Welcome back to 'Bread for the Journey' blog, with a brand new series focusing on the importance of keeping healthy, spiritually.
There has been a huge drive in recent years to educate the western world, in particular, in heart-health. Exercise, good eating patterns, reducing alcohol consumption and other strategies have all been emphasised in the pursuit of long-term health. And numerous websites, blogs, books and TV programmes have sprung up to voice their concerns and give the latest remedy.
All well and good, but there is another aspect of heart-health to consider…
‘The three special functions, knowing, feeling, and willing, ascribed by modern psychologists to the mind, were attributed to the heart by the Biblical writers’ (Jewish Encyclopaedia; italics mine). The heart in Scripture described the inner man, the seat of consciousness and the intelligence, the source of imagination and creativity; the seat of the self. To the Hebrew writers the heart referred to the aspects of humanness which distinguish man from the rest of the animal kingdom, and included, pre-eminently, the ability to know the Lord.
When words are mentioned for the first time in Scripture, they give special insight which informs and provides a foundation for our understanding of key themes. The first mention of heart in the Old Testament is in Genesis 6 where we read that ‘The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ [Genesis 6:5]
The Fall had made the human heart very sick, and the consequences were legion. Sickness in the inner man produced every kind of evil: from violence to theft, and self-promotion to relationship breakdown, (and the rest); it also had huge physical consequences – many illnesses are today recognised as having their roots in poor emotional, mental or spiritual health; and – vitally important - the diseased human heart lost the capacity to fellowship with the God who made it.
The only remedy was drastic surgery, a new heart was required.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees
and be careful to keep my laws.
We know of course, that when we put our trust in the saving work of Jesus, that promise was fulfilled. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we became new creations, complete with new hearts, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
If we know all of this, what's the point...?
The issue is this: just as we often do not take steps to protect and nourish our body’s physical organ, with resulting health problems, we also often are not diligent about caring for the new spiritual heart we have been given. And out of that heart flows the ‘issues of life’ [Proverbs 4:23 NKJV].
It seems that our state of wellbeing really is a heart-issue.
GUARD YOUR HEART
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
I love historical fiction, if well-researched and written, it can give a great perspective on a particular period. I particularly enjoy medieval history, so when a book set in that period, by a well-known novelist, was passed on to me, I anticipated a great read. Unfortunately, it was neither historically authentic, nor good story-telling. Instead it was a string of graphically described acts of violence, strung together by an implausible plot. I have no idea why I kept on reading, but I did finish the book—and then wished I hadn’t; the imaginations of a diseased mind had left its mark, and I had to get before the Lord to clear away the unpleasant feeling. And I needed to apologise for not heeding the quiet voice of the Spirit telling me to stop reading after the first few chapters.
It was a salutary lesson on how easily we can be receptors of things which damage our wellbeing. I wonder how much our moods, physical health and general equilibrium is affected by things we have seen, heard, or read; how much the life-spring within is sullied by the voice of the Evil One masquerading as the latest must-see entertainment, or conversation?
I am not suggesting we hide ourselves away, to avoid being ‘tainted’—Jesus never did. He frequented the hangouts of all sorts of 'unsavoury' people; but He did it deliberately, rather than passively. And He took His Kingdom with Him—He expected to influence the atmosphere, rather than be influenced by it. Moreover, He did not set up camp there; His time spent in all manner of challenging situations was balanced with time spent with supportive friends (who were learning a faith-filled perspective), and crucially with His Father.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Of course, when we slip up, there is forgiveness and cleansing always available [1 John 1:9]. But if we are to live faith-filled lives from a place of rest, guarding our hearts is not an optional extra. We have to watch what is going into them; we need to become good gatekeepers.
NEEDING A NEW HEART?
If you want to know more about becoming a brand new creation, check out the following pages...
A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
A BRAND NEW LIFE
NEXT TIME: A HEALTHY-HEART CHECK
Just as chest pains can be an indicator of a serious physical heart problem, so what flows into our thoughts, out of our mouths, and through our actions shows the condition of the inner man...
PASS IT ON
[Photo credits: Cathal Mac an Bheatha (lamp); Ali Morshedlou (padlock); Hassan Ouajbir (man on phone)
@ Unsplash, with thanks]
Da Kraplak (type writer);
Merakist (social media)
@ Unsplash, with thanks]
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