Does your heart ever amaze you?
I amaze myself sometimes.
I wish I could say it’s my singing abilities that amaze me. But that would be my friend Jessica. Not me. I’m just a bit above average. My dad might argue, as he’s convinced I could beat anyone on The Voice. Sometimes it’s charming to have a lifetime fan who’s always looked at me through rose-colored glasses (or listened to me sing with rose-colored hearing aids), but that’s another post for another day, and I’m (squirrel!!) already getting off-topic.
What I really wish I could say is that I’m amazed by my ability to consistently do, think, and feel the same things Jesus would do, think, and feel if He were walking in my shoes today.
Truthfully, I am amazed, but I’m amazed in reverse. These past few weeks, there were a couple incidents in which I was completely AMAZED at how opposite my thoughts and feelings were to those I know Jesus would be thinking and feeling in my shoes.
It was the first night of our vacation last week. We worked hard to get the car packed up with camping gear in the morning, made one last-minute stop at Walmart to complete our supplies, and drove roughly seven hours to get just a couple hours from our camping destination. Exhausted and not wanting to spend much on a legit hotel, we opted for a unique-smelling, one-star “Economy Lodge” in Akron, Ohio.
We collapsed into bed at midnight, and had enjoyed exactly 97 minutes of sleep when it happened. At 1:37AM, a big-mouthed woman, a foul-mouthed man, and their out-of-control loudest-mouthed 6ish-year-old son barged right into our hotel room and wouldn’t shut up or stop banging on the wall or stop slamming the door for the next two hours!
Okay, so they didn’t technically barge into our room—it was the room next door. But with tissue-thin walls, that didn’t really matter.
Absolutely furious, my husband and I laid there and considered our options:
1. Go knock on their door, ask them to kindly keep it down, and risk being shot by these obviously clueless and rude travelers. Or,
2. Go to the front desk, ask the hotel employee to go knock on their door to ask them to kindly keep it down, and risk being shot by these obviously clueless and rude travelers who now knew we were the ones to tattle on them. Or,
3. Pack up our stuff, and head out at 2AM to arrive at our final destination campsite in the middle of a dark, unknown forest at 4AM. Or,
4. None of the above.
We chose option #4. None of the above. We also chose option #5, which was to crank the pre-historic, dinosaur-loud fan in our room that would sort of drown out the noise next door.
As my blood pressure was descending and I was beginning to fall back asleep, my moment of reverse amazement at myself woke my heart up in a way that was more jarring than the initial barging-in of our new “neighbors”. I was amazed at how much hatred I felt toward this unknown trio. I was amazed at how quick I was to not only imagine the extreme punishments they deserved, but how much I wouldn’t care if those imaginary punishments were actually carried out on them.
All because they committed the horrendous sin of…interrupting my sleep.
Jeremiah 17:9 The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (NLT)
I was reminded of this verse that night, and,
it has brought it’s companion verse to the forefront of my mind since then.
Proverbs 4:32 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (NIV)
This incident may seem a bit trivial, or at least a bit isolated, but other red flags have gone up since then.
Like a few days ago when I read a comment on a friend’s Facebook post and my enraged and judgmental heart thought, “You’re an idiot.”
Or like when I know I could help someone who’s going through a really hard time and I am okay with doing absolutely nothing.
My vacation experience brought to light my need to guard my heart, and here are some practical ways I’ve added to my to-do-everyday list so far:
#1 Hang out with the One whose heart is completely pure.
It’s been said in many different ways: “You become like those you hang out with the most.” The more we stay connected with Jesus through prayer and through reading His word, the more we will become like Him.
John 15:4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. (NLT)
Galatians 5:25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (NLT)
#2 Schedule regular checkups.
Before my experience with the rude hotel neighbors, I would’ve told you my heart was pure. I had been spending time in God’s word and in prayer, but maybe I was getting a little puffed up about my purity. I now want to make the psalmist’s prayer my daily prayer:
Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Having an accountability partner you trust—one who will speak the truth in love—is a great one to enlist in helping you keep your heart pure.
#3 Avoid excuses.
As I lay there drowning in hatred that night in the hotel, I could’ve easily thought, “Oh, I was half-asleep. That wasn’t really me hating the people next door so much. Had I been more awake and not so exhausted from the long drive, I would’ve been a lot more gracious.”
I actually tried that excuse, and it’s true that our emotions can much more easily go out of control when we’re physically exhausted, but I knew the truth. There was a hatred that went beyond physical exhaustion that I was responsible for.
For a moment I thought, “Wow, this isn’t me. This is just a spiritual attack.” I believe the Enemy loves to dangle evil thoughts before our minds. But once again, we are responsible for what we think and do.
2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)
Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (NIV)
#4 Humble yourself and repent.
Humbling ourselves means stepping down from our throne, and putting God and others first. There’s something about our mentality on vacations. Often, we’ve worked hard and saved up for it, so more than usual, we feel more entitled to make each day about us having a good time and getting what we want.
But it’s not just a vacation mentality. It’s pretty evident that our natural tendency is to focus on getting what we want. Lord, help us to turn from our own selfish desires. Help us to want the things You want, and help us to serve You and others in humility.
Philippians 2:3-4 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (NLT)
2 Corinthians 8:9 You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. (NLT)
Proverbs 29:23 Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. (NLT)
#5 Hide your boxing gloves.
Once you’ve seen the hatred in your heart, and once you’ve repented, put away your boxing gloves. You know better than to use them on others, and maybe you need to be reminded to stop using them on yourself as well.
Philippians 3:13b-14 Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (NLT)
#6 Keep learning how to love.
There is always more to learn (and to put into practice) about loving others. Find Christian friends who you see showing love and ask them how and why they do it. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you to love like Jesus loves the church. Simply Google, “Bible verses about love” and soak them in. Read them over and over and ask God to help you put them into practice, beginning with those closest to you. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:
1 John 3:16-18 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.(NIV)
Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (NIV)
Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (NIV)
Lord, guard our hearts. Help us to love you and to love others with more than words or speech. Help us to love with actions and in truth. Help us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and help us to show that kind of sincere love to those around us. Amen.