Our District Superintendent of the EFCA Southeast, has a saying which I remember clearly: “The mother of all disappointment is unmet expectations.” To be fair, he is actually a really positive, hopeful, and encouraging person. He is not a natural pessimist, or one given to “the sky is falling” mentality. But over the years, Glen has seen enough transpire in various churches to know that when people have unspoken or unrealized expectations, disappointment is often the result.
Proverbs 4:23 gives us an important reminder about our own heart, our attitudes and our expectations as we start the year of our Lord, 2021. Different translations render the phrase, “Watch over your heart with all diligence” (NASB), “Keep your heart with all vigilance” (ESV), “Be careful how you think” (Good News). Since this verse is one of my favorites in Proverbs, I want to share with you a few reminders of how we can “guard our hearts” in this new year.
First, guarding our hearts can be applied to resisting temptation. We can take steps in the new year to stay away from situations, things, or influences that we know tempt us to sin. This may mean choosing not to read or look on certain websites, or asking a friend to help you stay accountable for a new goal. In order to stay on guard, we need to realize that just because we may have been following Christ a long time does not mean that we are less vulnerable to sin. In order to resist temptation, I first need to remember that I am just as liable to fall into sin now as compared to any other time. After tempting Jesus in the wilderness, the gospel of Luke says that the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Jesus had to resist Satan again at other times. Satan does not tempt us once and then leave us alone forever. We must be on guard against his schemes.
Second, guarding our hearts means giving thanks to God and not taking things for granted such as relationships, jobs, resources, health, or present opportunities. As we learned in the year 2020, life is fragile and can be gone in a matter of days. An unguarded heart is one that is complacent, one that presumes on the future to be a certain way (James 4:13-17), and is perhaps arrogant. By contrast, guarding one’s heart means being humble, yet also not being naïve about the way the world is. Jesus said that his followers need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). How can we retain a shrewd mindset but not be overly pessimistic about life? I believe the answer is to give thanks continually, remembering that everything we have is a gift from God, and he intends to conform us to the image of Christ throughout our lives. Whatever is happening to us at any given moment is part of His loving plan to bring us into closer fellowship with Him. The more we give thanks and recognize God’s abundant provision, the less attached we become to worldly things which come and go very quickly.
Third, guarding our hearts means putting our hope and our trust completely in Christ. Note the second half of Proverbs 4:23: “for it is the source of life.” Other translations use the word “wellspring”. Jesus promised his followers the living water (himself) that would become a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). The instruction to guard one’s heart is a warning against idolatry. The heart is what directs our deepest emotions, desires, and decisions. If our heart is not focused on Christ, then other idols will take away our attention and affection. Idols can be things like money, success, control, or the need to “be right”. Idols are also cultural things that we use as replacements for God, such as devotion to political leaders, trust in our intellect, prosperous careers or workaholism, endless pursuit of beauty and fitness, and many more. We look to idols to give us security, comfort, power, and control, yet the idols end up controlling our behavior and shriveling up our hearts (like the Grinch). Idols can never give us the comfort, security, joy, peace, and hope that Christ gives.
Given recent events in our nation’s capitol, many of us are saddened, angry, pessimistic or even apathetic about the coming year. But we are instructed to guard our hearts, so that the light and life of Christ may shine through us.
I close with the insightful words of another Christian leader in our community- Eric Bradley, head of Grace Christian School:
As believers, our loyalty, devotion, and commitment is to serve, seek, and further the kingdom of Christ above all things. Let us always be sure that this truth is above any loyalty to an individual or political position… We are [first and foremost] neither Republican nor Democrat. We serve a Savior, “and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) May we commit ourselves to make sure that our focus is always on furthering HIS kingdom over all others. Not Trump’s. Not Biden’s. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Our hope rests in Jesus Christ alone, and our prayer is that with so many competing voices seeking your attention and loyalty, you will allow His glory, strength, and peace to be your unshakable foundation moving forward.
Guarding our hearts means cultivating a desire to seek Christ above all else… To live for his glory and his kingdom… To make him the most treasured person we talk about in our homes… To make him the loudest voice coming from our own tongues. May we guard or hearts well and continue living with the certain hope that Jesus will come again and make all things right.
In Christ, Pastor Jim