For several Sundays I have presented messages around the theme: Closures & New Beginnings. The core of what the Holy Spirit has been saying to us is that we have passed through and come to the end of a particular season; that season has closed out. We are now looking at a new season, a new chapter, an open door into a future we have yet to experience. Not unlike Joshua and his generation when they arrived at their Jordan River, we are looking at our own Jordan River and realizing that our future is on the other side of it. There is a crossing over or a passing through that is essential to our possessing that future.
We have a tendency to romanticize these seasons. We hear God speak through the prophet: “Behold, I do a new thing.....” and we romanticize it and get goose bumps. And then we conclude that, because we feel good about it and have shouted our “Amen!” to it we have actually walked it out and arrived in it.
Then we make this unpleasant discovery: the first thing this new thing requires of me is that I deal with the old thing. That brings us to a word that often conflicts our souls. It’s the “C” word – CHANGE! Suddenly the new thing is not nearly as romantic.
The theme of this message is: ‘The Heart of Change is the Changed Heart.’
Regardless of what has or has not been done to you, and regardless of your present age – young, old or somewhere in between, your life is not finally determined by any of those factors external to you; it is determined by your own heart. That is a rather bold and blunt statement. Its intention is to remind each of us of the issue of personal responsibility with respect to who we are at this stage of life – and please note that the issue is not what we are doing but who we are.
For the most part we attempt to explain (justify) behaviour on the basis of things. By things I mean all those details, events, circumstances, conditions and structures that make up the external world of our existence. We tend to think that if only things had been different – if we had had the advantages of that person we would have been much more successful.
Whenever I go there – and there are moments when I do – I always remember a black preacher who used to share on Jerry Falwell’s program. This guest speaker pastored a huge church in the US and travelled the world advancing the Kingdom of God. All you need to know about him and his success is how advantaged he was as a child. He was born into the drug culture. He never knew his father and only briefly knew his mother. At a very early age he was abandoned completely. For the majority of his childhood and his teen years he lived under an Interstate overpass. From that “dwelling” he went to school and graduated high school.
At some point in his “advantaged life” (and I can’t recall all the details of this) he was found and introduced to Christ. He was wonderfully born again, submitted to water baptism, went to university, answered the call of God on his life and to this day is preaching the gospel.
Whenever I recall this story I am reminded all over again that life is not primarily about external details, events, circumstances – what has or has not been done to or for me; my life is determined by something internal: my own heart.
‘Two men looked out through prison bars. One saw mud and one saw stars.’ It is not enough to simply conclude that each man saw something different because they were looking in different directions. We must go much deeper than this and ask: What was it that determined the difference of direction each was looking in? What I am suggesting is that the choice of direction one looks in is primarily a matter of the heart. The circumstances can be the same but the choices we make in those circumstances are a matter of the heart. Contrary to popular belief your heart does not follow your eyes – your eyes follow your heart.
Note this familiar proverb from six different translations of scripture:
Prov.4:23 Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. The source of our life is not anything external therefore it is not defined by or dependent upon external things. What’s defining it is its source, and that source is our own heart.
Above everything else, guard your heart; for it is the source of life’s consequences. Consequences are not determined by the external structures of life; they are determined by the heart in this sense – the heart-choices I make in relation to those external structures.
Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. What life is it that starts with the heart? I would suggest the life of thoughts, the life of attitudes, the life of ideas and imaginations. These may be very positive or profoundly negative, but whatever their nature their source is the heart.
Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. People and things do not run my life but the thoughts of my heart certainly do. After 29 years in prison, Nelson Mandela could emerge and become the President of South Africa because he refused to allow his heart to be imprisoned even though his body was. His thoughts would run his life; not the thoughts of an entire nation.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
I can tell you – bar none – the most difficult thing we will ever do is to stop blaming the external world for the state of our life and accept personal responsibility for the state of our heart out of which our life is flowing.
Given this reality regarding the heart it seems reasonable that we should consider what it is about the heart that makes it so centrally defining with respect to our behaviour.
Obviously any in depth Biblical study of the heart would require enormous measures of time and effort. For instance on the basis of the English text – The New American Standard Bible – the word ‘heart’ is found 856 times between Gen.6:5 and Rev.18: 7. You will be relieved to know that I am not going to reference all of those scriptures. In fact I will reference only one.
What’s on my heart concerning the heart in the context of this message is contained in: Heb.4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Whatever else the Biblical heart may or may not be it certainly is the place in each of us where thought and attitude incubate and grow. My heart is the home of my thoughts and attitudes. And let me say this: There is nothing more defining of behaviour than thought and attitude.
So there it is – it is not the external structures of the world around me (neither people, events, details or circumstances) that determine how I live, the course of my life, how I respond, react and behave. It is the thoughts of my heart about things and the attitudes of my heart toward these things that determine how I live in relation to these things.
I love that proverb that goes like this: As a man is done by so shall he be. Or perhaps it reads like this: As a man is done unto so shall he do unto.
The actual proverb is - Prov.23:7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he... I chose the KJV here because of that antiquated word ‘thinketh’; the ‘eth’ on the end of the word refers to something that is ongoing and continuing. It is vital that we understand that it is not those fleeting thoughts that may pop in and out and pass through our hearts that define our life and behaviour. But the thoughts I choose to entertain, to continue to allow, and ongoingly develop – those thoughts will define and determine my life. In fact according to the Proverb I will become those thoughts.
You may wonder what any of this has to do with change. Let me state simply this is the very core of change. The first thing that occurs in the face of significant (or even not so significant) change is the exposure or uncovering of the heart. In other words thoughts and attitudes get flushed out. That in itself is not a problem – in fact it is a good thing. The critical part in this is not what the changes revealed but how I choose to respond (not to the changes) but to the heart issues that surfaced in relation to those changes.
From Genesis 3 forward almost always our first response is to shift blame away from our own heart to something or someone external to our heart. And so Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the devil. This part of the study we will look at next week.
Let me close out this message by returning to Prov.4:23 and dealing with the issue of what it means to guard the heart. There is a great deal of resource material that deals with this; I want to limit my comments to just a couple of considerations.
The first is what the proverb is not calling us to do. It is not telling us to live with a guarded heart in the sense of closing our hearts. It is not calling us to build walls around our heart so no one can penetrate it or touch it. It is not calling for stubbornness and hardness of heart. The guarded heart is not about shutting the world out. Once again, heart reality is not about the world outside the heart – it’s about the world inside the heart, the world of thoughts and attitudes.
When it comes to that world the guarded heart is about one thing – it is about the governed heart. The government is upon the shoulders of the Christ. That Christ lives in my very spirit. In Him and through Him I have been given the power (the ability) to govern or reign over my own heart – that is over my thoughts and attitudes. To govern the heart involves allowing or disallowing, it involves determining and directing the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
So guess what, Adam – your problem was not Eve. Your problem was your ungoverned heart. It was not Eve you were following; it was your ungoverned heart and those ungoverned thoughts and attitudes led you into disobedience.
At the heart of all change is a changed heart. And this is the good news in all of this: the redemptive grace of God at work in our hearts brings about true transformation, true change – transformed thoughts, transformed attitudes.
As long as I blame you for the state of my heart I will never come to the only one who can transform my heart. And that is the final tragedy of living in a culture of blame. That’s what Genesis 3 is all about. We’ll look at that next Sunday, God willing.