Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. – Pro. 4:23 (NLT)
The sudden heart attack death of actor James Gandolfini several weeks ago brought into the public consciousness, at least momentarily, the importance of cardiovascular health. I was reminded even more recently of its importance when I learned last week of a co-worker who suffered a massive heart attack at the age 39 and now lies in a coma fighting for her life.
Heart disease is often referred to as a “silent killer” because there are often no visible outward signs of the disease’s ravaging effects. It is estimated that for 50% of heart disease sufferers, the very first symptom will be a full-fledged heart attack and nearly half of first heart attack patients will die from that event. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. An amazing one in four Americans deaths is caused by heart disease. It is estimated the country’s “heart disease burden” is $108.9 billion. This total includes the cost of health services, medications and lost productivity. The tragedy with heart disease is that it is often preventable by practicing a healthy lifestyle with a focus on diet and exercise. In recent years there have been massive public awareness campaigns promoting “heart healthy” lifestyles. Some cereal makers such as Kellogg and General Mills have taken to placing heart healthy logos on their products which are high in fiber or low in saturated fat or cholesterol all said to be contributors to good heart health.
God is keenly interested in the conditions of our hearts. His concern is not chiefly centered on the physical organ that lies in our chests that is responsible for pumping blood throughout our bodies. Rather when the Bible refers to the heart, it is speaking of the “inner man.” In this context the word heart refers to the center of emotion, affection and volition. The heart is the core of ultimate intention, ultimate value and ultimate motivation. The heart is like a bit in a horse’s mouth. It steers our actions and ultimately the direction of our lives. God wants to capture our hearts, because if he can capture our hearts he has captured us.
The condition of our physical hearts cannot be directly measured by outward observation. Diagnostic tools such as x-rays, stress tests, EKGs and cardiac catheterizations must be run to determine true heart health. Similarly we cannot observe someone’s “religious” actions and apparent piety to assess the condition of his or heart spiritual heart. We cannot, but God, the divine cardiologist, can. During Jesus’ earthly ministry his foremost nemeses were not the Roman authorities, tax collectors or rabble. Rather, those who attacked Jesus were the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes the religious intelligentsia of the day. Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes for them, and it was ultimately this group of religious elites who engineered Jesus’ death.
How can we be spiritually “heart healthy”? We can start by practicing a “diet” of regularly feeding on the word of God (1 Pet 2:2) and “exercising” spiritual disciplines such as prayer, self-examination, confession, worship and fellowship. Even after undertaking this regimen, we are unlikely to truly know the conditions of ours hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked : who can know it?” God will at times conduct “stress tests” to allow us to see the true condition of our hearts. He will allow difficulty and heartache to enter our lives so what we can see where true affections and greatest devotions lie. God allows these tests not to weaken us but to ultimately strengthen us and draw us closer to himself.
Jesus reserve his highest praise and promise of reward for those who are heart healthy, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat 5:8)(KJV).