Maintain a Complete Heart Toward Jehovah
“My son, know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart.”—1 CHRON. 28:9.
LOOK FOR THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS:
What is the figurative heart?
What method can we use to examine our heart?
How can we keep our heart complete toward Jehovah?
GOD’S WORD often refers in a figurative way to parts of the human body. For instance, the patriarch Job stated: “There is no violence upon my palms.” King Solomon observed: “A report that is good makes the bones fat.” Jehovah assured Ezekiel: “Harder than flint, I have made your forehead.” And the apostle Paul was told: “You are introducing some things that are strange to our ears.”—Job 16:17; Prov. 15:30; Ezek. 3:9; Acts 17:20.
2 One part of the human body, though, is referred to figuratively in the Bible far more often than any other. It is the one mentioned in a prayer by faithful Hannah: “My heart does exult in Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 2:1) In fact, Bible writers mention the heart nearly a thousand times, almost always in a figurative sense. It is of utmost importance that we understand what the heart represents because the Bible states that we need to safeguard it.—Read Proverbs 4:23.
THE FIGURATIVE HEART—WHAT IS IT?
3 Though God’s Word does not provide a dictionary definition of the word “heart,” it allows us to discern the meaning of that word. How? To illustrate, think of an exquisite wall mosaic that is made up of a thousand closely set small pebbles. By stepping back to look at the entire mosaic, one sees that all the carefully placed pebbles together form a pattern, or picture. Similarly, if we were to step back and look at the many instances where “heart” is used in the Bible, we could discern that taken together these references form a pattern, or picture. What picture?
4 Bible writers use “heart” to describe man’s entire inner self. It encompasses such aspects as our desires, thoughts, disposition, attitudes, capabilities, motivations, and goals. (Read Deuteronomy 15:7; Proverbs 16:9; Acts 2:26.) As one reference work states, it is “the sum total of the interior man.” In some cases, “heart” has a narrower meaning. For example, Jesus said: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Matt. 22:37) In this instance, “heart” refers to the emotions, desires, and feelings of the inner person. By mentioning heart, soul, and mind separately, Jesus emphasized that we must express our love for God in our feelings as well as by the way we lead our life and use our mental faculties. (John 17:3; Eph. 6:6) But when “heart” is mentioned by itself, it stands for the total inner person.
WHY WE NEED TO GUARD OUR HEART
5 Regarding the heart, King David reminded Solomon: “My son, know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul; for all hearts Jehovah is searching, and every inclination of the thoughts he is discerning.” (1 Chron. 28:9) Indeed, Jehovah is the Examiner of all hearts, including ours. (Prov. 17:3; 21:2) And what he finds in our heart has a strong bearing on our relationship with him and on our future. Thus, we have good reason to follow David’s inspired counsel by doing our utmost to serve Jehovah with a complete heart.
6 Our zealous activities as Jehovah’s people show that we have, indeed, a deep desire to serve God with a complete heart. At the same time, we realize that the pressures of Satan’s wicked world and the sinful inclinations of our own flesh are powerful forces that can undermine our resolve to serve God wholeheartedly. (Jer. 17:9; Eph. 2:2) Hence, to check that our resolve to serve God is not weakening—that we are not letting our guard down—we need to peer regularly into our heart. How can we do that?
7 Obviously, our inner personality is unseen—much as the core, or heart, of a tree cannot be seen. Still, as Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount, just as fruits reveal the condition of a tree, so our activities demonstrate the true condition of our heart. (Matt. 7:17-20) Let us consider one such outward action.
A TANGIBLE METHOD FOR EXAMINING OUR HEART
8 Earlier, in the same sermon, Jesus told his listeners what specific action on their part would demonstrate their inner desire to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly. He said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33) Indeed, by what we put first in our life, we make manifest what we are desiring, thinking, and planning deep down in our heart. Examining our priorities in life is thus a tangible way to check whether we are serving God with a complete heart.
