If God is Your Co-Pilot…

…You’re Sitting in the Wrong Chair!

Please read Proverbs 3:5-6 in your Bible.

God's Guidance_v04(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

CONTEXT:  This third chapter of Proverbs is an example of the content of the book.  It presents reasons and means to live an intelligent life based on the faith conviction that God is real and He rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Chapter three is a father admonishing his son to make the pursuit of wisdom a lifelong practice.  He lists many benefits to wise living to encourage this practice.  In the middle of the chapter we find two verses that put in focus how divine will and human will are to work together.

The way the world works is a combination of providence and prudence.

  1. Providence is God’s will deciding what happens.

In circumstances from mundane to miraculous, the Bible teaches that God sets a path before us.  He is not distant, but is intimately involved in our lives, knowing our hearts (Psalm 44:21), the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), and our future (John 3:20).

God is also at work in the great movements of human history, directing the affairs of nations.  In Proverbs 21:1, God directs the heart of the king like men direct the channel of a river.

Deism is the mistaken notion that God created everything then left it to run on its own.  It is another example of vain philosophies that attempt to take God out of the picture.  Let’s be clear: any teaching that limits the power of God or gives any being equality with God is a false teaching.

  1. Prudence is our own will deciding what happens.

“Prudence” is defined as self-discipline achieved by the use of reason.  It can be emblematic of a notion central to our culture that a person is only limited by their imagination and determination; any of us can become anything we want.

The Bible does command self-control (Titus 2:12) and includes it as one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Superficially, self-control and self-determination look similar but self-control is something achieved with God’s grace.  Self-determination is just a subtle way of excluding God from the details of everyday life.

Self-determination is one extreme.  The opposite end of the spectrum might be called “determinism.”  The Bible’s commands would not be necessary nor could we be held responsible for our choice if all our choices were being made for us.  Divine determinism may sound religiously correct, but it is not a biblical doctrine.

  1. The Bible’s witness is more complicated: it holds both providence and prudence in tension.

Herein is the difficulty: our human nature wants to simplify and to eliminate tension.  To be faithful to the Scriptures, we must hold onto both providence and prudence.  Let’s use Proverbs 3:5-6 as an example.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us prudence is a virtue when it is God-centered, not reliant on reason or any human power.  There are three expressions that develop this teaching.

First, TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART.  In the Bible, the HEART is the center of a person’s inner life, both intellect and emotions.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.  By faith we appreciate that God offers unlimited resources; success is more likely as we trust in Him.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE (recognize) HIM.  Give God the glory; draw attention to Him, not yourself.

Providence is in evidence here in form of the promised reward: HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT or “will direct your paths.”  In life and in Proverbs, the straight path is the best.  In Proverbs, the “crooked path” is a word picture of a life of folly and sin.  It ends in death (Proverbs 9:18).

Theologically, we understand that human free will is a delegation of the authority of God.  Rather than choose everything for us, God allows us to make our own choices and to experience the consequences of those choices.  God helps believers to make the right choices by supplying His word, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  He exerts His will bring us to circumstances and gives us experiences that also shape our decisions.  After we decide, God exerts His will to bring about positive or negative consequences to teach us and to bring about His will.

Our life with God is not a matter of divine will OR human will but the interplay of both.  All of this is to direct our attention to God, to rely on Him more fully and love Him more dearly.

In both the details and in the big picture, God is so powerful He does not rely on our meager powers, but out of love He chooses to make us His partners in bringing about His will.  In our daily living, we exercise prudence but put our trust in providence.  We live wisely and righteously, seeking God’s will and choosing to walk in His way.

 

RESOURCES:

Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Wage War on Weariness #4

 

What do we do when we are wearied?

To help you be “hip” I am to the latest social trends, I read an article in this morning’s Kansas City Star entitled, “The Ash Wednesday Selfie Trend has Christians Debating: #ashtag or Not?”

LISA GUTIERREZ wrote, “Believe it or not, Ash Wednesday selfies are an official trend now. But religious leaders want people to think twice before posting.  People post selfies of their ash-marked foreheads all over social media.

“But is that appropriate? Should piety be so public?  The debate grows each year as Ash Wednesday selfies become more prolific in kicking off the Lenten season.

