8 Questions To Help Guard Your Heart

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When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us he changes our hearts and minds. He gives us the mind of Christ (Php 2:5). And we are to cooperate with him by actively transforming our minds and thinking by the word of God:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…RO 12:2

As we take in God’s word, the Spirit of God renews our minds, causing us to think Christ’s thoughts, to see life as Christ sees it, and to know God more and more. Yet it’s important that we guard our hearts diligently:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,for from it flow the springs of life. PR 4.23

In other words, we must pay attention to what is going into and coming out of our hearts. We must watch what we’re thinking. This doesn’t mean we should become self-absorbed or become overly introspective or constantly be thinking about ourselves. But we should be aware of our thoughts because our mindset affects our life. Here are seven questions we can ask ourselves to see how we are keeping our hearts:

What am I believing about God?

Do I believe what his Word says about him? Do I believe he is faithful? Do I believe he is sovereign, good and loving? Am I trusting his promises? Or do I believe he has forsaken me or doesn’t care about me?

Am I constantly giving thanks?

Gratefulness produces joy. Noting and recalling our blessings turns us to God. Do I regularly thank Jesus for saving me? Do I have “the joy of my salvation?” Am I thanking God in everything? If we believe that God works all things for good, then we can thank him in any and every situation. If grumbling and complaining is coming out of our hearts, something is amiss with our view of God.

Am I giving into any condemnation?

Am I consistently living in the good of the gospel? Am I forgetting the good news that Jesus paid for all my sins, failures, mistakes, omissions? Do I fall into self-pity at my failures or weaknesses? Am I constantly dwelling on my regrets? Am I living in the good of the gospel? Am I pressing ahead in faith?

Am I casting my cares on God?

Do I believe God answers prayer? Do I believe he has the power to help me and change any situation? Am I asking for his help or am I trying to solve all my problems on my own? A lack of prayer reveals a lack of humility and a lack of faith.

How am I interpreting my life?

Am I interpreting it from a Biblical framework? Is God in the equation? Or am I thinking in wordly ways? Again, do I believe God is in control and working for my good? Or do I believe that life is out of control or that God is distant and uninterested?

Am I being attracted to any sin or the world?

Am I thinking like the world thinks? Am I craving the things of the world – success, possessions, personal fulfillment? Am I flirting with any sin? Am I thinking thoughts like “A little bit won’t hurt” or “I’ll just do this one time then I’ll quit” or “No one will know if I do this”? Am I envious of what others have? Am I jealous of others’ success or gifts or possessions? Am I depressed about not having certain things?

Do I fear God?

Do I believe he knows my every thought word and deed? Do I believe I’ll have to answer for everything I do in life? Do I want to do everything for the glory of God? Do I believe God sees everything I do and nothing is hidden from his eyes?

Am I humble?

Am I doing anything from selfish ambition?  When I correct someone do I look for the log in my own eye first?  Do I listen to others?  Am I easy to correct?  Am I able to admit I’m wrong?  Do I think I’m something great?  Do I remember that all I have is a gift from God and anything good I’ve accomplished has really been the Lord?

I’m sure there are many other good questions we can ask ourselves to guard our hearts with all vigilance.  May the constant outflow from our hearts be thankfulness, praise, faith, encouragement to others, mercy and kindness.

A Simple Habit To Set The Tone For Your Day

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What’s the first thing you think about when you wake up? Do you have thoughts like:

Oh great, another miserable cold day.
These kids are driving me crazy.
I have to meet with my boss today.
I hate my job.
This house is such a mess.
I have so much to study before my final.
I am so tired.
Need coffee! Now.

The thoughts we start the day with can set the tone for our day. We can begin the day grumbling and down. We can kick off the morning worrying or stressed. DML Jones said:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you?

Jones refers to Psalm 42:5:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

So Jones goes on to say we must do what the Psalmist did:

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted?

A little later he says:

And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.

This is a great habit to get into. Not just when we wake up but all day long. Remind yourself of who God is and his promises to you. I heard one man say that he’d cultivated the habit of thanking God for the gift sleep as soon as he woke in the morning. So years ago, I began to do that. Then I added a couple other things to try to remember to thank God for every morning as I stagger toward the coffee pot:

Thank you for your protection during the night.
Thank you that your mercies are new every morning.
Thank you for your steadfast love that never ceases.
Thank you Jesus for saving me.

