gail mcwilliams, engaging the heart, author of seeing beyondISSUES OF THE HEART

After dinner one Sunday, my parents introduced us to a couple from church. My mother said, “Let me introduce you to our friends who met on eBay®.” We laughed at her mixing up two different Internet services, but soon our laughter turned to howling and wheezing as their friend shared his story with us.

He had been single for six to seven years and decided to try out eHarmony®, an on-line dating service. After finishing the profiling and finding compatible matches from his potential love choices, he picked out an eligible lady whom he had been conversing with by phone for several months. It was decided they should meet for dinner.

The man, who was in his early 50’s, offered to drive to her small town to take her to dinner. One Saturday afternoon, he set out on the 110 mile trip to her home. Enjoying the country drive through small towns and beautiful scenery, he anxiously anticipated their first meeting.

Halfway to his date’s town, he decided to stop and fill his car with gas. The only thing available was a small-town filling station with an adjoining country convenience store. The little station appeared to be quite busy in this quaint Texas setting. Preoccupied with thoughts about his upcoming date, the man got out of his car to fill his gasoline tank, which was positioned at the rear of his 1991 Caprice. Within minutes after filling the tank and paying the bill, he resumed the journey to his date’s house, now fifty miles away.

Oblivious to anything but his nervous thoughts about his first eHarmony® date, the man innocently disregarded a thumping noise. Ten to fifteen miles down the road he was startled out of his daydreaming by the honking of a car behind him. Ignoring it at first, he kept driving, but the honking persisted.

Looking in his rearview mirror to see the car that now followed closely, the man also noticed a long black object flopping in the wind. Trailing from this man’s car was a twenty-foot hose connected to his gas tank. Pulling over, the man began to disconnect the nozzle and long hose which he had torn from the pump where he had stopped for gas fifteen minutes earlier.

The perplexed man looked at his watch, realizing he was already late for his date, and wondered if he should keep going or take the hose back to the small-town station. Another thought crossed his mind. “What if they have evidence of my license number?” While bending down to remove the nozzle and hose, he made his decision. He wound up the hose and nozzle and placed it on the back seat of his car, as he determined to go back. His date would have to wait. Chuckling and relieved, he could not imagine what would have happened if his date had seen his mistake and shortcoming. He definitely knew this would not have made a good first impression.

The man returned to the small filling station and country store and, with the hose and nozzle under his arm, walked to the door of the store. The bell rang when he entered and heads turned immediately to notice the man carrying the missing parts of the pump. He excused himself as he wove his way through the unusually long line to talk to the cashier. The crowd, waiting their turn to pay for their gas, watched and listened. As the man made his way to confess his wrong, some in line giggled and snickered while others seemed irritated and angry with him for his actions which had inconvenienced them. “Ma’am, I have made a mistake,” said the man sheepishly.

Life issues are similar to the man’s humorous account. The man’s actions had affected others, causing one less pump and longer waiting lines than usual. Often, many things are dragging behind us from unresolved conflict or hidden motives. Oblivious to what we have done, we fail to realize or care that it may be affecting others. We are focused on the tasks at hand but never consider there is a tail of noticeable residue and evidence of previous actions following us.

Interestingly, when we attempt to go back and clear up our mistakes, the reactions are mixed. Depending on the situation, at times we may be met with mercy, forgiveness, or laughter, but sometimes it may be anger.

Proverbs 4:23 reminds us, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” No matter if your focus is on living life in front of you or if, perhaps, your gaze lingers on the rearview mirror and your past, are there issues you must yet address that are impacting your life and the lives of those around you?

Issues come from the heart and affect every part of your life. Why is the heart to be protected? “Keeping your heart” involves more than just romantic relationships. Heart issues are real issues of importance that, when left to fester, can become lifetime wounds that may intensify as time goes on.

What has your heart been holding onto that is hindering your life and destiny?

There was an employee whose heart was challenged in the workplace. There had been a change of management and the new boss was drastically different from the former one. The previous leader was a macro-manager who valued his team, but the new management style was a micro-manager who questioned everyone. With each passing day the new boss would take responsibilities from the desks of the work team to place them on her own desk. The once happy office became a place of conflict and insecurity where everyone walked on egg shells, never knowing who would be next in her path of rage and disapproval.

