Abide: Righting Our Hearts

Last weekend I bought a new decorative tray for my living room. The minute I walked in with it, I went straight to the ottoman and replaced the old tray with the new one. I do the same thing with other purchases. Sack in hand, I head to the closet and rip off the old shirt to hang up the new one. Or in the store, I’ll put on the new shoes, sticking the old ones in the box. I immediately take off the old and put on the new.

How I wish I would be so motivated, so joyful and diligent in the taking-off of the ‘old self’ and putting on the ‘new self’ that Jesus offers (Ephesians 4:21-24). 

Too many times I sit in my ‘old nature.’ For instance, I’ll stew on the offense I felt in a conversation, spiraling from hurt feelings to resentment in seconds because I’ve succumbed to thoughts and attitudes that are habitually self-focused.

I am learning to spot my old ways and stop them in the moment–cast them off. But, I must also put on the ‘new nature,’ replacing the old with the grace and love of Christ. 

Putting On The Breastplate of Righteousness

Created as images of God (Genesis 1:27), we are to be righteous–like God (Ephesians 4:24). In fact, Paul tells us we should put on righteousness–like a breastplate (Ephesians 6:14).

by AM Fine Art Prints

Visualize a Roman soldier’s breastplate as a piece of metal shaped to fit his torso, attaching to his belt and covering his vital organs. Metaphorically, we can put on this breastplate as we would the righteousness of Christ. But what, exactly, is righteousness?

We might think of righteousness as what theologians call ‘imputed righteousness’–that moment we believe in Christ. Obviously an important moment, because it’s when we are justified by Jesus, it’s when Jesus extends His righteousness to us. We are forever changed–no longer seen by God as unclean and sin-stained. 

But righteousness also happens daily. Called ‘practical righteousness,’ it is put on each time we make the conscious decision to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). Practical righteousness is a repeated choice and action. It is sanctifying grace, and with it we take off the ‘old self’ and put on the ‘new self’ everyday.

Praying for Our Hearts

The heart in ancient Hebrew is a place of physical life, thoughts, emotions, and choice.** These days we know the heart as our most vital organ–without its lifeblood continuously flowing, our bodies die. As the seat of our emotions and will, our heart, then, is not only vital but vulnerable. It needs protecting. 

The enemy wants our hearts because he knows that from them flows all our feelings and faculties for decision making. So, when you “choose practical righteousness, you place a blockade between the enemy and the area of your life he most commonly targets–your heart” (Priscilla, p.83). When we put on the breastplate, we are covering our hearts with all the goodness and rightness of Christ.

Lord Jesus, we see how important it is to keep our hearts healthy. We believe Ezekiel when he says that our hearts become like stone when we live in our own will and way, when we fail to live righteously day in and day out. We pray that You would give us new hearts that are soft and full of life. Sprinkle us with your holy water to cleanse us, Lord, for we know our hearts can deceive us. Fill us with your Spirit, who helps us to follow You–and with your living water so that we never grow cold or hard. We know our hearts are easily led astray by spiraling emotions and a lying enemy, so anchor us in your truth. Teach us to hold up every feeling to the truth of your Word so that we can stand firm in all that is good and right and true. Help us to trust You above every feeling by reminding us of the way You overcame fear and grief–You chose to trust God’s good heart. You chose to surrender your will for His. You chose the righteous life, and we want to do the same. Thank You for helping us to make our hearts right. In Your name, amen.
(prayer informed by Jeremiah 17:9, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Philippians 4:8, Mark 14:32-36)

Practicing Gratitude

Several times Paul mentions gratitude as he teaches, exhorting us not to be anxious but to pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6)–encouraging our hearts and abiding lives with faith and thankfulness (Colossians 2:2,7). Imploring us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And, beseeching us to 

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Colossians 3:16

Paul hasn’t sent peppy “thinking of you” greeting cards but letters full of truth–there is power in the practice of gratitude.  Ann Voskamp describes that power as place: 

“And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”

One Thousand Gifts

Gratitude breaks the grip of emotions that want to hold us captive. Thankfulness releases us from the prisons of self-focus and circumstance fixation. Giving thanks makes space for God to work in us. As simple as it sounds, offering God a list of what we’re thankful for helps stop the churning feelings within us and move our eyes onto our Savior. Gratitude is a method of realignment (link last week) because it lifts our heads and rights our hearts. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’ve been in the habit of thanking God at the end of each day. My minimum is three. And on hard days, those items of gratitude might be the birds that chirped cheerily, the sun that shone, and the softness of my sheets. But even with these, I feel my heart relax and my emotions settle–because I’ve shifted my focus off the situations in my life and onto God. Instead of dwelling on the hard, the negative, the awful, I look for the good. And it makes all the difference.

