When I was growing up, there were certain tasks that my parents would give me that I didn’t want to do. Washing the floorboards, weeding the garden, cutting vinyl siding, and digging holes with a post hole digger are just a few examples of what many of us would consider hard work.
I remember the hours working on these jobs, covered in sweat with blistered hands, and an all-around feeling of fatigue. There were a couple times In particular where I can remember my dad saying the classic phrase, “Son this is character-building work.” And then he would tell a story about some hard job he had to do as a kid. Looking back, these jobs really did build character, but there’s more to it than just digging a hole and sweating.
You can be a hard worker, and still lack honesty, sincerity, and humility. Character building takes serious work and commitment. Luckily, God has given us His perfect word that tells us how we can grow our character.
If you’ve ever struggled with living out your faith, or with your commitment to Christ, working on growing our character will help us to focus on what’s truly important in this life.
There are many different ways that we could go about building our character, and as we look to scripture a good place to start in this endeavor is by practicing righteous thinking. If we want to grow our character, we have to start changing the way that we think. Problem is, it’s a lot easier said than done. There are two different passages that tell us how we can practice righteous thinking.
Philippians 4:8 reads, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” As Christians we can learn to dwell on righteousness by filling our mind with godly traits. If we are truly set on transforming our minds to think on righteousness, we have to replace worldly thinking with godly traits.
Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It’s possible to practice righteous thinking by renewing our mind with the will of God. No longer looking to ourselves as master, but to God. By doing this our thinking changes. Our focus shifts from this world, and our minds will dwell on righteousness.
Do you want to be known as a person of character? The first change we must undergo is to start thinking righteously. Righteous thinking is no easy task. It takes work, and many times we fall short of this goal. Thankfully we serve a loving God who wants nothing more than for us to spend an eternity with Him in Heaven.
Question is, do we want this future enough to make the right decisions?
What does it mean to “guard our hearts?” The word “guard” means to watch over in order to protect and control. So we’re supposed to protect our hearts…but not the physical heart. This isn’t an article on cholesterol, so what do we mean by heart?
Scripture uses the word “heart” when referring to our inner self. The center of emotion. What we believe in, the things that motivate our actions all come from the heart. We must protect/guard our hearts (center of emotion).
What do we guard it from? Proverbs 4 tells us. But there’s something important that we should understand. You can guard your heart from good as well as evil. People can and will protect their heart from letting God’s word change them. As Christians we can even build a wall that will keep us from making the proper changes in our lives.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If we wish to have character we must guard our hearts. But this verse is kind of vague if we read it by itself. The context of Proverbs 4:23 is the key to understanding, So, how do we guard our hearts?
Fill your heart with God’s Word (20-22). Once it is filled, guard your heart that is now full of truth (23). Guard it by paying attention to the way you are living your life (24-27), making sure that you stay in line with the truth that is in your heart.
The writer then goes into detail on what actions we must be guarding:
Our Speech (24). “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. “ The things that we say are a direct reflection of what’s in our heart. If we lash out in anger, that anger comes from the heart. If we have a habit of speaking evil, the source is the heart.
Our Eyes (25). “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” The only way to properly guard the truth in our hearts is by constantly looking to God. Recognize the end goal, with “eyes on the prize” (Matt. 14).
Our Mind (26), “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” Think about the direction that you are heading. Is it closer to God, or further away? Our minds must have the knowledge to know what is right, and then the willpower and self control to stay true to the path of salvation.
Our Direction (27), “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” As we ponder the path of our feet, we must then turn our feet away from evil so as to keep our direction headed towards an eternity with God.
Heart failure has a variety of different symptoms, including shortness of breath, swelling, coughing, confusion and memory loss, rapid weight gain, and fatigue. Heart failure increases the risk of death and hospitalization, and many times these symptoms go unnoticed. Spiritual heart failure symptoms can also go unnoticed. But these include lack of proper desire, sinful speech, no self control, weak character and a lack of prayer and study.
If we fail to guard our hearts as Christians, we will never be able to experience an eternity with God the Father.
Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.
They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….” The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.
They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”
They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.
We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better. He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.” All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!
We often point to the wrong place on our bodies when we refer to the heart. Frequently, when we mean the thoughts, the inner self, or the mind, we gesture toward our chests. The more proper place to point is at our heads. That’s where intentions, desires, and purposes originate.
Scripture sometimes mentions the heart “turning,” whether for good or bad. For example:
Hearts could be turned away from God by human substitutes (Deut. 17:17; cf. 1 Ki. 11:2).
Hearts could be turned back to the world (Acts 7:39).
Hearts can be turned toward sexual immorality through seduction and temptation (Prov. 7:25).
Hearts can be turned back toward righteous conduct (Luke 1:17).
Hearts can be turned toward one another in unity (2 Sam. 19:14).
