So today we begin our look at spiritual warfare, and I confess that I feel very small and incapable of this task God has set before me. I am weak, but I guess that’s okay– I’m sitting with Paul today and boasting in my weakness. My prayer is that God will use the words I write here to bring His message to exactly the right people at the right place.
I want to start this study off with a look at our hearts, because the heart is the place where sin begins– and the place where holiness begins. Sometimes we will fight battles on behalf of others, where the spiritual battleground is their heart and mind; but in my experience the majority of the battles I face take place on the battleground of my own heart. And truly, all I can really try to communicate here is my own experience. I’m not a scholar or an expert. But the more I seek to be a real disciple of Jesus, the more I find myself following Him into battle.
James is pretty clear about the source of our temptation:
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Our hearts hold many desires, and without Christ, those desires are twisted and deformed. A God-created desire to be loved (meant to be filled by His holy, perfect love) twists itself in our hearts for a desire to be wanted, to be attractive, to be needed. A God-created desire for abundant life (available only through Christ) twists itself into covetousness, overspending, hoarding. Whatever sin we face, it stems from our foolish failure to recognize that the thing that our hearts need most of all is Jesus.
So often we are tempted to blame Satan for every sin we commit, but the truth is that our wicked hearts are perfectly capable of leading us astray all by themselves. We need to own this fact. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked without the saving and transforming work of Christ. If I follow it, I will be led astray. And even if I do the right things, they will be for the wrong reasons.
This lust– this twisted desire– in our hearts is a seed that our enemy is all to glad to water. He knows our weaknesses. He knows what will tempt us most, and his lies go straight to those things. He knows I am tired right now. He knows I feel uncomfortable even writing this post, and even now he tells me lies– that I would be perfectly justified in not writing it, that one more day before I get around to it wouldn’t hurt, that I haven’t had any time to myself today and it would sure be nice if I put this away for now and read a good book, wouldn’t it?
We’re not really delving into a study of our enemy today, but we need to be aware that he does not attack us where we do not already have the seeds of sin. He does not tempt me with drugs or with murder because he knows those things aren’t going to speak as loudly to the desires of my heart. Don’t get me wrong– none of us should ever think we are above any specific type of sin. All I’m saying is that there are certain sins we each are more prone to fall to, and those sins start in our hearts.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind . . .”
Isn’t it good that Jeremiah doesn’t leave the above question unanswered? We may struggle to know our hearts, but God knows them and understands them even when we don’t. This is a precious promise, my friend. God knows your heart. He understands the motives for every action and recognizes the seeds of the sins you haven’t even committed yet. And in spite of all that, He loves you. And if you are His, He promises to help you. His Spirit prays for you when you don’t know how to pray for yourself.
I can’t even explain to you how much this encourages me when I feel at a total loss about WHY I can’t stop falling into the same sin again and again. God knows. And He gives wisdom. As I seek His face in prayer, and as I read His Word, He is faithful to shine light into the dark places of my heart, to root up those seeds of sin, to transform.
The heart is deceitful . . . but God’s Word is Truth.
The heart is desperately sick . . . but God is the Healer.
We are led away by our own sinful hearts . . . but God leads us back to Himself again and again.
Our desires are twisted and deformed . . . but God works in us to give us new desires.
Our desires turn into temptations that turn into sin . . . but Christ died for our sin and paid its full penalty, and we are no longer slaves to it.
Our sins lead to death . . . but we serve a God who brings the dead back to life.
And so, we are called to guard our hearts.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
How do we do that? We will talk about some of these things in greater depth later on, but if you really want a starting place, here are a few verses to help you out.
Stand therefore . . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .
Our hearts are guarded by righteousness– the righteousness of Christ that has been placed on our account, and its transforming power to make us righteous in action as well as in name.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Our hearts are guarded by peace– the peace of God that surpasses understanding– peace which comes as we choose prayer and thanksgiving over anxiety and worry.
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Our hearts are guarded by the Word of God– as we store it up and let it root out and take the place of the seeds of wickedness and the twisted desires that are already there.
My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.
Our hearts are guarded by mentors, disciplers, and friends– people who have gone this way before us and are willing to help us through our temptations. We were never meant to suffer silently through temptation and sin. One of the best things I have ever done is to find some trusted ladies who hold me accountable in areas where I struggle. They are part of the guard that God has set around my heart.
The battle of your life begins in your heart. The good news is, you have already been guaranteed the victory. As you begin to recognize sinful patterns in your life, set your eyes firmly on Jesus and seek His wisdom. Ask Him to show you the twisted desires of your heart, and ask Him to help you change them– to exchange new desires for your old, sinful ones. He can do that! He can change even the messiest heart– I know this from personal experience. And be aware that your enemy knows your weaknesses too. So set up a guard on those places. Pursue the righteousness of Christ, the peace of God. Study and memorize Scripture that applies to your struggle. Find accountability partners to strengthen and uphold you. Don’t give up when you fail, because there is no end to the love of God and His willingness to pick us back up again. And know this– God desires to transform your heart. And the new thing He does in us as we allow Him to do that work is beautiful and worth every battle.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Keep fighting, and remember to smile. You are so loved.
Two books that have greatly influenced my thinking in this area are Beth Moore’s study on the book of James and Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick.