By Jim Lugar – Lead Pastor of Life Journey Church
A little over a year ago, just after concluding our Sunday morning service, my phone lit up with a news update that a man with an automatic rifle entered a church in south Texas killing more than 20 people. Over the next several days my heart grieved with those who lost loved ones in a senseless, horrific act of violence. But I also grieved for Devin Patrick Kelley, the man who carried out this crime, and wondered what would drive someone to do such a thing. The investigation by authorities discovered a very troubling past including domestic violence, and that he had been harboring a very intense hatred against his mother in-law who attended the church, although she was not there that Sunday.
In Matthew 15, after a confrontation with a group of religious leaders, Jesus issued this warning, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19) NLT
What Jesus is telling us is that these kinds of behaviors don’t take us by surprise; that we aren’t victims of our physical bodies acting independently of our will. They happen because we allow things like anger, jealousy, hatred, and lust to enter and reside in our heart. This is why King Solomon once wrote, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23) NLT
Think about that for moment. Whatever you allow to enter in your heart…whatever you allow to stay in your heart…what’s in your heart determines the course of your life!
Therefore it is critically important for us to guard what we allow in our heart, and what we allow to stay there.
Devin Patrick Kelley not only allowed hate to just enter his heart, he allowed hate to fill his heart. And while his example might be extreme, the truth is that we are all guilty of allowing things to take up space in our hearts that do not belong there. And these things can lead us to do things we never thought we would do.
So how do we take King Solomon’s advice and guard our heart from these very destructive things? Just like anything else, these things need time to grow; they don’t overtake us overnight. And we’re all smart enough to recognize these things in their infancy. If we’re going to guard our heart, we have to constantly be aware of things we’re allowing to come in and what we’re allowing to stay there. So as soon as you begin to feel things on the inside that could potentially lead to destructive behaviors, you need to immediately take some actionable steps to evict those things from your heart.
Anger is a very common emotion we all feel. But how do you deal with the anger once you begin to sense it? Anger has to be resolved quickly, or it will bleed over into other relationships, our career, and how we parent our kids. As soon as you begin to feel anger toward someone, you have to take some very intentional steps to forgive that person, whether they deserve it or not. Forgiveness may not have any effect on the one you forgave, but it will set you free from anger taking root in your heart.
We all know what jealousy feels like, but how quick are we to squash it. Unresolved jealousy can make us bitter, and incapable of being nice to the person we’re jealous of. And the only way to rid our heart of jealousy is to genuinely celebrate with the person we’re jealous of.
When lust enters your heart, it needs to be exposed. Hidden lust leads us to all kinds of destructive behaviors like bondage to pornography or even cheating on our spouse. Lust holds power over us when we keep it hidden in the dark. But once it’s exposed and brought out into the light, it loses its power over us.
And hate has no business taking up any space in our heart. And the only real solution to hate is expressing unconditional love. As soon as you begin to feel the slightest touch of hate in your heart toward someone, you need to go out of your way to express unconditional love to them. Like Jesus told us, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28) NLT
What’s going on in your heart? I encourage you to examine your heart and aggressively take steps to evict what doesn’t belong there.