Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

A Heart Exam

The perils of behavior modification without heart renovation.
Let me ask you a question: How are things with your heart?

Not your career, your family or your finances. Your heart.

Chances are, you've never stopped to consider your heart. And why should you? There are meals to fix, calls to return, interviews to prepare for and bills to pay. If at the end of the day you're all caught up with these things and someone asks, "How are things?" you can smile and sigh and say, "Fine."

But this is a different question.

It is a more important question.

And, yes, it is an awkward question.

But why? Perhaps because we so rarely stop to monitor our hearts with these kinds of questions. Growing up it was never encouraged. As children, we were taught instead to monitor our behavior. In other words, we were taught to behave. If we behaved properly, good things happened, regardless of what was going on in our hearts. If we misbehaved, not-so-good things happened.

My parents believed in spanking. So the not-so-good things got my attention early. I modified my behavior so as to avoid pain, and I've been doing that ever since. I bet you have too.

Years ago a buddy and I decided to move a road sign. We thought it would be funny to route traffic up an entrance ramp that led to a highway that was under construction and not opened yet. As a result, I spent the good portion of a night in jail. So I modified my behaviors. I never moved another road sign.

Pain, embarrassment, fines and spankings are generally considered effective ways to focus an individual's attention on his or her behavior. Consequently, you and I have become much better at monitoring our behavior than our hearts.

But, it is not just the avoidance of pain that drives us. Good behavior can be rewarding. As a professional Christian—a pastor by trade—I am paid to be good. So I have learned to modify my words and behavior so as not to damage my reputation and, thus, my career. You've no doubt done the same thing.

Whatever your job, there are some things you just won't do. Not because you don't want to, but because of the professional ramifications. Perhaps there are some words and phrases you won't use, in spite of the fact that they would accurately convey what you are feeling. I'll bet there are some people you pretend to like because it is beneficial to you. And all of that is fine. More than fine, it's necessary. After all, like my buddy Charlie is fond of saying, "Everybody's got to eat and live indoors."

But all this pretending can be problematic because pretending allows you to ignore the true condition of your heart. As long as you say the right thing and do the right thing, you're tempted to believe that all is well. That's what your childhood experience taught you. But when your public performance becomes too far removed from who you are in your heart, you've been set up for trouble.

Eventually your heart—the real you—will outpace your attempts to monitor and modify everything you say and do. The unresolved issues stirring around undetected in your heart will eventually work their way to the surface. Specifically, they will seep into your actions, your character and your relationships. If your heart continues to go unmonitored, whatever "thing" is growing in there will worsen to the point that you are no longer able to contain it with carefully managed words and behaviors.

So let me ask you again: How are things with your heart?

This question would be easier to answer if it weren't for a world full of outside influences that have the power to disrupt the rhythm of your heart. Most are subtle. Some may even appear to be necessary as protection from further disruptions. Over time you develop habits that slowly erode your heart's sensitivity. The inevitable pain and disappointment of life have caused you to set up walls around your heart. Much of this is understandable. But at the end of the day, there's no way around the truth: Your heart is out of sync with the rhythm it was created to maintain.

These disrupters that throw your heart out of sync won't automatically work their way out of your system without any effort on your part. Those things that disrupt the rhythm of the invisible heart linger. If left alone, some will linger for a lifetime. After a while we come to accept these disrupters as part of us, part of our personalities. And, so, we catch ourselves saying, "That's just the way I am." But you weren't always that way. And those closest to you know it. Maybe you're due for a heart exam. You see the symptoms. It's time for a diagnosis, and when you're ready to stop pretending, treatment.

Andy Stanley is a best-selling author and the senior pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, North Point Ministries in suburban Atlanta ( This article was adapted from It Came From Within, copyright 2006 by Andy Stanley. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers Inc. All rights reserved.

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