Unclogging Our Spiritual Heart Valves

Upset woman by herself in a dark alley. For years, I chose misery over life. I tended to magnify the negative and completely overlook the good. Not only did this strangle the joy, peace, and vitality from me, birthing in their place bitterness and agitation. It also routinely distanced me from Christ. I often felt disconnected from Him, confused regarding His guidance, anxious regarding my circumstances, and unfulfilled in my relationships.

I routinely blamed others and my circumstances for my inner disconnect. Or, I’d simply try to shove all the negativity down in an attempt to muddle through my dimmed existence in my own strength. But then, come Sunday, I’d enter into the church sanctuary, and praise music would begin to play. As was expected, I’d begin to join in. Before I reached the chorus, however, I’d sense God tugging on my heart: Forgive, and as if to halt any excuse hidden in feigned ignorance, a name or face would follow, and in this I was given a choice.

I could continue feeding the negativity brewing within me, or I could step into—bask in—my Father’s grace—a grace deep and strong and present enough to bring light and joy and life to the most deadened hearts, mine included, and lifeless situations.

1 Peter 2:1 lays this out pretty clearly. It says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

In other words, we’re to do two things: Deliberately and diligently purge all that is dark and ugly within and seek out God’s light. As we do, He draws us closer to Himself and floods the deepest recesses of our hearts with those things that are good and lovely and pure.

My heart cannot be deeply united with Christ unless it is also deeply immersed in His will. I cannot simultaneously Woman sitting outside with text pulled from post. experience the full expression of His love and grace within me while withholding those same gifts from others. What flows in will necessarily flow out. Therefore, if God’s reconciling, forgiving, life-giving Spirit isn’t flowing freely from me, it’s quite likely my heart valves have become clogged.

The results of spiritual blockages are similar to what one experiences with obstructed arteries. We lose oxygen and energy. We lose our vitality and dilute and distort everything good both within and without. Within because those best parts of us, those unique personality traits God hand-crafted within us to add color to our world and strength and healing to our relationships becomes tainted with self-protection, distrust, and harbored offense. Without because this settled anger begins to blanket our thoughts and distorts our perceptions until we see more gloom than good.

In John 10:10, Jesus said that He came to give us “abundant” or “filled to overflowing” life. This speaks of a vibrancy that saturates to our core and spills out into every moment and on every encounter. Envisioning what this might look like lived out, I’m reminded of my daughter as a toddler. She had a joy about her that radiated so brightly from within, she often captured the attention of strangers. Her laugh could produce smiles on the gloomiest faces and often made one feel as if, but for a moment, they’d encountered the divine.

Woman laughing with text pulled from post.Because, in a way, they had. Whenever we see joy, we catch a glimpse of heaven, where joy abounds.

When we express joy, we experience a token of eternity in the here and now.

But when we harbor bitterness in the heart Christ gave His dying breath to cleanse, we quite literally become our own killjoys.

We all want to experience vibrant, joy-filled, thriving life. We all have access to that life through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Why would we allow anything or anyone to steal that joy from us?

Let’s talk about this! We get to choose whether or not we’ll live with joy or bitterness, forgiveness or offense. When hurt, what are some things we can do to center ourselves and our hearts in Christ’s love? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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Heart Gunk — Making a Clean Break

Woman praying and Proverbs 20:9

Though my house has never reached hoarding capacity, there’ve been times my heart has. Sadly, I’ve been known to harbor offenses when God calls me to forgive, to rehash old hurts when God beckons me to heal, and to nurse all those ugly heart-cluttering sins like pride and selfishness when the Spirit works to purge them from me. Clutter, of any variety, has a way of piling up unexpectedly until one’s buried. This is true of my closet, office, and sadly, at times, my heart. Reading Donna Schlachter’s post below reminded me how necessary it is to engage in regular deep-cleaning.

Making a Clean Break

by Donna Schlachter

Mess in boxes

Photo by Christopher Flynn on Unsplash

Boxes stacked to the ceiling blocked my way, and I gritted my teeth in frustration. After a long day of sifting through papers and files, I’d had my fill. I was ready to toss the whole mess into the trash.

A while back, my husband Patrick and I spent a weekend cleaning out a storage closet to make room for a bathroom renovation. We had thing we moved into the house more than three years before that we hadn’t looked in. Not once. Stacks of financial records going back to 1979, and college books from further back than that.

We accumulated stuff.

