By David Ryser & Arla Speer
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
It began innocently enough as a discussion of Proverbs 4:23 among friends. It was great fun sharing our insights about the subject of guarding our hearts…until someone asked the question: “Does God guard His heart?”
Good question…too good. A question that good will kill a discussion. You could’ve heard a gnat sneeze.
Does God guard His Heart? We’d never thought about it before.
And the question is worth thinking about. Especially if you believe, as we do, that God Himself is our example in life. Our model of behavior. It is His character that is being formed in us as we walk in relationship and fellowship with Him. We are being transformed into His image as the Holy Spirit works in us.
Does God guard His heart? And if He does, from what and/or from whom does He guard it?
One of the primary reasons Jesus came to earth was to reveal the Father. To see Jesus was to see the Father, and to hear Jesus was to hear the Father’s words (John 14:7-10). Jesus is our example of a human being walking with God and doing His works on this earth, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Did Jesus guard His heart? From what? From whom?
Actually, He did. And one thing both the Father and Jesus guard their hearts against is flattery. In Isaiah 29:13a, God rebukes the people of Israel because they draw near to Him with their mouths, but remove their hearts far from Him. This is a perfect description of flattery. Flattery is dishonest. Flattery is manipulative. The purpose of flattery is to get something out of someone by pretending to put something into them. We do it with people. We do it with God.
When either figures out what we are doing, they do not react well to it.
In John 3:1, 2, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and begins his conversation with Him by appearing to praise Him. Praise and flattery look very much alike. Praise puts something into someone. Flattery, as previously noted, seeks to take something out of them by pretense. Jesus cut Nicodemus’ gush-fest off at the knees, and immediately got to the heart of the matter.
Flattery is wicked. Flattery is evil. Flattery has selfish motives that drive it. Flattery can be dangerous…if a person receives it.
All of us want to feel loved, accepted, and valued. These are good things, and we need them. We are born with these desires, and they are intended to be met through a personal and intimate relationship with God. When we attempt to receive these things outside of our relationship with God, we are susceptible to the flattery of man. And when we allow ourselves to be flattered, we open ourselves up to be manipulated, taken advantage of, and even mistreated.
My experience with a spiritually abusive church began when I allowed myself to be flattered. Because I believed I was loved…accepted, admired, and valued…I allowed myself to be used. My gifting and anointing were merchandised. This is typical of an abusive, utilitarian church. You are valued as long as you are of use. If you cease to be useful…for whatever reason…you are discarded.
And when you are no longer functional, you are tossed aside like a broken toy.
This sort of thing doesn’t only happen in church. It occurs in the workplace. It occurs in families. It occurs among those who consider themselves friends. It causes our relationships to be unhealthy…or even toxic…because it is counterfeit intimacy.
We should…like Jesus…guard our heart against flattery.
Because Jesus guarded His heart against flattery, He was able to guard His heart from other things that people…or the devil…tried to maneuver Him into as well. Jesus guarded His heart against the desire for physical comfort/provision (Luke 4:1-4), power (John 6:15), messiahship without rejection & suffering (Luke 4:5-8; Luke 22:42), personal safety (John 11:7-15), approval of man (John 2:23-25), fame (Mark 4:1, 35; Mark 1:34b), acceptance by the social and religious elite (by accepting outcasts and refusing to see…or speak to…Herod, among many examples), expanding His ministry beyond His calling (John 12:20-22), and other things too numerous to mention. If Jesus had allowed Himself to be flattered, He would have pursued these other things…things that would have distracted Him from His relationship with the Father and the work He was sent to do.
But there was no place in Jesus’ heart for flattery. The only words He ever longed to hear were, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
So what about us? What do we yearn to hear?
And from whom?
Responses to this article are welcomed. You may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org