On better days, I’m able to go much deeper with my gratitude–for the ways God has provided or protected. For the ways He is my hope and joy. For all the fruit of the Spirit that enables me to live more like Christ (Galatians 5:22). And, though not having the words to adequately describe it, I feel the work of thankfulness in my heart–it’s softer. Quieter. More at rest.

So, create a strategy of gratitude, offering thanks to God for all He has done, is doing, and will do. It could be simple recitation as you lay down to sleep each night. It could look like a Gratitude Journal, where entries are intentionally listed, prayed, and reread. It could be a shared practice with a friend. Let’s immerse ourselves in “counting His graces:” 

Lord Jesus, I hear You speaking that I should, “humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small, and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love, and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” In your name, amen.
(From Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts)

Praying for Surrender

Richard Foster, a spiritual formation expert, thinks of surrender as a holistic practice. We don’t just surrender thoughts. Or will. Or emotions. Or our bank account. Or our family. We’re meant to surrender it all (cue the hymn). 

I doubt there are many of us who can open all the fingers of our tightly closed fist all at once. But, it doesn’t mean we can’t start with one finger. It does mean we don’t give up. Releasing every area of our lives to God will be a lifetime practice–that practical righteousness we employ every single day, choosing to live righteously and surrendered. One finger at a time.

Of his “Prayer of Relinquishment,” Richard Foster says this prayer is one of true letting go–but not with “fatalistic resignation.” Rather, it’s a release with hope because of our confidence in God’s character. “There is training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy” (Richard, p. 52).

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
(“The Prayer of Relinquishment” by Richard Foster in his Prayer book)

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  • Week Eight Practice = Gratitude! Write or speak, draw or sing words of thankfulness to God everyday.
  • Week Eight Prayer = Use the prayers within this post which include my own, Ann Voskamp’s, and Richard Foster’s. I’ll offer links in the Resource section. Or, create your own prayers using Scripture to bolster your faith and equip you to keep putting on righteousness.
  • I love hearing from each of you–mostly in person or by way of a message. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I continue to encourage you to engage with our community here so that by sharing we smash the strongholds of Satan by speaking truth–by stepping out of darkness and into light. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to isolate us so we’ll believe all his lies–such as, no one would like you if they knew; no one would ever understand. As we share, we cancel out those lies and continue moving forward in our sanctification journey!! Comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram.
  • What did you think of “Sound Mind” on our Abide playlist? I woke up in the middle of the night this week and felt strangely anxious. Immediately the words “You saved, you healed, you delivered me. Jesus’ blood wash over me. Command my soul awake, arise.” Yes and yes! What song(s) minister to you these days?
  • Resources for this week–just a list you can come back to as needed. No expectation for this series:
    • **The Bible Project video on Heart is FANTASTIC. I learned so much but only had room to include a small fragment in this post. I highly recommend the quick watch. Fun fact from the video: the ancient Hebrews had no understanding of the brain, so their language didn’t have a word for it. So, ‘heart’ is often synonymous with ‘mind’ in the Old Testament.
    • I read the info about Richard Foster I incorporated in this post one day while praying through a prayer app called “Lectio 365.” I love the app because the prayers are new everyday but use the same structure, so I grow in understanding, as well as anticipation, the more I pull its rhythms into my own morning routine. I highly recommend it.
    • Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.* If you want truth and encouragement about gratitude, this is your book.
    • Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.* Richard Foster really is a spiritual formation guru. He has influenced many a leader, including my favorite, Emily P. Freeman. 😉
    • Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God.* (Again) I’m so grateful for all her teachings, but especially all the “righteousness” theology this week!!
    • Lysa TerKeurst’s book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.* (again) I didn’t quote her directly in this post, but her chapter on “Exposing the Enemy” continues to influence me.

Featured Photo by me! (my new tray)
*affiliate links, from which I could earn a little something

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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