Transformation! The Heart of the Matter

Robert L. Saucy: "The heart, above all, is designed to seek wisdom and knowledge by hearing God’s Word."

Choosing and Purposing From the Heart

The heart is also the seat of volition or activities of the will—our desiring, purposing, choosing and so on. David rejoiced because God had given him the desire of his heart (Ps. 21:1-2). The apostle Paul’s longing is his “heart’s desire” (Rom. 10:1). Frequently God’s people asked him to change the bent of their desire—“incline our hearts” (e.g., Ps. 119:36). Our choices are made in our heart. Scripture tells us that God tested his people “to know what was in your heart, whether you would [choose to] keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2).

Resolve or purpose is also a matter of the heart. Barnabas encouraged the believers in the church at Antioch to remain true to the Lord with “resolute heart” (Acts 14:23, lit. “with purpose of heart”). Ananias and Sapphira “conceived” their deceitful plan in their hearts (Acts 5:4). Finally, the intentions and the drives of our life are in our heart. At the judgment, God will expose the “motives of men’s hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5). These are only a few examples of the biblical teaching that all purposes and plans, all desires and cravings, all motives and intentions, and all resolutions take place in our heart.

Emotions in the Heart

Finally, our emotions dwell in the heart. Love and hate, joy and sorrow, courage and fear, and all other emotions are in the heart. We are commanded, for example, to love God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5), to shout joyfully to him with a “glad heart” (Isa. 65:14), and to keep our heart from being “troubled” or “afraid” by believing in Christ (John 14:1). The hearts of the disciples “burned” with strong emotion as their Lord, yet unrecognized, was explaining the Scriptures on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32).

Our emotions are not only experiences of the inner spiritual person of the heart, like a mental thought. They are also felt physically, especially in the physical heart. The Old Testament in particular expresses emotions in vivid movements of the heart. If one loses courage, his heart quivers like leaves in the wind (Isa. 7:2); it is faint (Isa. 7:4; Deut. 20:8); it melts like wax (Ps. 22:14); or it turns to water (Josh. 7:5). In fear one’s heart goes out (Gen. 42:28), leaves him (Ps. 40:12), or drops down (1 Sam. 17:32). On the other hand, courage is the strengthening of the heart (Ps. 27:14). Lack of love and responsiveness in both Testaments is a hard heart.

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This relationship between the emotions and the physical is the reason why Scripture teaches—and modern medicine concurs—that our physical health is vitally affected by our emotional states. Proverbs 14:30 states, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (NIV). The power of positive emotions on the body is seen in Nehemiah’s encouraging words to a grieving people: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:12).

On the basis of his research and clinical experience related to the effect of the mind on the body, Bernie Siegel, a retired pediatric surgeon and clinical professor at Yale University, wrote that “the state of the mind changes the state of the body by working through the central nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. Peace of mind sends the body a ‘live’ message, while depression, fear, and unresolved conflict give it a ‘die’ message.”

Relating specifically to the heart, modern science reveals that “hardness” of heart is more than a psychological description. Researchers studying the movement of the heart between resting and beating found that “depressed, anxious and chronically angry people had more rigid hearts—less able to respond to the changing demands for blood and oxygen.”

Increasingly, modern medicine is recognizing that the health of our heart—and therefore of us—is not only related to what we eat, but most importantly, to what eats us, a truth that Scripture pointed out centuries ago.

In summary, our heart is the place of our knowing, willing and feeling. It is the center of our personality. Most importantly, our heart is the place where God addresses us and from where we respond to him as a whole person. This explains why the heart’s function of knowing stands first. For the heart, above all, is designed to seek wisdom and knowledge by hearing God’s Word.

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The Heart: Where Intellect, Emotion and Volition Unite

My wife once called me “cerebral,” and I don’t think it was meant to be a compliment. To be truthful, I do at times think, analyze and debate things unprofitably. But few people, if any, are perfectly balanced in terms of thought, feeling and action. We can probably all think of people who are weighty in reason but light on emotion or action. In fact, it is commonly believed that our thinking is clearer and more objective when we don’t allow our emotions to get involved.

We also know people—and most of us are likely included—who know more truth than they actually practice. Their mind seems detached from their will. Finally, there are people who live from their emotions without thinking.

To be sure, these descriptions often accurately depict an individual’s tendencies. But in truth the activities of our thought, emotion and will cannot ultimately be separated. True heart living, according to Scripture, takes place when thinking, feeling and willing come together in holistic unity.

A consideration of some key biblical words that denote the activities of thought, emotion and will show that, although the word “heart” in Scripture may emphasize one of these functions more than the others, it never sharply distinguishes them. Instead, the particular function emphasized merges with the others in various combinations.