A dear friend called one day to tell me about an encounter she had with her fourteen-year-old son. They were camping for the weekend, and she woke up one morning with a vivid memory of her dream. In the dream the family was driving in their van, and her son used some foul language. No one corrected him or showed any surprise at his inappropriate words. They all just went on with conversation as usual. She heard God’s Spirit speak to her that her son was losing his shock factor. His exposure to bad language through school and sports was starting to desensitize him. She hadn’t heard him use these words, but it was clear they needed to have a talk.
As they were driving home from camping, she had her other children ride with their father so she could have some time alone with her son. She told him, “I know you’re struggling with bad language.” His eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his skull. “How did you know?” he responded. “God told me in a dream,” she said. His eyes were popping out even farther now. My friend took a few minutes to explain what happens when we don’t guard our hearts. We lose our shock factor. She explained that it’s like when a frog is put into a pot of lukewarm water and the heat is slowly turned up. The frog won’t jump out even when the water boils because the temperature slowly creeps up on him until it’s too late. She encouraged her son not to let this happen with his words.
The Israelites in Jeremiah’s day had also lost their shock factor. Jeremiah repeats a word picture over and over to describe their condition: he says that they have forgotten how to blush (6:15; 8:12). Israel forgot how to blush. God wants us to blush over our sin and then repent. This kind of conviction that leads to repentance is some- times referred to as healthy shame. In her book Shame Lifter, Marilyn Hontz writes, “Healthy shame ought to lead us toward repentance and restoration, healing and forgiveness.” Healthy shame is not to be confused with the toxic shame that comes from the enemy who leads us to feelings of worthlessness and judgment. God never wants us to live in a place of hopelessness paralyzed with feelings of failure. While that kind of shame is the enemy’s game, the conviction of the Holy Spirit is intended to help us guard our hearts and protect them.
Why do our hearts need to be guarded? Because God desires us to lead pure lives. You might say that guarding our hearts helps us to keep blushing as we should.
We have to be careful about what we allow to influence our hearts. What goes into, or influences, our hearts directly affects what comes out of our hearts. As we saw earlier, Jesus said, “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45b). So by guarding our hearts, we also are guarding what comes out of our mouths. One of the best ways to guard our hearts is to guard our minds, because heart attitudes are largely determined by our thoughts.
“Jeremiah often warned the people about their thought lives and words: O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts?”
“But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice.”
Guarding our hearts means using caution about what we allow to influence our thoughts, words, and actions. It doesn’t mean we close ourselves off from difficult people or painful circumstances.
It also requires us to take some steps once our hearts have been evaluated and found to be hardened by our sins or to have lost its shock factor. God longs for us to keep our hearts soft so that we are grieved when inappropriate behaviors are considered acceptable. He asks us to guard what we allow to flow both in and out of our hearts.
How about you today?
- Do you allow yourself to think about things you shouldn’t, dwell on others’ faults, or let bitterness, envy, or worry creep in?
- What about your words?
- Have you lost your shock factor—not just in foul language but also in regard to gossip, disrespect, reckless speech, or angry words?
- Are the majority of your words helpful to those who hear them?
Allowing the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to be our “filter” helps keep our words and actions from damaging our hearts as well as the hearts of those around us. And guarding our hearts in this way frees us to give God our whole hearts.