And that’s nothing compared to what we used to have. We’d already sifted through an eight by ten storage shed’s worth of things we couldn’t bear to part with before we moved. Papers we were sure we’d need again. Records we weren’t certain of but didn’t want to destroy. We got rid of a lot of clutter by calling up a local thrift store and holding a couple of yard sales.

While we now own less than before, my basement still wasn’t ready for the renovation. If I couldn’t move around down there, how could I expect workmen to carry in supplies and materials?

I might have reduced the junk in my storage room, but you’d never know by looking at it.

Our spiritual lives can be like that, too. We try to make changes. We stop a bad habit or curtail a destructive behavior. Maybe we even adopt spiritual disciplines or simplify our schedules. And yet our lives can look just as messy as before.

Needless to say, this can be very disheartening. It is for me. We invest time and energy, yet heart renovations take longer than we thought they would.

Our spiritual lives aren’t easy to clean up. In fact, by ourselves, we can’t succeed. Sure we can make positive changes. We can do some things different. But the truth is that without God, we can’t truly live as He desires.

On our own, none of us can say, “I have made my heart pure. I am clean and without sin” (Prov. 20:9). We must rely on God, because only He knows what changes are needed and only He has the power to bring them about. We must trust His judgment as to the timing and the process. Trying to change our behavior on our own won’t work since behavior is a symptom of a deeper issue. God knows what’s going on inside us. The real reason we’re clean, if indeed we have been made clean, is because of the free gift of grace and mercy, paid for by Jesus.

So the next time you think that making a heart-change—even a minor one—is up to you, think again. Think about what Christ did on the cross, how He rose from the dead, and the promises of God.

And then ask God what areas need to be addressed and how to go about doing that. He alone knows what needs to be done.

Spend time with God this week asking Him what you need to throw out and what behavior or attitude to adopt in its place. His answers might surprise you.

Lord, thank You for being patient with me as I seek to be made into Your image. Allow me to be a witness to Your grace and mercy, and mold me into what You need for the work of Your kingdom. Amen.

John and Mary in my novella, Train Ride to Heartbreak in the “Mail-Order Brides Collection” realized they needed to make a clean break in their lives, too. However, once committed to another in a loveless marriage, they meet and fall in love. Will they settle for duty and second-best, or will they step out in faith to encounter the promises of the Living God?

***

Let’s talk about this! How often do you pause to consider your heart? Can you share a time when you behaved in a way you wished you hadn’t and God used that moment to reveal a heart-issue? What happened? How did that experience grow you or draw you closer to God? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

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Mail Order Brides follows 7 brides as they meet their grooms for the first time—after they answer an ad for a wife.

A Train Ride to Heartbreak By Donna Schlachter

1895, Train to California

John Stewart needs a wife. Mary Johannson needs a home. On her way west, Mary falls in love with another. Now both must choose between commitment and true love.

 

Get to know Donna:

Author Photo: Donna SchlachterDonna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a local critique group, and teaches writing classes and courses. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.

Visit her online: HiStoryThruTheAges

(Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!)

On Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

 

Scripture used is the NIV translation from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R), NIV(R), Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.(R) Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Guarding Our Treasure

Today’s reading: Proverbs 4

Today’s focal verse:

Proverbs 4:23—Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (KJV)

Today’s Focus: Guarding our hearts

This week’s memory verse: 

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best of everything you produce. Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

About six months ago, during a particularly stressful time, I got into a disagreement with someone and, in a moment of unchecked anger, sent an email I regretted. Although I immediately apologized, this individual shared the email with a large number of people, leaving me feeling exposed. (What’s that verse about sin being exposed? lol). (You can read about this here.) That night, as I fumed over this, God used the opportunity to slice straight to my core, showing me my un-Christlike reaction came from a dirty heart. I’d allowed angry and bitter thoughts unrelated to the event fester and those negative thoughts were beginning to affect my actions and reactions. Today’s post, written by multi-published author Delia Latham encourages us to guard our heart, because, as today’s focal verse reminds us, it truly does determine the course of our life.

The Treasure Inside
Delia Latham

Delia3 - web 

Proverbs 4:23—Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (KJV)

As parents, most of us would give our own lives to protect our children. We do all we can to guard them against any kind of harm. They are treasures.

Any true treasure deserves special care and protection. It merits a bit of extra safekeeping. Its value makes it worth the excessive guard measures.

