I like to write in coffee shops. I have one I like, mainly because it has booths with high backs, so I feel like I’m in my own little office, but there are people around and big windows. It gives me peace. I have been in coffee shops where everyone is on a computer or reading a book or just drinking coffee and staring; I certainly can’t criticize them because I am on my laptop, drinking coffee, reading sometimes and staring sometimes. But now and then I see someone who captures my imagination. They look lonely, almost lost in life or waiting for it to end. What has their experience been like I ask myself, or what has caused such gloom?

Life Lessons

For years I was depressed and hoping for death. I wasn’t suicidal exactly; I was just hoping to be hit by an oncoming car or have a tree fall on me. My favorite Bible verse during those years which may indicate I didn’t really want to die, was II Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the whole earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” I loved the idea that God is always looking to give us strength when we need it. I needed it!  I missed the “fully committed” part.

A few years later, I was a youth leader, and I made diplomas for the graduates that had the verses of Jeremiah 29:11-13, handwritten on them. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

It was my third year of making 6-10 diplomas that I saw something that had alluded me before. “All your heart.” Both scripture references had a condition. Both promises were dependent on a fully committed heart. Mark Batterson wrote a book titled, “All In.” His premise is that Jesus is either our “all in all, or He is nothing at all.” We either are committed to Him with all our hearts, or we are just a fan of Jesus. There is a difference.

Guard Your Heart

We guard our hearts all the time in one way or another. We become reclusive, we numb our heart with idols of addictions, we eat our way through life, we use retail therapy as though it will make a difference for our heart and not our wallet. We surround ourselves with friends and maybe even buy them drinks or gifts. Some people do amazing good works for others all to hide their heart or protect it from their poor inner view of themselves, hoping no one will notice. We have many ways to guard our heart that are meant to hide and protect us from being hurt or having to face our inner pain. Some people get degrees they will never use to try and boost their esteem, some wear clothes they can’t afford. Some, like me, just hope an oncoming car will take them out and some take out themselves.

Another Way

 Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” Guarding our heart doesn’t mean numbing it or hiding it. It doesn’t mean building a wall around it or fortressing it. That’s the mystery of God! We are not to harden our heart to guard it, that would only cripple our lives, and we know what that’s like! God intends for us to have a soft heart,  a heart open to Him because it is with our heart that we truly connect with others to show compassion and empathy. The heart is where we crave love and relationships, and our most profound craving is for God Himself. We long for our Creator. We long to be understood and valued. It’s in our heart that we hear His voice and recognize His wooing.

So how do we “guard our hearts?” It’s like a garden where the soil is kept loose and open for seeds and to allow growth, but we must be careful (guard) what goes into our heart or garden. Many outside influences will blow the wrong seeds into our fertile soil or wild forces that will destroy the good that is growing there. I have deer and other wild animals that can ruin and devour my garden overnight. I think we can quickly see how that can relate to our life when we are not guarding our hearts. It is one of the main reasons we have abortion clinics.

As with my garden, which I guard with a fence and sprays and shiny moving pans, we have to plan to protect. The influence of temptation and hurtful episodes are bound to happen, and we must be prepared to guard our hearts so they will not be devastated and become hard.

Which leads us to another point: how do we keep our hearts soft for the right things? This too is a mystery of God. As we seek Him with our whole heart or are fully committed to Him, we find that He keeps our heart soft and ready to reach out to others in compassion and empathy. Being “all in” as Mark Batterson puts it means learning more about the heart of God so that we can reflect His love to those around us. Having an open heart to God who only wants our good and works toward that end means communicating with Him in prayer and listening for His instruction through reading the Bible and being open to His voice.

I read my Bible regularly; I taught the Bible to kids, I went to Christian conferences and retreats, and still, I missed the mystery of God in my life. I missed God’s voice informing me that the Christian life is not a casual relationship when I have time, and it meets my need. It’s not reading so I can teach others. Don’t be like me.

 It’s digesting the words of God, so they become a part of us, and we allow his teaching to take root and grow in us. It’s being open to His voice. He speaks to us through our senses, whether that be through the sight of a sunrise or sunset, the song of a bird or the music of a symphony, the laugh of a child or the dance of the rain, allow His voice to speak and be open to it. Of course, the Bible speaks God’s words too.