“The Catholic News Service recently explained where the lines are drawn in the debate over ash selfies.  Pro: Sharing photos of your ashes shares the meaning of the day with the world and is a modern way to evangelize. Evidence: Some priests and ministers do it.  Con: The solemn reminder of the day — that humans are made of dust and to dust they shall return — is diminished and lost in smiley, happy tweets.

“Ironically, some people couldn’t participate because they gave up social media for Lent.

“Religious leaders advise people to ask themselves why they are ash-tagging. To show off? To share the meaning of the day?”

<Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article135664333.html on 3/1/17.>

Perhaps the most important strategy in dealing with weariness is to LAUGH.  An Ash Wednesday selfie may be taking it a bit too far, but finding something to laugh about during our weary days is the most immediately effective “medicine” one can find!

REVIEW

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.
  3. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.
  4. Focus on the basics: prayer and the word.
  5. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours.

NEW

  1. Share your sorrow.

Galatians 6:2 reads, CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS, AND IN THIS WAY YOU WILL FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST.  What does this mean?

The CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS part is an obvious enough concept, but difficult to fulfill.  The Gk word for BURDEN originally envisioned a heavy weight someone was required to carry a long distance.  Eventually, it came to mean any ordeal or hardship a person could experience.

How can you CARRY a BURDEN you know nothing about?  That’s a rhetorical question: the obvious answer is you can’t.  Why are we so reluctant to share our burdens; to get help?  To one degree or another, we all value our independence and privacy.  These values can become detrimental if taken too far.  Pride is another aspect of human nature that gets in the way of getting some partners to help shoulder our wearying burdens.  At one point or another just about every one of us has trusted someone and seen that trust betrayed in some way.  This will naturally make us reluctant to trust again.  The line between being independent and being stubborn is pretty fine and we are probably the least qualified person to judge ourselves.  When you say you don’t “want to be a burden” you are directly violating this command!

None of these things are great reasons – nor are they good excuses for refusing to share our sorrows.  They buy into the myth of self-sufficiency that owes more to ancient Greek philosophy than to biblical teaching (see v. 3).  We must remember our human nature is not our best side; we are to live according to the Christ nature within us.

The point of the phrase IN THIS WAY YOU WILL FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST means two things.  The first is to gently instruct us that sharing our burdens is not optional.  It is a command to those who follow Jesus.  We fulfill the LAW OF CHRIST when we trust one another and share our burdens.  We are all priests: this is what priests do.  The second is to command us to carry each other’s burdens.  This willingness to support one another is not an option, it is mandatory.

I wondered what Paul meant by THE LAW OF CHRIST.  What LAW, exactly?  A couple of ideas: One, in context, the LAW to which he refers here must be the Law of Sowing and Reaping, as found in vs. 7+8.  We sow good seed when we share our burdens and help others carry theirs.  Second, from the Gospels we learn Jesus’ teaching that every act of obedience came down to two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31).

  1. Spend your sorrow on service.

How many times have you observed or heard someone testify that their own spirits were lifted when they offered themselves in service to those who were worse off than they?  I believe that is both human and divine nature.  It is a good deed when we turn our sorrows into service.  It is a good motive for service.

There is an excellent example of this in the Bible.  In Luke 22:7-38 we read about the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples.  In that context, we read about something Jesus said to Peter, a warning He gave Peter: “SIMON, SIMON, SATAN HAS ASKED TO SIFT YOU AS WHEAT.  BUT I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU, SIMON, THAT YOUR FAITH MAY NOT FAIL.  AND WHEN YOU HAVE TURNED BACK, STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS” (vs. 31-32).

Jesus expressed His support of Peter: “I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU.”  Even though He knew Peter’s faith would fail him (and He said so in the next two verses), Jesus prayed for Peter to resist the temptation to deny Him.

Jesus instructed Peter as to what he was to do after he repented: “AFTER YOU HAVE TURNED BACK, STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS.”  Just as He knew Peter would fail, Jesus also knew Peter would repent.  That’s why He instructed Peter in advance as to what he must do.

Peter was to spend his sorrow, his regret over denying Jesus, on strengthening his brothers.  This is nothing less than turning a bad experience into good by using it to motivate and relate to other believers who face similar struggles.  To STRENGTHEN means to “confirm” or “establish.”  Jesus is enlisting Peter’s help in re-establishing the faith of His followers after His resurrection.  Peter was leader at that time.

