Many of the commands in the Bible are about having the right inner attitude and disposition, what Jonathan Edwards calls “religious affections.” Since these are commands, there is something that we need to do. How can we cultivate a healthy heart?
In Colossians 3:12-17 we are commanded to “put on” the religious affections that are part of the new person that God has creates us to be in Christ. The first part of this passage describes the characteristics this inner life, while the second gives some instructions about how to nurture these affections. What can we do to grow in our godly religious affections?
Let God’s word dwell in your heart
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . .” (Col. 3:16a)
One of the most important ways to cultivate a healthy heart is to make God’s word a central part of our lives. The Greek word “dwell” in Col. 3:16 is related to the word “house.” Your “dwelling” is where you live, your home. It does not describe a place that you visit briefly on vacation. It’s the difference between inviting a friend to stay at your house for a few days vs. inviting them to live at your house long term. We need to let God’s word “dwell” in our hearts. If the only time you read God’s word is on Sunday morning, then you are only inviting God to come for a short visit once a week. That is not enough to transform our hearts.
How can we let God’s word take up residence in our hearts? Reading a chapter or two of scripture every day is a great start. We can also look for ways to keep God’s word with us throughout the day. Some people listen to an audio Bible while they commute or do chores around the house. Many have found it helpful to write Bible verses on a piece of paper and stick them up around the house. You might have additional ideas.
When we read the Bible, we need to listen for what God is speaking to us through his word. Just rushing through the reading to “get it done” is not enough. We need to let God’s word penetrate deeply into our hearts. One important way to do that is the practice of Christian meditation.
Psalm 1 describes two kinds of people, the person who will receive God’s blessing and the one who will face God’s judgment. It mentions some things we need to avoid in v. 1, but there is only one positive characteristic of the person who will be blessed, which is described in verse 2:
“his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps. 1:2, ESV)
The key to receiving God’s blessing is to delight in his word and meditate on it “day and night.” Do you want to experience God’s blessing? This is the way to receive it! I plan to write more in the future about how to practice Christian meditation. When I do, I will put a link here.
Cultivate godly religious affections through worship
“. . .teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. . .” (Col. 3:16b)
Many interpreters understand “singing” (ESV) as describing one way we do “teaching and admonishing.” NIV translates it “… through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” In NASB we read “…with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” In other words, “singing” is one form of “teaching and admonishing.”
This has significant implications regarding nurturing godly religious affections. In Christian worship, the lyrics are essential. When we sing, we proclaim truths about God. But it is more than just a mental exercise because music also deeply touches our emotions. We can use music to shape our inner religious affections.
In his book Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards contemplates why singing is such an important part of worship:
Consider, for example, the singing of praises to God, which seem to be “appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”
Different types of music can stir up different emotions. What kinds of music move you to greater love for God? How can you deliberately use the right sorts of music to nurture godly religious affections? How can you make listening to or singing praise songs a part of your daily life?
Spend time with God
If we want to let God’s word dwell in our hearts and use worship to cultivate religious affections, we need to spend time with God. Believers throughout the ages have spent time with God several times a day.
- David prayed at least three times a day, “evening, morning, and noon” (Ps. 55:16-17)
- Daniel had a regular practice of praying three times a day (Dan. 6:10)
- The psalmist prayed seven times a day (Ps. 119:164)
The Jewish people at the time of Jesus had the custom of praying three times a day at set times. The apostles continued that practice (Acts. 3:1; 10:9), and it was continued in the early church.
To cultivate a healthy heart, we need to be deliberate about spending time with God on a regular basis. We can follow the example of God’s people over the centuries in setting specific times each day to meet with God. A pattern that many find helpful is to spend a longer time in the morning, including scripture reading and meditation. Touch base with God again in the middle of the day and reflect briefly on how he has been present with you during the morning. In the evening spend some time to review your day, giving thanks for his blessings and praying about your concerns. You can set our own schedule, depending on your own life situation. But the important thing is to schedule regular time with God.
What has helped you to cultivate a healthy heart? Please share your experience in the comments section below. If you are interested in watching a sermon that I recently shared on this topic you can see it here.