Guard Your Heart, Therein Lies the Source of Life (Prov. 4:23)
Rev Fr Moses Enehizena, CSSp.
Every Temple has its most Sacred place. That portion which contains the Holy of holies, the Tabernacle (or Bread of Presence), the Altar, the Sanctuary and the rest. That portion where incense, prayers, oblations, offerings and sacrifices are offered. The Human Temple as well, has its; and it is the HEART (Mind), which must be jealousy guarded. For from it flows the fountain of life. Conversely, if not guarded, it could be desecrated and eventually leads to DEATH.
The human heart is synonymous to life, love joy, and peace, etc.. Or conversely, death, hatred, sadness or conflict, etc.. Spiritually, it is the epicentre of human wholeness; that hub that stirs a person’s attitude, character, or dispositions towards life and what have you. It is considered the source of negativity or positivity. Scripture gives credence to these as we shall see below.
In the first place, let us consider the heart (mind) as the source of evil, sin and ultimately Death (for the wages of sin death!). In the book of Genesis, before Cain killed his brother Abel, God warned him: “sin is lurking at the door (heart). It is striving to get you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). But Cain, like many of us, did not pay attention to the promptings of evil in his heart until it mastered him. And eventually he killed his brother. Sincerely, are we different from Cain? When evil lurks at our doors, don’t we tolerate it? And eventually come to the point, where we say: if I had known!’.
Again, in Genesis Chapter Six before God sent the floor to destroy the earth Scripture made us to understand that God saw the wickedness of men’s heart to the extend that He (God) regretted ever creating man: for the heart of man was evil, and this grieved Him (God) (Gen. 6:5-6). Even with Noah’s warnings, the people of his days like us, lived in the presumptions that their ways were normal. This was because, the evil intents of their hearts beclouded their senses of judgments. Are we different from the people of Noah’s days?
From the above, we could have some insights as to why the author of the book of Proverbs would say: “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). And Jesus capped this teaching aptly when he said: it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, rather, it is what comes out of the heart that makes him unclean. For it is from the heart that evil desires come – murder, adultery, immortality, theft, lies, slander…” (Mat. 15:18-19)
At this juncture, I sincerely dare you to stop and properly examine the contents of your heart. Since we have seen that the heart is the source of our wickedness, evil, hatred, sin and ultimately death. I challenge you, then, to ask yourself these basic questions: what preoccupies my heart? What kinds of thought dominant my heart? what kinds of offering or sacrifice or oblations do I offer daily in my Holy of holies? What God (or gods) is (or are) receiving my daily sacrifices and offerings in that altar of mine?
My dearly beloved, a true worship of the Almighty must flow from a humble, pure, and contrite heart. Thus, David would say: My sacrifice is a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you Lord you will not spurn (Ps. 51:17). Jesus credited beautifully these words of David in Matthew 5:8 when he said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. Is your heart pure? Is your heart humble and contrite? Are you earnestly seeking God with the right intent?
Furthermore, in his teaching about true and right worship, Jesus quoted Isaiah saying: this people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless” (Mark 7:6-7). Did you hear that? Are you sure your worship is not worthless? Please I’m not trying to sound harsh or act self righteous here. But if we critically look deep into our worship, we may find out that Jesus is talking to most of us, if not all of us. For most times, when we offer prayers, (whether, private or collective), we do it more or less as a sign obligations, rather with true devotion and intention. While we prayer, our lips and rattling words, but our hearts are moving to and fro, our businesses, jobs, relationships, academics, families and those many things that distract us. Am I alone on this?
At this point, it is pertinent to remind ourselves what we were taught as PRAYER. Our Penny Catechism defines prayer as ‘the raising up of our hearts and minds to God’. Please take note of these simple but very important words. I’m making these emphasis here because many Christians are seemingly confused as to what really is prayer. They think it is about the amount of words or hours they spend talking to a Supreme Being. Prayer is more about our hearts and minds being lifted up to God, that the words we say.
Jesus emphasized the above while teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount when he said: When you want to pray, go into your room (heart), close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret (in your heart); and your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the Gentiles do, for they think that the more they say, the more chances they have of being heard. Your Father knows what you need, even before before you ask him (Mat. 8:5-7). Let us take a clue from these words of the Master himself. I encourage you today, to clean the Altar within, and shut the doors behind and communicate with your Father who CARES.
I know so many Christians today who struggle and finds prayer difficult. Or who finds little or no interest in studying Word of God. They really want to, but there are no real motivations from within. Today, I’ve a simple advise for you: Guard your heart! Jealously consider the things you watch, read, listen to, the relationship you keep (bad company corrupt good morals). Guard your senses. For if you spend more time on the social media, in front of the television viewing canalities, reading worldly books, and listening to canal music, I bet you, prayer will become an uphill task. This is because, ‘the measure you give, is the measure you receive’. The mind is simply a ‘tabula rasa’. It is what you feed it with, it gives you in return.
Therefore, if you feed the mind with Christian literatures, songs, relationships (iron sharpens iron) and discussions, you will more or less find prayer less cumbersome. Because will not be looking for the right songs, or words to pray. They come from the unconscious, where you have stored them. This why Scripture will say: for where your treasure is, there also your heart will be. (Mat. 6:21). Thus, I ask you: what have your treasured in your heart? Worldliness or Righteousness?
Consequently, I appeal to you, let us join David to pray for a pure heart and humble spirit. For Jesus has told us that blessed are the pure in heart, for the shall see God. If God must continue to dwell in our Holy of Holies and if Jesus must continue to be the High Priest behind our altars, then we must purify our hearts. Paul understood this very well when he said: get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to… Let your hearts and minds be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy” (Eph. 4:22-24).
The renewal of our hearts and minds call for serious discipline. I must confess that a lot of Christians fail in this aspect. In this regard, my dearly beloved in Christ, I offer you one simple principle: don’t compromise what you feed your heart with. Like Paul will say: “Take all thoughts captive, to make them obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). I often ask myself this: Moses what preoccupies your heart? You can do the same. If you heart is preoccupied with bitterness, you become an embittered person and you ultimately offer bitterness on your altar. If your heart is preoccupied with hate, you offer hatred. If it is preoccupied with love, you offer love. If it is preoccupied with peace, you offer peace and so on and so forth.
I please with you today, take time out and take properly care of your heart, your Holy of holies, your Altar, where Christ Speaks and offers sacred Sacrifices, where your soul resides. I leave you with the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 26: 3 : “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”. Shalom!