“No one has the right to beat you.” – Ronda Rousey, former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion.
Among other things, no one has the right to your heart. Not even God. He himself has set it up that way because he does not plunder or force us into relationship. He sets a boundary for himself out of love.
However, from a Christian perspective, the heart is a place that desperately needs God’s grace. Without it, it’s a very tumultuous place to begin with.
In the words of Jesus:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander,” (Matthew 15:19)
Perhaps these thoughts are not present all the time, but when they come they are more than capable of leading you. There is a number of problems that arise from “following” our hearts when they are in this state.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19
Jesus comes into the Biblical narrative years after the book of Ezekiel. Undoubtedly, Jesus was a solution for the misguided nature of the human heart, but God is not limited when it comes to changing the lives of those who choose him. His laws lay the foundation for this transformative relationship long before Christ.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 New International Version
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” New Living Translation
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” English Standard Version
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” King James Version
Issues. Courses. Springs. Everything. Our hearts.
This piece of scripture is dripping with wisdom. It’s actually unfair to limit it to just one translation.
Fighting is a passion that is often closely related to self defense and martial arts, but when we talk about guarding our hearts we are not talking about fighting for them, to represent them in some way. We are speaking of protecting them and there is a difference.
Where one could easily fight is also where one can make grave mistakes. Our hearts are prone to change. How typical it is to quarrel over a passing mood or desire in the name of how we feel, but this is not what defense is.
History is filled with stories that portray heroic ideals fashioned from the desires of our hearts. Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” pulls our hearts by the very veins to this day. The legend of Cleopatra’s power over men and Marc Antony’s selfish devotion to her is no fairytale, nor does it have a happy ending. Both couples commit suicide. All of these examples are wracked with desire and fraught with violence. It is clear that in the heart of these characters, there is no peace.
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” Proverbs 25:28 KJV
Fighting for our own hearts leaves us destitute not only because they are not rational but because they are wavering.
Finding the joy to be had in guarding our connection to love, to God, to the cross, is the life the Proverbs speak about. It is the kingdom that we squander when we surrender that defense and take up arms, fighting, for our own hearts. This kingdom is God’s and its treasure is joy.
God has given laws to protect our hearts long before he gave his son. What’s more is that Jesus became a fighter and a champion of our hearts in ways that we never could.
Where the best we can hope to do is secure our hearts with discipline, repentance and reverence for God’s law, Jesus stepped into the ring and fought for our forgiveness. The last man standing, he was free from all sin, all turmoil, and all the vileness that separates us from God. Because of this when he fought for us he wasn’t restrained by our human nature. He succeeded.
The scripture grew. The New Testament was written. It was no longer just a religious code. It became a community of disciples and it became a source of life we have access to through the stories of Christ’s life, through his love for his enemies and through the tale of his sacrifice for everyone that we might know better what love means.
We are not capable of making such a sacrifice in any way that exceeds that of Christ. Because of his sacrifice, we are given what we need to defend our hearts against ourselves.
We can’t travel to Israel to see the mummified Christ. We can’t dig up his bones or sleep with his stuffed animals, but we can read about his life. We can choose to engage the world as he did. Through that we can have community with one another, safety from ourselves and satisfaction when we guard our hearts.