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Three Steps to Heal a Wounded Heart

broken heart by CarbonNYC via Flickr

We All Have Wounded Hearts—

Whenever two people are in contact, they will end up wounding each other.  That’s the inevitable result of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Doesn’t matter how much they love each other or how careful, kind, & considerate they are; the time will come when pain will be inflicted.

Sometimes the wound is trivial; sometimes it is devastating.  The wound can be a one-time injury or it may be repeated daily, growing deeper & more painful over months & years.  It can come from the hand of a casual acquaintance or from the person who means the world to them.

Regardless of the source or the severity, what we all end up with are wounded hearts.  Whether it’s a little wound easily ignored, or one that feels like our whole chest has been ripped open, we know that it needs to be healed. 

The question is, how?  How do you heal a wounded heart?

What We Usually Try Doesn’t Work

We all try to do our best to answer that question for ourselves, but we usually don’t do such a hot job of healing our hearts.  Often, we end up just trying to stop the pain for a while and think that we are healing the wound.  So we use addictions, whether of food or drink or drugs or sex.  Or maybe we will try to plug up the hole with success or shopping or other “stuff.” Others will turn to anger or revenge to try and seal over the wound. None of these patches last, and all of them end up wounding the heart in even deeper ways.

But what does work?  What will bring true & lasting healing to a wounded heart?  I have found there needs to be three steps to fully close the wound and fully heal the heart.  They all need to be done, and they need to be done in order.  With these three steps, I can guarantee that any heart can be healed of even the deepest wound.

Simple, But Not Easy

The three steps are simple, but they are not easy.  If they were, then doubtless we wouldn’t be struggling so often with a wounded heart, would we?  Because it is not easy to heal a wounded heart, there are two prerequisites, two things that you must have before you can walk the path of healing:

The first thing we need is humility.  Without humility, you cannot take even the first step to healing a wounded heart. But as anyone whose heart has been wounded knows, humility is very hard to come by when you’ve been wronged and you’re hurting.  It’s the exact opposite of what our heart naturally seeks when wounded. 

“Why should I be humble?  I’m the one who was wronged, I’m the one who is hurting, I’m the one whose life is a mess!  Look at me!”  All of those reasons sound, well, reasonable, but unfortunately they’re all wrong.  No spiritual problem can be solved when the heart is gripped by pride.  That’s why Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  We must allow our heart to be humble, even in its woundedness, before healing can begin.

The second prerequisite for healing a wounded heart is Jesus. Honestly, you can read all the books, go to all the seminars, and meet with all the counselors you can find, but until you fall down at the feet of the Healer from Nazareth, your heart can never be whole.  Jesus Himself told us that his mission on earth was to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18 NKJV).  Only the Spirit of Christ can give you the strength to follow the three steps.  You must be willing to go to Him & trust Him with your wounded heart.

First Step: Forgive

The first step to heal a wounded heart is to forgive.  Yes, it doesn’t sound fair.  But it is true.  Until your heart is filled with true, pure forgiveness, it will never heal.  Never.

I won’t pretend this is an easy step.  If the hurt is deep, it’s not easy at all.  But it’s necessary. You cannot make any progress at all in healing your heart until you forgive the hurt that has been done to you.  That’s why Jesus taught his disciples over & over the importance of forgiveness.  Whether He was in prayer (Matthew 6:12) or in parables (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus focused on forgiveness.

If you think, “I just can’t forgive this…” then know that if you are a child of God you can forgive, for you can have the mind of Christ. He can help you forgive even the worst of sins against you.  He is our strength & our example, for He forgave those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  Pray for the Lord to grant you a heart of forgiveness.

Second Step: Accept

I wrote about the beauty of acceptance back in 2007.  In that article I outlined the three barriers we face in truly accepting one another:

  1. Lack of Intimacy
  2. Failed Expectations
  3. Hurt From Wrongs

We need forgiveness to get past all these barriers, but our hearts need to grow beyond forgiveness to heartfelt acceptance.  We can look to Jesus as our guide, for He was known for His acceptance of the rich and the poor, the saint & the sinner, the priest and the prostitute.  He accepted all who came to Him (John 6:37).

