Guard Your Heart
by Sharon Betters
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
The woman’s face twisted in agony and her sobbing moans made her words hard to understand. She had just learned that a man she considered a faithful friend was regularly molesting her daughter. What does life-giving encouragement for this woman look like?
My friend’s son had just told his parents that he was “coming out” and would soon marry his partner. What does life-giving encouragement look like for this mother? How can she encourage her son?
The moody teen brought her sullenness and resentment to church every Sunday. She didn’t want to be there and her parents were mystified as to how to reconnect with her. Is the ultimate goal to get her to like church? What does life-giving encouragement look like for this teen?
Most of us know someone experiencing these life crises. We can’t fix any of them. If fixing is our goal, then we better give up right now. Yet the Lord calls on us to carry one another’s burdens and to be life-giving encouragers.
What drives your encouragement? What is your ultimate goal for encouragement? Why do you encourage others? Is it out of guilt? Do you resent the endless needs? Are you struggling to extend mercy because you don’t understand why your friend is stuck in depression or grief? Are you attempting to get your prodigal child back on track? Where do you go with your feelings of despair, anger, disappointment or own sense of hopelessness?
Someone has said, “We do what we be.” How “be” you? In other words, what do you believe and how is your belief system driving your behavior? Proverbs repeatedly exhorts readers to recognize that actions start in our hearts. In order to be a life-giver rather than a life-taker, we must guard our hearts, because out of our heart comes life or death, for good or for bad. To guard our heart requires alertness, watching out for enemies that could poison the “wellspring of life,” disrupting the peace that needs to flow from us to the hurting friend. If you are exasperated or weary in well-doing, perhaps it’s time to take an intentional break where you pour over God’s truths, asking Him to fill up your encouragement jug and renew your heart to obey His call to life-giving encouragement. Going onto the emotional battlefield with a friend requires preparation, but successful soldiers go into a battlefield with a clear, winnable goal. The goal of life-giving encouragement is not to fix the broken place, but to help turn hearts toward Jesus. God is the fixer. Through biblical encouragement, we become His channels of compassion.
If you’re struggling with your role as an encourager, give yourself permission to find a quiet place, perhaps by a lake or in a park, or sitting quietly on your porch. Spend time reading Psalm 119, noting the passion of the writer for God’s Word and the results of obedience to God’s Word: delight, freedom, blessing and rejoicing. Ask yourself if you have been going into this life battlefield without God’s strategy in mind, ill equipped because you have not spent time in prayer and listening for God’s voice through His Word.
Note the things that frustrate you most about your friend and ask the Lord to give you a different view of his or her response to life’s circumstances. Ask Him to remind you of the grace He extends to you every day. Focus on the different aspects of His character and how each one transforms your understanding of His love for you. Research the stories of others who transparently share their struggles to find purpose and peace in similar circumstances. Visit the MARKINC website where you will find numerous redemption stories that will help you better understand your friend. If she seems stuck in depression or grief, offer to get her more help with a counselor or find a friend who has traveled a similar path who is willing to encourage your friend with her story.
Oh Lord, You know for whom my heart breaks. I don’t know how to help, how to make their pathway easier. Please direct my steps through Your Word. The Psalmist says that Your Word sets his heart free and obedience to Your Word is the pathway to joy. Set my heart free with Your Word in a way that flows over into the life of my loved one.