Guarding Your Heart in Lent

By Father Ed KelaherMarch 1, 2017
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:23-27

Some people tend to be more paternal or maternal than others. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am among them. The welfare, safety, fulfillment, holiness, and joy of those around me matter enormously. To a confessed fault, I sometimes will do extreme things to watch over those I love and sometimes people I don’t even know. It has always been that way. Maybe it comes from an oldest child syndrome or just from an overblown sense of self-importance. I hope it comes from the Lord’s calling on my life.

What I know for sure, though, is that people are blessed by God more when I pray and yield to His direction than when I reactively assert myself into situations. What I know for sure is that I am most effective helping others when my own heart is right. To be right, my heart must be desirous of goodness and holiness, filled with the Word of God from the Bible, and tempered at length by prayer. When those things are aligned within, amazing and extraordinary things happen, all well beyond my own abilities.
The simple and only way to achieve these exclusively God-given conditions is by inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts directly and intentionally. Each day, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). Each day, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will not only come into my being, but that the Holy Spirit will fill me to overflowing as He did for Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, the Apostles, and others. A short study of the Scriptures reveals the big difference between receiving the Holy Spirit (as in Baptism) and being filled with the Holy Spirit (as in Pentecost). It is not a selfish or greedy thing to want it all in this. In fact, it delights the Lord to hear such a lovely and holy desire.

Not only does one’s heart need to be filled with such holy gifts, but each of us needs to guard our hearts at all points along the way. The world and everything evil are all too delighted to assault God’s goodness within us. We must be ever vigilant to protect the treasure we have been given in the Lord by not letting anything or anyone ungodly to tamper with it. The wonderful Proverbs 4 passage atop this message teaches to “above all guard your heart” because everything we do flows out of it, both good and bad. The passage makes simple that our mouths, eyes and feet are the keys – what we say, what we look at, and where we go. No one of us can honestly examine what we have said, desired, or sought without wincing and lowering our heads. Although I don’t know it personally, there is a Sunday School song that roughly says “Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little lips what you say, be careful little feet where you go, because there’s a Father up above who is looking down in love.” That’s good advice. And it doesn’t need to be made any more intellectual than it is.

Guarding our hearts, especially during Lent, means that we should be shedding all harsh and unkind speech, turning away from all unholy writings and improper images, and avoiding places that are further away instead of nearer to Jesus. We instead should be longing for God’s holiness, reading holy words, praying tenderly and seriously, and inviting the Holy Spirit to fill us within.
Do that for forty days and you won’t recognize yourself at Easter. In fact, both you and the Lord will be thrilled at the outcome. But even then, guard your heart. Always guard your heart because everything you do comes out of it.

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