At the center of our inner lives is what the Scriptures call our heart. Within the heart lies the truest core of who we are - our relationship with God, our motives (good, bad and sometimes mysterious even to us), that which has been brought under the lordship of Jesus and that which makes up our shadow side. Our hearts are deeply complex and central to everything we are and our commitment to understand and guard our hearts over the long haul of our lives is perhaps the most critical element in becoming a person of deep influence.
Life was far simpler in my younger years than they are today in my fifties as it relates to my heart. As a young Christian I saw things as black and white, good or bad. I understood certain temptations and did my best to make choices that were pleasing to God but I did not understand the labyrinth of my heart: its passages, rooms, closets, corners, areas where the light of Christ penetrates brilliantly and those where there is more shadow than light. Nor did I understand my ability to celebrate those areas of light and to minimize or ignore the areas of shadowy twilight.
With each passing year I understand better how much of me has yet to be transformed by Christ. I am continually amazed and often disheartened to discover another door of my heart that I have not opened to Him. With each realization I recognize how much more I need His grace today than yesterday and how important it is to understand my heart, to live in truth rather than deception (or ignorance) and that my spiritual pilgrimage is about understanding Him better so that I understand me better and can bring another part of me into alignment with Him.
People of deep influence are exegetes of their own hearts. They actively seek to peel back the layers of protection we use to avoid confronting the real us in order to allow God to transform us into what He made us to be – in every area of life – a process to be completed only when we see Him face to face! They live with a deep sense of God’s grace in their lives because they are willing to acknowledge their own darkness and allow God too shine His light in dark and dangerous places within their own souls.
Solomon was one who understood the multifaceted dimensions of the heart – its capacity for good under the Lordship of God and its capacity for deception and evil under the lordship of self. It is he who wrote this admonition: “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Our hearts are the place from which all of our attitudes, motives, and actions emanate. Jesus was clear on this…. Scripture is also clear on the fact that the heart of man was severely damaged by the fall, when Adam believed Satan that if he ate the fruit of the tree he would become like God. Interestingly, it was simply another version of Satan’s own attempt to become like God, or to usurp God so Satan’s own competition with God became man’s competition with God with the result that “We all like sheep have gone astray, each one going his own way” rather than God’s way.
The dilemma we face is that even though transformed by grace – having been justified by Christ’s blood, the process of sanctification is ongoing and the ability of our hearts to deceive us is significant. This is why Christ followers can do such damage to one another – we are deceived in our own hearts that what we are doing is justified when often it is simply the sinfulness of our lower nature showing its ugly head.
I think of church leaders who in the name of “ministry” hurt others who get in their way to success. I think of Christ followers who refuse to reconcile with another party even when that party desires reconciliation. I think of my own ability to justify attitudes or actions that negatively impact others in the name of furthering the gospel of Christ. It takes deep sensitivity to the Spirit of God and word of God which has the ability to divide the marrow of the heart, to sift through what is truly righteous in our motives, thoughts and actions, and what is the residue of our own sinful, stubborn and independent nature!
For leaders, this issue is even more important because our actions impact others in a more direct way than the actions of the average person. And, we have authority over others that many do not have. How we use that authority is always a matter of our heart and whether we understand the layers of our hearts, thoughts, motives, intentions, desires and the myriad other influences on our lives that impact our actions. Like the proverbial onion, there are layers and layers of possible motivations to our actions and getting the real “core” is the constant challenge of a person of deep influence.