With the help of humility & the Spirit of Christ, accept the one who wounded you. When your heart can reach out to another’s heart, understand that they are human and flawed just as you are, and forgive their wrongs, then the healing balm of acceptance can further restore your heart.

Final Step: Love

Once we have forgiven and once we accept, then our hearts are free to love.  I know, part of you is saying, “Wait, I just want my wound healed, I just want to feel better, and now you’re telling me to love the person who caused this?”  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Our hearts were made to love, and they will never be whole until they wholly love.  Instinctively, we know this to be true.  Jesus taught that it was the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), and He gave us the specific commandment to love one another (John 15:12).

How can we love someone who has wounded us & hurt us, who may even hate us?  Here again, Jesus is our example, for while we were still in rebellion against Him, He loved us enough to die for us (Romans 5:8).  And the Bible promises in Romans 5:5 that we are able to love because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Truly, we are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

A Final Thought

Forgive. Accept. Love.  The three steps of the path of healing, a path that can only be taken girded with humility, walking with Jesus.

Jesus can heal our hearts & free our hearts to forgive, to accept, & to love.  As God heals your heart’s wounds may you grow to embrace and rejoice in the following words from 1 John 4:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God….

God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…

We love because He first loved us.

Worthy or Not?

It seems that the whole world is built upon people parading their “worthiness” to others: what awards they have received, what goals they have accomplished, what marvelous things other people have said about them.  Read a few websites or book jackets, even from people in “Christian ministry” and be prepared to be read some pretty nauseating impressive words.  In fact, it seems like we’re compelled to act this way, to make sure people think we’re worthy.  As an example, here’s a blurb from a website which I’m sure was written by a public relations guru, not the artist herself (I bolded all the buzzwords):

(She) recently penned the cover story for CCM’s April GMA issue, engaging a compelling dialogue with 13 of Contemporary Christian Music’s most influential recording artists on the topic of ‘image and authenticity’ and sharing a unique view to the reader through a powerful concept cover.

I found it somewhat ironic and sad and amusing that the article is apparently about the problem of Christian artists projecting an exalted image, and yet that’s exactly what the PR blurb does too.

But does Jesus call us to proclaim our “worthiness” to others?  Consider this passage:

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. (Luke 7:2-7)

This centurion truly was a worthy man, full of love and compassion.  Even the Jewish leaders, who had a deep seated hatred of all Romans, were impressed by this man.  But what was his own attitude?  Did he come to Jesus and say, “Lord, I love your nation, and I have built your people a synagogue.  Now aren’t you impressed enough to heal my servant?”  No, he mentioned nothing of his accomplishments or his rave reviews from the Jews; he only confessed that he felt he was not worthy to even meet Jesus.

That’s worth spending a long time thinking about, REALLY thinking about.  Like, which statement would be coming out of your mouth if you met someone important, or someone you needed a big favor from?  While you’re chewing on that, compare it to this passage:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:10-13)

There it is again, that pesky humility.  One man, proclaiming his worth to God and to the rest of the world; the other man, proclaiming his utter unworthiness.  John the Baptist, who Jesus identified as the greatest prophet who had ever lived, openly told his followers,

What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie. (Acts 13:25)

Both to others and to God, we are to have a heart and a mouth that does not proclaim our worthiness, but Christ’s worthiness. This is not a cry of “low-self esteem” or depression or despair, but of simple humility, of seeing ourselves as not elevated in God’s sight or in other peoples’ sight.  And when we are honest and broken enough to humble ourselves before God and men, God is pleased to bless us.  The centurion’s servant was healed, the tax collector was forgiven, the prodigal son was received home.  Surely the blessing of God is worth more than the esteem of men, worth more than “the way everybody does it” in the world of business, worth more than the propping up of our own cardboard egos.  Why not drop the pretense, why not forsake the “image-building”? Walk with Christ and with others in humility, and let God bless you in His own time and way.

Pride, Humility, & Grace

Note: The following is article #7 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.

