If I Only Had A Heart

“Hey Alexa, will you turn down the music, please?” I heard myself saying to my Echo Dot the other day. Manners are important to me, but I chuckled to myself as I thought about using the word “please” to command an inanimate object. In the world we live in today, I could see wanting to model manners to children (even when speaking to artificial intelligence), but by myself it seemed silly. I began to consider the purpose behind manners as I continued cleaning my house and listening to the music that Alexa so graciously turned down.

As I swept my floor, I decided the reason we use manners is because we care about the person we are addressing. It is not because the word “please,” “thank you,” or “excuse me” are really that valuable, it is because the person we are addressing is valuable. Hence, thanking Alexa is comical.

Alexa is not a person.

Alexa has no soul.

Alexa has no personality (though some of her responses can feel a little snarky at times).

Alexa is not creative.

Alexa was not made in the image of God.

Alexa does not even have a body.

Most importantly, Alexa does not have a heart.

Without a heart (meaning the emotional, passionate, loving side—not the organ that pumps blood), Alexa does not care if I say “thank you.” In fact, nothing Alexa does really matters. Her actions have no real meaning.

The thing is, that is okay for Alexa. Actually, that is perfect for Alexa because that is exactly how Alexa is designed to operate.

The problem is that is not how we were designed to operate as humans made in the image of God. Too often, I find myself operating just like Alexa. I go through my day completing my tasks, not really thinking about the importance behind what I am doing. Worse, my heart often does not match my actions—even my so-called “good” actions.

I’m not alone in this problem as evidenced by so much of Scripture talking about that very issue. In Proverbs 21, the author talks a lot about the heart. He starts out by saying in verse 1-3 (ESV),

“The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
 he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
 but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
 is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

The second lesson we learn from Proverbs 21 is that humans are great at convincing themselves that they are doing the right thing, but God sees more than just our actions. He sees our hearts. (Kind of scary, right?)

Third, we learn that righteousness and justice mean more to God than sacrifice. Sacrifice is often a show, but righteousness and justice include the heart.

For me, those first few verses give a pretty good introduction on how to use this incredible chapter to check our hearts.

First, meditate on truth daily

The first verse of the chapter discusses the king’s heart being easily directed by the LORD. That is important because kings typically are the ones directing others, not the ones being directed (especially the kings in the Bible—there just were not a lot of good, humble kings during that time). Before getting discouraged by the state of our own hearts, this verse tells us plainly that God can soften even the hardest heart. Yes, even our hearts can be softened!

The author of Proverbs knew that the heart-examining process can easily be discouraging if we are not meditating on who God is regularly. Meditating solely on our miserably depraved selves can suck us into the lie that we are beyond help. When we reach that point, we begin to treat ourselves and others with as much value as an Echo Dot.

Proverbs 21 ends in verse 31 with a big-T Truth that everyone that has a relationship with the Lord needs to remember:

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
 but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

Victory belongs to the LORD and He will bring about victory to those who believe in Him. He is always on the winning side, whether we can see it or not.

Second, we need other believers to call us out.

If you’ve been in church for a while, this may seem obvious. However, I think this truth in Proverbs 21 is a little bigger than coffee with your bestie every now and then. Look at these verses (ESV, emphasis mine):

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
 but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
 is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
 will himself call out and not be answered.
One who wanders from the way of good sense
 will rest in the assembly of the dead.
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
 he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling,
 but a foolish man devours it.
The desire of the sluggard kills him,
 for his hands refuse to labor.
All day long he craves and craves,
 but the righteous gives and does not hold back.”

Did you catch that? Many of these sins aren’t the “big” sins of the American Bible belt. Instead they are ones we encounter daily: haste, lying, ignoring the poor, wandering from the way, loving pleasure, poor stewardship, desire, laziness, craving…

Without other believers calling us out, we will fall into these. They are too prevalent in our culture to avoid on our own. To check our hearts, we need other people telling us when we are being impatient, lacking self-control, ignoring the poor, and craving anything other than God. It’s too easy to convince ourselves we are doing the right thing otherwise. We ignore our “little” sins because of all the “big” sins around us.

Third, we need to ask ourselves “why.”

Repeatedly in Proverbs 21 the author tells the reader to stop and check motives. The “why” is much more important than the “what.”

Proverbs 21:27-29 (ESV) says,

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
 how much more when he brings it with evil intent.
A false witness will perish,
 but the word of a man who hears will endure.
A wicked man puts on a bold face,
 but the upright gives thought to his ways.”

Without asking “why,” we will easily put on a bold face instead of giving thought to our ways. We will not pause to hear. We will sacrifice with evil intent.

Our actions will be as meaningless and empty as Alexa’s.

As the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz said,

When a man's an empty kettle
He should be on his mettle
And yet I'm torn apart
Just because I'm presumin'
That I could be kind of human
If I only had a heart.

Songwriters: HARBURG E Y / Arlen Harold
If I Only Had a Heart lyrics © EMI FEIST CATALOG INC