So, we are in this big series called Rise Up and Stand Firm.  Really, it’s a conversation about the challenges we all face in life.  We are diving into spiritual warfare, and this idea that we can rise up and stand firm regardless of what life throws at us.  We can be people who live with courage and victory in a world working to keep us from ever living in that courage and victory.  I think sometimes when we say things like Spiritual Warfare we start to lose some people, they start thinking that talks on Spiritual Warfare don’t apply to their lives.  If that is you I want you to understand something today, everything we have been talking about in this series are things you face each and every day.  We spent five weeks discussing things that can steal our ability to live with courage.  Five things that keep us feeling like less, and never standing in our true selves.  These are things that we all face and deal with.  We may not be able to always identify or define them as spiritual warfare, but we walk through life and many things make us feel like less than the people we were created to be.  We get around the spirit of religion and we feel tired.  We feel the insecurities of being judged…you may not be able to say it’s the spirit of religion but you leave those moments feeling gut-punched or like a heavy wet-blanket is weighing you down…what you are feeling is Spiritual.  You spend your life being sent message after message whether it’s through people we love and are close to or just the world in general that you are less, you get made fun of, people just hurt you and over time you begin to agree with all the lies and hurts being thrown your way, which keep you from understanding your true identity and who you are in Christ.  You may not call it spiritual warfare but what you are dealing with is the spiritual war, we just don’t see it that way.  You walk through life struggling to engage or step into the true purpose for your life, instead you decide you don’t really matter all that much and you never engage…that is a result of what you are up against spiritually as well.  We walk through life and everything tells us to live opposite of the way God would desire us to live, and it’s so hard, and so discouraging to engage God, that struggle, that feeling like you are walking upstream against the current is so real…and maybe you don’t realize it, but it is the spiritual war.  You walk through life and there are so many challenges, so much pain, so many hurts and all of it sends you a message, slows you down, hurts you, and we just wonder why life is so hard…but the reality is that is it’s hard for a reason, and it’s because we live in the middle of a Spiritual War.  We don’t see it all the time, we may not like hearing about Spiritual Wars and Battles that we are a part of, we may not want to call it that, but you are feeling it every day.  We live in a world at war and you are feeling it whether you realize it or not.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. NIV

So, when we talk about things like Spiritual Warfare how does it make you feel?  I think some tune these conversations out because they don’t see themselves as Spiritual people.  Some maybe tune these conversations out because they don’t realize that all they are facing actually is the Spiritual War…and just to make you think a little more, I would argue that most people don’t really engage conversations about Spiritual Warfare because one of the best tactics our enemy has used against us people is just to blind us from this reality of what is going on around us!  I also want you to understand that not engaging or just dismissing the spiritual war doesn’t mean you aren’t in it, it just means you are easier for our enemy to deal with!  So, as we get started today it’s important to understand that we are at war.  We need to wrap our minds around the truth that we do have an enemy.  I think Peter gives us an awesome way to view the enemy here which Ken brought up earlier in the series…

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. NIV

We do have an enemy and he is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour…and I want you to think about what Peter is saying here.  A lion is an ambush predator!  A lion doesn’t look around the plains of Africa and see a little Gazelle off to the side not paying attention to its surroundings and say to itself…you know what, we will let that exposed, unfocused Gazelle go because it’s not really paying attention to the reality that we are looking for something to eat and devour…no that’s not how it works, it just means the lion doesn’t have to use as much energy, and it gets an easy meal!  Our enemy is like this as well, there are no timeouts from the spiritual war, he isn’t looking at you and thinking you know what, she isn’t paying attention and doesn’t like addressing spirituality so I will just leave her be…no!  This just makes you easier for him to deal with!