Chapter Six of Future Grace is the second applicational chapter, where Dr. Piper specifically talks about dealing with pride through grace.  One of Piper’s central tenets is that true, biblical faith is more than simple acknowledgment of facts; it is “coming to Jesus for the satisfaction of all that God is for us in Him.”  Conversely, whenever we turn to anything else for satisfaction, that is sin, that is unbelief, believing that God cannot provide for our satisfaction adequately and something else can.

Eternal life is not given to people who think that Jesus is the Son of God.  It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God. (John 4:14, 6:15)

Given this truth, we can see that pride is turning away from taking satisfaction in God to derive satisfaction in self.  As such, Piper states that pride lies at the root of every turning from God. Pride is the very essence of unbelief, and thus, “the battle against pride is the battle against unbelief; and the fight for humility is the fight of faith in future grace.”

Jeremiah 9:23 states, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.”  We can let all these things become our satisfaction.  Pride boasts, while humility confesses that nothing but God can give us true joy.  Piper wisely observes that even self-pity is a turning away from God in pride: “Boasting is the response of pride to success.  Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering.”

Anxiety is also fueled by pride, because the Bible instructs us to cast our anxieties on God, and yet that requires humility:  “Faith admits the need for help.  Pride won’t.  Faith banks on God to give help.  Pride won’t.  Faith casts anxieties on God.  Pride won’t.”

Piper says that humility can only survive in the presence of God.  But indeed, where else could the delicate fruit of humility possibly be cultivated and nurtured?  Pride can creep in as a poisonous weed into every thought and act, even servanthood and sacrifice.  Only in God’s presence can He pluck up pride by the roots, break up the hard ground of our hearts, nurture humility, and continue to pull out the seemingly endless seedlings of pride that are always ready to sprout anew.

Piper ends the chapter with a passage from his personal journal:

How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of God! …(This) is deeper than death to self.  You have to go down deeper into the grave of the flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes you with the taste of God’s glory.  Only in that speechless, all-satisfyng admiration (of God’s glory) is the end of self.

The question I am forced to ask myself is:  How deep have I went into the grave of my flesh?  Have I tasted only superficial religion and flashes of emotion, with my pride and self-will intact?  I know there have been times when I have been deeply humbled, and deeply in the presence of God.  But do I live there?  And do I not realize that the only access to this all-satisfying presence of God is through this continual death and mortification of pride?  Only by faith, only by God’s grace, can we walk this road.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:2)

Checkmate

king chess checkmate by dietpoison via flickrI think God must have been smiling when He created chess.  I think He has played chess with His children many times over the years.

We all have a “king” in play on the chessboard of our lives.  It’s a king, an idol really, we set up in our hearts that we play to win for and protect at all costs.  It could be a relatively small thing, like having an immaculate front yard, or a pretty big thing, like getting a good report on that cancer, or keeping a spouse who seems to be wandering, or not having to move across the country because of a plant closing.

We choose our king and then the game begins.  We play to win, but so does God.  He will out maneuver us, circling around, baiting and trapping, exposing our weaknesses.  In the end game, we sweat, grow more desperate to protect our king, start sacrificing any other piece on the board.  Finally, it’s checkmate, we have no options left, and the king gets knocked down.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again in my life, sometimes over little things, sometimes over huge things.  Like the time I allowed my love of having a beautiful looking front yard consume more and more of my energies and frustrations until God finally said, “Enough, just let it go, John.”  And my king was knocked over.

In 2 Kings 5 we see God playing chess with Naaman the Syrian. Here was a man obviously consumed with pride.  God had put him in end game with the leprosy, but still he held out.  “Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them and be clean?”  But God won’t compromise, and he won’t parley for terms.  He’s only interested in complete and unconditional surrender.  So Naaman’s king tumbled over, he humbled himself to obey God, and he was healed.

So, where’s your king?  What are you striving after or protecting at all costs on your chessboard?  A job?  A relationship?  Security?  Reputation?  God will win the game.  When are you going to let your king fall down, and give up everything you have and everything you are and everything you hope to be at the feet of your true King?

Not Revealed by Flesh & Blood

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. ( Matthew 16:13-17 )

Jesus, the master Teacher, asks his disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  He wants them to think, to go over in their minds all the crazy ideas, reasoned opinions, and hope-filled yearnings they have heard over the past few years.  He wants them to think of all these different answers that have come from “flesh and blood.”

