Four Ways to Prevent a Spiritual Heart Attack this Christmas
Warning Sign #2 – Shortness of ‘Breadth’
I am using the four weeks of Advent to 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, too, is a matter of life and death.
Warning Sign #2 – Shortness of ‘Breadth’
When our physical heart is under attack our breathing becomes shallow and we find it hard to take a deep breath. When our spiritual heart is under attack our ability to love becomes shallow and we find it hard to experience God’s deep peace.
We all know the powerful words of Jesus’s great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Notice that the same word is used three times to modify how we are to love – all! The Greek word for ‘all’ is ὅλῃ and it is unequivocal in its meaning. ‘All’ describes the breadth of our love for God and, consequently, for ourselves and our neighbor. It is expansive, without limits and, one may say, broad.
This breadth of love is what the Psalmist refers to as an undivided heart. Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
In the same way God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel saying, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19)
What does it mean to have a divided heart? This is a critical question for us especially as we enter the season of Advent. It’s a deeply personal question that we must ask under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only with the Spirit’s help can we root out the causes of division in our heart. Let me offer a few suggestions on where we can start.
- When we love other things or people more than God, our hearts are divided
- When we trust in people or possessions for our security instead of God alone, our hearts are divided
- When we look to the applause and affirmation of others for our source of self-confidence instead of resting secure in the promise that we are a child of God, our hearts are divided.
- When we let the cares of the world take root like weeds in our spirit and choke out the joy of the Lord, our hearts are divided.
- When we refuse to forgive, harbor bitterness or allow cynicism to harden our attitudes, our hearts are divided.
- Simply put, when the ‘all’ becomes anything less, our hearts are divided.
The cure, according to the psalmist, is cultivating a holy, reverent fear of God. Reverent fear is born out of worship that connects us with the Almighty. It is fear that draws us to his arms and bids us surrender all other fears to him. As the saying goes, if we fear God we will fear nothing else, if we don’t fear God we will fear everything else.
Cultivating a holy, reverent fear of God immediately challenges our divided heart. If we truly fear God, the motivation to divide our heart between the kingdom of God and the things of this world is driven away from us.
The enemy was able to drive a wedge into the hearts of the first couple in the Garden of Eden. They were created with the awesome opportunity to love God and God only. It’s unthinkable that they would do anything else. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth described the fall as “the impossible possibility.” Although it was possible, it was also incomprehensible. Yet the enemy succeeded by turning Eve’s attention away from complete trust in God and to the prospect of placing her own needs and desires on the throne of her life. As she contemplated what it might be like to be like God, her heart became divided.
We reenact that sin every time our divided hearts convince us to play the lord of our lives and grab control for ourselves. Once the heart is divided, once we seek to have loyalty to two kingdoms with two different lords, we experience fear, stress, anxiety, and worry that were never intended to be in the heart of a child of God.
How do we reclaim an undivided heart? We can do so through worship—that is, a total surrender to the sovereign God and Creator of all things. It really comes back to a holy fear of God, that awesome, overwhelming understanding of God’s ultimate control of all things. From that fear comes trust, faith, and a deep-seated desire to walk according to His will in obedience and joy. When that kind of reverence and worship overwhelms us, it drives from our hearts every competing loyalty.
Where has your heart been divided? Where are you experiencing a shortness of breadth? This Advent season, as we journey to the manger, name those things that distract or discourage you. Identify those things in which you put your trust or which capture your devotion. Name your fears and surrender them back to your holy, awesome God. May he restore in us an undivided heart and, when we gaze at the babe of Bethlehem – Immanuel, God with us – may we feel a love so deep it takes our breath away.