The Battle for Your Heart
Pastor Todd Buurstra
The battle for your heart. When you think of a battle for your heart you may imagine this. As a child, you’re standing before the cookie jar, when no one is around and the angel says, Mom told you not to take a cookie, but the devil says, Ah, she’s watching her show. She’ll never know. What do you think, she counts the cookies in the jar?! (Well, my mother did.) She won’t trust you if you disobey. Ah, go ahead! Don’t they smell good? It becomes a tug of war in your heart. When we’re older it may not be the cookie jar, it may be whether I report the cash income you give me from a wedding or funeral. Or whether you buy new shoes or donate to Haiti. When is your heart a spiritual battleground? Always, right? The issues just change. To understand this spiritual warfare let’s ask all the normal questions: Why? What? Where? How?
Why is there a battle within? Because God gives us the freedom to reject him. This is amazing when you think about it. If I were the creator of the universe I might try to force you to worship me. Like me, you might do what every dictator does: force the people to yell, Heil Hitler! Force them to call you the Great Leader. Make their TV shows about how the Great Leader is so wonderful to give us food to eat (even though they may be starving), clothes to wear (even though their uniforms might be a little worn), jobs to do (even though the pay might be pennies). But God didn’t do that. God is so free of a need for our love, so secure in the love of the Trinity, that out of God’s freedom from need God could give us freedom to choose.
I mean think of the Garden of Eden. I’ve read and thought about this story literally 100s, if not 1000s, of times and missed an obvious point. Maybe it was my legalistic Dutch Reformed upbringing, but I often thought of God as a judge making sure I lived by the rules. And more than that, that there were a lot of rules: ten commandments, 613 rules. But if you look at the text there was only one rule. They could freely eat of every tree save just one.
And why would God be so free to give us such radical freedom? Read Eldredge’s reason with me, … Love cannot be forced, it must come freely. Remember that lover, parent, child.
Well, then what is the battle within? Here’s where the angel and demon analogy breaks down. A battle between an angel and demon feels almost too equal. The real battle is between a greater and a lesser, even a lover and a hater. God is greater than Satan because only God is infinitely powerful and good. Satan, though more powerful than you, is a finite, fallen
angel. With just a nod of your head God wins the tug of war, hands down. And why would you give Jesus that nod? Because God loves you while Satan hates you. Only one has your back.
God is filled with the jealousy of a wounded lover.
It’s less between a semi-equal angel and demon on your shoulder and more like the battle my friend, Earl, faced. Earl was popular and cool in high school, in the middle of the battle of his life. Many nights Earl would come home drunk. A good night, he thought, was when he didn’t remember what he did. But his mom was always up waiting. As he knelt before the porcelain throne she’d say, Earl, Earl, what are you doing to yourself? Let Jesus help you with your addiction. You see, Earl’s battle was between his mother who loved him and wanted the best for him, and his self-destructive friends. Eventually Earl realized that if he had an ounce of self-respect, it was no contest. He listened to mom, gave his life to Jesus, and got healthy.
Where is the battle within? It’s in every area of life: body, soul and relationships.
It’s in your body. One of you told me recently of the preacher who was trying to get a point across with worms. He put worms in three jars. In one jar he put in a burning cigarette. In the other jar he poured a little alcohol, not to drown, over the worm. And in the third jar he left it clean. Then he took the worm out from the cigarette smoke, dead. Exphyixation. He took the worm out from the alcohol, dead. Inebriation. But the worm in the clean air was as wiggily as ever. So he asked the congregation, What does that tell ya? An old lady from the back piped up, I guess if ya smoke and drink, you won’t get worms! Hm, how was the battle for her body going?
It’s in your soul. Paul contrasts the two sides, the Adam and Christ, in Romans, Some people read this and say, Ah, there’s nothing anyone needs to do because it says here we’re all saved. That would be nice. I wish that the rest of the Bible guaranteed me that my agnostic mother-in-law, for example, was saved. But taken in context with the rest of God’s word I have a choice, and God respects my choice too much to force me into heaven. This guarantees all believers’ salvation, and the rest? We simply don’t know because God won’t bend their will.
It’s in your relationships. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve tried to force a loved one to love me by begging, manipulating, or ordering. I’ll never forget the story our former elder and counselor, Judy Barry, told about her daughter’s wild, college days. As Judy cried about having to let go and let her daughter make some life-altering, stupid decisions, it’s as if God said, Judy, I know what it’s like to give up a child. I did it on the cross. That’s a hard way to learn that you can’t force love, you can only give it freely, but given freely is the only way it ever returns freely
So lastly, how do we win the battle within? Most simply, make good choices by letting Jesus take the wheel. By turning over our life to Christ, we win the big battle over where we’ll spend eternity. And, we can gradually win all of the littler life battles that happen in body, soul and relationships. It’s funny isn’t it? The only way to win the battle for your heart is to surrender. May you surrender for either the first time, or for the first time today, as we pray.
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