Shaped by the Word —Proverbs 4:20-27
When I hear the directive to watch over my heart with all diligence, I immediately think of Jesus as the Lord over the whys of what I do. It is in our hearts where our whys form and direct our lives. Why we think what we think shapes what we choose to do, and what we choose to do determines the courses of our lives. The reasons of our hearts are the springs we’re commanded to steward. In a kingdom in which the primary law is love—for beings that will stand before God—these whys are enormous. David, the psalmist-king knew this:
O Lord, you examine me and know. You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives (i.e. my whys).
I think the author of Hebrews knew this as well when he said, “No creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (NET).” The NASB translates this same phrase as “with Him whom we have to do,” immediately before which comes:
The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
We enter this world bent on getting from it what we want when we want it. When we’re not doing that (which is practically never), we’re protecting ourselves from getting hurt. This is problematic. We cannot love well with such whys operating as the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Someone may be thinking: “Wait a minute, now. I play the piano at my church,” or, “I am an elder,” or, “I am a this or I am a that.” When we give an account of our lives to God one day, are these the things we really want to tell Him? I don’t think so.
For this reason, God tells us the whys of our hearts are crucial: everything, all of life, depends on what flows from this spring. The Word and the Spirit ask, “Why do you play the piano at your church? What motivates you to be an usher? A Sunday school teacher or a missionary?”
Our motives are varied, but here are some probable ones: there’s no one else to do it; I like doing it; I have been doing it so long, it’s just my habit now; it’s my duty; it’s my gift; I have been called to this ministry. These motives may be authentic and valid. Or, they may simply be what we tell ourselves, like froth on the crest of waves. God (who prefers compassion above sacrifice) plunges deep and discovers even the most profound springs of our desires and actions.
What if our good deeds are inauthentic? What if they gratify only our selfish desires? What if our deeds flow from springs contaminated by our wounded hearts?
An incredible number of people are burning out in their God-serving—going through the motions, flowing from bitter springs. Is it because our selfish and wounded hearts are incapable of going the distance? Is it the Lord mercifully intervening? I’m willing to bet—on both questions—yes. The Word exposes the hurtful ways of our hearts (born of flesh), which harm us now and will cost us later.
If you feel threatened or offended by this post, count it all joy. Consider the possibility that your flesh is reacting to the sword of the Spirit that is coming threateningly close to your heart, or that your Lord has identified something you have mistakenly claimed as your own. Consider that this disruption might be the beginnings of a work of grace within your heart. Wounded hearts are notorious for being insecure and defensive. Insecure, fleshly hearts are ingenious at carving out territory, claiming turn and titles for themselves: I am over the Sound Booth; that was my idea; I am Pastor. Again, “I am this and I am that.” If we found our identity and self worth on a title or an activity, our springs are deeply bitter and our actions are harmful. God has something so much higher—a promised land of abundant life. If we will let Him work in the deeper places of our hearts, He can take us there. It is what we were created for. This is God’s why, and it must become ours as well. It is our inheritance and our destiny.
While we defend our turf and keep a safe distances from others and God (guarding our wounded hearts), we inevitably traffic in religion—harmful compensation to hearts not settled in Christ. When we stand before Him, Jesus wants us all to be able to say, “Lord, You alone were my satisfaction, my sufficiency, the source of my joy and my strength. The only reason I am here is because You first loved me. Because of Your relentless pursuit of me, my love has been growing. Your presence in my heart has allowed me to serve you more and more out of love. Thank You Thank You for delivering me from the tyranny of the unseen whys of my heart and the subtle hell of religion into which it led.
Father, make religion an enemy You place beneath Your feet. Continue to pursue and slay every last remnant of this foe, even where he has so cleverly hidden himself in the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Set us free into Your very own liberty and joy. For our heart-pleasure and Your name’s sake. Amen.