We are increasingly conscious of becoming heart-healthy. According to the American Heart Association, “The epidemic increase in heart disease mortality ended in the 1960s or 1970s.” Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically over the last fifty years. Heart-healthy alternatives are produced in almost every food category. Restaurants include heart-healthy menus. Smoking has been banned in most public places. Physicians and non-profits promote diet-and-exercise. At the same time America is on an obesity binge. The improvement, it appears, is the result of long-term care and emergency intervention more than healthy habits.
I first read Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics in 1982. It was a groundbreaking book that opened the eyes of millions to the benefits of aerobic exercise and healthy diet for a healthy heart. When I visited Brazil I was fascinated to find hundreds of Brazilians walking and jogging every morning to get in their “Cooper.” The doctor’s name had found its way into Portuguese as a synonym for heart-healthy aerobic exercise.
When I followed Cooper’s regimen, I experienced the benefits: lost weight, increased strength and stamina. Unfortunately, I have not always followed those disciplines, and it shows. Developing a healthy heart requires more than knowledge.
As important as it is to maintain a healthy heart physically, it is even more important for us to develop a healthy heart spiritually. The Bible clearly sets forth the disciplines and characteristics of a healthy spiritual heart. They include gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. If we discipline ourselves to be grateful every day for what God has done, if we hope when things look hopeless, if we forgive those who injure us, if we love our enemies instead of just loving those who love us, we will have a healthy heart.
But, like our physical heart, having a spiritually healthy heart requires more than knowledge. We may know that we need to be grateful, hopeful, forgiving and loving. But how do you create heartfelt gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love?
In the spiritual realm, this requires a spiritual heart transplant. God has to create a new heart within us, something that He is more than willing to do. We are all born with spiritual heart disease. Jeremiah says, ““The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). But later he writes, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God.” (Jer. 24:7). And in Ezekiel He says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).
God sent His son, Jesus so that He might create in us a healthy heart that is full of gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. He changes the heart that has grown callous, bitter and resentful into one that overflows in gratitude. Someday our physical heart will beat its last beat and our bodies will die. But the spiritually healthy heart that God creates will live forever.