Maybe you've already noticed things starting to slip a bit. Maybe you've always been able to contain your anger, but lately there's an edge in your voice that scares even you. And what about those occasional outbursts that slip through your normally ironclad façade?
These are merely symptoms of a deeper struggle. Your heart is under assault, and it could be that you are losing. Primarily through neglect. After all, nobody ever told us to keep a close check on our hearts.
Evidence of an internal battle are statements such as:
"I can't believe I just said that."
"I don't know where that came from."
"I can't believe I did that."
"That's not like me."
Cardiologists use a procedure called an arteriogram to diagnose the health of a patient's heart. An arteriogram is an X-ray of the arteries taken after a dye is injected into the bloodstream. The dye allows doctors to pinpoint a blockage in the arteries that serve as conduits carrying blood from the heart.
If a blockage is discovered, a skilled cardiologist is able to insert a stent through an artery in the patient's leg, navigate it up into the heart and open up the blood vessels so that blood can again flow freely to blocked or damaged regions. It is an amazing procedure to watch on video. You can actually see the dye making its way through the arteries and then stopping when it reaches an area that is blocked. Even an untrained eye can spot the problem area once the dye has been injected—it is that obvious.
But apart from an arteriogram, a life-threatening heart problem can go undetected for years. An individual who has a blockage will experience symptoms, but these symptoms may not seem to be directly associated with the heart. Arterial blockage can manifest itself through back pain, inability to sleep, anxiety, loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea, vision change, even loss of memory.
What were we just talking about? Oh yes.
All of these are symptoms that are often treated as isolated issues unrelated to the health of the heart. The right medication can take the edge off most of these symptoms, but this masks the real culprit and delays treatment of the problem, leaving the problem to worsen.
Likewise, we are tempted to treat the ancillary, symptomatic challenges that stem from an unhealthy heart while ignoring the deeper issues. But as is the case with the physical heart, eventually the root problem will become a real problem. And just as a heart attack has the potential to destroy your body, so spiritual heart disease has the potential to destroy you and squeeze the life out of your most valuable relationships.
Using the penetrating light of God's truth like the dye used in an arteriogram can help us to pinpoint the blockage in our spiritual conditions. Once the problem areas have been identified, the solutions are usually pretty obvious. Actually, the solutions are quite simple. But first we must familiarize ourselves with the most common blockages, their causes and their symptoms.
The four primary enemies of the heart—four life-blocking agents that have the potential to erode your relationships, your character, and even your faith—are: guilt, anger, greed and jealousy
I shudder to look at them.
Once lodged in the heart, these corrosive forces gain strength from the darkness. Left to their own, they grow in power and influence, like a lab experiment gone terribly wrong. But, take heart! These invaders lose their power when exposed to light. Like roaches that scatter at the flick of a switch, so these four enemies of the heart dissipate when exposed to the light of truth.
And to keep them at bay, you'll need to embrace four new habits: confession, forgiveness, gratitude and celebration. These "habits of the heart" can allow it to maintain the rhythm for which it was designed. Each of these habits specifically addresses one of four maladies that can infect your heart. And, personally, I believe these habits have the potential to change everything.
If this all sounds too good to be true, let me remind you of a declaration God made generations ago that is still true and extraordinarily relevant today. He claimed that He could give a man or woman a new heart (see Ezek. 36:26). The interesting thing is that He said this to a people who already had God's "List of Top Ten Behaviors" to guide them. But clearly it wasn't enough for them to know what to do; they needed to change from the inside out in order to follow through. Each of them needed, as we need, to drop the public persona and become one whole and healthy person.
What we need is a heart that can keep pace with our outward obedience.
Andy Stanley is a best-selling author and the senior pastor of North Point Ministries in suburban Atlanta (northpoint.org). This article was adapted from It Came From Within, copyright 2006 by Andy Stanley. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers Inc. All rights reserved.