In reading 1 Kings I’m appalled by Solomon’s fall. In chapter 8 we find Solomon’s epic recital of God’s greatness at the dedication of the new temple. Again, in chapter 9, God appeared to him a second time and promised: “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” But by chapter 11 we find a grim new report: “and the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” What happened?
The answer: Solomon failed to follow his own advice in Proverbs 4:23 to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”. In Solomon’s case we read of the specifics: “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women . . .” (1 Kings 11:1). That was common in his day, as treaties between countries were certified by marriages—something he fully embraced. And with those foreign wives came their foreign gods.
As we reflect on Solomon’s life we do well to remember Paul’s warning about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 2:1-3 and 6:12—that our own spiritual health comes in recognizing our real challenge: we face an ongoing opposition from spiritual forces that once ruled us through “the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3).
The key word is “desires”—whether we think of Solomon’s love for women or our own distracting desires. Anything that keeps us from a life-changing love for God is sin. So how do we guard our hearts against the attacks that come to us through the many attractions—the “desires”—our enemy has at hand?
The traditional answer offered by the stoic strain of Christianity relies on the mind and the will: first we learn which choices are proper, then we make those choices. And, at some level, it seems like a sound response. A child, for instance, is told to stop doing something they “want” to do—speaking of that behavior as an expressed desire—or else they will face some consequence. The question, of course, is whether the consequences are great enough to make them “want” to change.
We need to notice, however, that “desires” and “wants” are one and the same: the affective orientation of the heart. We always do what we “want” to do, and only when a competing desire overcomes a lesser desire does our “want” change. So a person may choose to take a painful course in college that seems like a stoic decision because they “know” it’s the right choice. But in reality they do it because they “want” the degree that the course will help bring about.
Our naïve failure to grasp that connection—that our desires shape everything we do—is what makes us vulnerable to moral heart attacks. The traditional troika of evil—the world, the flesh, and the devil—are only as effective as their affective powers are in drawing us away from God. Solomon certainly loved God at some level, but God was no match for the attractive women offered to him as “treaty brides” by the regional kings who wanted to shape what Solomon wanted. He might have asked God for advice about what would please him, as his father David normally did. But even David failed to ask God what would most please him in the case of Bathsheba. There David wanted another man’s wife more than he wanted God’s delight. Like father, like son.
How, then, do we guard our own hearts against ungodly desires—including the socially acceptable desires for self-advancing wisdom, power, wealth (in Jeremiah 9) and glory (John 5)? The only answer is for us to set the eyes of our hearts towards Christ as the one who is ultimately attractive once we truly see him. For us to remain secure we should desire more of Christ; to set our minds on him by responding to his Spirit’s captivating presence as he discloses Christ’s own heart to us. It works for as long as we want to guard our hearts.
That, of course, is easy to write but it often fails to work. Why the failures? Because we often want other things more than we want Christ’s pleasure. And because nothing can overcome a desire in us, given that the nature of a desire is to be self-protective: it’s the feature in us that doesn’t want to change!
So we need to ask Christ to give us new desires. We need to expose our hearts to what delights him—a gift offered to us in Scriptures. We need to ask him to examine our hearts to see if there are any wayward desires active in us—desires we may still want to protect—and ask him to lead us in his own ways. If God answers prayers—and he does—we will be less and less vulnerable to the heart attacks we see all around us.