This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Heart". See series.
If I asked you to take your finger and point to yourself, where would you point? Most of us, I imagine, would not point to our heads. That's interesting isn't it? In spite of the great importance of good thinking, we instinctively know that what is most essential about us is not our intellect. We almost never say to someone we love: "I give you all my brain," though we often give them a piece of our mind, don't we? I've never heard anybody say as they devote themselves to a cause: "I hereby dedicate my full bladder to this venture." "I pledge to thee my lungs!" No, when we're talking about that aspect of ourselves that is most central to who we are and what we want to bring to life, we speak of the heart.
In saying this, of course, we don't mean our myocardial muscle—though the amazing pump which powers our physical lives makes a fine analogy for the deeper aspect of our being. When the Bible speaks of the heart, it is talking about the spiritual pump at the center of each of us. As I said last week, your heart is not your feelings, but the fundamental spirit or will that determines what feelings or thoughts you entertain or reject life. It is the set of core convictions and motivations that determine whether you're even listening to me right now!
As Andy Stanley writes, our heart
seeps into every conversation. It dictates every relationship …. We live, parent, lead, relate, romance, confront, react, respond, instruct, manage, problem solve, and love from the heart. Our hearts impact the intensity of our communication. Our hearts have the potential to exaggerate our sensitivities and insensitivities. Every arena of life intersects with what's going on in our hearts. Everything passes through on its way to wherever it is going. Everything.
Not surprisingly, then, your heart is the thing about you that is of most concern to God.It determines whether you truly receive and respond to him (as King David of Israel did) or else just pay lip service to him and in reality turn away (as the Pharisees did). God intends your heart to be so in sync with his good heart that your life and relationships are filled with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness," and a multitude of other fruits of his Spirit or Heart (Galatians 5:22-23). God wants your heart so healthy and strong that your life is not only full of fruit for you in these ways, but that you become a force for creative change in all the relationships and environments around you.
Who is after your heart?
This is why the Bible says: "Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life." But even that statement carries a buried assumption, doesn't it? What is it? It is that there is something to be guarded against. Our minds run to things like distractions or stress or poor priorities and any one of a number of other things that seem to endanger our hearts. But the Bible is more provocative. The Bible says there is someone besides God who is after your heart.
The Apostle Peter writes this toward the end of his earthly journey: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Characterizing the chief struggle of the Christian life, the Apostle James says: "Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil … and purify your hearts" (James 4:7-8). The Apostle Paul is similarly emphatic when he writes to his spiritual son, Timothy: "Escape the trap of the devil" who takes people "captive to do his will [his heart]" (2 Timothy 2:26). I tell you, "Do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:27). "Take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the [invisible] realms" (Ephesians 6:11-12). And then, summarizing the focus of the ministry of Jesus, the writer of Acts declares: "You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee … how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit [his Heart] and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil" (Acts 10:37-38).
Are you getting the picture? In his book Waking the Dead, John Eldredge contends that the Bible—from Genesis through Revelation—is basically the tale of the great battle raging for the character and future of the human heart. Our secular minds keep telling us that this could not be so. But why then, generation after generation, do millions of us still find ourselves strangely drawn to mythic tales like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, Cinderella or The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix or Harry Potter? It is because they describe what we, in the depths of our hearts, know is true: life is more than it seems. A deeper battle is under way, and we must engage it.
On one side of this story is a wonderful Advocate who knows what glorious power and potential lies in the human heart when it is in sync with his. God knows what an Eden this world could be—how swiftly our family lives and politics, our communities and businesses, could be transformed—were our hearts beating with his and for one another. And on the other side is a wily attacker, a fallen angel who hates the heart of God because God's heart is on the throne and this angel is not; who loathes us because we are beloved; and who despises the possibility that we might expel his influence and gain the glory that he forsook. This is the tale we find ourselves in. "The story of your life," writes Eldredge, "is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it."
What does the attacker want, and how does he get it?
So what does the attacker want? What are the specific conditions he seeks to foster in our hearts so that they lose their potential for experiencing and doing the good that is God's desire for us? That's what we're going to explore in depth in these weeks ahead. This morning I will touch briefly on four of the attacker's favorite lies. In coming weeks, we're going to see how these toxic ideas combine to create a variety of very damaging heart conditions that we should to recognize well.
