“So we do not lose heart.”
“Do not lose heart” was one of Paul’s favorite expressions.
Paul was always telling people, that in the midst of these present struggles—struggles with powers working against the Good News of Jesus, powers that are in opposition to the will of God, don’t lose heart, don’t give up, don’t quit on God.
Instead of losing heart, take heart! Steel your resolve, and face adversity head on.
Don’t lose heart—take heart!
Even in the ancient world, long removed from science and medicine, people knew that the heart was central to life and death.
A beating heart meant life. A stopped heart, a heart that had given up, meant death.
Modern day marketers have certainly learned that all they have to do to sell something to the American public is to put “heart” into it.
Check out all the new food labels that proclaim themselves to be “heart healthy” or “heart smart”— a designation that usually means the food is lower in cholesterol and saturated fats—substances that are reported to be contributing to heart disease.
But hearts sell things beside food as well.
Chevrolet claims to be the “heartbeat” of America.
Bumper stickers declare everything from “I heart my Chihuahua” to “I heart the Old Latin Mass.”
Even our great state of Ohio attracts tourists by advertising itself as “The heart of it all.”
It makes sense that we are so heart focused.
Heart disease continues to be the great killer among well-fed, stressed-out, exercise- free Americans. But since we now know that we can reduce our vulnerability to heart attack by eating right and exercising, why do so many still live in fear of their heart?
Well, the truth is, there is a lot more than clogged arteries and leaky valves endangering our hearts.
We are suffering from a form of “heartsickness” that has nothing to do with cholesterol and triglycerides.
As Paul wrote to the various struggling Christian communities he cared about so deeply, he urged them, time and again not to “lose heart.”
Despite being persecuted by religious authorities of the day, ridiculed by pagans, often even misunderstood by other new believers themselves, Paul refused to “lose heart.”
In fact, sometimes it seems the worse things got around Paul, the more reasons he found to “take heart” instead of letting his heart sink.
In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Paul admits to having felt “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted” and “struck down”—yet the apostle’s heart remains intact, even enthusiastic.
The Apostle Paul is able to “take heart” and thrive even when anyone of the multiple heart breaking instances afflicted him.
It is a way of life that all of us could stand to emulate.
The question, of course, is how?
Before we get to the how, it is helpful to consider and acknowledge what sort of things cause us to “lose heart” today.
I suppose fear is one of the biggest boogiemen clutching at our chest cavity today.
We live in safe communities and neighborhoods, but we can read and feel how crime and violence is pressing in on us more and more— crime is everywhere and all inclusive.
This is to say nothing about what we keep hearing and seeing happening in schools around the country, schools that were just as safe as ours.
Fear robs us of any sense of security and steadiness in our lives. Chaos seems to reign supreme. All our high-tech security systems and electronic detectors don’t seem to be able to keep it at bay.
When our hearts can’t even feel safe at home, our spirits get sick. We slowly lose heart.
If it’s not fear that plagues our hearts, there is a lack of trust that will infect it.
Not only are we afraid of armed intruders, we are equally afraid of those we call our friends.
We don’t really trust anyone anymore. We assume people only show interest in us because they want something from us.
We have created a “user-friendly” society, where those who learn how to use and manipulate the right people get away with it and get ahead.
The old business adage used to be, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” But now we are more information-oriented than people-oriented that Machiavellian wisdom now teaches, “It’s not who you know, it’s what you know about who you know!”
It’s hard to share your heart—your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your love with someone you suspect is keeping a file on you. You cannot give your heart to someone you cannot trust.
We also “lose heart” because we lack confidence in ourselves, our abilities, our worth.
We feel so small and insignificant compared to the global problems, the worldwide crises that are beamed into our living room on the news each night.
Or if not that then we see the rich become ultra-rich all while we wonder what we are going to do if that strange knocking sound coming from our car gets any louder.
Our sense of purpose and desire to do something meaningful is stunted with thinking that says, “I-think-I-can’t/I-think- I-can’t”.
Without confidence to buck up our heart, it falls flat.
How can we take heart when our hearts have been so shattered that the slightest breeze blows away any bits we might have hoped to cling to?
What’s key to remember, and what we can always cling to, is that Paul knew the kinds of fears and disappointments, rejections and defeats his Christian brothers and sisters were facing, and would face.
He knew from personal experience the kind of heart disease that would develop from a steady diet of persecution, betrayal and failure.
When Paul counsels his fellow Christians in his letters not to “lose heart,” he does so knowing he has found the perfect protection from a broken and dying heart— faith in Jesus Christ.
So there you go—there’s the answer to all your worrying and broken heart woes. Just have faith in Jesus Christ and all will be right with the world.
Well, that might be the end of the sermon in a lesser preacher—but you all got me! And I know, just as you know, it’s not that simple.
Well, the Apostle Paul knew it wasn’t that simple either. Faith in Jesus is important, and it’s key, but faith alone will not keep us from losing heart.
You would have had to try pretty hard this past week to avoid hearing and seeing reports of events that were heart losing catalysts.
It seemed each day a new death toll was being announced from Nepal.
The scenes coming out of Baltimore were heart breaking on so many levels, for both sides of the conflict and unrest—you couldn’t even tune into a baseball game without the Oriels and White Sox “Ghost Game” being mentioned, a game where no fans were permitted to attend due to safety concerns.
All of it can understandably cause us to lose heart.
The most common way we lose heart is by fixing our gaze solely on the externals, the “outer nature” as Paul calls it, of our lives.
If Paul had trusted in the physical, the temporal, the transitory things in life, he too would have lost heart.
Instead, the Apostle experienced his world on two levels at once—the outer world and the inner world.
The outer world was the place of conflict and despair, persecution and pain. Paul’s “outer nature” necessarily had to live there—suffering and deprivation are real, and, like Paul, we do live in the midst of all of them.
But these are all external to our heart of faith.
Paul could take heart, even in clear sight of all the ridicule he had to bear; the prison sentences he had to serve; the beatings he had to endure; the foolish, selfish Christians he had to put up with because he knew none of these could harm his inner nature.
He could take heart because he knew that in all there was and is, was and is God.
He could take heart because he knew that God was at work, in him and around him, for good, for love, for resurrection and for new life.
But here is the key thing we must take away from this—While that is where Paul was able to be and live, he didn’t just sit there, he didn’t just hide within it all and lively happily unto himself and try to forget the suffering and brokenness of those around him—not at all.
Rather he spoke about his Christ filled inner nature, he wrote about it, he lived it, he shared it, he inspired it, he worked on behalf of God so that others could find it all for themselves and for the world around them.
To any and all, Paul, a believer and follower of Christ, said, “Even though you have reason, don’t lose heart. Take heart. Because God is working to make all things new.”
That was a critical message of hope then.
And it is certainly a critical message of hope today. And we need to spread it. We need to live it.
The inner nature in Paul was Christ himself.
The inner nature in Paul was God who created order out of chaos.
The inner nature in Paul was the Holy Spirit who was a constant and abiding presence.
No matter what kind of fears assaulted, or doubts assailed him in the outer world, the Christ within was “renewed day by day” and grew ever stronger.
Paul considered the nature of the outside world a kind of “conditioning center”, these “momentary afflictions” building him up in preparation for the “eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”
Paul had learned how to face and endure the outside world with the life that had been granted within him.
Paul learned how to not lose heart, but to take heart.
May we learn too that our inner nature is just like that of Paul’s.
May we learn to not lose heart, but to take heart because at the center of our being, there is Christ our Savior, God our Creator, and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer who makes life in this world today still something to embrace and live to the fullest.