We put our money in banks for safekeeping. Those fortunate enough to own valuable diamonds and jewels keep then locked away in safes. We use security systems in our homes to safeguard against intruders. Even the information in our computers is protected with a password.

Why is it, then, that we are so careless with the greatest treasure we will ever possess?

Come with me, if you will, for a little stroll through a short Proverbs verse that holds wisdom enough to change the world, if enough people heed its message.

Let’s take a look at Proverbs 4:23 through several different “lenses.” Choose the one that speaks to your heart most clearly. Memorize it. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Frame it and keep it on your desk. Paint the words onto the walls in your home if necessary.

In short, do whatever it takes to remember what it says.

Proverbs 4:23—Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (KJV)

Proverbs 4:23— More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it. (CEB)

Proverbs 4:23— Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. (NCV)

What a beautiful verbal kaleidoscope!

But when the flashy show of vocabulary fizzles into silence, and the last letter tumbles atop the mountain of others to lie in wait of the next shake-up, that final twist of the refractor reveals them all as delivering the same message. Each of the “lenses” shines a light on the infinite value of the heart and mind…the treasure inside.

The physical heart is absolutely vital to the body. When it stops, everything stops. In a very real sense, life flows from it. Protecting the physical heart is crucial if one wishes to live…at all, not just a “long, healthy life.” Without a heartbeat, there is no life.

The spiritual heart pumps lifeblood to our eternal souls. Surely such a treasure is worthy of the ultimate guard measures. But…what is it? And how should we go about protecting it?

“It” is the mind. We protect it by refusing to expose it to anything that’s not like God. I love the New Living Translation of Proverbs 4:23: “Guard your heart ABOVE ALL ELSE, for it determines the course of your life.” One of the other versions reads, “More than anything you guard, PROTECT YOUR MIND, for life flows from it.”

How?

We protect the innocent minds of our children against anything we think is too mature, too violent, too sexual, too…anything that might confuse or damage their young psyches. And yet we balk at doing the same thing for our spiritual minds…our “hearts.” The truth is, if we really set out to protect our heart as this scripture indicates, we must treat it in the same manner. We must refuse to expose it to anything that doesn’t edify, strengthen, encourage or uplift.

That might mean anything from being choosy about which television shows we watch and which books we read, to the company we keep, the places we go, the things we set before our vision. Becoming an “adult” does not grant anyone a magical ability to play with fire and not get burned. Every choice we make affects our spiritual lifeblood.

Feeling a little confused about what things to allow into your life? No need for confusion…the Bible spells out exactly what can be safely allowed into our hearts (minds), and it’s all neatly packaged in a single verse of scripture:

Philippians 4:8:  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (NLT)

If ever there’s a question as to the right or wrong of a thing, this verse provides a failsafe test. Holding any question up to the magnifying glass of this single scripture will provide an answer, if we’re honest about what we see beneath that spiritual magnification. Whether it be a movie, reading material, our choice of friends, an environment…whatever–does it fall into one of the categories mentioned in Philippians 4:8? Is it true? Honorable? Right, pure, lovely and admirable?

No? Then…chances are it is one or all of the following: dangerous, detrimental or destructive.

Are words popping out of your mouth, or into your mind that shock you? Things that don’t sound like you, and certainly don’t sound like God? Then chances are your heart has been tainted by exposure to impure elements.

God’s grace is amazing, and we are blessed that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentation 3:22-23). But it is our responsibility as Christians to make every effort to live in a way that glorifies our Father. To put our hearts under spiritual lock and key, and guard them every bit as fiercely as we protect the earthly possessions that are most important to us.

Let’s do it together. Every moment of every day from this point forward, let’s make a conscious, single-minded effort to guard the treasure inside…above all else, and at any cost.

Father, thank You for creating a clean heart within me. Please help me to guard that treasure above all else, to keep it pure and right, a place You’ll be pleased to dwell within…for You, Lord,  are my Rock, my Shield, my Fortress, my Resting Place. I truly want everything I do, every word I say, every thought I think to reflect and glorify You. I ask that You make it so, in Your precious name. Amen

Delia’s latest release, Jewels for the Kingdom:

perf5.500x8.500.inddPia Peretti’s past could destroy her future. Thanks to her pre-Christian lifestyle, she can’t marry a believer, and she won’t marry a non-believer. Minister David Myers wants to help Pia release her guilt and trust that God has forgiven her…but the young minister is working through his own trial of faith.

After a failed counseling session with a wounded soul, David’s confidence is shaken. He accepts a new pastorate, and moves to Angel Falls to find a haven for his wounded heart.

