When it comes to understanding our own hearts, we are in deep water. It’s easy to assume we can read other people’s hearts and motives, and we may even think we have a grip on our own, but the truth is, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. We attribute the best of motives to our own actions, but seldom give others the benefit of a doubt.
For example, if we have spoken unkindly to someone, we can spend the next several hours (days, months, years) telling ourselves a story over and over about how we really said (or did) the right thing. We tell ourselves that they really deserved it, that we had pure motives, that it was right, right, right. But the problem is, if it was really right, we would have forgotten all about it long ago. If we had told the truth, we would not be patting ourselves on the back all day about it. If we lied, we keep repeating the whole scenario over in our minds, justifying our behavior, excusing the lie, and sooner or later we may even convince ourselves of it.
But God sees the heart and even when we tell Him the story over and over with our little spin on it, He is never won over to our perspective.Â The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, and we ought not argue with Him. When the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts with something like, “That was unkind,” the proper response is, “Right. I’ll take care of it right away.” Then that chapter can be closed appropriately. The problem is when we answer instead with something like, “But she needed to hear that. I was only exercising my spiritual gift of rebuke. It was good that I said that. It was not unkind. It was really the loving thing to do.” And as we retell the story to ourselves, we may embellish it freely, bestowing evil motives on the other person and attributing sacrificial motives to ourselves.
As the years roll by and these things are not attended to, it’s no wonder our hearts get hard, and the unkindness accumulates until it’s a big gunky mess. Far better to humble ourselves day by day than be humbled by the Living God who sees all.
11 thoughts on “Know Your Own Heart”
Reminds me of a Facebook status I wrote a couple weeks ago: “Valerie needs to learn to hate her actual bad attitudes more than she hates others’ unjust imputing of bad attitudes to her.” I think I’m pretty honest with myself about my attitudes and motives, but oh the lengths I’ll go to in keeping others from knowing them!
I’m just now working through Jim Berg’s excellent book, “Changed Into His Image” and he spends a very significant portion at the front end of the book, driving home this very point about our hearts and our need to see ourselves accurately in this regard.
It would be so much easier to think of our hearts in warm, fuzzy ways, but even a quick perusal of Scriptures dealing with the human heart overwhelmingly tells us otherwise.
How I need this kind of reality in my thoughts…to see my flesh and my heart accurately, the way God sees them! Thanks for this post. BTW, love the picture on the previous post, Nancy. Thanks for sharing, and for telling me which one is you.
That’s really good insight Mrs. Nancy. Speaking of knowing your own heart. How I’ve been so guilty and highly prone to this in my spiritual life. And I find it nothing but pride. How I’ve come to tremble over pride’s unrelenting influence in my life. How skilled I am at detecting it, too, in others. But of course I’m more tender and gracious w/ myself than with others as you point out.
In any case, with God’s help I can genuinely say I hate pride! I loath and despise it and I’ve so declared war on it, in me. To the point I go on verbal fasts, when I feel it trying to take me over or when I’ve willfully given it place in my communication.
Fast as in abstaining from giving my opinion or from “sharing in love” some burden I have for another, or whatever the challenge to be still & trust. I refrain and deliberately keep the matter in prayer or talk it out with God and sometimes with trusted sisters who I invite to examine me over my concerns.
I’ve found, to my surprise, when I manage to surrender to this route, I’m not so far off in that God opens an opportunity and I am able to speak effectively and honorably w little to no injury. Or He opens my eyes and heart to discern other things that softens my heart or rightly informs my perception and resolves the matter, right on the spot in my heart, w/o me even saying a word, saving me huge embarrassment.
Other times I venture out on my own, in some heat of passion, to speak only to find His glory has left me and make a mess that I spend months to years asking Him to restore and correct in prayer.
In any case, during this time of fasting, I read a little book called 30 days to Taming The Tongue (note that I do not agree with the authors theology but overall she is solid in her practical insights on surrendering the tongue and the scenarios we violate):
Some who I’ve offended recently may say…what? You been reading such a book? I can’t tell. You need to take some more time girl, it ain’ working… LOL!
But as you say God sees all. And I’m reassured that God knows my heart and the many tears over myself in this area. Prov 24:16 is all I have. I’m on my 5th read. My first was in Oct 2005.
So every year when my mouth creates some major static and turbulence in my spirit, I high tail it to my prayer closet with the bible and this book and pull the plug for a while. I’m in one of these seasons now.
So, said all this to say, I’ve had to back track and eat words because I’ve spoken many good and right things with impurities in my heart that wounded. And I rationalized just the way you pointed out. John Edward’s book, Charity & Its Fruit, Ch. 9 “Love The Opposite of A Censorious Spirit” speaks to the things you share as well.
Lately, I sense the Lord putting his finger on me relative to the very thing you said about ascribing the best motives to myself but quick to NOT be so understanding toward injuries I “perceive” I receive from others. I’m grieved at the layers of hardness in my heart. It is terrorizing at times! But I gain relief when I sing….Come thy fount of every blessing….TUNE MY HEART to sing your grace…..or Jesus Lover Of My Soul…let me to thy bosom fly…hide me O my Savior hide, till the storms of self is past…..false and full of sin I am…thou are full of truth and grace…..and so on. Forgive my freestyle ad libs 🙂 So I exit myself to be soley identified in Him. He is my only hope for sanity.
I work through this kind of excuse-making with my kids nearly every day. I rarely examine myself as closely. This was a good reminder for me.
Knowing our hearts can certainly be…impossible. But then, how do we know when what’s going on isn’t just morbid introspection?
Do you think it is always the case that if we mull over something after the fact, that it is because we have sinned, or did I missunderstand what you said.
It seems resonable for imperfect Christians to mull over an already made siduation, wondering if they did the right thing, even when they in fact did and down the road can see that. What do you think?
Good point Crystal. I was thinking the same thing as I have an very overactive conscience? And that was a bit scary for me to read that…I was like uh oh?
What if you’re the opposite? In other words, when you try to “speak the truth in love,” or even if you are just having a normal conversation, you often end up worrying about some things you said and whether you offended someone or sinned against them in some way. This tends to be more my problem. I usually (not always) attribute good motives to others, but worry that my own are not pure or, even if they were, that I still hurt someone. Admittedly, I have a problem with morbid introspection and have heard that it is just a twisted form of pride. However, this thinking, for me, leads to a vicious cycle.
I depend a lot on the Holy Spirit for those sticky situations. Since I’m only responsible for my own heart, I can’t assume or worry about what others are thinking. So when I find myself mulling over things too much I simply ask the Lord to convict me if I’ve done something wrong, and to calm my spirit if I haven’t. I don’t want to give the enemy a foothold with false piety or false guilt.
I also depend on others to hold the mirror up, so to speak. A wise friend once told me that one of the most important things to do when someone feels we have wronged them is to look for something to apologize for, even if we don’t think we’re in the wrong. I’ve been amazed how just having this posture toward others helps me examine my heart more honestly.
My point regards the “story telling” aspect rather than worrying. When we keep retelling the story, casting ourselves in a good light and justifying our behavior, then we are in danger of self-deception. But when you are overly concerned that you may have done wrong, this is the opposite of self-justification. I will write another little post on that nasty business of introspection!
Thank you Mrs. Wilson. I needed to hear the “judging motives” part. I once heard from your father-in-law, Jim Wilson, that even if you think you may be right about a situation, you should be willing to be wrong even when you may be or turn out to be right.
I guess that ties in with humbling ourselves before God and others, before God humbles us in His own way. Besides, in most of those ‘confusing’ situations you need to let things go because like you said, God sees all and he’ll deal with it in His timing.