with an all-out love and devotion for God.