The heart is central to our life and journey. It beats in our chest to keep us going. It pushes the life giving blood through our veins. It races when we need it and slows when we’re quiet. Our mothers helped it develop in their body. Our heart quickens when we love someone. Sometimes we can share it with someone else. But at some point it stops when it’s time to step into eternity. And, yet, it represents so much more.
Our heart is the symbolic center of our lives. We hear phrases like, “I love you with all of my heart,” or “it was a heartbreaking decision.” Our hearts do get broken. They bleed. They feel. Sometimes we say we lead with our heart. People in the southern USA say, with pity, “bless your heart” (not an endearing phrase most of the time). Our hearts are wrenched sometimes. We play games with all of our heart. The heart symbolizes our commitment to a cause or a relationship. It is central to our loyalties and expresses deep commitment.
God loves his people and expresses his remarkable character by becoming a human with a human heart in order to make way for his people to surrender their heart to him. He is the only one who can satisfy our heart and he is the only one who will never disappoint us. But he calls us to unabashedly and unreservedly give our heart to him. In fact, all he wants is our heart. He told the Jews, “I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel.” God declares his great motive in spite of our duplicitous and adulterated hearts. He offers us the Living Water to satisfy us and to proclaim his great name. He is a relational God who alone can satisfy our heart. When we find our satisfaction in him we are at rest, even when chaos surrounds us. John Piper reminds us that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. The world was created for his glory. He gave us hearts so that we could enjoy this glory.
Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” God wants us to recognize that there is no other treasure that will satisfy us besides him. The pleasures and treasures we continually try to fill the void in order to satisfy our hearts always fails. Those deceptive “treasures” have as much potential to satisfy us as a nameless and lifeless idol has of speaking to us. Even the things that have the capability to make us happy never last as long as we would like. And yet, we continue the same routine. Idols cannot preserve the heart. Only Christ can do that. As he told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
So, how does treasuring Christ preserve the heart? Let me offer a few ways that this works.
First, in Christ, we are given peace. Peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul shares in Galatians. It’s important to understand that peace is not the same as happiness. Peace exists regardless of the circumstances, whereas happiness is based entirely on circumstances. I recall when our first child was born. Inexplicably he was born with a malignant tumor called neuroblastoma. During his first week of life we had no idea if he would live or not. It was the worst week of our lives. But in the midst of the nonstop tears my wife and I both experienced peace knowing that God is good, merciful, and provident.
Secondly, we know from God’s word and from our experience that God is truly provident. This means that nothing surprises him. He isn’t confused. He isn’t capricious. He isn’t random. He isn’t cruel. Honestly, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a finite being to make sense of an infinite God. We simply can’t wrap our minds around the idea of infinitude. This isn’t an excuse, but merely a nod to the reality that our limits will never be able to explain God. Otherwise we would be God. It is important and essential for us to rest in his reputation and his character. When have we ever known God to fail, or to drop the ball, or to not live up to his promises? Sure, there are plenty of moments in life where we may be tempted to think he has left the building, like when my son had cancer, but hindsight always offers perspective. Even if our suffering feels unending. Job is a good study for us to see that God is provident, even if it feels a little (or a lot) challenging to grasp. God reminds Job that he is in control and nothing slips through his fingers. When Job acquiesces he finds peace, even though his questions are not answered and his children remained dead. He could let his questions go unanswered because the very God he challenges remains constant and pure irregardless of his comprehension of God’s greatness. He makes all things new. Psalm 139 also reminds us of how knowledgeable and personal he really is.
Thirdly, treasuring Christ preserves our heart by taking away the angst that life so often brings. When we experience peace and we trust in God’s eternal sovereignty we have no need for the oppression of anxiety. Even though life brings certain unpredictability about what’s around the next corner we are able to experience restfulness. Two thoughts here. First, this isn’t to say that our mere belief and trust in God dissolves angst. It means that we can find rest knowing God is in control. We can be expectant and actually believe that God will be faithful and provide for us, even if it feels difficult or scary to do so. It reminds me of the father who asks Jesus to heal his son. Jesus, challenging the man’s trust, asks him if he believes he can heal the boy. The man responds, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” It’s an awkward place to be as we believe God is in control and yet we struggle to not jump in to make sure all ends well.
Secondly, although we want God to remove our problems and pain what he actually promises is better. He tells us that he will walk with us through them. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….” Treasuring Christ provides that simple, but fulfilling choice to rest in God.
As I write this I am in the midst of making a career change. Some people would say I am crazy at this age to make such a change, and yet, here I go. I believe the Lord is allowing me this choice and has affirmed my desire to change. And yet…… Don’t believe for a minute that I don’t have some moments of breathless panic. But I do believe he will provide and protect. That is his nature and I am his child. In the midst of a very unpredictable journey I can move confidently because I am his child and he has never failed.
Standing in this confidence I sense that he is preserving my heart. I am at rest even while the storm rages around me. Isaiah says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” The preservation of the heart starts and ends with God. Rest in him.
2 thoughts on “The Preservation of the Heart”
One thing that your blog brought to mind was something I recently discovered from reading the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Ignatius developed an intensive retreat for developing Christlikeness and discerning God’s will that is still being used by both Catholics and Protestants. His exercises involve some very intensive soul-searching and deep repentance of specific sins of the mind, body and emotions. It involves rigorous prayer and genuine repentance.
But St. Ignatius anyone from going through these exercises unless they had thoroughly experienced God’s love as being personal and unconditional. He believed any attempt to grow in Godliness would be doomed to fail unless it was based on the unconditional love of God. Without knowing God’s love, it would just be rewards and penalties. Whether or not we succeed in cleaning up our act, God still loves us. Without this experience of Lord, we will never treasure time with Him, any more than we treasure time with a traffic cop or an IRS auditor.
It’s not just a matter of treasuring Christ–we also need to realize that Christ treasures us. That’s why He died for us, because he loves us personally and unconditionally. When we know we are treasured by God with such intensity, it’s easy for us to treasure Him back.
Bill, thank you so much for your comment. You are right. God delights in us and Jesus is the ultimate expression of His love and justice. I appreciate you pointing that out because we can respond to the Lord based on his grace more than if we think of him as a taskmaster and unloving dad. The love of Christ compels us to obey him and the wrath of God (for our rebellion) was poured out on Jesus. Amazing grace, indeed.