Advent Series: The First Way to Prevent a Spiritual Heart Attack this Christmas
Know the signs and how to maintain a healthy spiritual heart
It’s likely we all know the four major signs of a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association they are: 1) tightness in the chest, 2) shortness of breath, 3) pain in the left arm, and 4) nausea. If you experience these symptoms you must call 911 or get to a hospital immediately. It’s a matter of life and death.
Throughout Scripture we are warned about another kind of heart attack – the attack on our spiritual heart. This attack also has warning signs that must be heeded and immediate action taken. This attack is also a matter of life and death.
Over the four weeks of Advent we will 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.
Warning Sign #1 – A Tightness in our Heart’s Perspective
The first sign of a physical heart attack is a tightening of the chest and a sense of pressure. The first sign of a spiritual heart attack is a tightening of perspective and feelings of anxiety and stress.
Christmas day is less than a month away. Does that bring you a sense of joy and anticipation, or does it heighten your level of stress? The first way the enemy attacks our hearts at Christmas is to distract us from God’s bigger story by having us fixate on all the needs and challenges in our own.
The pressure of high expectations can lead us to prepare for the coming of the Prince of peace with frenetic activity. The challenges of the season can lure us away from all that God might have for us if we embrace his story and not ours. I mean, it was tough enough before Advent. We have just faced a bitter and cynical national election, continued gun violence, a seemingly endless progression of natural disasters from coast-to-coast, economic uncertainty, international tensions, and an increasingly divisive and vitriolic national dialogue that is pushing us to the brink of civil unrest. To that we add our personal challenges be they work, family relationships, finances, health and more.
There is plenty to draw our attention away from God’s big story and onto the chaos around us. Now, in this suppose a joyful season of Advent, we have the added pressure of doing all the things necessary to make this Christmas “successful.” It’s little wonder our hearts are burdened and our spirits are overwhelmed in the season that promises us exactly the opposite.
This is the first sign of a spiritual heart attack. The last thing the enemy wants us doing in this season of Advent is focusing on the cosmic revolution that we are about to celebrate. He is determined to keep us from quiet moments where we allow the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to the wonder of the coming of the kingdom of God in our midst. He will throw everything at us to distract us from the experience of deep reverence as we consider God’s amazing love, that he would come and assume our flesh, take on himself our sinfulness and prepare to nail it to the cross.
This is the eternal, cosmic perspective that feeds our spirits and strengthens our hearts. It is God’s greatest gift to us this Christmas. Will we embrace it? Or will we miss it?
The answer has much to do with whether we enter this Advent season with a heart of a steward or an owner. The enemy wants desperately for us to be owners. As owners we grab control and attempt to manipulate outcomes in our lives that align with our definition of success. The more control we have, the happier we will be, so the deception goes. The fruit of control is fear, manifested as anxiety, stress, discouragement and despair. Control throws life back upon ourselves, and it’s not long before we realize we can’t handle it. We may sing carols and recite well-known scriptures, but, like the Pharisees of old, Jesus says of us that we may honor him with our lips, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8) Paul speaks of this kind of heart attack when he says, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Acts 28:27)
An ownership mindset is birthplace of a spiritual heart attack. As such, it is the antithesis of Advent.
Our journey to the manger is the journey of the faithful steward. Only as a steward can we surrender life’s challenges and distractions back to God with the assurance that if we trust in him with all of our heart and not rely on our own understanding, if we acknowledge him in all we do he will lead us in the right path. (Proverbs 6:9) Only as a steward can we see above the chaos in the world around us and see God’s bigger plan. Only with the eyes of a steward can we see God’s kingdom at work in the midst of a world that seems to reject him more and more each day.
When we acknowledge that everything in all of our life belongs to God, surrender it back to him and take the mantle of the humble, faithful steward, we will see Advent in a whole new light. This was Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus when he said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:18)
This new perspective keeps our hearts in the right place, as Paul commanded the church in Colossae, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1) And from that perspective we know His peace and claim the promise that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heartsand your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
This is God’s heart-work for us and in us. It is the fruit of the faithful steward. My prayer is that you watch for this first warning sign – a tightening of your perspective and a pressure building in your spirit. And if you sense this warning sign, take immediate steps to surrender your desire for control back to God, trust Him to be your provider, rest in His promises and take to heart His love and assurance.
Not only will this send the enemy fleeing, but it will set you free to make Advent a blessed time of preparation for the coming King. May you experience this heart at peace and, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19)