9 Not long after Jesus urged his followers to “keep on . . . seeking first the kingdom,” an incident happened that illustrates how a man’s heart condition is indeed revealed by what he puts first in life. Gospel writer Luke introduces the incident by stating that Jesus “firmly set his face to go to Jerusalem” even though he well knew what eventually awaited him there. While he and his apostles “were going on the road,” Jesus met some men to whom he extended the invitation: “Be my follower.” Those men were willing to accept Jesus’ invitation—but on certain conditions. One man replied: “Permit me first to leave and bury my father.” Another said: “I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those in my household.” (Luke 9:51, 57-61) What a contrast there was between Jesus’ firm, wholehearted resolve and those men’s weak, conditional offers! By placing their own concerns first, above Kingdom interests, they revealed that their heart was not complete toward God.
10 Unlike those would-be disciples, we have wisely accepted Jesus’ invitation to be his followers and are now serving Jehovah every day. In this way, we demonstrate how we feel in our heart about Jehovah. Yet, even though we are active in the congregation, we still need to be aware of a potential risk to our heart condition. What is it? In the same conversation with those would-be disciples, Jesus revealed that danger, saying: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) What lesson can we draw from that illustration?
DO WE “CLING TO WHAT IS GOOD”?
11 To make the lesson from Jesus’ brief illustration stand out clearly, let us add some color and details to this word picture. A field laborer is busy plowing. While plowing, though, he cannot stop thinking about his home where there are family, friends, food, music, laughter, and shade. He longs for them. After plowing a good stretch of land, the laborer’s desire for those pleasant things in life becomes so overwhelming that he turns around to look at “the things behind.” Though there is still much work to be done before the field is planted, the laborer is distracted and his work suffers. Of course, the laborer’s master is disappointed by the worker’s lack of perseverance.
12 Now consider a parallel with a modern-day situation. The farmer could represent any Christian who seems to be doing well but actually is in spiritual danger. For comparison’s sake, let us imagine a brother who keeps busy in the ministry. However, though attending meetings and sharing in field service, he cannot stop thinking of certain aspects of the world’s way of life that he finds appealing. Deep down in his heart, he longs for them. Eventually, after he carries out his ministry for several years, his desire for some things of this world becomes so overwhelming that he turns back and looks at “the things behind.” Though there is still much work to be done in the ministry, he does not keep “a tight grip on the word of life,” and his share in theocratic activities suffers. (Phil. 2:16) Jehovah, “the Master of the harvest,” is saddened by any such lack of endurance.—Luke 10:2.
13 The lesson is obvious. It is commendable if we share regularly in such wholesome and satisfying activities as attending congregation meetings and participating in field service. But serving Jehovah with a complete heart involves more. (2 Chron. 25:1, 2, 27) If deep down in his heart a Christian continues to love “the things behind”—that is, certain aspects of the world’s way of life—he is in danger of losing his good standing with God. (Luke 17:32) Only if we truly “abhor what is wicked [and] cling to what is good” will we be “well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Rom. 12:9; Luke 9:62) All of us, therefore, need to make sure that nothing in Satan’s world, no matter how useful or pleasant it may seem to be, holds us back from being wholehearted in caring for Kingdom interests.—2 Cor. 11:14; read Philippians 3:13, 14.
14 Love for Jehovah moved us to dedicate ourselves to him. Since then, many of us have proved for years that we are determined to keep our heart complete toward Jehovah. However, Satan has not given up on us. Our heart is still his target. (Eph. 6:12) Of course, he may realize that we will not simply abandon Jehovah abruptly. Therefore, he slyly employs “this system of things” in an effort to weaken our heartfelt zeal for God gradually. (Read Mark 4:18, 19.) Why is that method of Satan so effective?
15 To answer, imagine that you are reading a book by the light of a 100-watt bulb, but then the bulb fails. Since you are left in the dark, you immediately notice what happened and replace the burned-out bulb with a new one. Light fills the room again. The next evening, you are reading with the help of the same lamp. However, unbeknownst to you, someone replaced the new 100-watt bulb with a 95-watt bulb. Would you notice the difference? Probably not. And what if the next day someone put a 90-watt bulb in your lamp? Likely, you would still not notice it. Why not? The lamp’s light is diminishing so gradually that you are not aware of it. Similarly, the influences of Satan’s world may cause our zeal to diminish little by little. If that happens, it is as if Satan succeeded in reducing 100-watt heartfelt zeal for Jehovah’s service to something less. If not alert, a Christian may not even notice the gradual change.—Matt. 24:42; 1 Pet. 5:8.
