Watch Over Your Heart

Having been a pastor for over 40 years, I’ve witnessed hundreds of people grow tired in their faith and either begin to tread water or drift away altogether. Following God for a lifetime is a marathon, not a sprint. There are countless obstacles that can trip us up and block our path. Frankly, no one can run this race without support and encouragement and heart renewal. I know this all too well, as I’ve often found myself blocked or tripped and sprawled on my face. I find it necessary to follow the admonition of the proverb, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NASB95).

I remember a time when I was trying to see what was going on in my heart, spending the afternoon out in the woods, hoping to connect with God in some way. I asked God to show me anything inside that wasn’t right or that was holding me back. Then, for a moment, I just waited and listened and tried to notice my heart’s thoughts and emotions. Within a minute or two, to my great surprise, I found myself weeping! I’m not typically an emotional guy, and at first I had no idea where this sadness was coming from. I spent the rest of the afternoon letting myself feel this sadness, and the reasons for it started coming to surface. It related to a time ten years earlier when some of my visionary dreams had been dashed. And along with the failure of my dreams, there had been some criticism from people I respected. After this happened I had tried to forgive and see the good hand of God in the situation and seek His perspective in His Word, but the sadness I was feeling showed beyond doubt that my heart had not returned to joy, even ten years later.

Time doesn’t necessarily heal. If we avoid our pain and choose not to grieve our losses, it’s like putting a bandage over the wound without taking the time to clean it and dress it so that it can heal. That afternoon I opened up an unhealed wound that had been hurting for ten years, bubbling beneath the surface. Once it was open, God was able to show me what hurt so much. I was able to pinpoint what the sorrow was about. Deep inside I was feeling unappreciated and a failure. And God was able to reassure me that He saw. He noticed all the effort and passion and diligence that I and my fellow workers had thrown at my dream. Even if no one else saw or appreciated, He did. My efforts had not been in vain. God noticed and that’s all that mattered.

A week or so later, I noticed a renewed energy, an eagerness, even an increase in faith, that surprised me. Several years earlier one of my fellow pastors had asked, “Dave, why is it that when we talk about doing something big or stretching or difficult, your first response seems to always be negative?” That comment stung, but after reflecting on it I had to admit he was right. After my afternoon alone, discovering my unresolved sadness, I realized the reason. Whenever something challenging presented itself, something down inside said, “It’s no use. You’re going to fail anyway. No one will notice your efforts and you’ll just be criticized.” But after “watching over” my heart, and finding God’s comfort and realizing that He noticed and didn’t consider me a failure, I’ve found myself much less reluctant to envision that God can do great things through me and through us.

As we embark on a season of “renewal,” be sure not to neglect your heart. Don’t just seek renewal in outward habits and disciplines. Seek renewal of the heart. Don’t let the hits you take and the disappointments you face wear down your eagerness and faith. I urge you to make an appointment with God sometime this week, this month, this quarter and seek Him, open your heart to Him, read the Psalms, tell Him about your struggles and fears and losses. Seek comfort in God so that your heart can be renewed in greater faith, hope, and joy. How can you bless or disciple or benefit others if your own heart is cold or hard or broken? Watch over your heart will all diligence so that you can be of use to our Savior in this season of renewal.

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