Happy new year!
As I said in my last post, 2015 was a dark year for many people, and that made me pretty sad and angry. On New Year’s Day I started my Bible reading notes with Genesis 1. I’m convinced that the God who spoke creation out of darkness and chaos can bring light today, even to the darkest places.
It’s not a new year’s resolution as such, but as 2015 has given way to 2016, this verse from the Bible’s ancient book of Proverbs has been a good companion to me: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). I’ve been challenged that I am solely responsible for the state of my heart – nobody else is. In fact, a wise friend of mine once likened the choice to guard his heart to checking the battery in his smoke alarm at home! Ensuring that your smoke alarm will be operational in the event of a fire is something that is important to do (maybe, like me, your cooking will ensure regular bouts of beeping anyway?!). But Scripture tells us that caring for our heart is essential.
We may not understand our hearts, but God does – in fact, he sees right into ’em! In the Old Testament, as the prophet Samuel seeks the person whom God wants to anoint as king over Israel, God tells Samuel that “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
I don’t know about you, but I find that so freeing! My outward appearance and what people think of me (or what I think they think of me!) matters not a jot compared to what God knows is underneath. I guess I could respond to this verse by thinking, “Oh my goodness, but I’m such a mess inside, and God sees it all!” But that’s the whole point. It’s mind-boggling that God does see it all – and loves us anyway. Even whilst we humans were tearing ourselves, each other, and God’s beautiful world apart, he sent his son to die for us (see Romans 5:8).
If you’re a parent, you’ll know that if your child ever went off-track, even very very off-track, you wouldn’t love them any less would you? No. You’d love them anyway. No matter what we’ve done – and you may be reading this thinking “Yeah, but you don’t know just how bad what I’ve done is!” – still we can still return to our heavenly Dad and receive a royal welcome as his beloved children.
A new heart
Left to my own devices, I’m a careless lady! My default position is to sleepwalk into having “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). What I’ve found really interesting to ponder recently though is that, when I first turned away from my bad old ways and offered my life to God, he actually gave me a new heart (see the book of Ezekiel, specifically 11:19, 18:31 and 36:26). As his new creation, I’m no longer defined by what I used to think, say or do. So, if I’ve repented of the wrong things I’ve done and yet I continue to feel their dragging weight, my feelings are lying to me. The truth is that all my rubbish has been nailed to the cross. The truth is that I am God’s child. The truth is that God will always take great delight in me.
What am I doing to guard my heart?
This new heart of mine is precious and cost Jesus everything. What can I do to look after it?
For me, ‘feeding’ my heart in the right way is the priority at the moment. What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? Well, I’ve recently decided to reduce my use of social media, as the effect on me can be negative. I’ve also resolved to respond to work emails only within working hours. To lay down the urge to answer immediately, say yes, take on more and more. There are a few scriptures in particular which are breathing new life into my tired bones, and I’ll be praying them over myself and my loved ones each day, regardless of how big the laundry pile is. The next few Friday mornings won’t find me attending the commitment I normally attend on Friday mornings – I have checked and am assured that this commitment will function perfectly well without me for a few weeks whilst I attend a parenting course. I also skipped half a day’s work this week to attend an information session run by the Christian adoption/fostering charity Home for Good – I found it incredibly moving to meet the adopters and fosterers there, and to hear their stories. (Don’t expect any new additions to my family yet – just something God’s put on my heart lately through my brilliant adopting friend Desertmum – read her blog here!) The half-day’s work I missed was part of a flexible commitment anyway and will be easily caught up with at a later date. My colleague was super gracious about it and was interested to hear about the information session. Likewise, I’m sure my husband and son will be fine taking the cat to the vet without my supervision(!) in a couple of weeks whilst I attend a women’s teaching day at church.
If some of this sounds a little self-indulgent and responsibility-shirking, well yes, fair point. But look again. Do you see the lie I’ve believed? I’ve believed the lie that I’m indispensable, that nothing will ‘work’ without me. I care for my family, engage with my community and work hard, but I let the pendulum swing too far.
With God there are no musts, should or oughts. With God there is secure relationship. With God we can trust that he sees beyond human plans, that he has everything in hand already. I’m learning that none – none – of my responsibilities are as pressing as I think they are. If I take time to be still and get to know Jesus and his word better – even if other things have to be laid down, my phone ignored – I’ll return to daily life to find the world will still be turning without me.
And when I return l can actually be more fruitful in the areas where God has called me to serve! That’s the promise of Proverbs 4:23, isn’t it? If I guard my heart, everything I do will flow from it. That’s not a get-out clause – that’s an exhortation! Past experience, too, assures me that when I make space, I’m generally more able to hear the Spirit’s promptings and thus grow in my identity in Christ.* He wants me to know who he says I am. He longs to restore me. It’s only when I’m secure in my God-crafted identity that I can serve him – never out of fear or lack of confidence. After all – he loves me anyway.
What about you? Are you caring for your heart? Is there anything you could cut out – temporarily or permanently? Anything to increase? Do you test your smoke alarm by burning the dinner too?!
* But equally, let’s not forget that GRACE abounds – God is God, so he can still speak even in the midst of madness and chaos! I learned this in a new way when Freddie was ill in hospital a couple of years ago (he’s fine now thankfully), and perhaps you’ve found this too! I just don’t think generally we can be quite as tuned in to his voice when we’re filling our lives with frantic busyness.