I invite you to imagine the diagram of a physical heart's four chambers as representing your spiritual heart. Our enemy is out to insert four particularly toxic beliefs into these four chambers which, if left unaddressed, will wreck your heart and the life that flows from it. To put it succinctly, the one who attacks your heart wants you to believe that (1) you are on your own in life; (2) God can't be trusted; (3) boundaries hurt you; and (4) in the end, gravity—and all the downward pulls that word represents—finally triumphs over life. Any one of these orientations to life can be damaging in themselves. When they start to build up and circulate, however, the cumulative result is devastating.
We see this wreckage in the life of the man of Gerasa who we read about in Luke 8. The Bible says, "For a long time this man had not … lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs …. [He] had been driven by the demon into solitary places." This is the attacker's first desire—to get human beings accustomed to isolation and loneliness, to destroy even our belief that it is possible to find genuine love, real partnership, or true community. He is thrilled when, even in the midst of other people, the silent, settled orientation of our hearts believes this: I am on my own.
It is striking how deeply the attacker's second message is embedded in this man as well. On meeting the very man who has come to be his Savior, the Gerasene Demoniac shrieks out, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" Embedded in that statement is the deep conviction that God can't be trusted. He's not out after our good. He doesn't care. If he's looking for us, it's only to judge us. It's the same message that Satan planted in the heart of Adam and Eve in the Garden: "You've got to take matters into your hands, make your own rules, and pursue your own gain. The heart of God does not beat for you."
Then there is the third lie—another callback to the Garden of Eden and the famous episode of the forbidden fruit. The attacker's third message is that limits hurt you. The Bible says, "Many times [the demon] had seized [the Gerasene man], and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains." The purpose of these restraints, of course, was a benevolent one—to prevent the sick man from hurting himself and others. But the attacker knows that if he can get someone's heart to view limitations as bad, if he can get him bent on throwing off restraints and slashing at his guardians, if he can train his heart to say, "You will not set boundaries for me. You will not tell me what I cannot do. I have a right to all that I want," then the destruction of that person and the damaging of people in his or her way is almost assured.
By then, the person will likely be easy prey to the fourth great lie. The Bible says that when Jesus came to heal the man, "[the demons] begged him repeatedly not to order them to go [down] into the Abyss." The Book of Revelation teaches that the Abyss is the place of final doom for the attacker and his servants. Amazingly, Christ does not cast the demons into the Abyss, but grants them a second chance, allowing them to enter a herd of pigs instead. The demons' terror, nonetheless, illustrates one of the most common orientations of the damaged heart. It is the belief that when you've fallen from grace, there's nothing and no one who will stop you from going all the way down. There is no forgiveness when you've been a failure. There is no recovery when you've reaped what you've sown. There is no future when death has its cement shoes on you. The message is that the weight of sin, mortality, and life's problems will drop you and all of us in the end. Gravity wins.
This is the worldview that Evil wants to pour into the chambers of your heart until it flows out into every part of your life. "You are on your own." "God can't be trusted." "Limits hurt you." Give up hope, because "Gravity wins." These demonic anxieties nearly destroyed the Gerasene man. I'll dare to be blunt and say that they are also damaging many of us, our neighbors, and a nation that bears ample evidence of having suffered a massive Heart Attack. We have been attacked by the one who comes to destroy the most precious thing about us—the heart God created in us to beat like his.
Receive the good news: four truths
But here is the good news: "I have come," says Jesus, "that you may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). How does that happen? How does Jesus not only help us "guard" our hearts, but lead us into life in all of its fullness? He replaces the attacker's toxic seeds with the truths our hearts need to be healthy. There are four truths we need to absorb.
First, you are not on your own. If you've been living in the "solitary places," thinking that you have to do life solo, afraid that no one will really receive you, come in from the tombs. Jesus says: You have a home. There's a place by my side and in the family of my followers for you. Come home.
Second, you can trust your Father's heart. Religious people may sometimes fail you. Circumstances in your life may get very hard. But God is very good. His heart is wise and pure and he cares profoundly for your heart. Put your faith in him.
Third, don't believe the lie that the boundary lines and limits God lays out are to hurt you. God's limits help you find freedom from a lot of the pain you'd walk into otherwise.
And here's the best part, particularly if you've been under heavy attack. Gravity doesn't get the last word in my Father's universe, says Jesus. Grace wins. He redeems sinners and renews relationships. He restores hope and resurrects bodies. He has great plans for your heart.
These are some of the simple truths we're going to explore together in deeper measure in weeks ahead. Last week I ended by asking you to do a searching Heart Scan as the discipline that would help you live toward God's heart. This week, ask God to show you which of the four truths we've just reviewed you most need to receive into your heart.Share that insight with someone else. And then ask them the most important question you could ask: How's your heart?
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.