“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prov. 4.23)
2018 has arrived, and the time for “resolutions” and “goal setting” is at hand. Motivation experts beckon, diet plans await, but before you ever put pen to paper, take a moment to reflect on the state of your heart:
- Who or what do I value most?
- In the past year, have I truly loved God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? In what ways have I demonstrated this?
- Am I loving others or trying to out-do them?
- Am I regularly communicating with God through prayer and study, or have I allowed other things to get in the way?
- Is the state of my health/finances/career ordered in such a way as to serve God, or is it self-serving?
We are blessed to live in a time and place where we have the opportunity to invest in valuable pursuits—good stewardship of our money, healthy living, intellectual advancement—but why do we pursue these things? Do these things matter more to us than our relationship with God or are we doing these things in order to serve Him better?
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12.30). Jesus should not be part of our life, but our whole life. His example should drive our minute-by-minute decisions.
Consider the impact of a heart’s focus:
A heart primarily centered on self only helps others when it elevates their reputation. This heart seeks to better self in order to be better than others. (Think Pharisees!)
A heart primarily centered on family serves their family to the exclusion of all else, creating unhealthy relationships and placing their children or spouse’s wants/needs above the commandments of God.
A heart primarily centered on “service,” may sacrifice the needs of their family to serve “the greater good.” I’ve seen missionaries, preachers, and teachers move mountains while their own families disintegrate, ultimately undoing much of the good they had sought to achieve.
A heart primarily centered on worldly success will either set God aside for a more “convenient” time or attempt to “use” Him as a means to an end. Some politicians claim to be Christians while committing adultery, lying, and cheating. Remember also the parable of the rich fool who planned to build bigger barns for all his goods and then died that very night without God in his life. Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
A heart centered on Christ puts people and things in their proper place, blessing us with peace that passes understanding. A heart centered on Christ finds the balance between serving others and caring for family. It might achieve great things and keep them in perspective or it might simply serve in the background, rejoicing to support others in doing great things. It does not seek self-improvement as a way to diminish the value of others, but seeks to carry others with them towards improvement.
Jesus came to earth to “show us the Father” and “to seek and save the lost.” In becoming an imitator of Christ, we shine His light by the way we live, the choices we make, and the goals we set. Like Jesus, it should be our aim to seek out the lost and bring them the message of salvation.
With all these things in mind, how should we set about keeping our heart centered on the Savior while we make our plans for 2018?
I’ve spent the last three months co-teaching a K-1 bible class on Joshua and Judges. In one of our lessons, we learned about the Gibeonites (a Canaanite nation) who came to make a treaty with the Israelites while pretending to be from a far off country. God had commanded the Israelites not to make any treaties with the Canaanites, but Joshua and the elders were deceived. In Joshua 9:14-15 we read, “The men… did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them…”
Joshua forgot to pray first!
The leaders of Israel violated God’s commandments while doing what seemed best to them. How often do we do the same? Before composing your goals, pray. Once you write them down, pray again. Offer them in prayer as you work toward them.
Decisions are dangerous—proceed with prayer.
Submit to the will of God.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4.13-15)
Jesus set a valuable example for us in praying, “not my will, but yours be done.” He used it in the garden before he went to trial, and he used it when teaching the disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We consider ourselves wise, but our knowledge pales in comparison to God’s. God knows the future, the state of our hearts, and in wisdom created this earth, and yet we still think we know better than Him! Lay your goals before the Lord and ask His will to be done. Ask Him to defeat in us those things that will destroy our soul and grant us success in what is beneficial.
Jesus set a perfect example for us. As we make our goals, let’s commit them to God for His glory and keep Christ as permanent king of our heart.
Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com