I’ve been rereading one of my favorite books, written by friend Kathi Macias, titled “Beyond Me – Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World.” Kathi is one of the most insightful female Christian writers of our time, and this book is perhaps her finest work. In her chapter called Heart Condition, she talks about the Christian’s greatest enemy. No, it’s not what (or who) you’re thinking. And it’s not what I would have guessed, either. Let me share a few lines from her book:
“Our greatest enemy…is not the devil—God takes care of him. Our greatest enemy is a hard heart [emphasis mine]. Every battle we fight is won or lost at the point of deciding whether we will submit our will to God’s, whether we will take God’s way of escape or try to manufacture our own. And that decision will reflect either the hardened or softened condition of our heart, which, again, is why the Scripture admonishes us ‘above all’ to guard our hearts.”
When I read these lines I had to pause and think. Surely our greatest enemy is the devil, who makes it his business each day to derail our every effort to worship, serve, and love the Lord! But after a great deal of thought, Kathi is absolutely right. Our greatest enemy is a hard heart. Certainly, the devil can make life miserable for us, but he cannot destroy our souls (his ultimate goal) without our own help in the matter. Let me try to illustrate.
I once met a young Christian woman whose husband lost his job, whose teenage daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, and whose college-age son was hospitalized with broken bones after being in a car accident (the car was totaled), all in a single week. We met in the grocery store when she noticed the Bible I held under my arm, and struck up a conversation. Rather than dwelling on her “Job-like” tragedies, her speech focused on thanking God for her family’s many blessings—both of her children were alive, her husband was able-bodied, they had a roof over their heads, and neighbors were helping with transportation. While she was concerned about the future, she had no doubt that God would take care of all their needs.
As we talked, I wondered, where is the bitterness over such hard knocks? Her face literally radiated light and joy. I could only conclude that she had spent a lot of time in prayer with Jesus…the only source of confidence and courage like that. We kept in touch for a while. I learned prayerful trust from her, as she unswervingly dedicated herself to worshiping God during an extremely difficult period. Through it all, her countenance never ceased to glow with the joy and love of the Lord.
This woman had a soft heart. She had learned to submit her questions, fears, complaints, lack of control…i.e., her very will, to the Lord God Almighty. Even peering into a very deep, dark chasm, she trusted God completely. If she ever worried (I suspect she did), she gave those thoughts over to the Lord, too. She remained open to the future, knowing it was in God’s hands.
I don’t know where all of these calamities came from. Sometimes our fallen world – which longs for redemption as much as we do – throws monkey wrenches in our path. Satan and his cohorts, of course, love to wreak havoc in our lives, hoping to cause us to “curse God” (Job’s wife’s suggestion, after sustaining all of their losses). Some would even suggest that God Himself brings hardship into our lives, to test us and strengthen our faith. I personally agree with this concept, but whether adversity is directly caused by God or simply allowed by Him, without question, God uses these times for our ultimate good (Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”).
But tragedy unrelinquished to God is not the only cause of a hard heart. It can be as simple as telling a “white” lie. Setting aside conscience to have an affair. Cheating on a tax return. Or laziness to do the right thing. A business deal that spins out of control. A string of bad luck. Anything that we do…or that happens to us…is a flash point of decision that calls into question who is in control of our personal universe. Will we choose to deny God’s ultimate authority, or submit to it? It’s at the crux of that decision point where hardness or softness of heart occurs.
Here’s the deal. No one has the power to control how we will react to life events…not even Satan. The decision about which way our hearts will turn is ours alone, and our heart condition will determine our soul’s health. That’s why the Scripture says:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Guard your heart with your life…because your life depends on it.