“But watch yourselves, or your hearts will be weighed down by dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of life–and that day will spring upon you suddenly like a snare” (Luke 21:34 Berean SB).
The human heart is a powerful organ – it works ceaselessly, day and night, pumping blood to parts of the body. An unhealthy heart can reduce a person’s productivity and take him to an early grave; so we try to eat sensibly and avoid habits that cause damage to this vital organ.
“Above every charge keep thy heart, for out of it are the outgoings of life” (Proverbs 4:23 Young’s Literal). In the spiritual realm, the care of the inner heart is imperative – for one’s eternal destiny hinges on its soundness. We live in a world corrupted by evil, where Christ and His cross are sidelined, forgotten or mocked in popular culture. Wolves abound in churches to devour the flock of God – and they seek, first of all, to make us careless about the condition of our hearts. So we are taught to ‘watch over’, ‘guard’ and ‘keep’ our hearts with ‘all diligence’, for it is the ‘wellspring of life’, and from here ‘flows the issues of life’ to ‘determine the course of our destiny’ (different translations).
King Solomon who gave this advice understood better than most, how easily one’s heart is entangled by things of the world. He had a good beginning, but ended his innings tragically. At birth, he was named ‘the beloved of the Lord’ by God Himself; as a young ruler, he was blessed with superior knowledge, intelligence and unlimited wealth; and yet he completely lost his way in endless pleasure seeking and self-actualisation.
Moses warned the Israelites as they drew close to receiving their inheritance in the Promised Land – “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live” (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV). The things of the Spirit can so easily fade from our hearts and minds, unless we are determined to follow the One who redeemed us from our sinful state. We cannot afford to become passive – guarding our hearts requires serious study and consistent effort. As the final objective is to live lives that please God, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the things that are contrary to His will.
What does the heart represent in Christian life? The mind represents our spiritual understanding, while the heart represents our conscience, motives and desires, as we serve Christ; it is at the centre of the new life that we have in Christ. Our core values as Christians should be based on the ‘mission statement’ that Christ gave His disciples – “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). If we are constantly exposed to ungodly influences, our hearts will harden. We will lose all desire to stay on the narrow road, as our hearts are naturally inclined to conform to the world’s culture which Christ has called us to challenge.
What are the things which contaminate the Christian’s heart and render him unproductive? A quick look at 3 scripture portions around this topic reveals what these ‘heart pollutants’ are.
1. Jesus spoke of the seeds that fell on the thorny ground – “The cares of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 Berean SB).
2. “Constantly be on your guard so that your hearts will not be loaded down with self-indulgence, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, or that day will take you by surprise” (Luke 21:34 ISV).
3. “… for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8 ESV).
First, is excessive worry about one’s life in this world. We all have our needs and struggles; therefore, anxiety about life may seem like ‘a natural thing’, and not ‘a big sin’. But Jesus warns us that it is the heathen way – and not the Christian way – to worry. Worrying dishonours God, because it shows that we do not trust Him to meet our needs. The ‘worries of life’ can distract us, weigh down our hearts and make us unfruitful.
Second, the pleasures of this world – ‘the sights that dazzle’- can blur our spiritual vision, divert us away from spiritual goals, to seeking worldly gain. The cross of Jesus Christ and His claim on our lives, take a backseat in our lives. Our desire will be ‘for the other things’, not the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Third, we ought to guard against double-mindedness; the NLT version describes this as a loyalty divided between God and the world. We wish to please both parties – God and mammon; and win the prizes that each has to offer. At the root of a double-minded nature is unbelief – we are not yet convinced that the best things come from God, or we lack faith in the goodness of God, and His ability to act in our best interests.
The 3 pollutants are closely linked; they work together to dilute and weaken a Christian’s witness in this world. There is also an underlying principle of loyalty – which god will we serve? Joshua demanded that Israel make a clear choice about whom they would serve – whether God or the idols. Joshua and the Israelites of his generation chose God. Solomon and Lot’s wife chose the world and its false gods, and their lives exemplify the consequent dangers.
How can we, practically speaking, protect our hearts? Are there antidotes for the contaminants that try to creep into our spiritual bloodstreams? The scripture provides 4 pieces of instruction in this regard –
1. Rely on God’s word to transform us
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 NIV).“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11 NIV). The word of God if properly deployed, will stand as first sentry at the door of our hearts, to sensitise us to the assaults of this world. “The instruction of his God is in his heart; his steps do not falter” (Psalm 37:11 HCSB).
When we study God’s word, and absorb it into our hearts, we increase our resistance to the world’s lures. If tempted to do things contrary to God’s commandments, the word is our sword to fight the tempter; and we ought to follow Christ’s example in declaring aloud the will of God – “It is written…” – to neutralise his darts. Success in the other 3 steps requires diligence in studying the word.
2. Give up worrying
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on (ESV)… For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (HCSB)” (Matthew 6:25, 32. Jesus does not deny that we have earthly needs; He reminds us that God already knows what these needs are, and as a good Father, He will unfailingly provide.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 Berean SB). We should go to God in simple faith, make our requests, and then deliberately fight every tendency to worry. Worry will do us harm – like thorns, they choke our spiritual fruitfulness. In contrast, when we pray to God, and trust Him for our needs, His supernatural peace will sweep over minds and guard our hearts.
3. Give up greed
And He said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 Berean SB). “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV).
We should use the word of God to overcome the love for this world – a defiling love, that seeks to creep in and block our spiritual arteries. We must pray to be delivered from every inclination to put our pleasure or personal advancement before the things of God. If we choose instead to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, then we are promised that “all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV).
4. Return to God after each fall
We all stumble in one way or another. Our hearts are ‘deceitful above all things’, but when we come to God, He will help us back on our feet. If we slip, instead of running away from God, we ought to run back to Him. When we confess our sins and failures, He has promised to forgive us, and by the blood of Jesus, purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7, 9). “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8 ESV).
In conclusion, at the first sign of heart trouble, we should turn to the divine Cardiologist for cure. Indeed, if we are careful to follow the instructions in His word, visit Him frequently for check ups and take necessary steps to protect our hearts, then our problems will be minor and easily repaired. We will enjoy peace, a clear conscience and freedom from anxiety, as well as the assurance that our lives – both now and in eternity – are being lived out in the will of God.
Father, help us to remain wakeful, and to guard our hearts. Give us a deep love and understanding of Your word. May we be kept from greed and deliver us from this habit of worrying. Grant us the grace to depend on You for everything, and cast our cares on You. In Jesus’ name.