Our nature and behavior are determined by the inner attitudes we develop. Our attitudes to life influence our whole personality and our life experiences. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit ... All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:13,15 NIV). A happy heart is reflected in a smiling face, but a broken heart leads to despondency and despair. The pessimist is always down in the mouth, gloomy, fearful and negative, while the optimist always seems to be on top of things and enjoys life to the full. God is concerned about our attitudes. He wants us to consider the interests of others before our own, just as Christ did for us, because if our attitudes are right then generally our actions will take care of themselves (Phil. 2:1-5).
Forming Right Attitudes
Our attitudes are determined by our understanding. The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (Jas. 1:2-3). So the things that we are sure of, that we know and understand, influence our reactions when difficult circumstances arise.
Trouble, hardship and suffering come to all of us at some time. Our natural tendency is to avoid them at all cost. But the Bible tells us otherwise: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Trials come in various forms. They can come from poverty, social injustice or illness. They can also come from temptation. Different trials come at different stages of life. As they mature, young people are tested in their ability to keep natural desires and appetites under control. As we grow older, various trials come with increasing responsibilities, such as employment and providing for our family. Parenthood can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it also brings many trials with it. Older people aren’t exempt from trials. When we are old we struggle with many things that we used to be able to do with ease. And the battle against sin doesn’t get easier as we get older.
When trials come we may feel that there is little point in continuing in the right things, because it appears that we are not being rewarded for the good we do. But to give up just because the pressure is on would be to lose all the good that God has in the trial for us. The Bible says our trials are never beyond the power of our faith (1 Cor. 10:13).
But why consider trials as pure joy, as James says? Because they test the genuineness of our faith and they also make our faith grow. Trials bring forth fruit by making us spiritually mature (we fulfill God’s purposes for our life) and by making us complete (the Holy Spirit works to make us Christlike and to reproduce the Savior’s character in us).
If we pray for grace, we should be aware that the characteristics of grace – faith, hope, patience and humility – are only given to us through trials that will develop these characteristics. We don’t obtain joy from the trial itself, we obtain joy from the fruits or lessons that flow from the trial. This is a joy the Holy Spirit gives (Rom. 14:17).
The wisdom we gain through God’s Word shows us that the benefit we receive from a trial largely depends on our attitude towards it and the spirit in which we handle it. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
But this is not always easy. Often the reason we make a mess of the way we handle difficulties is because we lack wisdom. Fortunately we have a heavenly Father who delights to give us wisdom. The Lord gave Solomon a wise and understanding heart because he asked God (1 Ki. 3:9). Likewise we must ask in order to receive.
Did you know that the human heart beats on average 100,000 times a day? This relatively small organ, about the size of a clenched fist, in the last minute just pumped 5 to 6 liters of blood and that while you’re resting.
The heart is a double pump. The right side pumps blood through the lungs where it picks up oxygen and dumps carbon dioxide. The left side pumps the oxygenated blood through the arteries and blood vessels where it picks up nutrients and hormones and flows through 100,000 kilometers of capillaries so that every cell in every tissue in our body is nourished. This is what keeps us alive.
So the heart, apart from being an amazing engine, is really the core organ for life. It is no coincidence that the Bible uses the heart as a symbol of the center of a person’s being. The Bible often refers to the heart for the spiritual condition of the inner person – the place of our affections and passions, wisdom and understanding.
After Noah came out of the ark, God looked into man’s heart and found it to be the source of continuous evil thoughts and wickedness (Gen. 8:21). Evil may be defined as anything contrary to God’s law and will. Temptation begins with our own desires, many of which have the potential for evil. Satan tends to tempt us by laying little baits that entice our desires. If these desires are left unchecked, they grow and grow until they control us. This inevitably leads to sin. So the time to deal with desire is at its very beginning – like rust in a car.
James 1:21 says that we must rid ourselves of anything that is contrary to righteousness, because it fouls our hearts. God wants our lives to produce practical righteousness. But we know from the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:3-9,18-23) that as a group of Christians, we can listen to the same Biblical teaching week after week and some will grow spiritually while others will make little or no progress. The fault doesn’t lie in the seed or God’s Word, but in the varying state of the soil found in our hearts.
The state of our hearts can dramatically affect the way we receive God’s Word. James 1:19-21 mentions three harmful attitudes: anger, moral filth and prevalent evil. We often become desensitized to evil because it becomes acceptable in society – marital unfaithfulness and the abuse of an employer’s time and possessions being just two current examples. We have to test all of the world’s standards in the light of God’s Word, otherwise we could be contaminating the soil of our hearts and fail to live the righteous life that God desires. As we do with our favorite hobbies, we should also make striving for quality or righteousness a favorite pursuit.
Assessing Our Hearts
The state of our hearts also affects the way in which we respond to God’s Word. The Bible is like a mirror which shows us what we really look like. If we care about how we look, then we will make sure everything is right. Likewise, the Bible reveals the truth about our hearts and tells us if something is not right. Our spiritual vision depends on a pure heart (Mt. 5:8). A pure-hearted person is one whose motives are sincere, whose thoughts are holy and whose conscience is clean.
Another way in which we can assess our heart is by what we say. Jesus said: “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).
What our tongue says is more than just words, it is a window to our heart. Our ministry is to be a ministry of character. What we are is more important than anything we will ever say or do. The final result of our service will be determined by what is in our hearts.
A Pure Heart
The people that receive the Lord’s blessing have clean hands, uncorrupted minds, righteous and blameless actions and pure hearts (Ps. 24:3-4).
But how do we obtain a pure heart? It is through Jesus Christ who humbled Himself and came to this world as a man. While He was here He completed the work that the Father sent Him to do. He died for our sins and paid the penalty for us on the cross. If we truly believe God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved from eternal punishment (Rom. 10:9).
It is the grace of God that produces a pure heart in us (1 Tim. 1:5). Love can only flow out of a pure heart. We are to associate with Christians who are living pure lives (2 Tim. 2:22). When we are saved our souls are purified, and one of the purposes of this work of God is so that we can love one another (1 Pet. 1:22). Therefore, since this is God’s purpose, we should love one another fervently with a pure heart.
Maintaining A Pure Heart
There are three ways to maintain a pure heart. First, prayer guards our hearts just like a spider in the center of its web. When the smallest fly gets caught in the web, the spider feels it and kills it straight away. The Lord Jesus told the disciples at Gethsemane that prayer is our best protection against temptation (Mt. 26:41).
Second, we should love one another by striving after good relationships. Many things can spoil our relationships with one another – like indifference to others and their opinions, slowness to listen, eagerness to put across our own point of view, and worst of all, anger which can ruin a relationship in seconds. We cannot be in a right relationship with God if we are not interested in building good relationships with others (1 Pet. 2:1-3).
Third, we also need to accept God’s Word in our hearts with humility. We cannot selfishly pick and choose what we think we want from His Word. Rather we have to accept its authority and let it judge us. After all, it is God’s Word that has saved us. What He says is the same as what He does.
With God’s help we can develop and maintain a pure heart.
By Scott Pattison
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org