Is it possible these two hurting hearts are meant to mend each other’s brokenness with some divine intervention?

Delia was born and raised in a place called Weedpatch, Delia Latham moved from California to Oklahoma in 2008, making her a self-proclaimed California Okie. She loves to read and write in her simple country home, and gets a kick out of watching her husband play Farmer John. The author enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. She loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her through her website or send an e-mail to delia AT delialatham DOT net.

Find out more about this author at www.delialatham.net.

Blog:  www.my-book-bag.blogspot.com

Newsletter:  www.bookshelfnewsletter.blogspot.com

***

I wish we had more time to camp out in chapter four as it’s filled with so many great truths and thought-provoking verses!

Here are some questions to ponder and discuss. A few of you involved in our Yahoo study group have mentioned the benefits of storing God’s Word in your hearts. Some have talked about how God uses the verse throughout the day to bring new truths and understanding to mind. Others have mentioned how God has used your focal verse to show you areas you may have strayed or times when your thinking hasn’t quite lined up. A few days ago, Beth talked about centering our hearts and minds on God’s promises right before we go to sleep so that our sleep can be peaceful and restful.

But all of these things seem to point back to our hearts.

In today’s devotion, Delia talked about guarding our heart from sinful influences. What other things do you think we must guard our heart from?

I’ll share my areas of weakness. For me, my biggest heart-tarnishers aren’t obvious sins like infidelity or thievery. Most often, my heart becomes polluted slowly, almost unknowingly, by things such as pride and selfish ambition. But the end results are the same–a slow but steady detour off of God’s good path and a decreased ability to hear His voice.

What are some ways we can guard our hearts?

Similarly, what are some ways we can strengthen our hearts?

Pause for a moment and pray, asking God to reveal to you the depths of your heart. Are there things you are clinging to or allowing in that hinder your growth? Your service?

Pause to consider verses 10-11 in light of Delia’s devotion and what we’ve already discussed regarding wisdom.

Listen, my son, accept what I say,
and the years of your life will be many.
11 I instruct you in the way of wisdom
and lead you along straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
    when you run, you will not stumble.

I love the image this provides. Today’s focal verse and verses 11-12 seem to tie up a great deal of what we’ve learned so far. Pause to consider these verses in light of what we’ve already read and discussed. When we are centered in Christ, focused on His wisdom, and allow that wisdom to penetrate deep into our core, we have no fear and can move forward with boldness, knowing He will guard our paths, grant us common sense, while protecting and shielding us from the sins of others and our own sinful nature. There’s no need for insecurity or indecision, for, when our hearts are committed to following God and our minds are filled with His truth, He will lead us along straight paths and will keep us from stumbling. 🙂

Let’s talk about this! What thoughts came to mind as you read today’s chapter and/or Delia’s devotion? Consider your life, your day. Do you feel as if your steps are unhampered? If not, what’s slowing you down, and what promises/truths might help you move forward with courage and peace?

You can join the conversation by leaving comments below or by joining our Yahoo study group.


Click to join ProverbsStudy

And if you have a few moments, I encourage you to prayerfully listen to the following song, making the words your plea.

A Fulfilled Heart

It’s hard for me to think in terms of eternity. I understand we’re all going to one of two places, depending on where we put our trust, but when I pray for the salvation of others, it’s actually the here and now I’m most concerned with. I know the peace, freedom and joy that comes from walking with God. I also know the pain that comes from being separated from Him. The other night, my husband said, “You are the most balanced person I know.” I’ve never received a higher compliment, especially considering where God has carried me from. This got me thinking about my faith walk in particular and I realized that God is all about balance. Apart from God, our lives easily become dominated, by work, food, television…it doesn’t really matter. An unfulfilled heart cries out for wholeness, and seeks temporary fillers.

I’ve heard people with depression or bipolar disorder often self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. People without Christ (or not centered fully on Christ) self-medicate with temporary fillers. Only these fillers leave us empty and grasping for more. It is at this point the behaviors become “addictive”. The only solution, then, is to continually draw near to God, through prayer and study. The closer we are to Him, the more  balanced our lives will be because He removes those “distracting fillers” and replaces them with His divine, all-consuming love.

Sometimes His love will break us, but only in order to heal. Other times it will convict us, but only to draw us to His better. Whether healing, strengthening, guiding or chastising, it begins and ends with God as we draw near to Him in increasing intimacy and allow Him to do whatever needs to be done in our hearts and lives.

