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How are you doing with trust? Do you trust enough, too much, or not enough? Would genuine Christians close their hearts to others? Does God want you to always open your heart to people? The answers to these questions all depend on whether you are among friends or enemies.
But who exactly is your friend? Sometimes a friend can act like an enemy. Sometimes an enemy can act like a friend. An enemy, or a friend acting like an enemy, can harm your heart. So-called friends or “frenemies” can be immature or weak. Jealousy or bitterness can produce passive-aggressive behavior.
People close to you can tear you down for their advantage and steal what is rightfully yours. The wound can take a long time to recover from. Many times, the wound won’t completely heal until the next life begins in heaven.
If you have ever experienced this, you understand that betrayal wounds are costly. So what can you do? Read further to better understand your heart and what healthy steps you can take to protect it.
Why Is Your Heart Important?
Your heart is a biblical term for the core of your identity: who you are, what you value, and what you stand for. Your heart can seem like a mysterious black box. Can you know for sure what is inside?
Perhaps we can know some of what is in our hearts, and understand some about how it got there, but we have no clue how God makes it all work. Only God knows us completely.
We know that Jesus is significantly concerned about our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19; Matthew 23:27-28). What a person says or does has its origins in the core of that person. The condition of a heart is an accurate representation of the whole person (Proverbs 27:19).
Most believers want to know God’s will for their lives. We want to know if our existence is significant. We want to know how to succeed in life. How? Proverbs 4:23 provides the answer.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.Proverbs 4:23 NLT
Your heart will determine how your life turns out. It’s like a compass for your life. It will decide the direction you take. Without a well-functioning center, you will be lost.
Follow Your New Heart But Deny Your Old Heart
All of us could benefit from admitting that both of the following are true:
- The heart contains more corrupt motives than any of us realize because we haven’t fully experienced the depths of its sickness (Jeremiah 17:9).
- God has designed our hearts to contain amazingly beautiful features that we haven’t been able to appreciate because no one has recognized them yet (Proverbs 20:5).
Recognizing these as both true is crucial to avoiding extreme thinking that leads to unhealthy behaviors. For instance, you could read Jeremiah 17:9 and conclude that you are bad and that nothing you desire can be trusted. This only produces fear, self-doubt, and a passive approach to life.
Fortunately, God didn’t leave us believers helpless. He gives us new hearts that can respond to His correction and love.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26 NIV
The new, living heart replaces the old, dead one. In this context, “flesh” is positive–it means alive. But there is another kind of flesh that Paul mentions (Romans 7:14-24). In this context, “flesh” is the entire physicalness of our being which has been corrupted by a sinful nature. You can read more about flesh here.
Your new heart comes with your newly created spirit. But even with a new core, it’s possible to give in to the desires of the flesh. For the believer, new, worthy, and beautiful desires coexist with harmful motives and desires. It’s possible to do something that appears to be right for the wrong reason. People can donate to the poor to look good to others. Therefore, every desire must be tested.
Guard Your Heart: Discern Your Enemies
Discernment is especially important in a culture that says “follow your heart” to do whatever you want, regardless of how it affects yourself, your future, other people, or your ability to follow God’s commandments.
While you can be courageous because God is with you (Joshua 1:9), God also commands you to protect your most valuable possession, your heart.
The enemy, and sometimes the people influenced by him, can cause you great harm. God expects you to protect yourself from evil people and evil ideas. Sometimes this can be as simple as avoiding evil influences. Other times, it will involve guiding and guarding your heart while you are in the midst of evil. In those situations, consider what would help you, such as what you are thinking about or who you are trusting.
Truth, whether about a situation, about who you are, or about who God is, is the powerful antidote to the poison of evil. Here are two truths to encourage you to protect yourself.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.1 Peter 5:8 NLT
“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”Matthew 7:6 NLT
At the same time, your heart needs nurturing. To understand who you are, you must share what is inside of you with yourself, God, and others. As you allow God to search you, He will help you identify the sick parts that need healing but also treasures that need to be put on display (Psalm 139:23-24).
The more you trust others, the more you are letting your guard down. You allow yourself to be known. Most of the time this will produce favorable results, but it can also end in rejection.
What level of risk is worth taking, given the possible rewards? As you become better at guarding your heart, your risk goes down. Protect yourself, without ceasing to nurture yourself, so you can thrive. What does your heart tell you today about the course of your life?
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.