Then He gets to the point:  “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Always impulsive Peter states what he knows to be true, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

And then Jesus says the unexpected, “Blessed are you.”  Now, normally, when you tell a teacher the correct answer to a question, that isn’t his standard reply.  As a matter of fact, I believe this is the only time recorded in the Bible that Jesus directly tells a person that he is blessed.

What is Jesus getting at?  Is Peter blessed because his keen intellect figured out who Jesus was?  Or the years that he spent with the Master made the answer obvious?  Or that his intuition or his soul spoke the answer to him?  Or that he just had a lucky guess? Or maybe Peter was blessed just because he actually posessed the right answer: he had arrived, he had won the cosmic lottery “I know who Jesus is!”

No, none of those reasons is the cause of Peter’s blessing.  Jesus bluntly states, “Peter, you did nothing to receive this knowledge, it wasn’t your or anyone else’s cleverness or insight—you understand who I am because God revealed this to you.”

How humbling, both for Peter and for me.  I think because of my years of Bible study or the books I’ve read or my keen intellect or my spiritual experience that I know Jesus as the Christ, and yet here is Peter, a man who lived with Jesus, walked with Jesus, heard Him teach, saw Him heal and walk on water and still the storm, and yet Jesus tells him that all of that could not reveal Him as the son of God to Peter.  Only through the blessing of the Father could Peter know Jesus as Christ, and only through the blessing of the Father can I know Jesus as Lord and Christ.

Christian Counting

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  ( Philippians 2:3 )

The last part of this Greek verse is hard to fully capture in English, but I think the ESV nails it. 

The Greek word translated humility is tapeinophrosune. Thayer’s lexicon states that it is “a deep sense of one’s moral littleness.” 

So, as I go about my day minute to minute, fully realizing how little I am, how far short of the mark I come, I count other people more significant than myself.

Whoa.

When I take a good, long, honest stare into the mirror, I am overwhelmed at how hard that actually is.

In my thoughts, in my plans, in my speech, my actions, to always be thinking “this person is more significant than I am, I need to structure my thoughts, my emotions, my plans, my words, my actions with the express intent of serving them.”

Does that include that coworker who just cheated you out of a promotion?

That person who just cut you off at an intersection?

That spouse you just had the blowout argument with?

That person who you’ve never been able to forgive?

Count all those people as more significant than myself, and mean it, and show it through my actions?

Yes, says Paul, for that is exactly what Jesus did when He walked the Earth.  And as verse 5 notes, we can only do this because of Christ and through Christ, by taking on the mind of Christ as we live day to day.

 

Of Eve and X-Men

 

 

You are a god among insects.  Never let anyone tell you any different.

 (Magneto speaking to Pyro in the movie X2)

 

You will be like God.

(Satan speaking to Eve in the garden of Eden)

 

 There are many reasons for the popularity of the X-Men which have been well fleshed out in many circles— the universal themes of misunderstanding, isolation, angst, etc.

But let’s explore a topic that Magneto himself loves to talk about in the X-Men universe, that of mutants being gods.

What really distinguishes a being as a “god”, and why does Magneto (or anyone else) want to be one?  Could this be part of the X-Men’s appeal, an appeal to humanity’s desire to become godlike, which has been present from literally the beginning of time?

The above scene out of the movie X2 could have been labeled “The Temptation of Pyro.”  What desire is Magneto appealing to with his “temptation” to the young mutant Pyro?  It’s not simply about his superhuman abilities— Pyro already has those.  So what is it, what does it really mean to be a god, and why does that appeal to Magneto and Pyro and every other human?

I would posit that there are two things at a more fundamental level than mere ability that make a being a god, and two things that every human soul desires.  The first is to become the controller of one’s own destiny, and the other is to become worthy of worship.

Let’s look at both in turn.  Every psychoanalyst will tell you one of the root issues of every neurosis is that of frustration with the lack of control which is an inevitable part of a mortal living in a fallen world.  We all desire control, we all desire to be able to decide and then control our own destiny without the interference of anyone else.  Every toddler who stamps her foot “NO!”, every dreamer, every dictator, every busdriver, every demented soul strapped into a wheelchair, everyone wants complete and unalterable autonomy.

