What can a heart do? What actions do we associate with the human heart? A heart can beat; a heart can race; a heart can stop. That’s all very literal and speaks to the heart as a physical part of our bodies. But we also speak of the heart metaphorically as the place of our emotions. And so we say that a heart can long and love, it can hurt and break. We even say that a heart can be given: “I give you my heart.” The heart, then, in our way of thinking, is physical and emotional.
But then how does the Bible use “heart?” Did you know that the New Testament uses the word “heart” well over a hundred times, but never once to refer to the organ in your chest? It only ever uses it as a metaphor, as a word picture. So what can the heart do according to the Bible?
I looked up all the uses in the New Testament and came up with a list: A heart can think, a heart can understand, a heart can desire, a heart can speak; a heart can doubt or believe, it can love or hate, it can repent or remain impenitent. A heart can be dull or sharp, hard or soft, open or closed, downcast or refreshed, right or wrong, sincere or hypocritical, pure or impure. The heart can have longings and secrets and intentions and purposes. It can produce good or evil, it can be filled by the Holy Spirit or by Satan, it can stay near to God or stray far from him. And though that list is quite long, it accounts for only the New Testament which represents merely 15 percent of the times the word is used throughout the Bible.
So, in the way the biblical authors thought, the heart is far more than emotion. It’s the place our actions originate. It’s the place our thoughts and words originate, as well as our intentions and motives, our convictions and worship. The heart is the place of affection and emotion and reason from which we issue orders to the rest of our faculties.
You might say the heart is the controller for the drone. That drone will sit there and do nothing until you touch a dial or knob. And then it will respond, then it will obey the commands it is given. You might say the heart is the mission control center at NASA that tells the astronauts when to blast off and when to touch down. We will not do anything or say anything or even desire anything without the heart first issuing the order. None of our abilities or faculties operate independently of the heart.
The heart, then, is the place where God’s influence comes into contact with man’s will to be accepted or rejected, to be obeyed or disobeyed. This makes the heart the very moral center of a human being. And it’s for this reason we need to ask God to search the heart, to examine it and look for anything there that dishonors him or threatens our well-being. It’s for this reason we need to monitor all of our words and actions, knowing they are the overflow of the heart and that they expose the state of the heart. It’s for this reason we need to keep the heart, tend the heart, guard the heart, and feed and satisfy the heart with good spiritual nourishment. It’s for this reason that nothing matters more to the Christian life than the heart. For, in God’s eye, the heart is always the heart of the matter.