In John 21:15-23 we read about how Jesus appeared after His Resurrection for the purpose of reinstating Peter to his status as His disciple.  That passage describes Peter’s first step in “turning back” as Jesus had commanded at the Last Supper.

  1. Invest in wellness.

“Wellness” is a word that is not found in the Bible but is used in our own time to convey a desirable emotional and physical state of well-being.  Because all truth is God’s truth, we can use the term “wellness” in this sense; the follower of Christ using wisdom in how they treat their body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

The entire Bible book of Proverbs is a storehouse of wisdom.  Chapter four particularly praises the value of wisdom to motivate God’s people to seek it.  Here are a couple of verses that show the relationship of wisdom and wellness: MY SON, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I SAY; TURN YOUR EAR TO MY WORDS.  DO NOT LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT, KEEP THEM WITHIN YOUR HEART; FOR THEY ARE LIFE TO THOSE WHO FIND THEM AND HEALTH TO ONE’S WHOLE BODY. (Proverbs 4:21-22)

The connection between wisdom and wellness: people who are wise will enjoy health.   This is not, primarily, a promise that wisdom produces health, but more commonly, an affirmation that those who are wise are characterized as being healthy because wise people seek health.  They treat their physical self as another resource that needs to be used wisely, according to God’s command.  The verse promises that the two are interrelated.  Wisdom and health are found together.  Add faith and that is the entire package!

We know that the body will not survive into eternity, the soul (or spirit) will.  For now, however, as long as we live in this world, we know that we are not a soul separate from a body.  Body and soul exist together and only God can separate them.

We affirm that wellness is a proper goal for a follower of God, the Giver of the wisdom we just read from Proverbs.  We also affirm that wellness is both a defense against weariness and a cure for it.  Wellness is one of those things in life that you have to spend to make more.  This means that we need to spend more time and energy on improving our physical and emotional selves in order to build up a tolerance against weariness.

This work must continue, even when we are weary, because we know that a healthy body leads to a healthy soul and vice-versa.  We can’t have one without the other.  We are a whole person and we need to act like one to overcome weariness.

I am not advocating any one strategy for wholeness.  I’m not here to sell you vitamins or convince you to become a vegetarian.  I’m trying to convince you of two truths: It is divine wisdom to care for yourself, body & soul.  Wellness is a strategy for preventing & overcoming weariness.  The more you invest in wellness, the more strength you will have to overcome weariness.

Richard Wurmbrand tells of a legend that Moses once sat near a well in meditation. A man stopped to drink from the well, and when he did so his purse fell from his girdle into the sand. The man departed. Shortly afterwards another man passed near the well, saw the purse and picked it up.

Later a third man stopped to assuage his thirst and went to sleep in the shadow of the well. Meanwhile, the first man had discovered that his purse was missing, and, assuming that he must have lost it at the well, returned, awoke the sleeper (who of course knew nothing) and demanded his money back. An argument followed, and irate, the first man slew the latter.

Whereupon Moses said to God, “You see, therefore men do not believe you. There is too much evil and injustice in the world. Why should the first man have lost his purse and then become a murderer? Why should the second have gotten a purse full of gold without having worked for it? The third was completely innocent. Why was he slain?”

God answered, “For once and only once, I will give you an explanation. I cannot do it at every step. The first man was a thief’s son. The purse contained money stolen by his father from the father of the second man, who finding the purse only found what was due him. The third was a murderer whose crime had never been revealed and who received from the first the punishment he deserved. In the future, believe that there is sense and righteousness in what transpires even when you do not understand.” (100 Prison Meditations, pages 6–7)

Like Moses in this story, our weariness can compromise our ability to see life from God’s perspective.  I can depress us and draw a shade over the light.  Faith is where we stand, utterly convinced that God is for us.  Nothing in this world, including weariness, matters so much as that.

E.Q.

(Note to the reader: This is the first time in my almost-three decades of preaching that I’ve had a convergence of what I’ve preached on and a secular source.  In the morning paper the very next day I read an op-ed piece by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for USA Today, that said essentially the same thing I was saying in the sermon below.  Of course this validates neither my message nor MacDonald’s article, but is, at least, a happy agreement between myself and Mr. MacDonald that forgetting one’s emotions is perilous, even ludicrous advice.  We are far better served to be sensitive to our feelings and make decisions based on this information as part of our set of data.  Unfortunately the Stoics and Evangelicals have insisted on the opposite.)

