The Measure of a Heart

If we pay attention to our motivations and our words, we expose our hearts. Sometimes what we find is ugly, and we tend to gloss over it or excuse it. But we need to give each selfish area to God and ask him to free us from it. Some may endeavor to fix their selfishness on their own, but this is a self-centered approach that usually fails. We need someone outside of ourselves who knows us well to direct us. God can peel off our rough areas and leave something good and beautiful in its place. But he chooses only to work with our cooperation.

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45 (ESV)

When my mouth speaks something selfish or ugly, I often want to excuse it. I was tired, or the other person deserved it. But God’s quiet voice whispers, “No.” No matter how ugly or selfish the world is, that is not who I am called to be. So what can I do about it? I pray and ask God to forgive me. Sometimes, I picture the wrong thing in my hands, and I hold that up to God and ask him to take it. If possible, I ask the other person to forgive me. Over time, this effort has changed my behavior and helped me watch my tongue, but I still have selfish thoughts. We are works in progress, and God is preparing us to rein with him one day. (We must need a lot of preparation.) God has often worked on my selfish thoughts by giving me people to serve. The more I serve, the less self-centered I become. If I focus on others, I have less time to think of myself.

A second key to examining our hearts is to look at our motivations. If we serve our neighbor, are we doing it to get their thanks? Do we want something from them? Our motivations matter to God just as much as our actions. He understands our reasons better than we do. I have especially found that when I am too close to a situation (as in an emotional situation with family members), I just can’t think clearly about what my own motivations are or how I should respond. This is when I go to God and to close friends and seek their input. I ask God to untangle the emotional web and show me what to do. The kings of Israel were wise when they consulted God before going into battle. We are wise to consult God before making decisions. After all, since he knows everything, why would we not want his input?

Think about the motivations in the following passage.

Whoever receives you receives me (Jesus), and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

Matthew 10:40-42 (ESV)

Our motivations clearly matter to God; he will give rewards based on them. Our motivations comprise a large part of our heart. What do we seek after, and why? In the first passage from Luke, Jesus cares about what is inside a person’s heart–good or evil.

What should guide our motivations?

We need some basis for understanding our motivations. Jesus’ answer in the following passage gives us a compass to help.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him (Jesus) a question to test him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:35-40 (ESV)

In an ideal world, like heaven, all our thoughts and actions will stem from loving God. Our motivation will be to please him by serving others. Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” and to “feed my lambs” after asking Peter if he loved him (John 21:15-17). Jesus wants us to take care and love on each other, just as he loves us.

Jesus was not impressed by the Pharisees who fasted and prayed with hearts that wanted to impress man (Matthew 23). Jesus was impressed by the widow who put into the temple treasury all she had to live on (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus was impressed by the Roman centurion who understood authority and believed that Jesus had the authority to heal sickness from afar (Matthew 8:5-13). Our motivations should arise from our love for God and a deep faith that “he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) And the more we love Jesus, the more love he places in our hearts for others. He is making us more like himself.

How can I change my motivations?

We can change our heart’s motivations by controlling what we put into our minds, by surrounding ourselves with good influences, and by asking God to change us. You have probably heard the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What fills our minds influences our hearts. If you want good to come out of your heart, then fill your mind with good things. Memorize Bible verses. Listen to music that honors and praises God. Take care of your entertainment…it influences us more than we realize. And ask God to give you a heart that pleases him.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:13-14 (ESV)

Reading through Psalms is also a wonderful way to train our hearts. Psalm 19 is a beautiful one to read. May the Lord bless you as you seek him. May your heart look more like his, and may you feel his love and joy.

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