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Guard Your Heart

November 8th, 2017

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)

We are exceedingly unwise to forget this fact - that our life consists of our thoughts, and our thoughts are engendered by what we think about.

It seems to be an undeniable truth when we read it, but yet this is a major focus of the evil one, to deceive us into imagining that our minds can be filled with impure things and our souls not be scarred with impurity.

The Hebrew word translated “diligence” or “vigilance” is mishmar and it means a prison or a place of confinement (see Genesis 40:3). It pictures us taking our heart captive, just like a ruler would take a dangerous felon and holding him in a place where he would do no more harm. It means at the very least that we should never underestimate the potential of our hearts to do evil.

I have known several brothers in ministry who forgot this fact. They blindly believed that so long as they held a position in ministry, that it no longer mattered what they did with their minds. So they allowed impure and unholy things to come into their thoughts - movies, magazines, internet sites - and this dragged them down to places they never thought they would go.

This deception seems to come to every Christian in some manner, the thought that we can entertain unholy thoughts with impunity, that we can let the values of the world parade freely in our minds and not be negatively impacted. God does forgive and cleanse when we repent and confess, but there is great spiritual danger here and we should never think that flirting with evil is a harmless activity. So the Bible uses strong words here - we are to lock up our minds like the dangerous criminals they truly are, recognizing the danger to our souls of evil influences.

But we are not to only lock them up away from evil. We are also and especially to bring the light of the Lord into them. We are to meditate on God’s truth, and let this fill our hearts. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Psalm 36:1 describes the evil person by his alienation from God, that he does not fear or revere God or God’s truth. It is not enough to hate evil; we must also love truth.

The Bible is filled with the thoughts of God and of holiness. Many passages reveal divine logic that led a believer in the path of holy thoughts. We are wise if we will travel with these godly people in our thoughts as well - rather than ambling down the path of unholy thoughts, letting God turn us to traveling up the path of good and righteous thoughts.

Psalm 36, for example, paints this type of picture where the inspired author let the Spirit lift his thoughts into the holy things of God. He wrote:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord. (Psalm 36:5-6 ESV)

He lifts his eyes up to the heavens and sees the pure whiteness of the clouds and thinks of God’s faithfulness as being so pure. He then looks to the majestic mountains and lets them inspire him also as a metaphor for the greatness of God. Then he turns his thoughts to the unfathomable depths of the ocean, and knows that God’s wisdom and His divine plans are like this - far beyond our ability to grasp in their entirety. Finally, he looks back to the land, where man and beast alike live and they are supplied for by God. In these few verses he sees the purity, majesty, wisdom, and compassion of God.

Then he writes:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. (Psalm 36:7-9 ESV)

He compares God’s steadfast love to a mother hen that shelters her chicks under her wings - we believers live in the shadow of our God’s wings! What an amazing thought! Then he compares God to the master of a home, who provides for all of his family, and then he compares God to a great river that meanders through a land and brings life to all along its journey. Finally he compares God to a deep well, hidden from others but known to the believer, bringing life.

The final statement, “in your light do we see light,” to me is one of the most beautiful praises in the Old Testament. The author seems to go beyond any earthly metaphor and simply exclaims this spiritual truth - that the knowledge of God enlightens the soul. Rather than being blinded by the light, we actually see better than ever before. The knowledge of God illumines the soul of the believer who studies and learns His Word.

So we are to guard our souls with all diligence and serious vigilance, for from our hearts proceed the issues of life. Do you want to have a full life, an illumined soul, an enlightened mind - then take seriously this admonition of God. Avoid the unholy and focus on the holy truths of God.

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Resting in the Lord

November 2nd, 2017

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3a ESV)

The most beloved psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm. In it he professes his faith that the Lord provides all that he needs. David divides life into three main categories: rest, work, and difficulty. Rest comes first in life, for we are born helpless and we need rest as adults in order to survive. We cannot live without sleep, without protection, or without nourishment. The Lord knows all of these things, so He inspired David to begin the psalm with rest.

Work and trouble will both come in their time, but first we need rest. Not only physical rest but spiritual rest as well. We need the nourishment that the Spirit gives to our souls.

Alexander Maclaren, the great Scottish pastor, wrote:

The psalm puts the rest and refreshment first, as being the most marked characteristic of God’s dealings. After all, it is so … But it is not mainly of outward blessings that the Psalmist is thinking. They are precious chiefly as emblems of the better spiritual gifts; … the image describes the sweet rest of the soul in communion with God, in whom alone the hungry heart finds food that satisfies, and from whom alone the thirsty soul drinks draughts deep and limpid enough. This rest and refreshment has for its consequence the restoration of the soul, which includes in it both the invigoration of the natural life by the outward sort of these blessings, and the quickening and restoration of the spiritual life by the inward feeding upon God and repose in Him. (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture)

The Lord will certainly also lead us in paths of righteousness - so rest is not an end in itself, but rather it serves the purpose to prepare us for works of righteousness. But if we do not have true spiritual strength, gained by grace through faith, we will seek to serve Him in our own strength. That will be both exhausting and ineffective.

So not to rest, not to be restored first, or not to regularly abide in Him and receive His investment in our souls, is a prideful thing. Surely we will then be seeking to build temples that God has not authorized us to build - to use an analogy from David’s life.

A woodsman was known for his skill with an axe, for being able to cut down more trees than any other worker. When asked his secret he said that it was simple. After every tree that he cut down, he stopped for a few minutes to sit in the shade and sharpen his axe. I am convinced that the secret to accomplishing much for God is to also take time to let Him sharpen the axe of our soul, to strengthen us inwardly and to prepare us by His Spirit.

Without this first step we will neither serve well, nor will we endure trouble well. All else that is written in this psalm hangs upon David taking time to let God restore his soul. All that we achieve of lasting benefit to the work of God is done also because we served in His strength and not our own. God’s purpose for us does not end in our rest alone, but until we rest in Him our service will never be effectively done.

Take time to rest, physically and spiritually, in God.

If you are struggling with burnout, I recommend to you my little book: Burnout: Causes and Recovery . It is available on amazon.

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