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Five Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Heart

February 8, 2019

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Every time you hear the story of a Christian whose life has gone into total moral collapse you can be sure of one thing: behind that story the person had a long history of not dealing with their own sin. Don’t let this be you. Instead, keep your heart with all vigilance!  

A wise Christian studies the Bible and his or her own heart. You have to become the expert on your own heart. No one is in a better position to do this than you.  

Here are five steps that are involved in guarding your heart with all vigilance. 

1. Watch  

Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you do not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Paul said to Timothy, “Watch your life and your doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), and he said to the Ephesians elders, “Watch yourselves and the flock over which God has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28).

How are we to do this? Most of you will be familiar with the concept of a dashboard. Think about your car—as you drive along the road there is certain information that you need to have close at hand: What speed are you going? How much fuel do you have left in the tank? 

Then there is other information like the temperature of your engine, and the level of your oil. You don’t watch that constantly, but if the temperature of your engine rises you need to know. All of this information is displayed on a dashboard in front of you. 

What would a dashboard for your soul look like? There would be red lights and green lights. Red lights would be impulses in your soul that have the tendency to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. 

Let me give you some examples of red lights that you might put on your dashboard: Fear, pride, greed, self-pity, resentment, cowardice, anger, hard thoughts about God, and coldness in worship—any sense of formality in worship, or any sense of going through the motions. 

I encourage you to get a pen and paper and write these things down. Begin making a list of things that belong on your dashboard. Do this because it will give you clarity. 

2. Investigate 

You were running well. Who hindered you? (Galatians 5:7)  

There was a time when you were making good progress in the Christian life. You had a heart for God. But that is no longer true of you. 

You found joy in Christ. Your love for the Savior burned brightly. You had great passion for the advance of the gospel: You made significant sacrifices. You faced difficulties with courage. And, you battled against deeply rooted sins in your life and you grew in holiness. 

What happened to you? What is in you that has got in the way of your continued progress? Who or what hindered you? 

This is a place to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. You say, “I’m not really sure.” Then ask God to show you your own heart, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24). 

Talk it out with a Christian friend or with a pastor if you need to, but don’t settle without the answer. It’s too important. 

I fear that there are many Christians who study the Bible, but who hardly give their own hearts a second look, because they have never learned how to do this. 

3. Confess  

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9

This is a marvelous promise, but we must take its condition seriously: “If we confess our sins…” In other words, if we see the red light, and then we bring it to God in confession and trust in the blood of Christ to cover it. What is the last sin you confessed? 

Confession must always be first to God, but it will help you if you are able to talk honestly with someone who knows you and cares about you. This has been such a help to me in my own life. 

Recently, I was in a conversation with a few of our lay leaders. I told them that I saw some things changing in my own heart, and that I didn’t like what I saw. I listed several things. One of them was that I am becoming less patient. That’s a red light. It needs to be addressed. 

I was talking with a friend the other week. He is in his early 70’s and he is experiencing another passage of life, in which he is moving away from some responsibilities that he had before. 

He said to me, “I can see the path to becoming a grumpy old man from here and I don’t want to go down it.” Do you see what he’s doing? He’s watching his heart. 

4. Commit 

For every red light on the dashboard, showing impulses that lead us away from the Lord, there is a green light that will be its opposite. Green lights are impulses in your soul that reflect what the Bible calls the “fruit of the Spirit” in your life. 

You can make a list straight from Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is not an exhaustive list. You could add others. Forgiveness would be one example. Courage would be another.

Identify the green lights that correspondence to your red lights and commit to pursuing them. 

“Lord, by your grace and through your power, I renounce this impatience. I want nothing more to do with it. Lord, help me now to grow in the patience that I seek. Guard my heart from this enemy within, and use the circumstances that have provoked this impulse to sin in my heart to become the occasion of new growth in likeness to Jesus, for your glory.” 

That’s how Christian growth happens. The very circumstances that provided the red light, are the very things that produces new growth. 

5. Trust  

The person who is far from God has no interest in looking into his own heart. But when God gives you a new heart, you have a new interest in keeping it, as he calls you to do. Examining your heart to discover the trends of sin in your own life is something that godly people do. 

But when godly people look into their own hearts, they find it very discouraging. We are amazed that after all God has done for us, after all we’ve experienced, there should still exist in our hearts this principle that tends towards a secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. 

So, looking at your own heart can easily lead to you feeling defeated. Robert Murray McCheyne had the answer for that: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

As you look at your own heart, Christian, remember that by his blood he opened a fountain for cleansing. We need it every day of our lives. Let’s be done with this pious religion of moral superiority that so many have confused for Christian faith. 

We need the cleansing of the blood of Jesus. The sins that lurk in our hearts are not greater than the power of the blood of Christ to go on cleansing our lives. And he loves to do it. 

So, will you commit to keep your heart with all vigilance? 

[This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Valuing Your Soul,” from his series Soul Care, Part One] [Photo Credit: Marek Szturc on Unsplash]


The Author
Colin Smith

Colin Smith is the senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near - So Far. Colin is the president and teacher for Unlocking the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.



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