I often wonder how I can wake up in the morning and not give God a second thought.
On so many mornings, I feel a gravitational pull to reach for something, anything, but God. Email, music, social media, sports, blogs, and news can’t seem to wait, even though they are infinitely tiny compared to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Worse yet, they eclipse God, numb me to spiritual reality, and set the tone for the whole day. My body may be awake on these days, but what about my soul?
The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places never take a day off. Neither can we. Self-righteousness lurks in the shadows of a victorious social media debate while gossip pursues as I describe the flaws of others. Anger pulls up next to me as I come to a screeching halt and spill coffee in my lap. I know this is true, but sometimes I’m unaffected by these realities.
Each day we are battling not only the schemes of the devil but also the world and the flesh. As soldiers sleep with one eye open, so must the child of God. We don’t have the option to walk in a drowsy stupor as though we are lounging at the beach on vacation. Rather, we are like the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy — ready to bring utter destruction to our sin.
Keep Your Heart with God
How does God call us to live in light of the reality of spiritual warfare? His word is clear: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). One of the most important, and neglected, duties of the Christian is to be watchful. Puritan John Flavel aptly stated that “the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.”
To be watchful is to slow down and take notice of our hearts in light of God’s word and the gospel. God calls time and time again for us to watch carefully over our souls so we won’t fall into sin. He knows that our flesh is weak, so he exhorts us to sit day and night at the gates of wisdom, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our souls and reveal our need for his grace. He knows that in the moments that we look away from Christ, we are like David whose heart was sinfully captured by the beauty of Bathsheba. The call to keep our hearts is the call to zealous care for the most precious part of who we are.
Watchfulness in the WordIt’s easy to find watchfulness throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that the Israelites were commanded to watch themselves closely so they wouldn’t fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:15). In the Psalms, we get a glimpse of a watchful heart seeking after the Lord (Psalm 5:3; 59:9; 119:148). In Proverbs, the wise man watches daily at the doors and gates of wisdom (Proverbs 8:34).
In the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to “watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), to be watchful for the Bridegroom to return (Matthew 25:13), to be watchful, awake, and prayerful in these last days (Luke 21:34–36).
In Paul’s epistles, saints are called to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstruct the gospel message (Romans 16:17), to be watchful and take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12; 16:13), to watch against falling into sin while helping a brother in transgression (Galatians 6:1), and to be watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2). Peter calls for believers to be watchful because Satan is prowling and desiring to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).
All of this talk about watchfulness can conjure up images of exhausting legalism. It sounds so puritanical, doesn’t it? I can hear groans from the crowd, “I thought we were free in Christ? Won’t excessive watchfulness negate grace and rob us of our joy? I don’t want to be overly introspective. That’s depressing!”
Jesus has an answer for these groans. His Father is glorified when we bear much fruit, and fruitfulness brings us fullness of joy (John 15:8–11). By abiding in him and receiving grace, we have help to keep our hearts with vigilance. But what does that look like?
First, we abide in Christ. If apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), then we must do everything with him and in his power, acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. This could be as simple as praying, “By grace, I’m both a sinner and a saint. Lord, give me the strength I need to glorify you in this moment and the rest of this day.” As we humbly acknowledge our reliance on Christ, we will find ourselves leaning into his strength in times of temptation and trials.
Second, we regularly examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you seek your own kingdom? Is there sin you refuse to repent of? Are you looking to Christ with faith? To prevent morbid introspection, we would do well to heed the advice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and take ten looks at Christ for every look we take at ourselves.
Third, we follow God’s word. Jesus didn’t pull out his Bible when Satan tempted him. He quoted the Scripture, in context, directly from his mind. We need to commit to more than just reading our Bibles. If we slow down and memorize God’s word, we can take it with us everywhere we go. As we are meditating on and applying the Scriptures, we are being shaped and led by the Spirit of God.
Lastly, we walk with the saints. We are not vigilant by ourselves or for ourselves. We are the body of Christ. As members, we should certainly watch over our own hearts and be aware of sin that could lead us to fall away from God, but we also need to love the Christians in our lives enough to warn them when we see them falling into sin. It’s easy to build and maintain superficial friendships, yet it’s more valuable to be accountable to other believers who are willing (and not afraid) to push us toward godliness daily.
Starting in the Morning
Though I haven’t mastered the art of keeping my heart, God used a season of anxiety, depression, and suffering to open my eyes to this great need. Each morning is still a battle. I don’t win the battle every time, but I’m much more aware of what is at stake.
As the Spirit works in me to make me more Christlike, I keep fighting and watching with more zeal and vigilance. Keeping our hearts is costly, but we fight with the strength of the One who transforms them.
This article first appeared at desiringgod.org.