I continue to find young men who are frustrated at their stage in life in part because of a lack of clarity about their calling, or a lack of opportunity to do what they really want to do. This frustration leads many to become idle. Inactive if not aimless. And this leads many to become jobless (or nearly so) while becoming overly dependent on others (parents, friends, credit cards). If you find yourself at this stage I would like to address you, my friends. No, I'm not going to lecture you about your motives, growing up, or prolonged adolescence, though such things might be issues for you to deal with. I only want to remind you of three truths than can change how you understand and experience this time in your life.
This time is hard, and it is easy to conclude there is little to no value in these days of uncertainty and disappointment. While you are figuring out (or waiting to do) what you are called to do vocationally, know this: you are called by God to work hard now, to share with others, and to love your neighbor...
One of the 10 most important books I have read outside of Scripture is John Flavel's, Keeping the Heart. I have greatly benefitted from it personally, and the truths within have come to mark much of my teaching and preaching. Flavel, interacting with Prov. 4:23, defines keeping the heart as "the diligent and constant use of all holy means to preserve the soul from sin, and maintain its sweet and free communion with God."
In my previous post I warned against the danger of neglecting the heart, particularly as it relates to knowing our own corruptions and weaknesses. The author of Hebrews warns us of this danger as well when he wrote,
Notice what Hebrews is teaching us. Not just the danger of neglecting the heart, but also the means of protecting it. "exhort one another." This is not generic encouragement or try-harder coaching. This is gospel application to one another's hearts. This is pressing Scripture into each others' lives. Of all of the "holy means" we have to keep the heart none is more important than Scripture.
We don't talk about "Scripture" being useful today like we used to. We use the word "gospel" a lot without much further direction. But merely saying "gospel" is not enough. In fact the degree to which anyone can be "gospel-centered" is largely determined by his Bible-fluency. I'm not talking about getting the 10 commandments in the right order, or knowing what was created on which day in Genesis 1. I mean that keeping the heart (guarding against the danger of sin, but also cultivating love for and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ--see John 15) is a gospel issue, and the gospel can only be known in God's word.
So, as we think about this practically, "How can I keep the heart?", the word Scripture will be central. Below are three Scripture-driven ways of keeping the heart.
Let the Word of God Expose You
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV)
If you can read the Bible without coming away feeling the conviction of God over your sin and your desperate need for daily grace you are reading without receiving. Whether we are reading about the character and work of God or his laws and commands, we should be struck with both his holiness and his our unholiness, his purity and our impurity, his provision and our great need.
In other words part of keeping your heart is seeing, owning, and repenting of your sin daily. You will not guard your heart against the danger of sin if you do not recognize both its presence and its damaging influence. Look to God's word to expose the darkness in you, and this will lead you to the next, and vitally connected, way of keeping the heart.
Let The Word of God Rescue You
"Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21, ESV)
Let the Word of God Guide You
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
The word of God reveals his will (law) to us and consequently exposes our guilt. In doing this it shows us our need for redemption, and by the work of the Spirit through the ministry of the word we believe in Christ who rescues us from our guilt. But if this is all we do with God's law we have stopped short of God's intention.
God hasn't told us what he desires of us only to show us we can't do it. In Jesus Christ we are rescued from our lawlessness unto a life of godliness. "[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:14) And he has given us his word that we would be "equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)
Our hope before God is not our performance, but the righteousness of God imputed to us through faith in Jesus (Phil 3:8, 9). And yet there a safe keeping of the heart to be found in allowing God's word to guide us in the "normative" use of God's law. His word, his law, remains a rule for Godly living and by his Spirit he empowers us to do what he commands. (Ez. 36:26, 27)
One way we keep our hearts is by letting the word of God guide us, or lead us, in godliness.
May we, by the grace of God and the ministry of the word, seek the preservation of our souls from sin, while maintaining sweet and free communion with our great God and Savior.
We had a great Mother's Day today: worshipping with our church family, lunch with the my extended family at my grandmother's, and play time back our our house. At the moment I'm sitting outside watching the kids run around and climb trees. I just asked my wife, Jen (the greatest woman I know, and the mother of our four children), what are some books she would encourage other women to read. Here are a few off the top of her head, including a few she recently read.
The Two Fears by Chris Poblete
A Mother's Heart by Jean Flemming
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
The Surprising Grace of Disappointment by John Koessler
Gospel Powered Parenting by William P Farley
Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchavidjian
I love this couple. You need to watch it all. Easily the best video of the week. Probably of the month.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
(Psalm 139:23-24, ESV)
How well do you know your heart? I'm not talking about your feelings, but your deepest motives, desires, corruptions, and idols. It is not as simple as some might think. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9) The heart is tricky, even for the Christian. For though we have been given a new heart that beats with love for God, corruption remains.
The human heart (even your heart, Christian) is a mess and needs to be watched, guarded, and kept. It is too easy to focus on our behavior while leaving the heart behind. And one part of the work of guarding your heart means knowing it, or clearly seeing your inner weaknesses and root sins. Ah, but you think you know your heart. Are you sure?
There is real danger when we neglect our hearts by remaining ignorant and insensitive to our corruption. By not examining ourselves, uncovering sin, repenting, and trusting Christ daily we can expect the pain of three heart conditions.
One way we neglect the heart is by dealing with our sin on the level of doing instead of being. Addressing your behavior without addressing the heart will lead to a sanctification as thin as a Christian t-shirt. In fact, by neglecting the heart you leave yourself exposed to the sticky and spreading nature of sin. "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:15, ESV) Sin that remains unchecked will gain ground in your life. And to check it means to hit it at the heart level.
A neglected heart will not grieved by its sin. It grows a kind of callous that leaves it numb. This not only leads to the spread of sin, but also to a lack of joy. The deepest joy to be found is in the Savior who rescues us from our sin and guilt and welcomes us into his presence and Kingdom. Such joy is lost when we continue in sin unchecked. "Restore to me the joy of your salvation,and uphold me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:12, ESV) David lost the joy of the Lord and his salvation after neglecting his heart. The turning point was seeing and sensing the depths of his own sin and returning to God in humble repentance.
When we neglect our hearts we lose sight of how sinful we really are. Not were, but are. This not only leads to pride, but it also weakens our love for our Savior because we no longer see just what we have been rescued from, and how vast and unending is his grace toward us. It is the one who knows how much he has been forgiven that loves deeply. "He who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Lk. 7:36-50) The one who begins to understand the depths and dangers of his sin will swell with love for Jesus who laid down his own life to save the ungodly.
Do not neglect your heart. But keep it. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23, ESV)
In a follow-up post I will offer some general and specific counsel on how we can know and keep our hearts.