I remember listening to a sermon awhile ago by one of my heroes, Dr Wayne Grudem (I understand his theological position has come under scrutiny recently, particularly his theology of the Trinity), about what it means to ‘guard one’s heart’.
That phrase can mean several things, but Grudem was speaking about how Christians must seek to ensure that our hearts are pure before the Lord and our minds and wills are aligned with that of God’s. I’ll never forget that sermon because I know that this is an area I desperately need to work on, and also because his applications were simple: read your Bible and pray.
There’s a temptation to make every sermon application about those two things, but in the case of guarding our godliness, there really is no greater way than to humbly hear from God and realign ourselves to Him.
So I try my best to labor and take delight in daily personal devotion, and there are days when I do better than others. But I met a man last week that really embodied guarding one’s heart. He is an older man (perhaps in his mid 50s) and he came across as a wonderfully gentle, humble, and joyful man. After getting to know each other a little more, I realized that he is a seminary professor turned missionary and has been involved in vocational ministry for decades. Now, I’ve had the privilege of meeting people in similar positions but this new friend is different. He wasn’t burnt or jaded although he had his fair share of ministry difficulties; he wasn’t bitter although he has at various points been treated unjustly; and he wasn’t discouraging or downcast although he has reasons to do so. Rather, he used his experiences to encourage a younger guy like me to pursue God and godliness and taught me important lessons that he has learnt. It was like drinking from a fresh water spring because some of my conversations with senior clergymen have often been less than inspiring.
So I asked him, ‘how do you do this? How do you remain joyful in ministry despite all the hardship?’ Further, this man really knew his Bible. He wasn’t quoting Scripture left right and centre, but anyone interacting with him will know that his man’s heart and mind is deeply saturated in Scripture. You could see it in his warm smile that made his eyes twinkle and you could feel it in the warmth of his tone. He said ‘you need to be soaked in God’s Word’. In my mind I thought ‘yeah, yes and amen’. But before I took it as ‘just more good advice’, he said ‘I mean really soaked in the Word’. He told me that when he was my age, he had a mentor that he really admired so he asked the older man a similar question to that which I asked him. The advice was the same, but the older man revealed that he spent so much time in the Word that by the time he turned 50, he had read the Bible cover to cover for over 150 times. And so, my new friend took that to heart then and he told me ‘just not long ago I finished for the 150th time’.
I sunk back into my seat and thought ‘wow’. This guy is serious! Here’s a man who genuinely meditated on God’s Word not only on a regular basis but deeply as well. Of course that changes you! There’s almost no way one can read the Bible devotionally in such breadth and depth and not be affected to your core! So I said to him ‘brother, I want to do the same’.
I want to guard my heart and I seek to do it seriously – not just in a way ‘check the box’ approach but treating it as the most important thing in my day. Ravi Zacharias tells a story of how we do whatever we can to protect our physical bodies yet we leave my emotions and heart vulnerable to all sorts of assaults. How true is that, especially in contemporary Christianity.
So I want to encourage you to do the same. To be sure, not all of us are going to be able to go through the bible 150 times by the time we turn 50. But I’m afraid many of us don’t even prioritize it. To help, maybe grab a few accountability partners. I’m currently reading through a plan on the Bible App and after I’ve done my bible reading, there’s a function that enables me to send my progress to two of my friends. They in turn do the same to let me know how they’re going, and that has been helpful. Perhaps you could do the same. Maybe you can join me! Whatever it is, soak yourself in God’s Word and thereby guard your heart.
I’m not saying that the pure reading of Scripture will make you holy. No, only God can change your heart. But there’s something about the discipline of setting time aside to hear from God that changes and refreshes you. And I really hope that you’d be able to experience that as we live in a world that is hostile to the Gospel.