Know your heart AND your bowels!

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feelings

Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Good life advice for Christians, right?

But wouldn’t you think the inspired author of Proverbs would have called us to trust with our mind or our will instead of our heart?  After all, don’t we decide matters rationally?

Hebrew heart language is NOT an anomaly.  Here’s another verse from the Old Testament:

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Looks like the Bible is again telling us that our actions stem from what’s in our heart.

Here’s advice from Moses that reinforces that point:

“The word is very near you,says Moses to a rescued Israel, “in your mouth and in your heart (from Deut 30:14)

My husband and I have a running friendly disagreement.  I say that feelings flow from thoughts. And he maintains that feelings surge up unbidden with no connection to thoughts. He maintains that he has little control over those very strong emotions that seem to take over in extreme situations like:

  • being blocked unfairly, whether in the car or in a conversation
  • being accused of having let someone down with that wrench to the gut and tell-tale invasion of red flush across the face

The Hebrews AND the Greeks did recognize and identify the source of THOSE powerful emotions.  They sprang from the gut or the bowels!

Lamentations 1:20 refers to this organ as the origin of the strongest feelings – no rational thinking or deciding going on here!  Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.

What about the New Testament?  Jesus gives us a vivid example of deep anger arising from within.  Do you remember when he and his disciples journeyed to Lazarus’ house? Before they even reach the house, sister Martha meets him and dialogues rationally with a calm Jesus.  Martha slips back in the house and notifies her sister Mary who runs out to see Jesus. Mary’s weeping when she meets him triggers a responsive emotional echo in the Son of God that is other than rational.  Jesus allows Mary to lead him to Lazarus’ burial site accompanied by a growing crowd.  John 11:33 – When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

That groaning is the same gut feeling that wells up unprompted by rational thought or beliefs.  I’ve heard pastors explain that Jesus practically snorted like a horse, so indignant at death was he.  Rationally Jesus understands the cessation of earthly life, but his physical reaction is beyond thinking and feeling.  It’s in a different category.

Why does this matter, this distinction between gut feelings/bowels and the heart?

It turns out that my husband and I ARE both correct in how we evaluate feelings.  There are those that well up from our depths over which we seem to exercise little control.  More often, though, we deal with the ‘ordinary’ and frequent feelings that flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

And because ordinary feelings spring from what Bible language terms, ‘the heart’, then we CAN learn to change them and that is GOOD NEWS!

Not only CAN we replace and rework the content, we must!  God emphasizes the heart and commands us to control this mind/thought/feeling/-deciding organ.   Garbage in , Garbage out goes the prosaic adage. When we DO filter the content of thought and ideas , our heart changes.

Since having recently recognized that the Bible tends to look at the heart more as the thinking organ of will and choice, I see this distinction all 0ver the Bible!  And I am helped.  Before, I had concluded that I had little chance to fight worry, fear or anxiety, but now I know that I CAN, due solely to the Holy Spirit in me.

God, through Paul writing in Romans 12:2b exhorts us…..continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

My current ‘go-to’ steadying truth these days seems to be:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about (at fearful circumstances, either real or potential) for I am your God!  I will strengthen you; Surely I will help you; Surely I will hold you up with my victorious and righteous right hand! Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

With practice (like in any other skill) I am learning both to desire and to obey my Dad’s commands.  I want to please Him!

More details about the Bible’s understanding of ‘the heart’

 

My adornment

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Braided hair

Braided my hair this morning. Took 4 minutes.

More challenging than working those fingers blindly behind my head was God’s exhortation to spend ample time setting my heart, my disposition, my inclination to line up with the FACT of who He is:

  • Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe
  • Holy God
  • Redeemer of inward-oriented Maria who, still captivated by the world, is a lover of pleasure and comfort
  • Author and Finisher of my faith
  • Good Father

Finished dressing, relieved that He knows me so well.  And desiring to please Him.

1 Peter 3:3 Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man proposes and God disposes

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Proverbs 16:9  A man’s heart makes plans, but/and the Lord directs his path

Proverbs 16 9

Six weeks ago I received a group invitation to audit a seminary course.  The topic sounded fascinating – Biblical Theology of Women.  I had never thought of taking a course in theology, so it was intriguing.  But like everyone else, my schedule was already filled with more good things to read, study and learn than I had time for.

With some newfound wisdom AND at the same time desirous of taking on yet another ‘good’ thing, I did what I’ve never done before – think outside of the time box and make some serious choices about how I spend my 24 hours.

D.A. Carson, a wise, biblically-informed senior theologian, had counseled at a Bible conference that: If God has wired you to need 8 hours of sleep and you’re grumpy if you don’t, then SLEEP the 8 hours, for heaven’s sake!

So I made ‘enough sleep‘ a priority.

