How to Win the Battle for Your Heart

Christians are in a battle with the world. A battle that rages continually as we are confronted with promises of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction at every turn. These messages are often subtle, chipping away at our defenses little by little. A billboard on our commute to work, prompting us to book a bliss filled spur of the moment weekend getaway. A commercial as we relax after a hard day at work, telling us to treat ourselves to luxury by driving their latest release. Little by little the world chips away at our defenses until one day it breaks through, capturing and stealing us away from God. I know this to be true because it has happened in my own life. When I was in college, the world captured me for a time. Instead of living for God, I lived for the promises of the world. I am sure many of you have experienced the same.

The battle we fight and the captivity we endure as Christians is real. If that is true, how do we guard ourselves and break free?

Love, the Greatest Commandment

If you remember, in the book of Matthew, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in order to discount Him with the people, so they could rise to prominence once again. One of the Pharisees — a lawyer — asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds by saying:

“You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Then comes the second greatest commandment.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments [He tells us] hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

Jesus’ commands tell us our heart is the place from which our affections and our love for God and others arise. When we love ourselves, or the things of the world, more than God, we won’t sacrifice our desires for God’s. Instead we sacrifice God’s desires for own, resulting in us sinning against Him. When we love ourselves more than others, we won’t be able to sacrifice our desires, rights, freedoms, and resources for others either, which could result in us sinning against them or using them for our own gain or pleasure. So our hearts are the castle we must guard and the key to the cell in which we sit.

How Do We Guard Our Hearts and Escape Captivity?

I have been reading and studying the book of Colossians lately during my devotional time. It is fast becoming one of my favorite books in the Bible. One of the things I have noticed throughout the book is Paul’s gospel-centered nature. I understand Paul is gospel-centered throughout his writings, but it seems it is more apparent and condensed in the book of Colossians.

Time and time again he comes back to Christ as a way to motivate the Colossians to resist false teachers, press on in their Christian faith, and love one another. In the same way that Paul uses the gospel to motivate the Colossians to action, we should use the gospel to guard our hearts against the attacks of the world. We do that by preaching the gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of God’s love and sacrifice for us. As we preach the gospel to ourselves, our love for God should increase while, at the same time, our love for the world should decrease.

So the gospel is our God-given battle strategy against the world’s constant barrage of attacks, and our escape route from captivity. Preaching the gospel to ourselves, then, not only fortifies our heart against the world’s attacks, but it also forges a key to the cell in which we sit.

Christian, do not underestimate the gospel. It not only has the power to save and sanctify, but also to protect and release. Preach it to yourselves often.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you guarding your heart with the gospel?

Resources

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Surviving the Challenges of the Pastorate

If you think back over your life, there are bound to be a few days you hold as special; days that have shaped you. In my life there are a little more than a handful of days that are extremely special to me; days I will never forget.

Those days include: High School, College, and Seminary graduation. The day my wife and I were married. The birth of our two sons – Camden and Bryson. My call to the pastorate, and the day I was ordained. Those are all special days for me. Days I will never forget. Days that have shaped my life.

While each of those days were joyous occasions, each also brought with them new challenges. One day, or one journey, that has been joyous yet challenging is the call to the pastorate.  I have been extremely blessed by the people I pastor, but I have also been extremely challenged.

For the those who are thinking of entering the pastorate, just starting out, or are seasoned pastors there are three things that will help you survive the challenges of the pastorate.

Surviving the Challenges of the Pastorate

(1) Love Jesus

You must love Jesus above anything else in your life. When you love Jesus more than anything else, you will pursue Him more than anything else. It is necessary that you pursue Jesus because you will need Him to strengthen you for the task at hand.

There will be times when you will have to console those who are hurting, pray for those who are sick, apply godly counsel and wisdom to sensitive and difficult situations in the church, and much more. You can’t do those things in your own power, nor must you attempt to. Doing so is the surest way to set yourself and your church up for failure.

So in order for you to serve the Lord in the way He has called you to serve Him, you will need to love Jesus more than anything else in your life, so that you will pursue Him to a greater extent than anything else in this world.

When I talk about pursuing Jesus, I mean for you to pursue Him in prayer, Bible study, and worship. Which are all necessary if you are going to lead and serve the church according to God’s Will.