The Bible says similar things with different language, but the point is dramatic. Hearts can change. Negatively, they can grow dark, callused, hardened, and rebellious. That appears to have happened through various influences in the current culture. The hearts of men embrace and defend what would once have been widely rejected and condemned. Such hearts have no tolerance for what God’s Word says on a variety of eternally important matters—abortion, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, pornography, true worship, the exclusive salvation through Christ, etc. Positively, hearts can be softened, opened, and receptive, too. The gospel is still the power of God (cf. Rom. 1:16). The saving message of the cross still reaches hearts (1 Cor. 1:21). Many hearts may ultimately be unreachable, but our task as Christians is to turn as many hearts to Christ as we can! Hearts won’t be changed without our getting out the message.
All the while, each of us has a stewardship over our own hearts. We cannot allow the darkness of sin to eclipse the Son. We must keep our hearts sensitive and soft to the voice of God through Scripture, dependent on Him through prayer, and trusting in Him as He providentially leads us each day. God through Moses promised blessings if His people were obedient to Him, “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish” (Deut. 30:17-18a). May we take this to heart!
While this song is not one of our “toe tappers,” it is meant to be reflective. What a challenge it presents to us, too! Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote the poem during Napoleon’s heyday and Anne R. Bennett translated the lyrics a full decade before the Civil War, but the words are perhaps more timely today than they were in her place and time. While the song is about more than just holiness and purity, the idea is about aspiring to greater, better service to God. Goethe’s original poem had four verses, talking alternately about finding duty dearer, calmness in pain, peace and confidence in God, greater nearness to God, running the Christian race swifter, and the like. All of these endeavors are tied together, but I want to focus on that first phrase: “Purer yet and purer, I would be in mind.”
Do you feel like you are doing pretty well at purity of thought and heart? May I encourage you to take Goethe’s challenge to heart and make his prayer your prayer? Do you ever have feelings, however “small” or infrequent, for someone other than your mate? Do you ever look at things and people in web sites, advertisements, magazines, commercials, or an immodestly or provocatively dressed person of the opposite sex without looking away or in a way that produces lust or inappropriate thought? Do you ever find yourself harshly judging motives or drawing conclusions in your mind about people without sufficient knowledge of the person’s heart or situation? Do you ever envy another’s situation, their job, popularity, wealth, or home or marriage situation? Do you ever harbor a grudge toward someone, feeding those unhealthy feelings?
Obviously, that is just a starter list designed to create a host of similar questions. Purity of heart and mind is a daily challenge. Just because you defeated those purity foes yesterday does not give you respite from today’s battles. In fact, we know that since these challenges often arise when we least expect it, so we have got to keep the battle implements close at hand. Will you take the challenge of Goethe’s writing? Will you have as your goal absolute purity of heart? Being pure in heart will not inherently bring wealth, health, or fame, but it pays off in the highest and best way. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
This morning while running indoors with Rob Sinclair and Bob Turner, we happened to notice a news story about a woman who just completed 52 half marathons in 52 weeks. That alone is impressive, but then we learned that Aurora De Lucia had open heart surgery in 2010. She was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White, a rare congenital heart condition. She had an extra pathway to her heart, and several complications that extended halfway through 2011. With her repaired heart, she became determined to complete the incredible fitness goal and she reached her goal (via http://www.laketahoenews.net).
Most of us without the excuse of a serious heart problem will not ever be able to say we ran 52 half marathons in a year, but she did it under such adverse circumstances. What a difference a “new” heart made for Aurora. She proves the power of perseverance and wears the decoration of determination.
The Bible tells us that, spiritually, we can achieve even greater feats with a “new heart.” From the time the exilic prophet Ezekiel foretold a time when Judah would have a “new heart” (36:26), Bible writers spoke of the possibility of a renewed heart and mind. Paul spoke of it to Corinth as the renewed inner man (2 Cor. 4:16) and to Ephesus as being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23). He tells Colosse that this renewal process is brought about by true knowledge (3:10).
A “new heart” is pure (Mat. 5:8; 2 Tim. 2:22), honest and good (Lk. 8:15), glad and sincere (Ac. 2:46; Eph. 6:5), resolute (Ac. 11:23), open (Ac. 16:14; 2 Cor. 6:11), circumcised (Rom. 2:29), obedient (Rom. 6:17), believing (Rom. 10:9-10), enlightened (Eph. 1:18), compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient (Col. 3:12), loving (1 Pet. 1:22), and assured (1 Jn. 3:19). The old heart is none of these things and described with words like lustful (Mat. 5:28), distant from Christ (Mat. 15:8), defiled (Mat. 15:18), hardened (Mat. 19:8; Eph. 4:18), Satan-filled (Ac. 5:3), uncircumcised (Ac. 7:51), not right (Ac. 8:21), darkened (Rom. 1:21), stubborn and unrepentant (Rom. 2:5), veiled (2 Cor. 3:15), unbelieving (Heb. 3:12), deceived (Js. 1:26), selfishly ambitious (Js. 3:14). and trained in greed (2 Pet. 2:14).
Thankfully, one can have his or her heart transformed from that wretched, latter condition with God’s help. His Word, with its convicting and instructing power, can work on the heart (Heb. 4:12) and renew it! With a “new heart,” we can impact lives and destinies–including our own. At the very end of all things, the Righteous Judge will note such as the greatest accomplishment of all time and eternity! Oh, think what we can do with a new heart!