Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life. (Prov. 4:23)
We might say it’s about the heart but our practices so often emphasize behavior modification or external conformity.
In teaching we see it in applications that only focus on behavior, through the use of a reward system, in using discipline as more of punishment or crowd control than helping students become who God intends them to be, etc.
In counseling we see it through encouraging all the right steps a person should take rather than examining attitudes and motivations, in failure to incorporate prayer into the session, etc.
In leading we see it through integrity breaks wherein we let the end justify the means, when we expect people to adapt to change without preparing them for it, etc.
In discipling we see it through focusing on what Christians are supposed to do (i.e., Christian disciplines) more than godly character, in accountability that fails to discuss what’s going on inside, etc.
What’s inside eventually comes out so why not deal more with the heart?
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt. 12:34)
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt. 15:19)
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:45)
Here are some possible reasons we don’t make it more about the heart:
Character (inner being) is difficult to gauge. Appearance is much easier to use as a standard.
— Yet, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7) “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Prov. 27:19)
Motivations are difficult to decipher. Actions are much easier to define.
— Yet, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Prov. 21:2)
“He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” (1 Cor. 4:5)
Results are difficult to measure when heart transformation is the goal. Behavior is much easier to quantify.
— Yet, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” (Deut. 6:5-6) “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom. 10:10) “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18)
Making it more about the heart:
1) Prayer similar to Psalm 139:23-24 needs to be a regular part of our time with the Lord privately and corporately. — “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
2) Begin this emphasis when people are children. When the Christian life is all about external conformity through the years, it is hard for people to all of the sudden switch to a focus on the heart. — Worksheet for Children’s Teachers: Heart Transformation or Behavior Modification?
3) Teach, counsel, lead, and serve like you really believe it is about the heart. Examine your practices to determine the underlying message people are receiving. Remember that your words alone are only a part of the communication process. Are you modeling an approach to life in Christ that acknowledges the importance of the heart?