Jesus warns us of creating a religious life while maintaining a secular heart. For true spiritual transformation, we need to foster the connection between heart and behavior.

But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person. Matthew 15:18

Religious Behavior without a Changed Heart

Jesus teaches us that it’s not enough to simply adjust our behaviors to fit a set of rules, we need to do the messy work of adjusting our hearts to be more like him. And our words and actions reflect the work we’re doing inside (similar to the fruits of the Spirit).

In our verse this week, Jesus was specifically talking about the hard, dark parts of our hearts and warning that they can’t stay hidden behind a well-kept facade. Doing a self-assessment of our “religious” behavior is easy compared to an assessment of our hearts. Behavior is quantifiable and exposed. On the other hand, our hearts involve a partnership with the Spirit, our past, our present, and our personalities, and are a messier ball for us to untangle. If we don’t reflect on the motivations of our behaviors, however, we leave ourselves vulnerable to creating a religious life with a secular heart. In other words: hypocrisy.

My Personal Heart Assessment:

I took the time this week to do a heart-check. As I went about my day and interacted with people, I worked to be mindful of where my words and actions were coming from. And I worked through some mini-reflection sessions from time to time after deeper conversations with friends and family. It was a good exercise, and I think I’ll continue for a while and incorporate journalling to help get some good perspective. Of course, we should all attend to our behavior every day, but I found that setting aside this season to prayerfully reflect and examine my heart was very helpful.

The “defilement” that I personally see in my heart still includes: drama, selfishness, and pride. But the Lord also gently reminded me of what is almost gone: anger, impatience, despair, and apathy. There are also two areas that He’s been doing some great work in over the course of the past two years or so: specific forms of selfishness and envy.

He showed me that the healthy boundaries I’ve been establishing have helped me love better, because if I keep myself separated from the issues, I have a better perspective on how to best love those people. He’s also shown me how I’ve grown as a listener (never one of my top strengths, and I still have a long way to go, but I need to celebrate the progress!): I’m getting better at listening without wanting to fix or add my own story (for those of you that know me and interact with me regularly, please have some mercy as I work on this!).

After the assessment, I have a better idea of what I need to pray about. But more importantly, I have so many reasons to praise Him! The Lord has been doing a lot of great work in my heart, and sometimes I feel like sharing these triumphs with others is boasting. But that’s just false humility, and how else can I give God the glory?!

I am a work in progress, but great work has already been done in His name!

What About You?

Is it time for a deeper self-assement than you’re comfortable with? Are you prepared to deal with the findings–good or bad?

It’s a healthy step toward spiritual and emotional maturity, and the Lord is with you every tough step along the way.

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