This employee was the first victim from the moment the transition began. No one ever knew exactly why, but she disliked this man from the first day. Puzzled by the mysterious, immediate hatred, others asked if maybe he reminded her of someone earlier in her life, like a former employee, boyfriend, husband or father. She was single and seemed to hate men. The injustice and aggressive agenda to move out this employee was troubling. In just a few months, she succeeded. Her accusations and untruths cost the innocent employee his job.

The employee’s friends painfully watched as their friend changed jobs and towns to rebuild his confidence and renew his heart toward forgiveness. The bitter taste that was in his mouth was drawn to his heart like a magnet. Years passed and the employee successfully forgave his accuser. The employee won the battle of keeping his heart free of hatred and unforgiveness. Eventually, he was asked to come back to his original position and his good record was reinstated.

In contrast, the new boss continued in her underlying anger and manipulation, bulldozing anyone who was in her way. Months seemed like years to her employees as she skillfully worked down her unwritten agenda. She methodically drove out good men who had served this organization well for years. Finally, after increasing months of strife and conflict, she was suddenly removed from her position.

All agreed that her actions were about much more than her present job. It appeared that somewhere in her life something was unresolved, and her heart issues, which drug behind her, impacted every new day. It is unjust to treat others in your present world based on people out of your past. Though there may be similarities, each life is different and to be valued.

I love the diverse descriptions of the heart in the scriptures. A heart of integrity and one of uprightness when compared to one who has foolishness bound in his/her heart is like day and night. We are warned that the heart can deceive itself, potentially ending in an evil heart of unbelief. In fact, no words were minced when the Psalmist said, “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” This condition proves convenient to those who choose to live life unrestrained. The appeal to believing there is no God is that of not having to answer to anyone. Your decisions, lifestyle and behavior go unrestrained, making it easy to live without regard to the Giver of Life.

Actions result from intentions of the heart. If the window of the soul is the eyes, the gauge for knowing what is in your heart is your mouth. Matthew 12:34 says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”1

Psalms states, “Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding.”2 This is a life verse for our son, Connor, whose name means, “wisdom and brave advisor.” A wise heart connects to the Father of Wisdom who sees life from a clearer perspective than our limited insights. Fittingly, the book of Psalms admonishes, “So teach us to number our days so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”3

A consistent theme in the Bible is the passion for loving God “with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit.”4 Seeking the Lord with all our heart guarantees His reward, and delighting in Him is exchanged for the desires of our heart being met. “My heart rejoices,” wrote King David as he acknowledged a living God who had redeemed his life from destruction and declared Him mighty to save.5 The Psalmist later placed his own motives in full view as he said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts.”6

I have observed over the years of ministry that there are always families within every church that become critical of the pastor and other leadership. Over Sunday dinner their opinions are made known around the family table while the children repeatedly hear dishonoring and judgmental comments. Interestingly, I have also seen the children of those families rebel later, criticizing their own parent’s leadership and authority. Critical hearts are casually taught with role models who fail to see the connection.

Changing times, shifting philosophies, and prominent leaders being exposed can be cause for alarm in a day of wars and terrorists’ threats. Additionally, mounting prices with no signs of relief and increasingly violent storms, earthquakes and fires may tempt you to feel faint of heart.

I love the portrait of the righteous man, or woman, of Psalm 112. Their “heart is fixed and established, trusting in God.”7 When the heart is settled on what is eternal, the things spinning around us only make for an exciting journey as we rest in the One who has seen the beginning from the end of all things. His heart is steadfastly in love with His own—unmoved.

Early in our marriage we faced some difficult decisions and crises. My stabilizing factor through those years, and especially now, was inspired by David in Psalms when he said, “Your word I have hidden in my heart.”8

Every time a doctor said we would never have any children, I would carry in my heart more scriptures that enlarged my heart to His purposes. Knowing that “children were gifts from Him and likened to arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior,”9 I saw their value. Knowing His heart as I read the Word, I saw that His desire was to see “godly offspring” with a message to tell from generation to generation.10

The crucial day came when the doctor insisted I make a decision when pregnant with our second daughter. The doctor firmly said, “You must choose today between your baby and your eyes.” Without hesitation, I made my decision based on my heart and His. “I choose my baby” was my immediate response. He slammed shut my medical folder and angrily said, “What a foolish decision!” and left the examining room.

Sitting alone, I remembered a verse I had memorized as a young girl that said, “I have set before you life and death; blessing and cursing; choose life that you and your descendants may live.”11 My heart knew the right answer, based on His counsel and truth written on my heart.