Enough sleep

And not just for the rest of the summer, but during the school year, too!  Obviously, other stuff had to go!  You can’t do it all. Even if ALL of it is ‘good’.  After sufficient sleep, I made my daily walk a priority.  Then came my quiet time which I re-arranged and divided into 2 separate daily time slots for the school-week.

None of that was too radical.  But I found myself faced with the need to eliminate a lot of reading.  Hard questions.  What do I truly WANT to read if I have to prioritize?  The answer was clear:  books!  I enjoy both French-language and English-language novels and books on the Bible, theology and the Christian life.   In order to allot at least 30 minutes a day to reading from them, I would have to eliminate the ever-growing email subscriptions I have kept up with for the past 7 to 8 years.  They had gotten to be a slave driver.  Just their presence in my inbox, piling up, always waiting was a reminder of ‘stuff I had to do!’

So I turned ruthless and cut all but 1 daily (John Piper’s Desiring God) and 1 weekly French and 1 neighbor’s weekly blog.

These steps (drastic for me!) were informed through new ideas from 4 books I providentially read this summer whose one theme was one’s dreams, goals, and purposes and new ways to think about what really matters.

Contented Jason in Lambie - 27 Mar

These past two weeks leading up to the start of a new school year have felt relaxed, almost as ‘relaxo’ as we describe one of our cats.  I haven’t been driven by the tyranny of my daily inbox to plow through and glean good stuff.  Each night after the dishes are done and the newspaper read, I have settled into my French novel, sitting out on our deck.  I have thoroughly relished reading for pleasure.  I now feel that I have a chance to make my way happily through a stack of books – the physical kind whose pages you turn.

Then I received the email with the syllabus to the course I had signed up for – the one that had prompted the weeding and gleaning and reorganizing of my time. And I had second thoughts.

Without ANY guilt, I have decided that I don’t want to add anything to this new ‘stasis’ in my life.  School has resumed and I am choosing to commute, teach, interact and listen to colleagues and students FEELING like I can spend the requisite time and not cheat them of my attention.

Let me draw this reflection to a close and pick up with the title of this blog post.  The adage and the proverb point out the truth that no matter what we plan, God is the one who directs our life.  God used the offer of a free course to bump my life around this summer, all for my good. And then He communicated to me that I should NOT take the course.  I’m not surprised.  But what IS a pleasant turn of events is this:  a friend to whom I mentioned the seminary course has jumped on it, eager to benefit.  God obviously had HER in mind all along.

So let us rest in knowing that even if we choose poorly, God is still in charge and will direct us if we willingly yield to His guidance.

Question:  when was a plan that you had laid out but that God re-directed and now you can see it was a ‘more excellent’ way?

 

 

 

‘Dem Bones’- what’s connected to your mouth ‘bone’?

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Knee to thigh to hip bone and so on

Jesus has harsh words about body parts and their connections.  And He isn’t talking about bones!

Matthew records Him directly criticizing the spiritual heads of the Jews –

        You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34)

It’s pretty clear, what we put into our heart, comes out of our mouth.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been horrified at the remarks that have slipped out of your mouth.  It’s like they bypassed the sentry at the gate, or the guard wandered off AWOL!

“Where did that expressed sentiment come from?”, you wonder.

Actually, from your heart.  What we think……. about we talk about. It’s pretty simple.

The Bible uses the the ‘heart’ to refer to our mind.  So it’s what we think about, that produces feelings that spill out as words.

How have MY thoughts damaged relationships?

  • I’ve uttered hurtful remarks to various family members and friends
  • I’ve divulged confidences and passed on criticisms ABOUT family members and friends…all because I was meditating on those thoughts
  • I’ve lost a potential  job because in the stress of an interview, I burbled something stupid that actually WAS in the background of my conscious mind (Note to self – you can’t push thoughts far enough back)

But we can’t help what we think, can we?

Yes and no.

  • Thoughts DO pop into our conscious mind unbidden.  When they are sinful, we need to yell out to God, “HELP!!!” What we can pray is something like this: Father, remove this thought from me.  It’s NOT kind or helpful or true.  Give me something to replace it – and PRONTO!”

  • We can practice ‘tasting and seeing that the Lord is good’ (Ps 34:8) and then thanking God FOR all His creation.  Today in church, Patrick explained that the remedy for NOT getting drunk on wine (Eph 5:18) was to move toward a positive action.  “Be filled with the Spirit” (i.e. the Truth).  Exhorting yourself to STOP DOING THAT BAD THING! never works.

I’m sure you can think of lots of verses that speak to how our thoughts, feelings, words and circumstances bear on one another.

My birth date Proverb is 23:7 (23 July) ….For as a man thinks within himself,  so he is;

……and I would add, so she speaks out to others without a filter!!!

What verses about the heart or thoughts or words are dear to you?

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