Advent Series: The Fourth Way to Prevent a Spiritual Heart Attack this Christmas
This is the final in our four week series on Advent as we look at four warning signs that our hearts are under spiritual attack, and how we can break free and experience a heart at peace in our own Advent journey to see the King. I am playing off the four major signs of a physical heart attack, 1) tightness in the chest, 2) shortness of breath, 3) pain in the left arm, and 4) nausea. Just as our physical heart can be attacked, throughout Scripture we are warned about the attack on our spiritual heart. This attack also has warning signs that must be heeded and immediate action taken. Just as with our physical hearts, this attack is a matter of life and death.
We’ve considered the warning signs of a tightness in our perspective, a shortness of breadth in our love, and a sharp pain in our wallet. We will now turn to the fourth and most challenging sign that we are experiencing a spiritual heart attack.
Warning Sign #4 – A Sickness in our Spirit
The fourth warning sign of a physical heart attack is nausea, becoming sick in the stomach. When our heart is failing our stomach will ache. The same is true in a spiritual heart attack. When our heart is under attack, it will show itself through the sickness we allow to fester in our spirit.
This is a hard lesson. I was concerned about leaving it to the last because it can come across as negative and discouraging. I pray you find the hope that is here for us.
Perhaps the only thing more pervasive in our culture today than rampant consumerism is a dark spirit of divisiveness. Many words describe it; vitriolic, cynical, abrasive, myopic, angry, self-righteous, condemning, judgmental, and the list goes on. I say this carefully and with great personal pain, there is a cultural sickness in our country today. We all experience it and it cannot help but affect us as we navigate this Christmas season.
I am reminded of the lament of the children of Israel while in exile in Babylon when they cried out, ” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) Maybe you’ve asked yourself the question, “how can we sing of the Prince of peace when we live surrounded by such anger?” Does it seem that, especially this Christmas, the promises of the kingdom of God ushered in by the baby in Bethlehem are all but impossible to see as the debris thrown off by our declining cultural morality flies all around us?
While this should concern us, we miss the point entirely unless we bring this issue into our own spirit. This is not a problem just about them, but about us. About me. To what degree has our cultural malady become our personal affliction? Where has the world’s illness begun to disease our own souls?
We usually associate Advent with happy anticipation and joyful preparation. But there is a surgical side to this time of year that we must not miss. Even in his natal form, all those who came before the manger fell to their knees and worshiped the King. Legions of angels gathered and sang praises. What we learn from the Nativity story is that when anyone encounters the living God in human flesh, be he a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes or the victorious resurrected Christ, their heart is pierced. We never encounter the living God and come away unscathed.
In this way, we must let Advent do its surgical job of excising from us the sickness that may be lurking in our spirit. This is hard work, yes, but it is the necessary step on the joyful journey to meet the king. If we miss it, we run the risk of being named with those whom Jesus decried, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)
Here are three suggestions for how we can allow Advent to heal any sickness we may harbor in our spirit.
First, admit that you are sick. We are all in some way affected by the current environment in our nation. Get together with two or three trusted friends and talk about this. Share how it is affecting you, how you feel it shaping your attitudes and perceptions. Have you said things in anger that surprised you? Remember Jesus’s admonition, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34) Confession is good for the soul. Get it out. Name it. Refuse to let it hide in your spirit. Let the Holy Spirit shine a white-hot light on the deep recesses where sickness goes for refuge.
Second, ask the Holy Spirit to be the strong man at the door of your heart. Claim Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, “we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Paul promised the Philippians that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:7) We need such a guard against the effects of our cultural malaise. More than ever we must “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) This is the work we must let the Spirit do in us.
Finally, pour the word of God and worship into your heart. It will be for you the balm of Gilead. Shut off the news and open Scripture. Tune out talk radio and find a station that plays music that encourages and heals. Refuse to enter into conversations with friends or family that lead to division or anger. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Work for peace in every relationship. Be ready to give a redemptive response to every word meant to hurt and destroy. This is how Advent is meant to be lived. It is time for cleaning house and setting things right. It is a time for healing, for hallelujahs and for hope.
As we conclude this series, let me ask, are you experiencing any of these signs that your heart is under a spiritual attack this Advent? Are you missing God’s bigger picture and focusing too narrowly on all that is wrong because you are experiencing a tightness in perspective? Is your heart divided between loyalties, keeping you from loving God with all your heart and causing shortness of breadth? Are you wincing from the pain you feel in your wallet as you worry about money and are anxious about what you don’t have, rather than living as a free steward of all that our generous and abundant God has provided for you? And are you willing to name the sickness in your own heart, that the Holy Spirit can make you clean and prepare you for the most joyous celebration of Christmas you’ve ever experienced?
My prayer is for a heart-healthy Advent season, a deeply joyful Christmas and a hope-filled anticipation for all that God has in store in the New Year.