It can be easy to go through the motions. I’ve had numerous mornings where I’ve read through a Bible passage without paying attention to a single word. So I’ll read it again, and again, my mind drifting each time. And I’ve been known to sift through a rather long to-do list in the middle of prayer. But when I go through the motions disengaged, I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. And I’ve robbed myself of soul-fulfilling time with Christ. Christ didn’t die so I could fill my day with habits and agendas. He died so I could have intimate fellowship with Him. Yes, He wants me to read my Bible and pray, but that’s just the first step in our walk. More than anything, He wants me to know Him, and to draw near to Him with an unveiled, authentic heart.He wants to walk through life with me, like a tender Father reaching his hand to a trusting child.

If I’m going through the motions without connecting to God on a heart-to-heart level, I’ve lost sight of what Christianity is all about.

Is there an area of your life that’s out of balance? A behavior that dominates your life? Perhaps you’re self-medicating, attempting to fill a need only God can fill. Spend a few moments in prayer, asking God to remove that stronghold (whether food, tv, internet, obsessively cleaning your house…whatever) and to strengthen your desire for Him. Then make a commitment to draw near to Him each day, and see if He doesn’t bring you to a place of increasing balance.

 

Who Do We Think We’re Fooling?

Saturday, after almost a week of sleeping in and lazing around in my PJ’s, I turned on my alarm and went to bed afraid I’d sleep in come Sunday morning. Yep, I did. Which meant my daughter slept in as well, and we started our Sunday rushing around stressed out, worried we wouldn’t get to church on time.

As I drove to church, (my husband had to work) my daughter looked at me with her, “I’m such a wise teenager,” smile, and said, “I can always tell how you’re feeling when you drive.”

I relaxed my death grip on the steering wheel, leaned back, and offered what I hoped to be a peaceful, “Oh, really? Do tell?” smile.

She then launched into a rather elaborate explanation of my body language–how I behaved when I was in a hurry, stressed, angry–whatever, and how it affected my driving.

They say communication is about 80, perhaps even 90% non-verbal. In fact, people will believe your body language more than your verbal–likely because it is almost innate. Our face reacts instantaneously, revealing our true emotions long before we cover with that forced smile. Which means, we’re really not fooling anybody, are we?

So what can we do? I’m not sure if I advocate brutal honesty, because emotions left unchecked wreak havoc on our relationships. The only solution then is to perform regular heart checks, because that is where our emotions originate. (In conjunction with our thought processes, but that’s another post for another day) And that is where real change begins–at the heart level.

In Matthew 15:8-20, Jesus counters emotionless, superficial religious behaviors by zeroing in on the cause of sin. To paraphrase, He says, “Who do you think you’re fooling? You perform all these acts–say lofty prayers, wash your hands incessantly, but your hearts are blackened with sin.”

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)

Human rules performed out of human pride. Jesus wasn’t impressed.

“Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.'” Matthew 15:10-11 (NIV)

What comes out of our mouth is a direct result of what is in our heart.

Jesus explained, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” Matthew 15:17-20 (NIV)

We like to focus on the outward behaviors. If only I read x number of passages in my Bible per day and go to church x number of times, and give x number of dollars each month, I’ll be good. More importantly, I’ll look good.

But Jesus says, “Who do you think you’re fooling? Man looks on the outside, but I look at the heart.”

That is where I’m beginning in January–at the heart level, because everything stems from that. Financial issues are often the result of greed, which is the result of a discontented heart. Food issues are often the result of gluttony which is the result of an unfulfilled heart. Fear is the result of lack of faith. Broken relationships are often the result of a prideful heart. It all begins and ends in the heart.

Although I’m not sure if it ever ends. For me, keeping a clean and pure heart before God–or more accurately, allowing Him to purify my heart, is a constant struggle. And yet, it’s so easy. All I need to do is draw near to God in humble obedience, honestly acknowledging my sin, and allowing Him to remove in me those things that don’t bring Him glory. The hard part comes in the surrender, because for some reason we cling to those heart-darkening habits, ideas and behaviors. But God calls us to let it go.

As I begin my focus on intentional living, I’m going to dig past the superficial and ask God to show me the root cause of my negative behaviors, then I’m going to surrender my heart to Him, asking Him to remove in me all those things that get in His way.

This will be my daily prayer:

“Create in me a pure heart,O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”