Ezra Prepares His Heart

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” (Louis Pasteur, 1822-1895).

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, ESV).

I agree with Pasteur... to a point. Those who seek to achieve in this world should first perform their due diligence: They should educate themselves, work hard and take risks. However, the concept of chance as a life-directing force has no place in the lives of people who serve a Sovereign Lord… but don't misunderstand. Just because many of us Christians are philosophically opposed to chance per se, that does not mean that we see God's paths for us in step-by-step clarity. We are still volitional beings — and God lets us make decisions that do indeed affect outcomes.

The biblical principle, which is as close to Pasteur's as is your next semester... or as far away as East is from West, is this: Christian achievement favors the prepared heart. Although the Scriptures have many examples of people who spent their energies in Godly preparation, I see God’s able scribe, Ezra, as a prime example.

“[T]his Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” (Ezra 7:6, ESV).

In the above verse, we learn that he was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses — a distinction which only came through an earnest study of the Law. There are three elements at work: Ezra prepared, he stood in God’s way, and God chose him for the work. Please note that Ezra 7:10 does not say that Ezra prepared his mind. It says that he prepared his heart. So, what's the difference? Aren't the heart and the mind sort of the same?

Indeed, the heart and the mind are so closely joined as to be difficult to separate in our understanding of how they work, so let's look at some examples of where they each might specialize: Memory and courage.

Memory is a function of the brain, and it does not make use of the heart to a large extent. Applying memorization techniques over time usually accomplishes the task of committing something to memory. Courage, by way of contrast, is visceral. Preparing for battle is a function of the heart. Yes, there is certainly also a mental component, but it is a separate entity from courage. The advertising phrase, "No guts no glory", is exactly on point here. One is never propelled into battle by mere thought. That action requires a driver, and those required visceral motivations are mostly distinct from their mental partners.

One may, therefore, conclude that the heart has more to do with feeling than with thinking, but this begs the question, how does one prepare for feeling? Doesn’t feeling just come upon you — uninvited? Yes, often. So, the heart cannot be merely feeling. In fact, many exercises of the heart can occur without much feeling at all. For instance, one may perform as obedient, dutiful, and even honorable without having any affection toward the recipient or the boss, yet these behaviors are more indicative of the heart condition than are a barrage of feelings. So then, do feelings and mind combined make up the heart? Not quite—not the biblical heart. So, what is missing?

The missing element in our heart-search is the will. The Old Testament term heart is used figuratively and variously for the intellect, the feelings, and the will. This tells me that the heart shall never be easily (crisply) defined in the Scriptures — although it shall remain a prominent figure in the biblical language—but one which we must follow with care as it changes its emphasis. I believe, however, that it would be dangerous to fully eliminate any of the three elements when considering the heart since by some percent each has a role depending on that particular use of the heart in the Christian enterprise. Let us consider Ezra.

Ezra had prepared intellectually for the task. By the time he presented himself for service, he was known as a man who knew the Law. That kind of knowledge comes through one port primarily: the intellect. But when one considers why he might have applied himself to God’s Law rather than to philosophy or commerce, then one wrestles with motivation. Motivation is a force, but it also is difficult to pin down. It seems that motivation starts near feeling but ends up near the will. All the feeling in the world will avail nothing but heartbreak unless one acts through force of the will. This will showed up again when he presented himself for service. In Ezra’s process of preparing the heart, he thought, he felt, and he willed to do God’s work…and God accepted his offer. How can we contemporary Christians optimize our chances for fruitful service? First, know what God is looking for.

“... For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7, ESV).

God (who changes not) is still looking for people whose hearts are right for service. We should, therefore, keep our hearts prepared. We should follow the example of Ezra by loving God:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37, AV).

By studying His word:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, AV).

And by walking in His ways:

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1–3, AV).

Finally, once you know what God is looking for...do it! Easier said than done? True. But it's worth the effort. We will be much more satisfied in our walks with the Lord when we first strengthen our hearts to the task. When it comes to our physical bodies, we think nothing of going to the gym and working out to become increasingly fit. Why shouldn't Christian fitness work the same way? Here's what to do: Love God (pray, serve), study (read the Bible prayerfully and carefully), walk in his ways (serve).

All that remains is this: get to the gym; do the reps.

For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at ep@mainsailministries.org.