After choosing life, I had many challenges. With every baby I gradually lost more eyesight due to my eyes hemorrhaging with each pregnancy. My heart was calmed and kept safe as my body began to change and my days grew dimmer. A constant whirlwind of emotions kept our hopes and dreams up in the air. Every medical report tempted us to be filled with despair and overwhelming disappointment. My turning point for resolute faith came from another passage buried in my heart. “Lord you saw me when I was tossing and turning in the night, and every tear I have ever cried you kept it in your bottle. But when I called on the name of the Lord, the tide was turned and all my enemies began to flee; for this one thing I know, you are for me.”12

In the midst of the persistent medical information and devastating prognosis, my heart was kept with diligence on the Giver of Life and His ability to hear my heart. Now, five miracle children later and grandchildren, I see the fruitful promise of His counsel in my heart.

Bravery is honored with Purple Hearts and Medals of Honor signifying valor and courage in helping someone else in battle. But wounded and broken hearts, if not interrupted by the work at Calvary’s cross, hurt others and wound innocent victims with their harsh speech and cutting words. Abused hearts abuse others, unless they resolve to forgive and live a more excellent way. Psalm 119 speaks of His word being written on our hearts.13

Issues find storage in the heart. Your issues are more than a rousing episode on Dr. Phil. The heart is open, vulnerable and never forgets. Life’s issues are established in the heart. Convictions, dreams, love, and memories are some of the treasures of the heart. But other issues could be grudges, unforgiveness, anger, hate and evil, which try to stuff themselves into the heart’s closet. It is easy to see that, like a fountain of water, issues flow from this inner part of you. Just as the physical heart pumps life into every function of your being and into every cell, so our inner heart should pump life into all parts of our being.

Diligence implies that it will take a concerted effort to keep your heart. When the heart is violated, distrust and offense may be the issues masked by depression, irritations or anger. From just these symptoms, there could be physical side affects like high blood pressure, sleepless nights and tears. Emotionally, there may be a lack of joy and you may become calloused or indifferent. Your thoughts are consumed with negative thoughts and you could be cynical, affecting the tender hearts that still trust. Imagine teaching your children to live this way only because your heart issues are the standard. They may not know the core of your unhappiness, yet you water their world with your bitter flow. Your issues are no longer yours alone but can become those of others, especially if they have taken up your offenses and chosen to be depressed with you, never trusting others again.

This is happening throughout many homes due to divorce and abandonment. Your pain may be justified on one hand, or at least understandable, yet the heart’s blockage is due to diligently working to stay depressed and distrusting because of previous circumstances in your life. Issues affect everything.

Unforgiveness works the same way. To believers, this condition is deadly for they have tasted of a Savior who has forgiven them of all their sins. Jesus told the story of a rich man who forgave his servant but the servant turned around and did not forgive the one who had borrowed from him.14 The picture is clear that we have been forgiven of all our sins. In fact, the Bible says they are forgiven “as far as the east is from the west”—to infinity and beyond.15 Yet, we struggle to forgive someone else. The unforgiving heart hardens and soon dances with its companion, bitterness. The Bible warns that a root of bitterness causes trouble and defiles many.16 Who can afford it?

Unforgiveness displeases God. It also takes your youth, causes wrinkles, shows on your face and limits your freedom, because you remain chained to the offense. Unforgiveness eventually shows up in physical problems and emotional stumbling blocks. The unforgiveness only hurts you and not the one who has wronged you. Slavery, though abolished in our nation, remains rampant in the hearts of those who hold unforgiveness. This heart condition keeps you enslaved to the past as you toil endless hours by repeating thoughts of former injustices.

Always someone says, “But you don’t know what I have experienced.” True, the details are not known fully, but the ramifications of such a heart disease are predictable. It will take diligence to choose a healthy heart of forgiveness. Only God’s grace can conqueror wrongs. This is a principle of the heart that must anchor our lives as we “keep our hearts.”17

The heart of forgiveness was indelibly demonstrated to me by a life that has helped shape my own. My mother had come to help me one afternoon as we were preparing to move into a new house. We worked into the evening with times of sharing and laughter.

Hugging each other as she was leaving, we agreed how much fun work can be with someone by your side. We all remarked how energetic she was for her age and how she could work circles around the rest of the family. After a thirty minute drive home, my mom drove into the complex where she and my dad were living at the time. She noticed the open security gate and called my dad on the cell phone.

