There are two directives here, one of which may surprise. In this the 11th of thirty wise sayings grouped together in Proverbs 22:17–24:22 we are told;
1) Apply your heart to instruction.
2) Apply your ear to words of knowledge
This at first can be surprising because in our age of information, content and knowledge. One might expect it to say “apply our mind to instruction” but it doesn’t. Why?
One of the themes throughout Scripture concerning who we are and how we’re made by God, is that the heart is the centre of our being not our minds. I speaking of the heart Scripture here is not merely taking about your and my “blood pump”.
The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the physical, mental, moral and spiritual life. The heart is the place of the will, of motive, conscience and it is the spring from which life or death flows. Elsewhere in Proverbs 4:23 Scripture declares that the heart is the wellspring/fountain of life.
In the fall, men and women’s hearts were corrupted and so because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual and so salvation is rooted in heart transformation so that we believe with our hearts, and as a result are declared justified by God and therefore are saved! (Romans 10:10)
So, the heart is of primary importance, and this is why this saying tells us to apply our hearts to instruction. But what does that look like?
How can I apply my heart to instruction?
First we need to use our ears, open them, we need to listen. Listening to words of knowledge in itself is a heart lead action. In order to hear properly we need to humble ourselves, not be proud or arrogant or unteachable but actively give our ears to knowledge being shared with us.
Then, having heard we need to apply our hearts to what we have heard. I think the best way to do this is to train ourselves to become ‘self-aware’ – to learn to identify how we are feeling, thinking, reacting and why so?
We need to ask questions that go beyond content, what have I received? What have I felt God say to me? What reactions have I had and why?
Applying our hearts to instruction will help us to hear what God is saying to us which allows us to then discern, to obey and to be shaped by what we’ve heard.