Sunday, May 10, 2009

Guard Your Heart, part 2 (Psalm 139:1-5)

Proverbs 4:20-27 taught us to guard our hearts by humbling ourselves under godly teaching and making daily choices consistent with God's truth. But has anyone else ever cringed at the prospect of godly teaching? I like to receive truth and make my own judgments independently. That's very different from making my life vulnerable, facing accountability, and receiving feedback according to the Bible. Does truth have to be that personal? I like my independent rights as an American!

If I have to be real, then most likely you will see that I'm easily crushed under that kind of honesty, or I puff-up in pride when I receive constructive criticism. The fear of man in me LOOKS like obedience from the outside. But when I'm real, I must painfully admit that the fear of man and sin often motivate my daily decisions.

Psalm 139:1-5 considers the scrutiny of God as a blessing. 

O, Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. . .
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

To "scrutinize" literally means to winnow. In the time of David (the Psalm's author), farmers harvested grain and beat it out at the threshing floor so that the kernels of grain would break free from the plant. Piles of grain and chaff were left. The threshing floor sat atop a hill, usually a flat place available to the community. As wind blew across the top of the hill, farmers would toss the grain into the air. The heavier kernels would fall to the ground and the light chaff would catch the wind and blow away. Farmers used winnowing as an act of separating the valuable from the worthless.

If someone's path and lying down are being winnowed by the Lord, then they have the blessing of a life being separated into valuable and not-so-valuable components. The Lord actively separates the good from the bad, both in outward actions and in the heart. He leads us to remove parts of life and heal places in the heart so that our spiritual lives will be healthy. They places of healing and removal are like chaff being blown away by the Spirit of God. But other parts have significant value and receive a newfound priority. These build us up in relationship with God and others.

Next, the Psalm says that the Lord encloses us behind and before, and lays His hand upon the psalmists head. Is anyone else feeling a little claustrophobic? I like my space to make decisions (ie. to flex my spiritual muscles), not to be boxed in and held down! But King David found great value in being protected by boundaries. Kings protected cities by fortified walls and strong gates. Shepherds protected sheep by occasionally herding them into pens to keep them from wandering. Protection was an act of faithful and kind love.

Boundaries limit freedom. But boundaries, given by God, also protect our hearts from greater sin. Take, for example, sexual sin that can quickly become a life-entangling addiction. This could be pornography, lust (including emotional lust for women), sexual promiscuity, etc. In American culture today, our rights to practice any of these are considered a private matter. We decide if, when, and how to indulge our desires. But under God's instruction in the Bible, specific boundaries have been laid in these areas, a protection for the dignity of man and the marriage covenant. Even the most private parts of our lives have been given boundaries for the heart's protection against sin.

The Lord's winnowing and His boundaries reveal sin. And that may cause pain, discouragement, or disappointment. Yet, God stays close in faithful love. He presents us with truth, especially in the areas we are not getting what a holy life should be. As we grow, that scrutiny becomes an act of grace -- an effort to draw us closer to Him through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Is God winnowing you? Is He hemming you in behind and before? How so? May we choose to recognize and proclaim His goodness as He does so in each of our lives.

(c) by Kendra Hinkle 2009.
Scripture quoted from the New American Standard Bible.