“The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate,” states the Bible. (Jer. 17:9) When our heart intensely desires something, do we not find reasons for carrying out its intentions?
The Scriptures warn us: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” (Matt. 15:19) Our figurative heart can betray us and lead us to justify a course of action that is contrary to God’s will. And we may not realize what has happened until after we have acted unwisely. What can help us to identify the intentions of our heart before we take a wrong course?
IDENTIFY YOUR INTENTIONS—HOW?
Read the Bible daily and meditate on what it says.
“The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit,” wrote the apostle Paul. God’s message found in the Bible “is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) Seeing ourselves in the light of what the Scriptures say can indeed be a powerful aid in identifying the intentions of the heart. How vital that we read God’s Word daily and meditate on what it says, thus absorbing Jehovah’s thoughts and views!
Accepting Scriptural counsel and applying Bible principles will have an effect on our conscience—the inner faculty that “bears witness.” (Rom. 9:1) The voice of our conscience can prevent us from justifying a wrong course. Additionally, the Bible contains examples that can serve as “a warning to us.” (1 Cor. 10:11) Learning from them can prevent us from taking a step in the wrong direction. What should each of us do?
Pray to God to help you identify the intentions of your heart.
Jehovah is “an examiner of the heart.” (1 Chron. 29:17) He “is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20) God cannot be deceived. If we openly express our concerns, feelings, and desires in prayer, Jehovah can help us to discern the intentions of our heart. We can even ask God to ‘create in us a pure heart.’ (Ps. 51:10) In identifying the leanings of our heart, therefore, the provision of prayer is not to be overlooked.
Be attentive during Christian meetings.
Our being attentive to what is presented at Christian meetings can help us to take an honest look at our inner person—our heart. Although we may not receive new information at every meeting, by being present we get a better understanding of Bible principles as well as valuable reminders that help us to analyze the intentions of the heart. In refining our inner person, the comments of our brothers and sisters are also valuable. (Prov. 27:17) Isolating ourselves instead of enjoying regular Christian fellowship at meetings can be damaging to us. It can lead to our ‘seeking our own selfish longings.’ (Prov. 18:1) So we are wise to ask ourselves, ‘Is it my custom to attend all the meetings and benefit from them?’—Heb. 10:24, 25.
WHERE WILL OUR HEART LEAD US?
Our treacherous heart can lead us astray in many areas of life. Let us examine four: the pursuit of material things, the use of alcoholic beverages, our choice of associates, and what we do for recreation.
The pursuit of material things.
The desire to satisfy our physical needs is natural. However, Jesus gave a warning example concerning attaching undue importance to material things. In one of his illustrations, Jesus invites us to consider the case of a rich man whose storehouses were full. Therefore, he had no place to store produce from another good harvest. The man intended to tear down his storehouses and build larger ones. He reasoned: “There I will gather all my grain and all my good things; and I will say to my soul: ‘Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, enjoy yourself.’” However, this rich man failed to take into account an inevitable fact: His life could end that very night.—Luke 12:16-20.
As we grow older, we may become so concerned about arranging for material security for our old age that we could begin to justify working overtime on meeting nights or begin to neglect our Christian responsibilities in some way. Should we not guard against such an inclination? Or we may be in our youthful years and realize that there is no better career than full-time service. Still, do we put off pioneering, reasoning that we should first become financially secure? Should we not do our best now to be rich toward God? Who knows whether we will be alive tomorrow?
The use of alcoholic beverages.
“Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine,” states Proverbs 23:20. If a person has a strong desire for alcoholic beverages, he might justify regular drinking. He may say that he drinks to relax, not to get drunk. If we need alcohol to relax, it may be time to make an honest evaluation of the inclination of our heart.
Our choice of associates.
Of course, some contact with unbelievers—such as at school, at work, and when sharing in the ministry—is unavoidable. It is quite another matter, though, to socialize with them, even cultivating close friendships with them. Do we justify such association by saying that they have many good qualities? “Do not be misled,” warns the Bible. “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) Just as a small amount of pollution can contaminate clean water, friendship with those who do not practice godly devotion can contaminate our spirituality and lead us into adopting worldly viewpoints, dress, speech, and conduct.
What we do for recreation.
Modern technology puts at our fingertips all sorts of entertainment, much of which is questionable or improper for a Christian. ‘Let uncleanness of every sort not even be mentioned among you,’ wrote Paul. (Eph. 5:3) What if our heart is attracted to viewing or listening to something unclean? We might reason that everyone needs a little relaxation or recreation, and how an individual gets it is a personal matter. But let us take to heart Paul’s counsel and not allow uncleanness to enter our eyes or ears.
WE CAN MAKE CHANGES
If we have fallen victim to the leanings of a treacherous heart and have become accustomed to justifying wrong behavior, we can make changes. (Eph. 4:22-24) Consider two modern-day examples.
Miguel* had to adjust his thinking about material things. He states: “My wife, son, and I are from a country where obtaining the latest and the best in technology and comfort is considered very important. At one point, I devoted myself to obtaining all I could from the world, thinking that I could do this without becoming materialistic. Soon I came to realize that going after material goods was a road without end. I prayed to Jehovah about my viewpoints and the intentions of my heart. I made it known to him that as a family, we wanted to serve him fully. We were able to make a decision to simplify our lives and move to where the need was greater. Soon we were able to pioneer. We have come to see that we do not need much materially in order to have a full and happy life.”
Lee’s experience shows how an honest self-examination helped him to abandon bad association. “Because of my work,” says Lee, “I regularly associated with foreign suppliers. I knew that there would be excessive drinking at those meetings, but attending them was exciting to me. Many times I came close to drunkenness, but afterward I felt regret. I had to make an honest evaluation of my heart. The counsel of God’s Word and suggestions of the elders helped me to realize that what I was really seeking was association with people who do not love Jehovah. Now I handle my business by telephone as much as possible and keep my contact with suppliers to a minimum.”
We need to be honest with ourselves and identify the intentions of our heart. As we do so, we should seek Jehovah’s help in prayer, remembering that “he is aware of the secrets of the heart.” (Ps. 44:21) God has also provided his Word, which can serve as a mirror for us. (Jas. 1:22-25) Valuable too are the reminders and counsel we receive by means of Christian publications and our meetings! With such provisions, we can guard our heart and keep walking in the pathways of righteousness.
Names have been changed.