“I’m here. Would you come and walk me in?” she requested of my dad. He quickly replied, “Sure. Let me get my shoes on and I will be right there.” It was approximately ten o’clock at night and she had parked near a large light. Intending to meet him halfway, she opened her car door. Startled, she met a stranger’s eyes whose heart was set on evil.

Within seconds, my mother was being thrown to the ground and the struggle began. The attacker relentlessly hit her blow after blow. Rising up to resist his strength, she was thrown to the ground once more. During the assault she had great presence of mind to sound her car alarm. People came running from all directions and even watched from their windows but could not come to her aid in time.

Leaving her lying on the pavement, the assailant grabbed her purse and car keys and sped away in the car, easily exiting the complex with no interference from anyone or a closed gate. Moments that seemed like an eternity passed for my dad as he rounded the corner and ran to her, arriving just as the attacker was beginning to back out at high speed. He knelt down by her, fearing she was seriously injured unto death and fearing, also, that the carjacker was going to back over her, as well as hit him, too.

Within minutes, we were called and immediately rushed to the hospital emergency room. My young-hearted, vivacious mother, now unable to move, looked very frail and as if she had aged twenty-five years in one night. She now lay in excruciating pain, deeply bruised, with her back broken in two places. Not knowing if she would live through the night, Dad stood at the side of his bride of 53 years as she was cared for in the hospital emergency room.

With a weakened, traumatized voice, she softly said, “I forgive the man who did this to me.” More amazing, were her next words. “Gail, you must go on with your speaking engagement thisweek.” In spite of the trauma, she was mindful of my speaking schedule. Slowly continuing, she struggled to talk, saying, “This is only a distraction and warfare to keep you from touching other lives.”

Her words from the heart in time of crisis and near death were proof of a life lived by prioritizing God’s ways and purposes above her own. The issues of forgiveness and serving God first sprang like a fountain of life in the middle of reprehensible horror. Her heart was settled—it trusted Him.

Offenses will come. Life is full of them; but determining to select forgiveness opens the heart to His ability to heal.

Sometimes when we are offended or walk in unforgiveness, we think we are the only one who has been harmed. Our problems seem the worst and we excuse ourselves by holding on to past memories and offenses.

What could cause the son of Jim Elliot to forgive the man who killed his father and three other missionaries, all of whom had come to Ecuador to share the gospel? How could he forgive and then embrace his father’s murderers as brothers in Christ? The result was a heart that exemplified Christ.

What could help a young woman who was held captive by her controlling father who used her for sexual pleasure to forgive her dad and then lead him to Christ as an adult later in her life?

Furthermore, where did the joy come from when the forgiveness came and the release of old issues were placed at the foot of the cross?

Whatever the past hurt, the Lord identifies with our sorrow. He was afflicted, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, denied, misunderstood and not believed. His heart was to love, but the response from the ones He wanted to love was, instead, hatred. Solomon implies, “Only the heart knows its sorrows.”18 However, He also knows them. He is touched by what touches you.19 The good news is knowing that the Savior heals the broken hearted.20 When He heals the heart, there are no scars.

I often think about the sacrifice Jesus willingly gave for our sins. Movies of recent days have tried to accurately show us the degree of abusive beating and death blows to our Savior, yet it was His love assignment that caused Him to endure the cross so we might go free. As the jeering, inhumane crowds watched, the Savior of the world had a crown of thorns brutally forced onto his brow. He was mercilessly nailed to an old splintered tree as He offered His hands and feet. A rusty, contaminated sword was thrust through the Savior’s side, causing His heart to explode. Only Jesus has the ability to help your wounded heart forgive. The victory in it all is diligently keeping your heart, with His help and grace. Ask the Savior to help you as you pray— heart to heart. Jesus, “Help me to keep my heart with all diligence, for I now see that out of it spring the issues of life.21

1 Matthew 12:34
2 Proverbs 14:33
3 Psalm 90:12
4 Mark 12:30
5 Psalm 28:7,8
6 Psalm 139:23
7 Psalm 112:7
8 Psalm 119:11
9 Psalm 127:3-5
10 Malachi 2:15
11 Deuteronomy 30:19
12 Psalm 56:8-9
13 Psalm 119:11
14 Matthew 18:23-3
15 Psalm 103:12
16 Hebrews 12:15
17 Proverbs 4:23
18 Proverbs 14:10
19 Hebrews 4:15
20 Luke 4:18
21 Proverbs 4:23

Copyright 2008 Gail McWilliams. All rights reserved.

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