The Christian’s Economy
13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful,but heartache crushes the spirit.
14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge,but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
16 Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.
17 Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.
The Bible uses the word heart as the center of the human personality—the inner person in contrast to the body. It is the spiritual side of the person, and it has three aspects: the mind, the emotions and the will. While we all share these three aspects, God has formed our personality and the events of and people in our lives style it, so that we are all unique people. But regardless of our individual form, God tells us truths that he intends to transform our inner person increasingly into his moral likeness. In other words, God wants to perfect the variety that he has designed in the womb and develops through the events and people of our lives. So let’s examine what he tells us about human hearts from this passage.
The Lord tells us the effect of a healthy heart (15:13).
Every human is a functional unity of the outer person (the body) and the inner person (the heart or soul or spirit). Contrast this text with Psalm 42:3-5, where we see the depressing influence of a downcast heart. Depression leads to inactivity that breeds more depression and inactivity. It is a downward spiral.
Since we have this functional unity between the inner and outer parts of our humanness, the Lord encourages happiness of heart. In the words of John Trapp of long ago, “The heart sits smiling in the face and looks merrily out of the windows of the eyes.” However, we must clarify the Lord’s intent. The Lord wants us to have a happiness of heart that is based on proper principles (for example, Psalm 32:1-2). The Lord wants us to express our inner joy wisely and with a regard for the life situations of others (Romans 12:15; Proverbs 27:14).
Consider how the heart can create two very different effects. First, a happy heart will make you appear cheerful, and that shows up on your face. I recall two songs from years ago that sought to get this point across: “Take that frown off your face, put a smile in its place, let the love of Jesus Christ show through!” And, “Smile a while, and give your face a rest, raise your hand to the One you love the best, then shake hands with one nearby and greet them with a smile!” Those who are part of a local body of Christ should learn to read each other’s faces, and then prayerfully, boldly and gently seek to serve each other in love.
But second, heartache crushes the spirit—a person loses the desire to continue. What are some causes of heartache? Events like unfulfilled expectations, untimely or unexpected separation, and betrayal by one you love. Such happenings can pile up quickly, and we can feel shattered.
The way out can be difficult and long.
The Lord Jesus Christ has provided ways to help you. He speaks to us through his word, providing us his perspective and counsel. For example, read out loud and listen to Psalm 119. It is a great prayer of a person enduring affliction. Let its words soak into you, and then pray them back to God our Father. Jesus has given us his Spirit, who desires to produce his fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of each of those qualities, and ask the Spirit to refresh your heart with them. Christ has also placed us in groups of people who know him and love one another (1 Peter 1:22). You are with them to share life, and since they belong to Christ, they are equipped to help you (Romans 15:14). The Lord is forever faithful. Draw near to him; he wants you to have a healthy heart.
How do you maintain a healthy heart (15:14)?
To have a healthy heart you must avoid spiritual “junk food”. You must not “feed on foolishness” [NKJV]. Foolishness is to live without regard for God and his ways; it delights in the wisdom of the world and pride in one’s own insights. Mental relaxation is necessary to maintain proper mental health. We should not keep the mental gears turning endlessly, or we will wear ourselves out. But we can relax our hearts in godly and wise ways, such as enjoying restful evenings at home with our family or friends, talking walks in the park, reading good books, attending concerts, sunning oneself on the beach, and so on.
However, there are mental activities that are detrimental to a healthy spiritual heart. Here are three to avoid:
Listening to the empty speculations of people (Acts 17:21); never go to sleep with error on your mind. Replace it with the truth (Philippians 4:8).
Filling one’s heart with visual and verbal images that are unholy (Ephesians 5:3-7)
Chasing fantasies (Prov 28:19)
In order to have a healthy heart you must feed on what will build it up in the Lord.
Above all this means the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:3). This needs clarification. Seeking knowledge of the Lord ought not to develop out of a desire to exalt oneself intellectually. Study of the Scriptures can easily deteriorate into a vain, intellectual activity.
Some do this to increase one’s reputation or to refute an argument by someone or to feel more spiritual. Such a person might think he or she is building up the heart, while actually weakening it. Our aims should be love for the Lord and a desire to mature—to become like him.
We need to know where to find proper food for the heart. We must begin with the Bible, and then use other means like proven books that exalt the Lord and value godliness, and sound preaching and teaching to aid our knowledge of the Lord’s message.
When you start to eat properly in a spiritual sense, you might find your heart offering objections. All of us struggle with various types of spiritual weakness. For example, “I don’t have enough time” or “I don’t have sufficient ability.” Seek God’s help in managing your time according to God’s purposes. Everyone has the same amount of time everyday—twenty-four hours. It all depends on how you “slice your pie”.
I know that some of you have a very tight schedule. Every moment of your day already seems to be scheduled and you do need time to relax. But it may simply be a matter of better time management to place spiritual matters higher in your value system. Write out your daily activities on a piece of paper. Keep track of how much time you invest in each one. Evaluate which ones you can eliminate or devote less time to. Ask yourself, “How do my activities support the fulfillment God’s purposes for my life?” Then make a new daily schedule and give priority to your relationship with God and his other purposes for you.
In faith use the abilities that God has given you.
God has made us all different—praise the Lord! He does not give each of us the same intellectual abilities, and he only expects you to use what he has given you. We used to tell our children, “If God has only given you a ‘C brain’ when it comes to math, then use your ‘C math brain’ and earn a C grade. But if he has given you an ‘A brain’ in English, then you should seek to bring home an ‘A grade’ on your report card.” God never expects you to act beyond your abilities. It is far, far better to read one chapter or a part of a chapter in the Bible and to profit from it than to exert effort simply to do a task.
Listening to God’s voice written in his word is a privilege and should be a pleasure (Psalm 19:10). But it is also an activity that you must value. You make time to eat physical food, and hopefully you enjoy what you eat. It takes time to exercise, but it can provide a sense of well-being. It is also true that you must schedule time for the word, prayer, and meeting with other followers of Christ. May the Spirit of God lead you into some new spiritual pleasures that will strengthen your heart!