One of the things I have been praying a lot to the Lord about, is for Him to give me a tender heart. It has not just been a petition in the back of my mind, but one that I yearn for daily. I have heard a lot of bizzare phrases being thrown around in Christian circles. One that has stood out to me is the phrase ‘protect your heart’. I know this is mostly applied to dating and relationships etc but I think that this phrase which comes from Proverbs 4:23 has been misunderstood and/or wrongly applied. To me a tender heart seems to be the opposite of a ‘protected heart’ in the sense that the latter is understood by a lot of people today.
When Solomon was writing this I don’t think he meant that we should harden and build walls in our hearts, and only open up ourselves to those we know really know well. I am in no way saying let everyone and anyone in, but I am saying don’t be as tough as this world is to you and expects you to be. I know the world we live in is cruel and I’m sure we have all experienced people who have betrayed or abused the trust we had placed in them. But this world has gone so tough that vulnerability feels dangerous. Again, I am not particularly talking about dating/relationships here, but more about the way we interact with other human beings, like family members, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers.
I think when the Bible speaks about protecting/guarding my heart it means that I should protect myself from the way of this world with the knowledge that Jesus is everything I have and that He is enough for me in this life and in the life to come. As a believer protecting my heart from all ungodliness is a priority. This means I am to avoid gossip, slander, complaining, grumbling, pride and disputes (Phillipians 2:14, Proverbs 16:5). A person who knows that God is their everything won’t be a complainer or a grumbler. They know that everything they need is found in Christ but they won’t be prideful because they know that all that they have, which is enough, is purely by grace.
If I have protected myself with this knowledge, I have indeed protected my heart. Yes, people will disappoint me, people will hurt me, even those who I never expected to do so, the people closest to me. I will be let down, treated unfairly and my heart will hurt. It might even break. But I know that it will not fall apart, because the One who sits on the throne of my heart is telling me over and over again that He is enough.
So rather than praying for God to protect my heart by making it tougher, I pray for Him to protect my heart by giving me a tender heart that makes me vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. Because when I feel pain and disappointment I am reminded that He is enough for me. When people hurt me I have the opportunity to forgive them. I don’t want a tough heart that can handle all the things I am bruised with. I want a tender heart that allows me to extend love and compassion to those least deserving of it. That is what the Gospel explicitly shows us. The Gospel turns the way of the world and the way that society deems logical- an eye for an eye, upside down. Instead of God hardening His heart towards us, sinners in rebellion against the Creator of the universe, He humbly became incarnate and lovingly showed us the Way. He not only forgave us, He paid the wages of sin for us with His perfect life. That is why I want a tender heart. To be like Jesus. To serve like He did. To love the unloveable like He did. To know that through suffering I am being sanctified and molded into the image of Christ.
Lord, let my heart be tender in a world so tough.