As I begin to thank God each morning as I’m waking up, it sets a tone of thankfulness for my whole day. This small habit has made a huge difference in my life. Try it as you head towards your coffeemaker. This works equally well for tea drinkers….

The Difference Between Self-Talk and God-Talk

Self-talk. Soul-talk. Positive affirmation. Your inner coach.  If you read headlines from modern psychology you may be familiar with these phrases. The Huffington Post’s website has just under 50 articles listed under the tag “self-talk,” and an Amazon search turned up 34,793 results in books alone (I made it to #5 before I quit). The idea behind the phrases is that each of us has a constant inner monologue going on, a torrent of words, perspectives, and evaluations that no one hears but ourselves. By changing the tone and content of this self-talk, the experts say, we can change ourselves. Hence we have books titled “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself” and “Self-Talk Your Way to Success.”

I think, as usual, the psychologists are on to something…and have simultaneously totally missed the deeper point. Let me explain.

Do you and I experience something that could be labeled “self-talk?” Absolutely! It’s a very accurate description of part of the human experience. Think back on the last hour. Tune in to the thoughts you’ve had. Did you evaluate yourself? Did you think about a problem? Have you compared yourself? Were any of your thoughts self-congratulatory, or self-condemning? Odds are that they were. You could translate many of those thoughts into statements about yourself to yourself. He was wrong when he did that to you – he doesn’t respect you at all! You just sounded like an idiot – you’re never getting that job. Those kind of statements could be called “self-talk,” and if we pay attention I think everyone would have to say we experience something like that.

But here’s where the psychologists totally miss the real issue. If you change from “negative self-talk” to “positive self-talk,” what doesn’t change? Self. The autonomy of me. My perspective matters most. Whether I’m saying positive or negative things to myself, I’m still at the center – and that’s a problem, especially for Christians. Though we live and move in God’s world, in the arena of our minds most of us are functional atheists. And a me-centered conversation can only go so far before it derails into pride or despair.

Here’s the good news: for a child of God, self-talk can become God-talk. No place models this for us better than Psalm 119. As David Powlison points out in his article “Suffering and Psalm 119,” no two words are more common in this psalm than “you” and “I.” The psalmist makes statements to God about God: You are good and do good;” “You are my hiding place and my shield;” “But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true” (vv. 68, 114, 151). He talks to God about himself: “I am a sojourner on the earth;” “I am yours; save me;” “I am severely afflicted;” “I am your servant;” “I am small and despised” (vv. 19, 94, 107, 125, 141). He asks God for life, for understanding, for deliverance, for protection. He tells God about his trials and his struggles with sin. Self-talk meets God-talk. God-talk redeems self-talk. The result? Sanity. Health. Life. Hope. “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (114).

For those who have trusted in Christ, who now call the creator of the universe “Father,” an inner monologue is an absurdity. Why talk only to yourself when you can talk to the Almighty, your Maker and your friend? So yes, tune in to your self-talk – but don’t let it remain self-talk. Speak to the Lord: about who he is, about who you are, about what you face, and what you need. Turn self-talk into God-talk. “Blessed are those…who seek him with their whole heart!” (v.2).

Photo by Mrsdkrebs.

 

I Hear Voices…Do You?

Sometimes I hear voices. Voices talking to me. Voices in my head. Do you? (Cue the creepy music.)

No, I don’t have a Gollum-like split personality, and no, I don’t need to be locked in a padded room with basket-weaving supplies. But I do hear voices, or at least a voice, and I bet you do too. I’m talking about the incessant internal dialogue going on in our heads, the voice that sounds like your voice but comes up with all kinds of suggestions, ideas, evaluations, critiques, or judgments. I don’t care what kind of chatterboxes you live with, no one talks to you as much as you do.

“You do realize they’re talking about you right now, don’t you?”

“Why did you say that? An intelligent (godly, mature, humble) person wouldn’t have said that.”  

“Don’t listen to him – he really doesn’t understand you.”

“You should do family devotions (prayer and fasting, date night, personal evangelism) like that person does. You’re an inferior Christian if you don’t.”

