This was my first time to hear Beth in person, and it was as amazing as I thought it would be. It was also my first time to be part of a studio audience, and that was an interesting experience, but I don't really have time to say much about that.
It was pretty hard to decide what part of the conference to share, but I thought it over and decided that the segment that hit home most with me was the one called The Guarded Heart. Here's what I learned....
We started the session by reading Proverbs 4:20-27, with a focus on verse 23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."
At first, my mental commentary was, "Yes! Preach it, sister." I had heard this verse many times before, and I recognized the wisdom of it and believed that I had done a pretty good job of putting it into practice. As usual, though, Beth showed me a whole new perspective.
She started by talking about the many ways we should guard our hearts:
- watching the company we keep
- watching what goes into our heart (what we watch, what we read, etc.)
- watching what we say--"What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" (Mark 7:15).
We may try to withhold our heart, or guard our heart, but whatever is in our heart is going to come out. If our heart has grown cold, we'll pour out that coldness on the people around us. If our heart is full of anger and resentment, we'll spew out rage. Whatever is on the inside--bitterness, sorrow, love, joy--is going to come out and pour over the people around us.
Beth took us to Exodus 34 next. We glanced back a couple of chapters to review the story of Moses coming down the mountain to find Aaron and the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. Then we read about God showing his glory to Moses, who was hidden in the cleft of a rock as God passed by.
Exodus 33:18-23, Exodus 34:5-7a
Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."
Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."...
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin....
As we read this story, I wondered what it could possibly have to do with guarding your heart. Soon, it all started to come together. It turns out that the Hebrew word translated as "maintaining" in the phrase "maintaining love to thousands" is the same word translated "guard" in Proverbs 4:23.
In the passage in Exodus, God is describing his own character: compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and guarding his love to thousands. God was very angry with his people during this time because of their unfaithfulness to him, yet he actively tended, maintained, and guarded his love for them. God often withheld his blessing when they were sinful and unrepentant, but he NEVER withheld his love.
So What Does This Mean to Us?
Beth suggested that our focus should not be guarding our heart FROM others, but guarding our heart FOR others, just as God guards his love for us. That means we must tend to our hearts and protect the love that God has placed there.
Sometimes we are tempted to withdraw our love because we've been hurt too much, and it feels dangerous to keep loving. But that is not what God intends for us. He wants our love to abound more and more through the knowledge of Christ (Philippians 1:9). Love is the whole point! In Mark 12, when a teacher of the law asked Jesus the most important commandment, he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
The tricky part is that we really do need to guard our hearts from unhealthy relationships and influences, but at the same time we need to guard our love for the very people who hurt us. Beth advised that we should refuse to support and enable unhealthy behavior, yet we should refrain from holding back our love.
One thing she said really pierced the armor around my heart. She said that guarding your heart means watching out for diminishing love. She invited us to examine our most important relationships, especially our marriages, and ask ourselves whether our love was less fervent than before. Of course, passion in a marriage waxes and wanes, but she wasn't talking about romance. Instead, she was talking about going through the motions, about withdrawing emotionally.
I took a hard look at my own heart and realized something that brought tears to my eyes. I've been growing so much in the last year or so in my walk with God, and I've found myself loving others in ways that are completely new and often delightful. But I haven't striven for that level of love with my husband. I've just been coasting, and often we've been living parallel lives. We haven't made time for each other. In past years, I would have fought against that. There would have been tears and Relationship Talks. Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped trying so hard. Either I just got busy and forgot what was really important, or maybe (probably) I took a step back and decided I didn't want to risk things getting messy.
I told Bill about this revelation tonight, and he acknowledged that this has been a very busy season in our lives. We agreed that we would work on spending more time together, for a start. And I'll be praying that God will fill up that wellspring in my heart with his abounding, forgiving, extravagant love.
How About You?
Are you guarding your heart AGAINST people, or are you guarding your love FOR people?