I’ve been thinking about an old favorite verse lately… “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). As far as I can remember, this verse has been referenced in support of avoiding negative influences that might lead to sin. Don’t watch bad movies or listen to bad music, and don’t hang out with people who do. And then later, when the possibility of dating became a reality, it was don’t let yourself get too emotionally attached, don’t share too many intimate details, don’t let yourself fall in love at such a young age. Guard your heart.
It’s not that these exhortations didn’t have merit. I can honestly say that while I was not a super rebellious teenager by any stretch of the imagination, the heartache I experienced that followed me into adulthood could have at least been lessened if I’d been a little more vigilant about guarding my heart from some negative influences.
While negative influences certainly need to be guarded against, what about the “positive” influences? Consider how many positive influences you have in your own life: parents, spouses, friends, other family, pastors, Bible study leaders and other members, maybe a counselor or professors, not to mention the books you’re reading or podcasts you listen to… maybe we can add John MacArthur, Beth Moore, John Piper, Kelli Minter, and more to that list of positive influences in your life. They’re all speaking truth, teaching the Word of God, doing their best to “minister” to the community of believers. But at what point does this become too much of a good thing?
If you are the kind of person who finds themselves caught up in “shoulds,” there might be a different lesson in this verse for you. When you allow so many people to speak into your life with their versions of Scripture and truth, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the way Christianity “should” look; inevitably, not quite like it does in your life. If you allow so many people to “should” on you, you find yourself anxious, depressed, and exhausted. Now what?
Guard your heart. Not only from the negative influences, but from too many positive influences as well. Choose a few trusted individuals to speak into your life, and keep that boundary. The more times you repeat your troubles, (even in the form of a prayer request), the more you dwell on them. Maybe limit yourself to one guiding book or podcast at a time, allowing yourself the chance to actually enjoy what you read or hear, and process it. And above all else, don’t forget that you have access to the Lord yourself. You can open your Bible and be taught by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. You don’t have to rely on the input of others to live in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ; Christ in you is absolutely enough. He will accomplish the good work He started in you, with or without John Piper (no offense, John). Whittle down the list of positive influences, and lean on the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
In 2015, we moved from Europe to Florida, said goodbye to dear friends and set out to make new ones, traveled all the way across the states with a toddler, battled jet-lag, teething, and our own selfishness, and went on a church hunt for the fourth time in eight years. We also became homeowners again, and I’d forgotten how stressful it is to be solely responsible for all of the things that go wrong with a property. And now, four years later, we are preparing to do it all again, with a second toddler in tow. In all of this transition, there’s one word that seems to come around again and again for me: sorting. We are constantly sorting through our lives. We separate the important things from the unimportant, the meaningful from the unnecessary, the true from the false, the holy from the unholy. We’ve packed boxes, made countless trips to thrift stores, sold things we can no longer use or store, put away baby items that my growing-way-too-fast toddler doesn’t need anymore, and tried to put our beautiful filing cabinets to good use. But we also sort through some of the internal chaos and noise in our lives, endeavoring to get to a more peaceful place. We’ve addressed the need for boundaries in social media, taken a close look at what entertainment fills our home and minds, drawn lines around family time together, and considered how to serve in our church and community without violating the balance we so desire. It hasn’t been simple or pain-free; there have been tears, words spoken in anger and frustration, and desperate prayers for strength and clarity.
This morning, I read something that resonates with this theme of sorting through life this year: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits,unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:16-17, NASB). This is the guiding principle of my life: I don’t want a life of disorder, I want to live in peace. And the peace that lasts comes from the Lord. When I set up boundaries that guard my heart according to His ways, I have peace. And so can you.