So, I want you to have some handles as we get rolling here today, you are in the middle of a Spiritual War.  You are feeling it, it’s real, and we all deal with it whether we really want to or not…this also means we have an enemy.  Jesus tells us why the enemy has come…

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

I bring this scripture up all the time because I think it’s so important.  Jesus told you that He came that we may have life and have it to the full.  He also explains why our enemy has come…to steal and kill and destroy.  This is so important and leads us into our discussion today.  What do you think the enemy is coming to steal, kill, and destroy?  The thief, Satan has come to take out your heart.  That’s what this war is being fought over, it’s all about your heart.  Life and life to the full comes as we give our hearts to Jesus.  We are taken out as our hearts are destroyed by the enemy.  It all comes down to our hearts.   All of this human struggle, the challenges of life, the spiritual war that wages all around us is focused on the heart.  So, I wonder if this is a new thought for you today.  If you have spent time around our church I’m thinking you have heard this before.  We talk a lot about how important the heart is, in fact already in this series it has come up a lot…but we must understand how important the heart really is, and why it’s the focal point of the spiritual war…and also then how to protect it once we understand that we are at war, that we have an enemy, and that the enemy is after our hearts.  In the end the heart is everything, this spiritual war focuses on it for a reason.  Solomon explains just how important the heart is over and over again in Proverbs…

Proverbs 27:19 As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person. NLT

Solomon here is helping us see just how important the heart really is…it’s the heart that reflects the real person.  If you stop and think about this statement, it is so true, the heart of a person tells the story.  If that wasn’t enough there is also that line I bring up every time we talk about the heart…

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV

All through Scripture we are taught that the human struggle really comes down to the heart.  What will your greatest love really be?  Where will you put all your heart and trust and hope and worship?  The Bible is so clear, the heart is what is running the show in our lives…which is why it’s at the center of this war.  If the heart is right and healthy and filled with Jesus we find life and life to the full…and your enemy, the thief…you know that lion looking for someone to devour knows that too.  I mean Jesus says this about the heart in Matthew 6…

Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. NLT

In the Message version that same verse reads this way…

Matthew 6:21 It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. MSG

Do you see just how valuable the heart is?  Solomon told us that it reflects who we really are.  He calls it the source of life, the very thing we must protect above all else.  Jesus tells us that it’s our hearts that lead us around and reveal what matters to us most, and what matters to us most is where we will be!  We could spend all day going through Scripture and see how much happens in our lives through our hearts…from what we are thinking…

Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. NIV

To the decisions we are making…

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. NIV

Right down to the words we say and how we are actually living our lives!

Matthew 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” NIV

Do you see the importance of the heart?  Do you see why Jesus pushed in on the heart so much?  Do you see why it’s at the very center of this spiritual war?  Do you see what it’s such a priority to God?  It’s because the heart controls our lives and is revealing the truth about who we are!  We live in a world that just doesn’t care to dive into the true reality of our hearts.  Have you ever noticed that?  We do not live in a world of depth and getting to know the true character or heart of a person.  Now we live in a very superficial world, where we see really nice, filtered versions of people and assume things about them because of what we see on the outside.  We see their stuff and think wow!  We see how nice they dress and how holy they look at church and assume they have it altogether.  We go to their Facebook or Instagram page and see amazing pictures that look so perfect and we assume those people have it altogether in ways that we don’t.  But if you think about it, it’s all things we humans see on the outside, on the surface…do you think it’s ironic that we live in a world that has trained us, and taught us to ignore the heart and focus on how good we all look on the surface?  No, once again this is the war, and is opposite of what God values!  We seem to be content looking good and never addressing the realities of our hearts, but God does the opposite.  He ignores the outward appearance and focuses on the heart…

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” NLT

The Lord looks at the heart.  This is so important…and so opposite of the world…and I want you to understand that is so intentional.  The last thing the enemy would ever want you focused on is your heart.  It’s supposed to stay on the surface the way we humans see things, the truth, the value, the reality of who a person is comes out of the heart…that is where the battle is waging, it’s all about the heart.

So let’s slow down for a moment…why is the heart so important?  If we put all of this Scripture together and think about what the Bible is telling us, what do we see?  I want you to hear this…

Life Change Isn’t Happening Without Heart Change. In the end we do what the heart wants most.

Now remember, everything about our spiritual life is supposed to be real.  It’s not about what we say, or how we look, it’s about action.  It’s about life change.  It’s about how we are actually living our lives as we surrender our lives to Jesus and live out lives for Him.  This is all about life change…and the Bible is clear…life change doesn’t happen without heart change.  You can’t change your thinking, or your behaviors, or your priorities without changing what you love most.  Our faith or lack of faith, is all about our hearts…Jesus knows it, God focuses us on it all through Scripture…and your enemy never wants you to grasp what I’m saying today.  We change when we change what we love most, which means we change when we have a change of heart.  Life change only happens with heart change.

