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When Studying the Bible, Don’t Follow Your Heart

When Studying the Bible, Don’t Follow Your Heart

Love God with Heart and Mind

The heart, as it is spoken of in Scripture, is the seat of the will and emotions. It is our “feeler” and our “decision-maker.” Letting my heart guide my study meant that I looked for the Bible to make me feel a certain way when I read it. I wanted it to give me peace, comfort, or hope. I wanted it to make me feel closer to God. I wanted it to give me assurance about tough choices. Because I wanted the Bible to engage my emotions, I spent little time in books like Leviticus or Numbers and much time in books like the Psalms and the Gospels.

The Bible commands us to love God with all of our hearts (Mark 12:30). When we say that we love God with all of our hearts, we mean that we love him completely with our emotions and with our wills. Attaching our emotions to our faith comes fairly naturally for women—generally speaking, we know how to be emotive without much guidance. If we think of the heart as the seat of our emotions and our will, it makes sense that we so often approach God’s Word asking, “Who am I?” and “What should I do?” Those two questions uniquely address the heart. And we speak often in the church about how Christianity is a religion of the heart—of how Christ comes into our hearts, of how we need heart-change. It is right to speak of Christianity in this way, but not exclusively in this way.

Interestingly, the same verse that commands us to love God with all of our hearts also commands us to love him with all of our minds. Our minds are the seat of our intellects. Attaching our intellect to our faith does not come naturally to most of us. We live in a time when faith and reason are spoken of as polar opposites. At times, the church has even embraced this kind of language. For some of us, the strength of our faith is gauged by how close we feel to God at any given moment—by how a sermon made us feel, by how a worship chorus made us feel, by how our quiet time made us feel. Hidden in this thinking is an honest desire to share a deep relationship with a personal God, but sustaining our emotions can be exhausting and defeating. Changing circumstances can topple our emotional stability in an instant. Our “walk with the Lord” can feel more like a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys than a straight path in which valleys and mountains have been made level.

Could this be because we’ve gotten things backwards? By asking our hearts to lead our minds, have we willingly purchased a ticket to the roller-coaster ride? Unless we turn things around, placing the mind in charge of the heart, we could be in for a long, wild ride.

The Role of the Mind

Asking us to put our minds before our hearts sounds almost unspiritual, doesn’t it? But notice the way that Scripture talks about the role of the mind:

In repentance: “If they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies . . . then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea. . . .” (1 Kings 8:48–49)

In seeking God: “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.” (1 Chron. 22:19)

In finding peace: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isa. 26:3)

In right worship: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Cor. 14:14–15)

In understanding the Scriptures: “Then [Jesus] said to [the disciples], ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44–45)

In transforming us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2–3)

Don’t rush past that pivotal truth you just read in Romans 12:2–3. What Christian doesn’t desperately want life transformation and knowledge of the will of God? In these verses, Paul states unequivocally how we can have them: by the renewing of our minds—not our hearts.

For years I tried to love God with my heart to the neglect of my mind, not recognizing my need to grow in the knowledge of the “I am.” Any systematic study of the Bible felt mechanical, even a little like an act of faithlessness or an admission that the Holy Spirit’s insight during a quiet time wasn’t enough for me. But I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know. This is the message of Romans 12:2–3—not that the mind alone affects transformation, but that the path to transformation runs from the mind to the heart, and not the other way around.

Content adapted from Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. This article first appeared at Crossway.org; used with permission.