I feel like my writing on character is like a fat guy writing on wellness and exercise. I might have book knowledge of the topic, but off the top of my head I can probably think of dozens of actions, thoughts and behaviors that I know are completely wrong and sinful that I do anyway. These things that I do not want to do, but I do them anyway, sometimes on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis. Things that, left unchecked, will eventually destroy me, my relationships and everything I’ve worked to build.
Let’s not mince words here. This is important, and left to me, Imma blow the whole thing up.
For one thing, Jesus and the authors of the New Testament make it extraordinarily clear that we have an active enemy. One of the greatest things that ever happened while I served on staff at LifeChurch.tv was when new employee orientation kicked off and Craig Groeschel came up and spoke about how we’re now on the radar. As new staff, we’re going to be messing with people the enemy has gone to a lot of trouble to isolate and mess up. And we have to expect that the enemy’s going to come after us. Hard.
I think about this a lot for the work I’m involved with in student ministry. You can just talk to any middle school student and begin to quickly see the vast troubles Satan has gone through to mess them up. He makes girls insecure about the way God made them to appear. Satan separates boys so they have extremely marginal (to almost non-existent) meaningful friendships.
He messes with their parents’ lives. Many of these kids live in two places, or dad’s not around at all, and never has been. And the lucky few that do have dads, have dads that are too busy, or too disinterested to pay any attention to what’s going on in their life. Or, in the case of some, go so far in over-protective mode that they suffocate any independence out early on, only to face a much more rebellious kid much later on in life that hates everything they were raised to believe.
We have a very active enemy. One that has stacked the deck of society so that if all you do is what everyone else does, you’re in his court.
And we’re messing around with that. Trying really hard to undo what he has done. And our enemy doesn’t like that. An enemy that prowls around, actively seeking to devour whoever he can. But I’m not one of those nutballs that thinks Satan is behind every little thing.
Because the real reason we have trouble, ultimately comes down to us.
No, that’s too general.
The real reason I have trouble, is because I cause it to myself.
The enemy may have stacked the deck, but it is my heart that pulls the card.
One of my favorite verses has to be the Message version of Psalm 26:2: “Examine me, God, from head to foot, order your battery of tests. Make sure I’m fit inside and out.”
How would you like to be on the giving end of that prayer? Order your whole battery of tests! Who could come out clean?
Certainly not me.
Because, here’s the deal. If I examine my own heart, my own thoughts, my own motivations: I realize I’m not that clean.
Yeah, there was that time last week I did something I deeply regret and prayed that I would have the strength to resist, and then just went and did it anyway. The enemy may have nudged me with some persuasive argument, but I had the desire to begin with.
And so, it rests, once again, with the heart. We have been taught our whole lives to focus on our behavior. That we should behave better, talk better, do better, think better, believe better. We focus a lot of what comes out of our heart, but do we ever focus on what goes in? What’s in the heart already?
I already posted Psalm 4:23 but I will post it again: ABOVE ALL ELSE, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
Your behavior and your heart are linked, for sure. And the link is this: you behave what comes out of your heart.
The other thing I know about what’s in your heart is this: it takes a long time for all of that stuff to surface. Using the well/spring analogy, if you had a well in the desert and you start pouring drops of bleach in every day, you’d probably be relatively ok. At least for a while. At first there’d be enough water for the bleach to dilute in, it probably wouldn’t kill you for a while. Then eventually, it would build up so much, you drink the water and you’d be dead.
Not because of any single drop of bleach, but because of the sum total. Over time, all those small deposits add up.
It’s the same with our heart. All the things we put into it add up. And while each incremental deposit may not kill you, you’re making a deposit that will.
For some strange reason this really came to me on Sunday. I was hanging with two of my 7th grade guys, and they were in the back seat on my iPhone watching YouTube or something. I moved my rearview mirror to watch them because it was so cool to just watch them watch my phone with such childlike intensity.
For a moment, my mind hit fast forward on my life, and I imagined what life would be like some years down the road when I have my own two kids in the backseat. And I thought of all the deposits I’m making into my heart now that don’t hurt yet, but will absolutely blow up in their faces.
I don’t want to blow this up. But I keep making small, incremental deposits that–individually–do not amount to much. But combined will make the scariest bomb ever.
It’s time to build my character. To shut down the deposits of bleach. To turn on a healthier deposit instead.