The Heart

Below the Surface

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

On November 27, 2019, a strong storm with high winds and massive waves struck Lake Michigan. The storm uncovered a shipwreck that had been buried for over a hundred years.

A storm has a way of bringing things under the surface out into the open. This isn’t only true in Lake Michigan; it’s also true in our lives. A storm may uncover issues in our hearts that weren’t visible until the storm hits.

In Matthew 14:22-31, Jesus told his disciples to cross the lake without him. While they were sailing, a storm came up, with strong winds and high waves. About 3:00 in the morning, they saw Jesus coming toward their boat, walking on the water.

Peter, impulsive as always, asked Jesus to let him walk on the water, too. Jesus gave Peter the OK, and Peter jumped over the side of the boat. He didn’t sink. Just like Jesus, he walked on the water.

Peter had enough faith to jump off the boat. But when he started noticing the violence of the storm, his faith wavered. The blasting wind and crashing waves were too much for Peter. He doubted, and he began to sink. Jesus said, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?”

Peter had a heart issue that needed attention—faith that wavered during the storm.

Isn’t it that way for all of us from time to time? On the surface, we seem to be doing well. We help little old ladies across the street and are kind to animals. We have a freakishly-upbeat attitude. We blast worship music and sport our Jesus t-shirts.

Until the storm hits. We lose a job. We battle an illness. The mortgage is due, and we have no money to pay it. We find ourselves stressed out, surly, impatient, and afraid. We snap equally at those we love and the slow drivers who annoyingly won’t get out of our way. We let the old ladies cross the road alone and we yell at the dog to get out of our way. We’re OK when we’re safe in the boat, but we’re not OK in the storm.

In the storm, issues of the heart rise to the surface and become visible, both to us and to others. During a storm is the perfect time to examine the condition of our hearts. Is our faith, confidence, joy, and patience strong in the face of the storm? Or does the storm cause fear, anger, bitterness, or resentment in our hearts?

When heart issues come to the surface, we can pray as David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

God is in the heart business. He creates clean hearts. He renews hearts that have fallen back into old, negative attitudes. We can safely open our hearts to God. When we do, he will lovingly clean and renew our hearts, giving us strength and faith through the bad times as well as the good times.

Lord, help me with my heart. Help me notice when I have an issue with anger, a lack of faith, bitterness, or anything else that keeps my heart from belonging completely to you. Make my heart clean. Renew my spirit. Fill my heart with faith, peace, and joy. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Handling Life's Problems

The Other Side

“Later that day, after it grew dark, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.’” (Mark 4:35)

It’s not always easy to get to the other side of something. Ever try crossing a busy avenue in a bustling city at rush hour? Or traversing twisty roads to get to the other side of a mountain? Getting to the other side can be scary.

In Mark, chapter 4, Jesus had been ministering for some time on the shore of a lake, healing people with diseases, rebuking evil spirits, and teaching the truth of God’s kingdom to multitudes of people.

One night, Jesus told the disciples it was time to move to the other side of the lake. The group of disciples included some first-rate sailors. They knew the lake, they knew boats, and they probably weren’t worried about Jesus’s instruction. They pulled up the anchors and set out to cross the lake.

That’s the beginning of the story. Before we talk about the middle, let’s fast forward to the first verse of Mark, chapter 5, and hear the end of the story. “As Jesus stepped ashore, a demon-possessed madman came out of the graveyard and confronted him” (Mark 5:2).

As soon as Jesus stepped off the boat on the other side, a madman sprang out of the cemetery. This guy lived among the graves, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. The townspeople tried to chain him up, but he snapped off the chains like threads. He had almost supernatural strength and no one could subdue him.

This man desperately needed help—help he could only receive from Jesus. Jesus sent the evil spirits into a herd of pigs. Suddenly, the man put on normal clothes. Instead of howling, he spoke in his right mind. The madman turned into a minister, telling his town and his family what God did for him.

And that’s the end of the story. The story began with miracles and ministry. And it ended with miracles and ministry. But in the middle, there was a storm.

Middles are often stormy. Middles can be messy. When Jesus instructed the disciples to sail to the other side, he undoubtedly knew a storm was coming. Jesus wasn’t surprised by the stormy, messy middle. He knew the life that would be transformed when they reached the other side. He also knew how the disciples’ faith would be strengthened, and that, thousands of years later, our faith would also be strengthened by this storm.

You see, on the other side, we grow. We are encouraged. We are able to help others with their problems. Everything is different on the other side. If we become fearful, discouraged, or hopeless during the middle, we miss the ministry, miracles, and growth on the other side.

Andy Stanley said, “Christians have never believed in a God who doesn’t allow bad things to happen to good people. Christians believe the worst possible thing happened to the best possible person.” Yes, your journey will take you through storms. Yes, your journey will sometimes be messy. But stand with God during the messy middle. Storms still obey him. You will come out transformed and triumphant on the other side.

Dear God, I know what it is to be in the middle of a mess. When I face difficulties in life, help me to remember that you are still in command of the storms, and you are still in control of my life. Build my faith. Increase my trust. Help me to focus less on the wind and waves and more on the one who commands them. In Jesus’s name, amen.