In this post I wrote about the phrase, “incline your ear” as an idiom meaning “please pay attention!” I said that this frequent expression in the Psalms reminds us that it’s okay to feel desperate in the Christian life and that God expects us to call to Him for help out of our desperation. There’s yet another, similar phrase in the Bible and it is “incline your heart” (Josh. 24:23).
What does it mean to incline your heart to God? In this passage in Joshua it comes in the context of Joshua encouraging and exhorting Israel to put away all their idols and make God their only God. I think another way of putting it is “don’t dilute your commitment to God.” This means to have a heart (i.e., will and emotions) that is decidedly fixed for God.
Put another way, Psalm 86:11 says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name,” (emphasis added). Psalm 119 adds to this with phrases like, “Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart” (v. 2), “I will praise you with an upright heart” (v. 6), and “With my whole heart I seek you” (v. 10)
These phrases remind us that humanity, by default, has a divided heart. Our hearts and minds are captured by sin because of both nature (Original Sin), and nurture (human culture is governed by sin). Because the cards are stacked against us (nature and nurture), when we become Christians we are easily swayed and distracted back into a life of sin, both consciously and sub-consciously; in our hands (behavior), our hearts (desires and will), and heads (thoughts). Our hearts are prone to wander.
The Apostle Paul compares this reality to having two masters (Rom. 6). He explains that people often act like they have two masters: (1) the sin master who leads us to sin, and (2) the Holy Spirit who leads us in a life of undivided righteousness and full commitment to God. Paul then explains that precisely through the death of Jesus we have been delivered from the slave master of sin. He adds that we have to intentionally forsake this old, tyrannical master of the flesh and bind ourselves to Jesus through the Holy Spirit. He says, “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification” (Rom. 6:22).
A lot of believers get frustrated when their day-to-day Christian life is spent battling between the two masters. This constant frustration will lead in one of two directions: (1) giving up and letting sin take over little-by-little, or (2) a crisis that leads to a pure faith and undivided heart. Either way, a decision must be made.
Sin must be taken seriously and dealt with decisively. Jesus, the master of the life of the undivided heart, says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt. 5:29–30).