In order to know God’s will, you must be in His Word as often as possible. In order to apply His will, you must pray. In order to grow in your love for God so that you will continue to pursue Him more and more in prayer and Bible study, you need to worship the Lord, so that your affections are stirred for Him more and more each and everyday.

Let me encourage you to make it a point to read God’s Word as often as you have opportunity. Not just for sermon preparation, but for personal devotion. Allow God to nurture your own soul as you meet with Him daily in His Word.

Pray each and every time you have a question to answer, a situation to handle, a decision to make, or a sermon to write.

Be involved in the worship service, attentive and worshipping alongside your congregation. It is easy to find projects to complete, people to talk to, or notes to review before you step in the pulpit. Avoid doing those things and worship alongside your congregation, not only as an example to them of the importance of worship, but also for your own soul.

As well as take moments throughout your day to worship the Lord for the many ways He is working in your life, for the awe of His creation, and the prayers He has answered in your life and the life of your church.

(2) Love Your Church

Love is an interesting word in our modern vocabulary. By it people often mean they have a certain feeling about someone or something, which usually arises because that something or someone makes them feel good. So for instance when I say I love coffee. What I really mean is that it makes me feel good, so good that it invokes a response out of me.

However, when I talk about loving the church, I don’t have that same type of love in mind. Instead I have in mind the love that Christ has for us. In 1 John 3:16, we read,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 Jn 3:16)

Jesus’ love for us is self-sacrificial, and it is not based on feelings or what we can do for Him. We know that is true because Jesus died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:7-8).

It is important we have that type of love for the church because there will be times when the church doesn’t make us feel good. But here is the thing, we aren’t called to serve the church, to love it’s people, to only give of our time, money, and resources when they are making us feel good. Instead, we are called to love the church at all times regardless of how it makes us feel.

Unless you love your church with the same self-sacrificial love that Christ has for us, you will not stick in there. The first bout of controversy, difficulty, or lack of perceived success that can easily creep in will cause you to give a little less of your time, your emotions, and your heart to the people you are called to serve. It might even cause you to start looking elsewhere for greener pastures.

(3) Love Your Family

With all the demands that are put on you in the work of ministry, the one thing that is easy to but something you can’t do is neglect your own families. You must love, care for, and continue to nurture them, even while you are loving and serving the church.

In fact, you should see your family as your first church. The way you love, serve, and minister to them should be a reflection of how you will love and serve your second church – the one you are called to pastor. So don’t neglect your families to do the work of ministry.

This is something I have had to learn in my ministry. I love pastoring, teaching, and preaching.  In the past, I have neglected my family to do those things. Thankfully, by the grace of God I learned quickly that was not the way things should be. As a result, I quickly set some parameters. Parameters my wife helps me to keep.

So yes, love your church, sacrifice for and serve your church, but don’t do it to the neglect of your family because your family is your first church and there is nothing more important than taking care of them.

I am convinced that if you do these three things – (1) Love Jesus, (2) Love your Church, and (3) Love your Family – you will be an effective pastor, who will serve the church well for many years to come.

Question for Reflection

  1. What advice would you offer to those facing the unique challenges of pastoral ministry?

Resource

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On Sermon Preparation

So it comes to this. The preparation of sermons involves sweat and labour. It can be extremely difficult at times to get all this matter that you have found in the Scriptures into this particular form.

It is like a potter fashioning something out of the clay, or like a blacksmith making shoes for a horse; you have to keep on putting the material into the fire and on to the anvil and hit it again and again with the hammer.

Each time it is a bit better, but not quite right; so you put it back again and again until you are satisfied with it or can do no better. This is the most grueling part of the preparation of a sermon; but at the same time it is a most fascinating and a most glorious occupation.

It can be at times most difficult, most exhausting, most trying. But at the same time I can assure you that when you have finally succeeded you will experience one of the most glorious feeling that ever comes to a man on the face of this earth.

To borrow the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, you will be conscious of having performed an ‘Act of Creation’, and you will have some dim understanding of what the Scripture means which tells us that when God looked at the world He had created He saw that ‘it was good’.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you feel about your own sermon preparation?

Resources

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 90.

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