(August 6, 2022) Brian Bell reflects on the ‘heart’ …

My thoughts turned recently to Asaph’s Psalm 73:26 which says, ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart…’ 

Just as we also may do today, the psalmist was struggling with what we might call apparent ‘injustices’ of life.

My flesh
‘Fail’ seems to be in the sense ‘to falter in weakness’ and this suggests to me not simply a failing as in a sudden moment of pressure, or by reason of sustained pressure – think of an elastic band – but a weakness which is a tendency, having always been there and always will be.

‘Flesh’ in its literal sense refers to our physical bodies. I’ve known many people familiar with weaknesses of their physical body to a greater or lesser degree; some who were born with or acquired a disability, and more recently those with cancers which have destroyed their formerly healthy bodies.

Even those of us who may not presently be affected by a specific disability or illness and are fortunate to enjoy general good health, realise the experience of others is a sufficient testimony to the fact that our physical bodies can falter in weakness!

The use of the word ‘flesh’ in a scriptural context is a reference to the sinful carnal nature we are all born with, and is with us for life, and how readily and easily it can find us faltering in weakness. In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul’s ‘weakness list’ does not make for pleasant reading! For example: Jealousy, envy, and uncleanness are among the tendencies of the sinful fleshly nature.

If I honestly examined myself in the light of God’s word and look at the world in general I know how the flesh falters in weakness!

Romans 3:23 says, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory (standard) of God’ and in case we might be tempted to think we can do something about this fallen nature, we are reminded in Isaiah 64:6, ‘All our righteous acts (the best that we are capable of) are like filthy rags.’ Despite this fallen nature, as believers who are ‘new creations’ we should be seeking to live daily under the control of the Holy Spirit.

My heart
In the scriptural context ‘heart’ is not a reference to the muscle that pumps blood around our bodies but our personality – who we are. Jesus told us clearly that ‘… from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander’ (Matthew 15:9NLT). A true, and not flattering statement for us to reflect on!

The heart is also a way to describe the seat of our emotions or affections. In Psalm 73:2TLB, Asaph confesses ‘I came so close to the edge of the cliff! My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.’ Asaph looked at the world around him, seeing the apparent prosperity of those who live without God, and it caused him to think that it was vain to follow the Lord (v3-13).

David in Psalm 40:12 had similar thoughts: ‘…troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.’

But… if you have in the past or even now feel as they did, the confessions of those psalmists and their responses, can be a real encouragement for us. Asaph went on to say confidently, ‘Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff…’ (Psalm 73:18NLT) and ‘How good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter!’ (v28NLT). 

David would also quickly call on God’s help: ‘Save me, Lord! Help me now!’ (Psalm 40:13). And God always did. No wonder David ended this psalm with ‘… You are my helper and my Saviour’ (v17).

Let’s be honest about some typical challenges…

  • Even though we’re Christians our lives could be suddenly touched by personal tragedies or loss!
  • You’ve worked hard raising a family, making ends meet and paying bills, but are still struggling.
  • Could you, a Christian, be one who is trying to win a lottery fortune that offers financial security?
  • You set aside a portion of your income for ‘kingdom work’ – but are you ever wondering if it is worth it?

The reality is that our hearts could be overwhelmed to the brink of depression, and we can falter in weakness!

My strength
Scripture ‘strength’ is that of a solid rock, a sure foundation. As I think about this two simple thoughts come to me…

1) Source is God
As Asaph declared Psalm 73:23-26NLT, ‘Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.

This is precious and has to do with perspective, keeping our eyes of faith on the Lord. The enemy of our souls will of course try to keep our minds occupied with so many things – even good things – keeping us busy, diverting our attention from the Lord. And he often does this by getting us focused on ourselves!

David’s response to life problems? Psalm 40:2 says so much – ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’ 

Beyond the psalmists, I think about Peter – he got out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water, but the sight of the waves overwhelmed him, and he started to sink. However, Peter cried out and then reached out and the Lord reached down to him! (Matthew 14:30).

Now I may not walk on actual water but there have been times when I felt I was drowning in some disaster! Perhaps that’s you today… well, like Peter, the source of my strength is always Jesus. I encourage you to cry out, reach out! You’ll find the Lord reaching down to help you!

2) Supply is always available
‘He is mine forever’ (Psalm 73:26). God’s supply is always available, when we go to sleep, when we waken. As we go about the day we can even call one moment at a time… as I personally often needed to.

I don’t pretend to understand how God’s strength ‘works’ but three ways are familiar to me –

(i) God’s word a word of scripture or knowledge that speaks into a specific situation.
(ii) God’s sovereignty He may order or re-order the circumstances of our lives.
(iii) God’s ‘others’ those ‘someones’ He brings into our lives precisely at times of need.

My response
I’ve accepted God as my rock in all life’s challenges!

While I know He can work in our lives in a miraculous way, most often He goes through the difficulties with us, giving us grace to continue.

God loves youjust as you are – don’t be distressed by the chaos of the world caused by sinful misguided acts of people, and certainly not your own imperfections!

John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.’

God showed His love for us in giving the sinless Lord Jesus to bear the punishment for our sins and we are still in the day of God’s grace. Through Jesus shedding His precious blood at Calvary we can know redemption, restoration, forgiveness becauseour salvation was purchased for us by a perfect Saviour.

If your experience of life today finds you alone in a comparable situation where your feet are slipping, call out to God and then reach up. I close with some words from a song Reach up for Him, which I’ve known for years but can’t identify the source –

‘Reach up for Him, He’s reaching down for you,
You can never sink too low. Don’t you think God knows just what you’re going through.
The miles of space His amazing grace will span,
Reach up for Him, reach up and touch God’s hand.’

Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’

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