So many of us who love God struggle with our relationship with Him.  We struggle to spend time with Him.  We struggle to understand why this stuff like walking daily with God can feel so challenging to us.  This again is us feeling the spiritual war in our everyday lives!  So many people today struggle with their spiritual lives.  I think deep down this hurts us, because we want to do the right thing. We just continue to struggle through life and for the most part we are not grasping why this is happening.  We want to be close to God, but we stay distant, and we do not think through why this is so hard.  We struggle to live disciplined lives focusing on God each day.  We just kind of bounce from thing to thing and when someone does push in on our spiritual lives we get depressed, or we feel guilty, or maybe even angrily explain why we just have no time to engage God…while the reality is have the time.  It isn’t about our time it’s our personality or something else that explains away why we aren’t doing the very thing we know we should.  We walk through life emotionally and spiritually exhausted.  We don’t spend time in prayer and every time we think we will try to center on prayer we have a thousand reasons why we can’t.  We worry about everyone around us and how they view us or what their opinion of us might be without focusing on the only opinion that matters which is God’s.  We just feel beat down, tired, and stuck spiritually and we don’t understand that it all comes down to the fact that our hearts are being taken out.   We just chalk it up to life being tough, without understanding how intentional the battle really is.  We don’t get why our relationships are falling apart, and why we end up in one fight after another with people…never grasping that our hearts are being taken out and that heart condition is coming out!  We aren’t doing the one thing we must do to find life change!  Remember it’s this change of heart and what you love most that leads to life change…which just makes Solomon’s words that much more important.

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV

As I was writing this talk, I kept thinking about this warning that God gives the Children of Israel right before they head into The Promised Land.  He keeps warning them that when they get into this land of Milk and Honey…this amazing land of more than enough, that they will have to keep God close, deep in their hearts so they don’t forget Him…I wanted you to see this today as we talk about life, the spiritual war and how it focuses on the heart.  Listen to this warning from God here as they finally head into the land that they were promised…

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. NIV

This is an incredible moment.  God is warning them not to forget Him as they get into this amazing new land that He promised them.  He is letting them know something that is so important for us to hear!  He is saying when you no longer need me the way you do out here in the desert.  When you don’t need me to survive and guide you the way I have to now, you must be careful not to forget me.  He is saying when you get into this land of more than enough, and you get comfortable, and life starts happening, you need to be careful not to forget me, you know, me, the God who saved you and freed you!

I think this isn’t just a warning for the children of Israel but a warning for you and I today too.  For so many of us there was a moment, or moments in our lives when we were really struggling.  In those moments it was easy to understand our deep need of God.  In those tough times our hearts cried out to God, and we leaned on Him and found love, freedom, and everything we needed in life.  But then over time, life just starts happening.  Maybe we get comfortable, maybe we get busy, but for whatever reason we find ourselves in a place where we don’t feel a desperate need of God the way we once did.  It’s easy in those moments to forget God isn’t it?  I know it sounds crazy for the Children of Israel to forget Him with all that He is doing to come through for them, leading them by pillars of fire and clouds, dropping food from the sky, and wiping out armies as he splits seas and holds back rivers for them to pass through…but we do this too.  We must understand something, you aren’t just getting comfortable, or busy, and it’s not just life pushing in harder and harder…this is the war that you may not be want to see, or maybe just don’t want to engage in and it is coming at you, and it’s coming to take out your heart.  With your heart taken out, you just plow through life day by day, week to week, month to month, and wonder why you never can find that thing Jesus told you He came to give you…you know, that life to the full, without ever understanding that the thief has robbed, killed, and destroyed your heart.

Let’s go back to this warning for just a moment, listen to God trying to get their attention here…and look at what He tells them they must do as they enter this new land!  Check this out and look at the focus on the heart and on something else that many of us humans don’t really like, and that is His commands.

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. NIV

God knows what we humans are up against and what does He tell us to do?   Love God with all of our hearts, soul and strength.  We are to focus on and follow His commands for our lives and to embed them into our hearts.  This is so important for us to see and gives us something to think about today.

