“I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.”
Inspired writings have much to say about the heart of man. A study of the heart in both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy will yield a deeper understanding of the natural heart, the behaviors that the natural heart provokes, and how to overcome the temptations to which the natural heart is inclined to yield. The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the vast amount of information that Inspired writings provide concerning the natural heart to stimulate in seekers of truth a desire to study for themselves the workings of the heart and to know how God changes the natural cold stony heart into a heart of flesh that throbs with the love of Christ.
Two of the most common Scriptures that quickly come to mind when considering what the Bible says about the heart are Genesis 6:5, 6 and Jeremiah 17:9.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Genesis 6:5, 6. (Emphasis added.)
Ponder how these two verses reveal the sharp contrast between the natural heart of man and the wise and omniscient heart of our Lord.
The second Scripture that commonly comes to mind is Jeremiah 17:9.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?”
Fortunately, Scripture not only shows us the evil and deceitfulness of the natural heart, but it also gives us precious texts that promise us a way out of this condition. One of the most powerful is in Ezekiel 36:26, 27. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
Who, claiming this promise, can be disheartened?
Inspiration gives us a fairly succinct assessment of the natural heart in The Acts of the Apostles, page 273: “The refining influence of the grace of God changes the natural disposition of man. Heaven would not be desirable to the carnal-minded; their natural, unsanctified hearts would feel no attraction toward that pure and holy place, and if it were possible for them to enter, they would find there nothing congenial. The propensities that control the natural heart must be subdued by the grace of Christ before fallen man is fitted to enter heaven and enjoy the society of the pure, holy angels. When man dies to sin and is quickened to new life in Christ, divine love fills his heart; his understanding is sanctified; he drinks from an inexhaustible fountain of joy and knowledge, and the light of an eternal day shines upon his path, for with him continually is the Light of life.”
Not only do Inspired writings give us hope for a new heart, they also provide examples of—and therefore warnings against—the actions of a deceitful heart.
In the book of Esther, we are given an example of the deceitfulness of the natural heart. It is a familiar story and one that the Jews even to this day take particular delight in reviewing each year during Purim. The climax of the story is in chapter 6.
“That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
“Then the king said, ‘What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?’
“And the king’s servants who attended him said, ‘Nothing has been done for him.’
“So the king said, ‘Who is in the court?’
“Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. The king’s servants said to him, ‘Haman is there, standing in the court.’
“And the king said, ‘Let him come in.’
“So Haman came in, and the king asked him, ‘What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?’ Now Haman thought in his heart, ‘Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?’
“And Haman answered the king, ‘For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head. Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!” ’
“Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king’s gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken’ (Esther 6:1–10).”
Haman had convinced himself that he was worthy of royal honor, only to discover that he had been self-deceived.
Christ gave another example of the potential actions of a deceitful heart when He was invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s home one Sabbath and He saw how, as the guests arrived, each sought the best place to sit. He gave divine instruction to those who were invited. The story is in Luke 14:8–11.
“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Christ was reminding the Pharisees of the words that the Holy Spirit had moved upon Solomon to write in Proverbs 25:6, 7.
“Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king,
And do not stand in the place of the great;
For it is better that he say to you,
‘Come up here,’
Than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince,
Whom your eyes have seen.”
It is likely that Solomon had seen just this kind of behavior in his own court when he had invited guests to dine with him.
In addition to the example we read in Esther about Haman, there are other examples in Scripture of people “thinking” in their hearts. In common language today, we would say, “saying to himself” or “thinking to himself.”
One example is given in Genesis 24:45, when Abraham’s oldest servant went to Laban to find a wife for Isaac.
“But before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah, coming out with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the well and drew water. And I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ ”
But perhaps the most familiar example of one thinking to himself is in Nehemiah 2:1-5, when Nehemiah stood despondently before King Artaxerxes.
“And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.’
“So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’
“Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’ ” (Emphasis added.)
Sister White refers to praying under these kinds of circumstances as darting a prayer to heaven. Probably each of us has more than one memory of having darted a prayer to heaven in times of trial. It is a wonderful comfort to know that we have an all-knowing, omnipresent God who hears and answers sincere prayers offered from a sincere heart.
Scripture also alludes to the heart as the condition of the human mind. Look for an example in Exodus 23:9: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The principle that God is impressing upon Moses here is that we should be compassionate toward and understanding of others. Remember the trials and tribulations you have experienced and have compassion on others when they are in similar situations.
Another bit of light about the condition of a man’s heart is provided in 1 Samuel when the Lord had instructed Samuel to examine Jesse’s offspring to select a king to replace Saul, after Saul had proven himself unworthy of the office. When Samuel saw Eliab, whom he thought surely to be the Lord’s anointed, the Lord responded, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7.
What a lesson this incident provides for us. How often do we judge from outward appearance, only to realize when the fruit reveals the true condition of the heart that our initial assessment was incorrect.
The obvious question that arises from our study of the actions of the natural heart is, How can we overcome the natural tendencies and have that heart promised us in Ezekiel 36? Consider the request of Solomon:
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask! What shall I give you?’
“And Solomon said: ‘You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?’ ” I Kings 3:5–9.
James may have been reflecting on this story when he wrote in his epistle, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5.
Perhaps the most wonderful encouragement we are given, though, came from the lips of Christ Himself, on the night of His betrayal: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27.
Can we not conclude from this brief overview that through prayer, such as Nehemiah’s or Solomon’s, and by exercising faith, as Christ commanded to His disciples, that we can have that heart of flesh and persevere against the fiery darts of the enemy of souls under all circumstances? Such is my prayer daily. May it be yours as well.
NJKV unless otherwise noted.
John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps to Life team. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.