“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
This week we will take a break from our study of foolishness to remember and deepen our understanding of biblical wisdom that proceeds from our hearts. In “Keeping the Heart,” John Flavel comments on Proverbs 4:23, “The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions…The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.”(1) We do, in fact, struggle to keep our hearts faithful to Jesus, even with the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The world pushes and pulls us to embrace values and priorities that are opposed to God. Sometimes well-intentioned friends, co-workers, and family members don’t understand why we have to make life so difficult for ourselves and can’t just relax and enjoy life as if being holy requires constant denial and suffering. We are often either controlled by our emotions, or trying to force them down.
Biblical holiness is not the same as Stoicism. There are some definite similarities when it comes to the ability to learn from and endure suffering. Stoicism emphasizes a detachment from the chaotic world to focus only on what is controllable within ourselves. However, this philosophy also teaches that good and evil are defined personally and differently for each person. “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” (2) Wise handling of our emotions in our hearts is also different from the Eastern philosophical view, such as Buddhism. “Emotions are generally regarded in the mind of the Buddhist as aspects of our personality that interfere with the development of a spiritual life, as unwholesome states ethically undesirable, and roadblocks to be cleared in the battleground between reason and emotion. In keeping with this perspective emotions are described as states of ‘agitation’ or ‘imbalance.'” (3)
Stoicism and Buddhism have become integral in post-modern cultural philosophies and new-age thinking. But if my emotions are evil and to be sectioned off from my spiritual being, I am compartmentalized and cannot expect any unity within myself; I would always be divided. How can a divided being have an undivided love for God? On the other hand, humanists, atheists, and agnostics often elevate their emotions, even equating them with truth. What makes me happy must be what is true; if different things make us happy, it is because all truth is relative. Wise believers in Jesus Christ work to understand, confess, appreciate our emotions, while also keeping in view that they are not the seat of our faith, but part of our whole being. In other words, our emotions do not determine our beliefs but are an essential part of who we are.
Do you believe that a wise Father made you in his image, gave you a heart for him, and will help you know how to keep your heart? Will you treasure your heart as the source of life in Christ?
(1) Flavel, John, “Keeping the Heart,” CreateSpace Independent Publishers, 2016. (2) Epictetus, “Discourses and Selected Writings” (3) Johansson, Rune, “The Psychology of Nirvana,” London, 1969.