Recently, I have read a small but very influential book that has really shaken me up and caused me to think deeply about myself. Written by the Puritan John Flavel, it is called, Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God. Flavel uses Proverbs 4:23 as the basis for his reflection; it reads (NKJV): “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life“. Jesus said in His earthly ministry that all sins are sourced from the human heart and Flavel examines how the human heart must be guarded. Tragically in his day (and this is much truer in today’s world) people have not guarded their hearts, especially those in ministry. I know in my own heart there are things that I have not been vigilant over and God’s timeliness in giving me Flavel’s book is a sign of divine appointment. Flavel explores in about 30 pages the necessity of vigilantly guarding the heart and how to do so, and then discusses 12 different scenarios where the heart will be tested (time of prosperity, when others hurt you, etc).
One of the most sobering lessons for me was Flavel’s discussion of King Jehu of Israel: he did incredible acts of service for God. These were so impressive that at least 4 of his descendants also sat on the throne. However, Jehu’s acts did not issue from his heart: they were mere acts of externality (2 Kings 10:29-31). No matter how obedient he was to God on the outside, he still tolerated evil within. How sobering that is for God’s people and especially those in leadership! Praise God that He has sent me this sobering word from a man (Flavel) who has been dead for centuries. Below is Flavel’s prayer for a new heart, which I want to put here so others can pray it. And PLEASE go out and get your own copy of this book! It will shake and stir you, but through its sobering message will cause you to think carefully about your walk AND give you the means by which you can guard your heart. Nothing else is so important- it’s even more important than good theology and going to Bible college (as good as those other things are). For pastoral leadership it connects very much with the qualities of a godly leader in the New Testament. Let us expunge the little foxes ruining our vineyards!
“Oh for a better heart! Oh for a heart to love God more; to hate sin more; to walk more evenly with God. Lord! Deny not to me such a heart, whatever Thou deny me: give me a heart to fear Thee, to love and delight in Thee, [even] if I beg my bread in desolate places”.