Please read Proverbs 4:20-27.

Message: Emotions are part of the Image of God, an aspect of our inner life that we ignore at our own peril.

It is believed that the most secure place in the world is said to be the United States Reserve at Fort Knox.  Fort Knox is located close to Louisville, Ky. and is home to much of the nation’s gold reserve. Let me share with you how this reserve is protected.

Our nations gold reserve is housed in a two story building constructed of granite, steel, and concrete. It is 105 ft by 121 ft, and is 42 ft above ground level. Within this building is a two level steel and concrete vault that is divided into compartments. The vault door weighs more than 20 tons. No one person is entrusted with the combination. Various members of the staff must dial separate combinations known only to them. The vault casing is constructed of steel plates, steel I-beams and steel cylinders laced with hoop bands, and encased in concrete. The outer wall of the depository is constructed of granite lined with concrete. Construction materials used on the bldg included 16,500 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel.

At each corner of the structure on the outside, but connected with it, are four guard boxes. Sentry boxes. Sentry boxes, similar to the guard boxes at the corners of the Depository, are located at the entrance gate. A driveway encircles the building and a steel fence marks the boundaries of the site.             The building is equipped with the most modern security devices. The nearby Army Post provides additional protection. The Depository is equipped with its own emergency power plant, water system and other facilities.

There is another place which needs to be well guarded. We need to make certain of its security because it is the most important place in the world. That place is our heart ! Why is the heart so important? Why does it need to be guarded with such diligence?  That’s what we’ll find out today.

(Quoted from a sermon entitled “Guarding Our Hearts” by Mike Turner, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/guarding-our-hearts-mike-turner-sermon-on-lordship-of-christ-66178.asp  on 5/15/15.)

Context: Near the end of a lengthy teaching on the supreme worth of wisdom, the writer identifies one particularly important aspect of wisdom: guarding the source of our inner life.

Comment:

  1. What is the “heart?”

The HEART is the center of one’s inner life.

As a pre-scientific culture, the writers of Proverbs and did not share our understanding of the internal organs.  For example, the word “brain” is not used at all in the Bible.  I don’t know what they thought it was for.  The word heart is found 963 times in the Bible.  Just as the organs are typically unseen – lying beneath the surface just as thoughts and feelings do – it was believed that the inner life was conducted in the organs.  Also, Bible writers had a holistic view of personhood, so the thoughts and feelings together found their origin in the organs.  The differentiation between head (reason) and heart (emotion) came centuries later.  So the word HEART is the way modern translations render the biblical word for the focus of a person’s inner life.

The HEART can be either soft or hard.  Hard-heartedness is condemned as a vice.  It is stubbornness, resistance to God, and an unloving attitude toward one’s neighbor.  Soft-heartedness is commended as a virtue.  It is characterized as graciousness, being receptive to God, and compassionate to one’s neighbor.

God alone knows every person’s heart.  Oftentimes, we don’t know our own hearts, living in a willful ignorance that is manifest in our disobedience of God.  God works to change our hearts.

  1. How is the heart the WELLSPRING OF LIFE?

It is our point of connection to God, the life-giver.  It is the overlap of physical and spiritual.  The spiritual side of life is the MOST real side.  It is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is our point of connection with God.

We mistakenly place a greater value on the physical and pragmatic aspects of life.  Physical things are only temporary; spiritual things are eternal.  They are also limited in space.  God is a spirit and He is the most real thing that can be known.  The outer life is generally superficial; the inner life is generally more profound and permanent.

The HEART is the means by which we perceive and participate in spiritual life.  It is partly understood by our physical senses and developed by our knowledge.  However, it is also sensed by intuition, measured by emotion, and defined by imagination.  We need both material and non-material information to truly appreciate our inner life.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it helps us appreciate things that are not necessary for survival, but make life better, more joyous.  Sometimes we take a simplistic approach and devalue things that are abstract, emotional, subjective, or otherwise difficult to “get a handle on.”  But when Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone,” He affirmed that life is more than surviving and that attention needs to be paid to the spiritual side of life too.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is the motivator of our attitudes and actions.  It’s hard to argue for love, joy, and grace when duty, order, and obligation are so much easier and offer greater control over others.  However, the Bible makes clear that love is the highest and best and most godly motive.  It’s easier and quicker to motivate others with physical treats and threats, but more lasting and profound motivations are the ones that appeal to the emotional and spiritual parts of who we are.

