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Habits of the heart

If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and if you worship him, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons so you can harvest crops of grain, grapes for wine, and olives for oil. — Deuteronomy 11:13-14

On May 11, 1831, a French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in New York for an eight-month visit to the fascinating young United States of America.

On his return home, he wrote Democracy in America, which first appeared in French in four volumes. He was greatly impressed with much that he saw in the United States, although he worried about “individualism”—a new word in those days. He was particularly interested in what he called the “habits of the heart” of the American people. By this he meant the opinions and ideas that “shape mental habits” and form the “moral and intellectual dispositions of men.”

Moses didn’t use the same terms, but he was clearly concerned about the “habits of the heart” among the Israelites. He told them, “If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and if you worship him” (Deuteronomy 11:13), then the result would be a blessed experience in the Promised Land. On the other hand, he warned, “But do not let your heart turn away from the Lord to worship other gods” (11:16). The consequences of letting their hearts turn away from the Lord would be severe.

Habits of the heart are formed as the mind embraces certain principles, the emotions respond to these principles, and decisions are made based on them. So in the case of the Israelites, it was necessary for them to acknowledge what they knew of God from His dealings with them. They needed to respond appropriately to His gracious provision and care for them, and they had to enter into a covenant of trust and obedience with Him.

As time went on, these understandings, feelings, and decisions would become habitual, and their lifestyles would reflect their heartfelt love for God and would be demonstrated in wholehearted worship. Conversely, if they allowed opinions and desires based on the religions that honored other gods to formulate in their hearts, their habits and their lifestyles would become incompatible with their professed allegiance to the Lord.

In other words, everything was related to the habits of their hearts.

Modern believers need to be conscious of the habits of their own hearts. We should take the time to explore the sources of our opinions and to evaluate the nature of our own desires. We should be willing to ask hard questions about the reasons for our decisions and check carefully the outcomes of our actions. Because the habits of a person’s heart profoundly affect the world he inhabits and the inhabitants thereof.

For further study: Deuteronomy 11:1-17

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.