PRAYER IS VITAL
16 How can we protect ourselves against such schemes of Satan and maintain a complete heart toward Jehovah? (2 Cor. 2:11) Prayer is vital. Paul encouraged fellow believers to “stand firm against the machinations of the Devil.” Then he urged them: “With every form of prayer and supplication . . . , carry on prayer on every occasion.”—Eph. 6:11, 18; 1 Pet. 4:7.
17 To stand firm against Satan, we are wise to imitate the prayerful attitude of Jesus, which reflected his deep desire to maintain a complete heart toward Jehovah. Note, for instance, what Luke recorded about the way Jesus prayed on the night before his death: “Getting into an agony he continued praying more earnestly.” (Luke 22:44) Jesus had prayed earnestly before, but on this occasion, faced with the most severe test of his earthly life, he prayed “more earnestly”—and his prayer was answered. Jesus’ example shows that prayers have degrees of intensity. Therefore, the more severe our trials are and the more insidious Satan’s schemes are, the “more earnestly” we should pray for Jehovah’s protection.
18 How will such prayers affect us? Paul stated: “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) Yes, we have to pray fervently and frequently in order to maintain a complete heart toward Jehovah. (Luke 6:12) Hence, ask yourself, ‘How earnest and frequent are my prayers?’ (Matt. 7:7; Rom. 12:12) Your answer reveals much about the depth of your heartfelt desire to serve God.
19 As we have considered, the priorities we set in life can tell us much about the condition of our heart. We want to make sure that neither the things we left behind nor Satan’s wily schemes will sap our resolve to serve Jehovah with a complete heart. (Read Luke 21:19, 34-36.) Therefore, like David, we keep on supplicating Jehovah: “Unify my heart.”—Ps. 86:11.
1, 2. (a) What part of the body is referred to figuratively in God’s Word more often than any other? (b) Why is it important that we understand the meaning of the figurative heart?
3. How can we discern the meaning of “heart” in the Bible? Illustrate.
4. (a) What does “heart” represent? (b) What is the meaning of Jesus’ words as recorded at Matthew 22:37?
5. Why do we want to do our utmost to serve Jehovah with a complete heart?
6. What should we realize about our resolve to serve Jehovah?
7. What demonstrates the condition of our heart?
8. Jesus’ words found at Matthew 6:33 have what relationship to what is in our heart?
9. What invitation did Jesus extend to some men, and what was revealed by their reactions?
10. (a) How have Christ’s followers reacted to Jesus’ invitation? (b) Jesus related what brief illustration?
11. What happened to the laborer’s work in Jesus’ illustration, and why?
12. What parallel could we draw between the laborer in Jesus’ illustration and some Christians today?
13. Serving Jehovah with a complete heart involves what?
14, 15. (a) How is Satan trying to affect our heart condition? (b) Illustrate what makes Satan’s method so dangerous.
16. How can we protect ourselves against Satan’s schemes?
17. Jesus’ prayers teach us what lesson?
18. (a) What should we ask ourselves about prayer, and why? (b) What factors affect our heart, and in what ways? (See box on page 16.)
19. What will you do to maintain a complete heart toward Jehovah?
[Box on page 16]
THREE FACTORS THAT AFFECT OUR HEART
Just as we can take measures to benefit the condition of our literal heart, so we can take steps to help us maintain a healthy figurative heart. Consider these three important factors:
1 Nourishment: Our literal heart needs to receive sufficient amounts of healthful nourishment. Likewise, we need to make sure that we get sufficient amounts of wholesome spiritual food through regular personal study, meditation, and meeting attendance.—Ps. 1:1, 2; Prov. 15:28; Heb. 10:24, 25.
2 Exercise: To be healthy, our literal heart at times needs to pump vigorously. Similarly, zealous participation in the ministry—perhaps exerting ourselves by stepping up our activities—keeps our figurative heart in good condition.—Luke 13:24; Phil. 3:12.
3 Environment: The ungodly environment in which we must work and live can put our literal and our figurative heart under heavy stress. However, we can reduce such stress by associating as often as possible with fellow believers, who genuinely care for us and whose hearts are complete toward God.—Ps. 119:63; Prov. 13:20.