Therefore it’s worth the extra work to achieve a change of heart than it is to change someone’s actions instead.   It’s like the old proverb of teaching a man to fish: “If you change a person’s actions, you’ve changed him for today.  If God changes a person’s heart, he’s changed for life.

  1. How are we to GUARD our heart?

Guard your heart by keeping your heart simple.  “Simple” is not simplistic or ignorant.  It means “undivided,” or “honest,” or “WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).”  A person’s heart becomes complicated by dishonesty, discontentment, unresolved emotional situations and by being manipulated by others.  A person’s heart becomes simplified by honesty, contentment, standing firm in the truth and testing the spirits to avoid manipulation, and by resolving emotion-laden situations.

Guard your heart by keeping your motives pure.  “Integrity” is the cultural buzzword for the biblical word “purity.” Integrity is an honesty of character that is found in a person whose claims and actions match.  But purity aims higher still; it is found in a person whose actions match God’s standard.  We don’t dumb down or reduce God’s standards in order to make it easier to comply.  The Church has been guilty of that far too often in recent generations.  Instead, we study the Bible to learn God’s standards.  We have the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep those standards.  We have forgiveness when we fail.  It’s a system designed for our success.  Failure is on us.

We maintain God’s gracious purity by resisting temptation.  Temptation is unavoidable;  giving into it is inexcusable, but fortunately, God’s grace restores us perfectly.  Temptation is resistible; God has promised we will never be tempted beyond our power to say no and walk away from it.

We resist temptation by doing t following:

– Replace worldly priorities with godly ones (see Matthew 6:3).

– Seek the “door of escape” promised in 1 Corinthains 10:13.

Keep your focus on Jesus.  Make it your ambition to do what Jesus would do: reproduce His character in you.  Read a portion of the Gospels every day.  Look t/t clouds; be mindful of Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Claim the promise of God’s word: in Philippians 4:7 it is written, AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about the term “E.Q.” in the title of this message.  If so, it would be fair to ask where you’ve been for the last 20 years.  In 1994 Daniel Goleman published a book that popularized the notion of “E.Q.” or “Emotional Quotient,” as a measure of a person’s knowledge and capability to understand and make use of one’s emotional states.  His best-selling book was Emotional Intelligence, and while it did not present new research into understand human emotional nature, it presented the subject in a way that made it useful to the broader spectrum of people in our culture.  In the two decades since its publication, the concepts Goleman presented in Emotional Intelligence have become part of our language.

Here’s how Goleman defined the titular term as “self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  (Goleman, p. xxii.)  This is a field of study that proposes to do what the writer of Proverbs urged the wise person to do.  (This is yet another example of the keen insight into human nature we can glean from a study of the Bible.  God’s Word is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago!)

John Chrysostom, the “golden-throated” preacher and archbishop of Constantinople (349-407 A.D.) wrote, “Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.”  (Quoted from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero, p. 80.)  Chrysostom wrote truthfully, for God has been revealed in the Bible as an emotional being.  Scazzero provides us with some examples of God’s emotional states on pages 70-71.

– Delight or at least satisfaction in Genesis 1:25, 31.

– Grief in Genesis 6:6.

– Jealousy in Exodus 20:5.

– Pain in Isaiah 42:14.

– Anger in Jeremiah 30:24.

– His love is explained everywhere in the Bible, but look at Jeremiah 31:3 as an example.

– Compassion in Hosea 11:8.

– Sorrow in Matthew 36:37-38.

– Distress in Mark 3:5.

– Joy in Luke 10:21.

These divine emotions are NOT found in Scripture because the authors are trying to anthropomorphize God.  They are writing under God’s inspiration to explain to us that part of God’s nature – and, by way of the Image of God (see Genesis 1:26) – our nature too.  Therefore, an important but neglected aspect of discipleship is learning how to live within our emotions.  We can receive divine guidance through our feelings.  In these and many ways, we ignore our hearts in violation of God’s revealed will and at our own peril.

Friend, why continue to suffer from your own heart?  Why be merely reactive, blown back and forth by the winds of emotional change?  Why not begin today to learn and master your emotions?  It is God’s will for your life as a disciple.

Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, Bantam Dell, New York, NY, 2006.

Scazzero, Peter, Emotionally Mature Spirituality, Integrity, Franklin, TN, 2006.