Only one being in a universe can have that level of autonomy— and that being has to be God.  There is room for only one unalterable will, only one person who cannot be hindered in any way, only one person who cannot be told, “You are in the wrong!”  Although Magneto would like to be that person (and so would Ian McKellan, by the way), only one being can lay claim to being God.

The other desire that is deeply embedded in the human psyche is the desire to be worshipped.  From the little girl who stands on top of a table in her Easter dress to the stereotyped megalomaniac who orders all to bow before him, we all want to be on a pedestal.  Even in people whose hurts have damaged their “self-image”— they still retain that image, that ego, that would wish that they were above others.  But there can be only one true “King of the Hill” in a universe, there can be only one who is truly worthy of worship.

I think the real question then becomes, “Which god will you acknowledge?”  Will you subliminally or openly wish for your own deity, to control your own destiny and elevate yourself above others?  It is a futile way of life.  Or, though humility and repentance and grace, will you discard your desire for autonomy and become a servant of the one true God, and bow in holy fear and worship before Him who alone is worthy of all worship and majesty and glory?

 

The Total Perspective Vortex

In the science fiction farce The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the man with the largest ego in the galaxy (who just happens to be the president) Zaphod Beeblebrox is submitted to the most terrifying torture ever devised…the Total Perspective Vortex. It is a special machine that shows the occupant the entire infinity of creation at once, along with a little sign marked “You are here”, to show how small you are in relation to it. The sight of such infinitude and glory instantly drives any sentient being insane.

However, in Zaphod’s case, his ego appears to be larger than the known universe, for it actually reinforces what he had always known, in his words, “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!” The book comments, “He had seen the whole Universe stretching to infinity around him—everything. And with it had come the clear and extraordinary knowledge that he was the most important thing in it.”

Even though he was an atheist, the author Douglas Adams seems to have some insight into the human condition. How many of us approach God the same way Zaphod approached the vortex? We approach Him in prayer or worship or study, expecting to see his infinite power and glory and majesty, and then we expect to come away with a nice warm feeling of how “really terrific and great” we really are, when we should come away in dust and ashes, marveling at such infinitude and deeply humble and thankful that He would show mercy toward us.

I am Willing

And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  And immediately the leprosy left him.  (Luke 5:12-13 NKJV)

“I am willing.” How sweet those three words must have been to this man. The leper knew Jesus had the power to heal him, had the power to take away the horrible disease that had destroyed his life, left him less than human in the eyes of his friends, his family, his society.  He had the faith to know that Jesus was able.

But he also knew that he had no claims on Jesus, no bargaining chip, no entitlement, no way to justify Jesus acting on his behalf.  All he had was his simple act of worship and humility by falling on his face, and acknowledging both his need, Christ’s power, and Christ’s sovereignity.  He knew that, in and of himself, he had no right to be healed.

How sweet then, to hear those words, “I am willing.”

How sweet when we hear those words.  When we come to Christ in brokenness, when we see that we are full of sin, and can only say to Him, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  And with a smile on His face, He looks upon us in compassion and love, and answers us, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

When God Plows, We Must Sow

 

 

When God allows trials to come into our lives, it often results in humility and brokenness.

That is a good thing. God can use brokenness. In fact, the parable of the seed and soils shows that God can do little with a soul until it is broken up—no seed will grow on the surface of hardened earth, it has to go deep into broken up soil.

Likewise, little growth of a soul will happen unless we are humble and broken before God.

But any farmer knows that plowing is not enough. A plowed field that is not immediately seeded will soon be full of weeds.

And so it is with us. When God plows, we must sow, or we will be filled with weeds. The man who unjustly loses his job will be broken, but will his broken soul grow the tares of bitterness anger revenge or despair, or will they grow patience, gratefulness, and joy? The woman whose husband leaves her? The teen who is scorned in school? The missionary who labors without any conversions for years?

In all of the brokenness that living in a fallen world entails, we must be careful to always be sowing the seeds of God’s truth in our broken hearts in order to have a garden that will one day be filled with fruit.