A difference seems to exist between the precepts and rules of the Old and New Testaments. So many of the laws of Yahweh to Israel deal with economic matters while the teachings of Jesus and his apostles emphasize matters of the heart and relationships. In his book, Enemies of the Heart, Andy Stanley shows that a feeling of debt permeates each of the four heart problems.
In the introduction, the author makes parallels between illnesses of the physical heart and of the emotional/spiritual heart. Various exercises – however difficult or painful – are required to fix what’s wrong with one’s heart. Reading this, I feel the author figuratively knock me upside the head about both my hearts. I hear God talking to me about exercise and better eating as well as about confession and repentance.
So, what are the emotions that damage the heart and what are the debts associated with them?
Guilt: I owe you.
The person feels as though he or she owes someone for some transgression.
It’s not enough to confess before God though He does forgive. Debts must be paid off or canceled – even relational ones.
“Jesus comes along in his characteristic fashion and reverses everything. In effect he says our relationship with God hinges on our relationship with other people—the two are inseparable. He seems to imply that our ability to worship God sincerely and fellowship with him unashamedly is contingent upon the status of our relationships with others, including those we’ve offended.”
Solution: Confession. Go to God, to the person to whom an apology is owed and confess your guilt. Offer to make restitution if that is possible. The person may not remember the transgression or consider it important and cancel the debt. Or he or she may hold a grudge, which is that person’s problem. Once confessed and restitution made – if required, the debt is paid.
Anger: You owe me.
Someone didn’t give me what I want – even something I believe I deserve – and I have a story that shows why I’m angry. The problem is even my justifiable anger hurts others. I should not let what happened to me affect how I treat others. Why give that power to the one who hurt me?
Solution: Forgiveness. Whether the person asks or not, do not hold him or her accountable for the debt. Jesus paid the much greater debt each of us owed God and forgave us. He calls us to so forgive what others owe us.
Problem: The author doesn’t deal with major transgressions such as incest or other abuses. The damage to one’s life from being so abused is tremendous and the guilty should be stopped from continuing such abuse. The author’s focus, however, is on the heart of the abused. A woman told the story of being raped and bearing a child from it. Years later, she said, “…I realized that…I’ve allowed the man who hurt me the most, a man I never want to see again, to sabotage all of my relationships with men. I realized as well that I’ve used what happened to me as an excuse for behavior for which I’m ultimately responsible. That ends today.”
Greed: I owe me.
Stuff is held dearer to the heart than people. “People with greed lodged in their heart fear that God…won’t take care of them in the fashion or style in which they want to be cared for.” They become anxious and strive for always having more.
Solution: Generosity. “Generosity allows us to partner with God as he shows himself in tangible ways to the world around us.” This requires a measure of faith that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Jealousy: God owes me.
It’s God’s fault that I’m not as good-looking as my brother, not as smart as my sister, don’t have as good a job as my neighbor. I even rejoice when one of them has a loss.
Solution: Celebration. Celebrate what the other has or accomplished. Genuinely compliment the one who seems better off than one’s self. “Celebration makes us a vehicle through which God communicates his pleasure.”
Passing it on
The author goes on to say that half of ailments of the physical heart come from genetics and half from environmental conditions. So it is with the emotional enemies of the heart. Children will not only carry a parent’s genetic traits but also the behaviors modeled to them. He says parents “can teach [their children] the importance of confession, forgiveness, and generosity. We can teach them to celebrate the successes of others.” After writing about teaching their children to monitor the conditions of their hearts, the author wrote, “…imagine a generation of children who grow up attuned not only to what’s happening around them but inside of them as well.”
What about lust?
The author then turns a corner to write, “…lust is different from guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy in one very important way: God created it. He even declared it good.” And again, “…before sin, there was lust.” (I would have preferred he called it “sexual desire” while confining “lust” to excessive desire.)
“Lust isn’t a problem you solve; it’s an appetite you manage. Thus the need for self-control.” However, “Lust is rarely ever the root problem…it’s almost always a manifestation of one or more of the heart problems.”
He reported that excessive, uncontrolled lust is a symptom of lack of intimacy with one’s father. Anger, especially, gives a foothold for Satan to play with the heart and reduce resistance to lust.
Solution: First, deal with the other heart problems. Then lust must be contained – focused on the right person. Self-control must be exercised.
Here is the first chapter:
I recommend this book to anyone with problems in his or her relationships. Exposure of the problems to the light will be painful. Performing the exercises recommended will be tough. The results will be better relationships, more joy in trusting God, and healthier hearts.
This book was received free in ebook format from Blogging For Books just so I could review it. You can find it at Barnes and Noble here.