The Danger of Neglecting Your Heart
I once tried to plant a vegetable garden. I chose a sunny, well-watered spot, tilled the soil, planted seed in careful rows, put some fertiliser on the ground, and – a month later – checked up to see how things were growing. The results were unspectacular. In truth, I hadn’t planted a vegetable garden at all. What I had done is cultivate a holiday home for weeds. I might as well have sent out dinner invitations to the local chickweeds and daffodils. They had everything they could have wanted to plant their roots without any interference from me.
Most people are better gardeners than I am. However, a lot of Christians are as careless with cultivating their hearts as I was with my vegetable patch. Instead of maintaining conditions that protect their hearts from the dangerous roots of sin, they passively allow for an environment where sin is able to flourish.
The Fertile Conditions for Sin
There are five conditions in which sin takes root and spreads with the speed and tenacity of a weed. The first is secrecy. We all know from experience that we do are worst deeds when we don’t think anyone is watching. We also know the embarrassment that comes from having done something with supposed anonymity only to discover later that someone was watching us. There are no doubts about it: secrecy breeds sin.
Second is independence. Moses warned of this in Deuteronomy 8. He spoke of a day on which the Israelites would begin to feel as if they were responsible for their prosperity and would consequently begin to feel detached and independent from God. The results, Moses warned, would be devastating. So they are. The further we feel from God, the easier it is for sin to slip into the heart unnoticed.
Self-importance is third. Self-importance tends to feed an attitude of invincibility. Our agendas become so important that we are willing to fudge on the particulars in order to ensure our own happiness and success. If the self looms large, God feels small, and instead of allowing God the right to distinguish between good and evil, we begin to exercise the power ourselves. The consequences are tragic, just ask Adam and Eve.
The fourth condition is a numb conscience. Desensitisation is a fact of human experience. Anyone who questions this needs to take 30 seconds to attempt the following experiment. Imagine watching television with ‘you’ from 20 years ago. More than likely your former self would be shocked by what is publicly aired on TV – the profanity, the crude jokes, the explicit sex and violence. Yet, the contemporary ‘you’ is not scandalised. Why? The answer is that we have all grown collectively inured to higher doses of crass language, vivid sex, and gross violence. Sin loves this. The less sinful sin looks the more likely we are to indulge it.
The final condition is cheap grace. If authentic grace is sin-poison, cheap grace is a sin-enabler. Cheap grace actually feeds and empowers sin. We begin to think that God doesn’t really care about sin, that sin doesn’t cost Him anything, that His love permits sin, and following this logic, we feel an inward boost to persist on the path of self-harm.
Protecting the Garden of Your Heart
If these are the conditions in which sin flourishes, what does it mean to be a gardener of a hearts? In other words, how do we discourage the conditions of sin – even counteract them – so that sin struggles to take root in our lives? One helpful bit of advice is to do what many spiritual guides have called ‘practicing the presence of God’. The idea is that, the more aware we are of the identity and presence of the Living God, the less inclined we will be to countenance the presence of sin.
Now how should one go about doing this, one helpful means is to meditate on particular truths about God. This meditation can be integrated into a daily time of prayer during which a person sets time aside to praise and bless God for who He is. (Traditionally this is called adoration and is one of four parts of prayer: adoration, confession, petition, and thanksgiving.) More particularly, to counteract the conditions outlined above, one could meditate on the following five truths.
First, the majesty of God. The more glorious God becomes, the smaller the self feels. We lose our idolatrous sense that the world revolves around ‘me’, and instead God is recognised as being what in fact He is – the centre of reality. A wonderful way to grow in awareness of the majesty of God is to meditate on Isaiah 40.
Second, the omnipresence of God. Christians ought to know that, in truth, there is no secrecy. God is everywhere and God sees everything. A lot of sin would be avoided if Christians were more aware that there is always another presence in the room, God. Those struggling to believe this are encouraged to read Psalm 139.
Third, consider the otherness of God. Some evangelicals are in danger of reaching a state of ‘overfamiliarity’ with God. God becomes the college roommate with whom there is no embarrassment and shame. The relationship is so casual that awe and respect no longer exist. Spiritually, this is the state of a numb conscience. To overcome it, one must recapture something of the otherness and purity of God. A good place to start is to ponder the architecture of the tabernacle, to think about the nature of Old Testament sacrifice, or to read the gloriously frightful encounter that Moses has with God on Sinai.
Finally, think much of the love of God. First, consider the sunlight and the rain. How marvellous that God’s love sustains our lives at every moment of everyday. Second, spend time at the cross of Jesus. The cross is the ultimate revelation of the heart of God. Anyone who marvels at the beauty of the cross will understand something of the price of sin and the gift of grace. Our salvation was not cheap. Those who know this have a deep hatred of sin.