Those are the kinds of voices I’m talking about. Often the voices are condemning, suggesting subtle or vague ways we don’t live up to an undefined standard. But they can just as easily be self-congratulating (“Nobody could have done that like you!”) and pride-enhancing (“you’re awesome with a capital A!”). The point is that they’re there, whispering to us in the silence of our selves. What are we to do with them?

Here’s the short answer: God’s conversation with us must shape our own internal conversation with ourselves. In his Son and in the Scriptures that testifies to the Son, God talks to us. And that conversation needs to have shaping power over all the self-critiquing or congratulating voices that go on in our heads. In other words, God has authority to restart the conversation.

So for example, when I hear the suggestion, “A good husband (pastor, disciple, etc.) would do this, or feel that way, or wouldn’t have said that,” I shouldn’t give that thought unquestioned authority. I need to bring God’s Word to play. Did I just sin in some way? If so, God tells me that confession and cleansing are immediately available to me (1 John 1:9). If I confess my sins to God and to the appropriate person, then I can move on with no looking back. Or maybe the suggestion has no scriptural basis, like, “A good husband would read and apply a new book on marriage every month.” Really? Says who? Only the voice in my head…but not God. And that’s the problem. Instead of letting that thought exert subtle pressure on my soul, I need to subject it to God’s authority.

Now let me be clear. This internal dialogue is inescapable – we’re not going to shut it off. Nor should we try, because it isn’t all bad. Part of the complexity and wonder of human personality is that we have the ability to think about ourselves reflectively: should I have done that? Could I improve in this area? That’s a good thing – provided that our self-analysis is governed by God’s truth, not our subjective impressions.

So don’t try to shut the conversation down,  but don’t listen unquestioningly either. Consciously place your inner conversation under the authority of God’s truth, the words that God speaks about you through the living Word, Jesus Christ. He, and he alone, is the final authority in this conversation!

Photo by Visual Dichotomy.

Have You Heard from God Lately?

 

When was the last time you heard from God?

You know what I mean: that still small voice in your heart, maybe in prayer, maybe during Bible reading. God speaking to you. God addressing you. God. Talking. To you.

Okay, stop. If you’ve been in Christian circles for a long time, this is the point where you expect me to tell you about listening for God’s voice, the importance of “quiet” time, stillness, turning off the TV, joining a monastery, etc. (I’m joking about the monastery part.) But I’m not going to. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young, single pastoral intern. His name was….well, me. When I was an even more novice pastor than I am now, I often went on retreats and prayer walks, fasting and praying and seeking God. I sometimes had genuine spiritual experiences and I had a genuine hunger for God. But something happened. My seeking after God became desperate – not a healthy desperate, but a “what’s-wrong-with-me-I’m-not-hearing-from-God” kind of desperate. I remember leaving one retreat feeling depressed and wondering, “What did I do wrong?” Discouragement and frustration bounced around in my soul. Why wasn’t I hearing from God?

Something was wrong, but it wasn’t what I thought it was. In hindsight, here was my problem: I was “listening” to God as though he hadn’t already spoken. I was pursuing God as though I had to run him down and tackle him with my fasting and prayers. But God has spoken. As songwriter Michael Card puts it eloquently, “He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son / His final Word was Jesus, he needed no other one.” Or as the writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Does this mean we stop fasting, stop praying, or stop seeking God and asking to hear from him? No, certainly not. Those are good, biblical things. But we don’t “find” God through them. (Where would you even start looking to “find” God?) We seek God through the spiritual disciplines as those who have already been found by him. We listen to God because we know that, through the Word of God who is also the Son of God, we too have become adopted and beloved children (see John 1:12-14).

These days when I take a retreat I sometimes fast – but just as often I’ll eat a big dinner that tastes good and thank God for it. I take prayer walks – but sometimes I walk with no agenda except enjoying creation and thanking the Lord for what I see. I do these things as reminders that, despite the importance of earnestness in fasting and prayer, God sought and found me before I ever thought to look for him.

So let us pursue God and listen for God, yes – but let us never act as though our pursuit is necessary to force God to do something he doesn’t want to do. The most glorious word he will ever speak to us has already been spoken, Jesus, who is the Word of God. In him we hear God’s voice, filled with delight and rejoicing, saying, “You’re forgiven. Accepted. Adopted. My beloved child.”

Listen. Can you hear him?

+Photo by Marc Falardeau