When I stumble in my faith, I too easily blame externals, but God tells me externals are not the issue. The real problem is within me. He points to three of them this morning, beginning with a reminder that all three are matters of the heart. He uses two verses for this reminder. The first points out that everything about me comes from within. Jesus lives in my heart because of salvation’s promise, but my old nature, dead to God but still able to produce sin is there also. I’m to guard my heart with diligence so that the activities of life come from Christ and not that sinful spirit.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
The other verse is from a passage that talks about being unfaithful in marriage, but the principle applies to all sorts of things, particularly to being faithful to God. He gave Himself to me, and I belong to Him. Sin has repercussions, so He says “Guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:16)
Out of this flows another reason I need to guard my heart. It is because I can easily slide into a contempt for truth and a confidence in myself rather than God. Oswald Chambers says, “The temper of mind is tremendous in its effects; it is the enemy that penetrates right into the soul and distracts the mind from God. There are certain tempers of mind in which we never dare indulge; if we do, we find they have distracted us from faith in God, and until we get back to the quiet mood before God, our faith in Him is nil, and our confidence in the flesh and in human ingenuity is the thing that rules.”
He is right. Not only that, after being distracted and my faith has faltered, I am really fed up with my foolishness. For this, Chambers points to Psalm 123:3, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.”
First, allowing my rule instead of God easily begins with something small, even “the cares of this world.” God says this might not be big things, but small distractions that can mar the way I live. This verse came to mind, a line of a lover concerned that something could destroy the beauty of his relationship with the one he loved. He used an analogy as a way to say that both of them needed to guard against those little things . . .
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song of Solomon 2:15)
Those little foxes point to anything that can produce wrong attitudes, even simple things that have extraordinary power to distract attention from my beloved God and from His Word. As Jesus said, when the word is sown into a distracted heart, I might hear it, “but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) Guarding my heart means refusing to be swamped with the cares of this life. He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow . . . .” (Matthew 6:33–34)
Another thing that can distract me is the desire for vindication. This is that attitude of mind that insists ‘I must explain myself; I must get people to understand.’ Jesus never explained anything. If people understood, they understood. If not, He left His words and actions to His Father, trusting Him with the responses. Not only that, He knew that truth was not to be given to everyone nor would everyone get it even if they heard it . . .
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:24–25) and . . .
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14–16)
The third “distraction” that can trip me up is the gift of discernment. By the Spirit of God, I often discern things like lack of growth or problems in the lives of other Christians. However, if my attitude is wrong, that discernment turns to criticism and blocks my spiritual life and relationship with God. God never gives me discernment so I can criticize others, but so I will pray for them.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)
Little foxes? As I look at these three examples: the cares of the world, a desire to be understood, and using discernment to criticize, it seems they are big issues, issues of contempt for the promises of God and lack of any responsibility in being His child. Instead of blaming life and others for my problems, I need to continually look at and guard my own heart.