ISRAELITE priest Ezra was an outstanding researcher, scholar, copyist, and teacher of the Law. For Christians today he is also a fine example of whole-souled service. How so? In that he maintained his godly devotion even while living in Babylon, a city filled with false gods and demon worship.
Ezra’s godly devotion did not just happen. He worked at it. Indeed, he tells us that he “had prepared his heart to consult the law of the Lord and to do it.”—Ezra 7:10.
Like Ezra, God’s people today want to do all that God asks of them while living in a world that is hostile to true worship. So let us examine ways in which we too can prepare our heart, the inner person—including our thoughts, attitudes, desires, and motivations—to “consult the law of God and to do it.”
Preparing Our Heart
“To prepare” means “to make ready beforehand for some purpose: put into condition for a particular use, application, or disposition.” Of course, if you have come to an accurate knowledge of God’s Word and have dedicated your life to God, then your heart has certainly proved to be in a prepared state and can be compared to “the fine soil” that Jesus spoke about in his parable of the sower.—Matthew 13:18-23.
Nevertheless, our heart needs constant attention and refinement. Why? For two reasons. First, because harmful tendencies, like weeds in a garden, can readily take root, especially during these “last days” when “the air” of Satan’s system is more than ever filled with hurtful seeds of fleshly thinking. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Ephesians 2:2) The second reason concerns the soil itself.
Left untended, soil may soon dry out, harden, and become unfruitful. Or too many people may carelessly walk over the garden and tread down the soil into a hard mass. The figurative soil of our heart is similar. It may become infertile if neglected or trodden down by people who have no interest in our spiritual well-being.
How important it is, then, for all of us to apply the Bible’s admonition: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.”—Proverbs 4:23.
Factors That Enrich the “Soil” of Our Heart
Let us consider some factors, or qualities, that will enrich the “soil” of our heart so that it favors healthy growth. There are, of course, many things that will improve our heart, but here we will consider six: a recognition of our spiritual need, humility, honesty, godly fear, faith, and love.
“Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need,” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:3) Like physical hunger that reminds us of our need to eat, an awareness of our spiritual need keeps us hungry for spiritual food. By nature, humans have a craving for such food because it gives meaning and purpose to life. Pressures from Satan’s system of things or sheer laziness when it comes to study may dull our consciousness of this need. Even so, Jesus said: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through God’s mouth.”—Matthew 4:4.
In a literal way, regular, balanced, and wholesome meals promote bodily health, and they also incline the body to develop an appetite for the next meal when the time arrives. The same is true in a spiritual sense. You may not consider yourself to be a studious person, but if you make it a habit to read God’s Word daily and you study Bible-based publications on a regular basis, you will find that your appetite increases. In fact, you will eagerly look forward to your times for Bible study. So do not give up easily; work hard to develop a wholesome spiritual appetite.
Humility Softens the Heart
Humility is a vital factor in having a prepared heart because it makes us teachable and helps us to accept more readily loving counsel and correction. Consider the fine example of King Josiah. During his reign a document containing God’s Law given through Moses was found.
When Josiah heard the words of the Law and realized how far his forefathers had strayed from pure worship, he ripped his garments apart and wept before God. Why did God’s Word so deeply touch the king’s heart? The account says that his heart was “soft,” so that he humbled himself upon hearing God’s words. God noted Josiah’s humble, receptive heart and blessed him accordingly.—2 Kings 22:11, 18-20.
Humility enabled Jesus’ “unlettered and ordinary” disciples to grasp and apply spiritual truths that escaped those who were “wise and intellectual” but only “in a fleshly way.” (Acts 4:13; Luke 10:21; 1 Corinthians 1:26) The latter were not prepared to accept God’s word because their hearts were hardened by pride. Is it any wonder that God hates pride?—Proverbs 8:13; Daniel 5:20.
Honesty and Godly Fear
The prophet Jeremiah wrote that “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) This treachery manifests itself in various ways, such as when we make excuses for ourselves when we do wrong. It also appears when we rationalize away serious personality flaws. Honesty, however, will help us to gain the victory over a treacherous heart by assisting us to face the truth about ourselves so that we can improve.
The psalmist displayed such honesty when he prayed: “Examine me, O Lord, and put me to the test; refine my kidneys and my heart.” Clearly, the psalmist had prepared his heart to accept refining and testing by God, even though it may have meant acknowledging the existence of drosslike traits so that these could be overcome.—Psalm 17:3; 26:2.
Godly fear, which includes “the hating of bad,” is a powerful aid in this refining process. (Proverbs 8:13) While appreciating God’s loving-kindness and goodness, a person who truly fears God is ever aware that God has the power to inflict punishment, even death, upon those who disobey him.
God showed that those who fear him would also obey him when he said about Israel: “If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!”—Deuteronomy 5:29.
Clearly, the object of godly fear is, not to keep us in a state of terrified submission, but to move us to obey our loving Father, who we know has our very best interests at heart. In fact, such godly fear is elevating and even joy-inspiring, which was amply demonstrated by Jesus Christ himself.—Isaiah 11:3; Luke 12:5.
A Prepared Heart Is Rich in Faith
A heart strong in faith knows that whatever God asks or directs through his Word is always right and in our best interests. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) A person with such a heart gets deep satisfaction and contentment from applying the exhortation at Proverbs 3:5, 6, which says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding.
In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” A heart lacking in faith, however, would be disinclined to trust in God, especially if doing so involved sacrifices, such as simplifying one’s life in order to focus on Kingdom interests. (Matthew 6:33)
Our faith in God is reflected in many areas, including the things we do in the privacy of our own home. Take, for example, the principle at Galatians 6:7: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” Our faith in this principle will be reflected in such things as the movies we watch, the books we read, the amount of Bible study we do, and in our prayers. Yes, a strong faith that moves us to sow “with a view to the spirit” is a key factor in having a heart that is prepared to accept God’s Word and to obey it.—Galatians 6:8.
Love—The Greatest Quality
More than all other qualities, love truly makes the soil of our heart responsive to God’s Word. Thus, when comparing it with faith and hope, the apostle Paul described love as “the greatest of these” qualities. (1 Corinthians 13:13) A heart filled with love for God gets intense satisfaction and joy from obeying him; it certainly does not chafe at God’s requirements.
The apostle John said: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) Along similar lines, Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will observe my word, and my Father will love him.” (John 14:23) Note that such love is reciprocated. Yes, God deeply loves those who are drawn to him in love.
God knows that we are imperfect and regularly sin against him. Even so, he does not keep himself distant from us. What God looks for in his servants is “a complete heart,” one that moves us to serve him willingly with “a delightful soul.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) Of course, God knows that it takes time and effort for us to cultivate good qualities in our heart and thus to produce the fruitage of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23)
Hence, he is patient with us, “for he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) Reflecting the same attitude, Jesus never severely criticized his disciples for their faults but patiently helped and encouraged them. Do not such love, mercy, and patience of God and Jesus move you to love them all the more?—Luke 7:47; 2 Peter 3:9.
If you at times find it a struggle to pull up deep-rooted, weedlike habits or to break up pockets of hard, claylike traits, do not become downhearted or discouraged. Instead, keep working at making improvement as you “persevere in prayer,” including frequent supplication to God for his spirit. (Romans 12:12) With his willing help, you will, like Ezra, succeed in having a heart fully prepared “to consult the law of God and to do it.”
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