When you think about God’s commands for your life how does this make you feel?  Do you hear about God’s laws or commands and immediately think; “Oh, great, more things for me to do.”  Maybe you go back to a list of things you never quite were able to accomplish growing up in a Christian home.  Maybe you think about His commands and they are just there to stifle out any fun that you may be able to have in your life.  Maybe it’s this idea of commands for your life that you struggle with the most, because you want to do what you want to do when you want to do it.  Well if any of those scenarios line up with your view of God’s commands for your life, it is yet another way your heart is letting you know something about you.  Remember your heart is running the show.  It’s your heart that determines your actions, decisions, thoughts, and even your heart that will allow you to surrender your life to God or not.

Remember, life change doesn’t happen without heart change, and I wanted you to not only see the value of your heart and how it is the central focus of the Spiritual War, but also how we respond to God leading our lives says a lot about the condition of our hearts.  Scripture is so clear about the importance of our hearts.  Scripture warns us of our enemy coming to take out our hearts.  Scripture lets us know that our hearts determine all our actions and that true spirituality is all about our actions…and God warns us time and time again to follow His commands for our lives…and the best way to know the condition of your heart is to look at how you respond to God’s commands.

Ok, so how are you doing with all of this?  Are you sitting there thinking I’m not really sure how well I’m taking care of my heart?  I find it fascinating how in the end it comes down to how you respond to God’s commands for your life.  In First John we find a test, a reality test to see how we are doing with this Spiritual War that wages over our hearts.  It’s actually a simple test that I would like you to take with me today.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

1 John 5:2 The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? 3 The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. MSG

I want to ask you something here today.  What has your experience been like with all of this God stuff?  Is it filled with life and energy and passion or is it troublesome?  Personalize this for a moment, you know in your heart where you are at with this stuff.  What is your relationship with God like?  Is it marked with passion, and joy?  The kind of joy that says, ‘I am walking in spiritual freedom.  I know God loves me and I am free from a life of anxiety, fear and guilt and shame.’  How about this one, Is your relationship with God about worship?  The kind of worship that says, ‘I can’t wait to get to church and worship on Sunday!  I want to be with others and stand in God’s presence.’ Is your relationship with God all about time with Him?  Where you say, ‘I can’t wait to spend time with God today, and I just love being in His presence!’ Let’s keep thinking this through…Is your relationship with God about giving?  The kind of giving that says, ‘Here is my first, here is my best, here is all of me, my time, my energy, and my resources.’ Is that your experience with this God life?  Or is your relationship with God kind of a pain?  It’s just one more thing to do in a long list of things to do?

Is your relationship with God life giving or is it troublesome? 

Look…if this God stuff is troublesome…you need to understand something…the reason things are so hard for you is because you are in the middle of the Spiritual War being fought over your heart.  The enemy wants to destroy your heart, God wants to dwell in your heart.  What you love most in your heart is a big deal…and determines the direction of your life.  If you are struggling to walk with God, to worship, and center on Him it’s because your heart is being taken out…that is why this God stuff is so hard.  This is why you struggle to spend time with God, to worship, or serve, or simply enjoy life with Christ…because in the end, you still want to do what you want to do, when you want to do it…and you need to know, you are not alone in that.  This is the test, and it’s something you need to see and answer honestly for your own life.

1 John 5:2 The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? 3 The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.  MSG

Listen we live in a world at war and this war is waging over our hearts.  Think about how many times you hear God plead with us in Scripture to love Him and put Him first.  It’s because the thing we love most is controlling our lives.  Everything comes back to our hearts.  Can we love God first…or not.

So please, let’s slow down and really look inward today, take a look at your life and take this reality test.  Be honest with yourself.  Are God’s commands on your life troublesome?  Is this God stuff work?  Should it be that heavy and hard?  Jesus told you it should not be, remember?

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” NIV

Do you see the spiritual war all around you?  I hope that through the course of this talk today you started to see the reality of the spiritual war.  I hope you understand that the battleground is over your heart.  I hope you recognize just how valuable you are to God…and more than anything I pray that you can experience that life that Jesus told you He came to provide for you.   In the end it is all about the heart.  Remember life change will not happen without heart change.

So maybe today instead of looking at your faith and seeing it as a mountain of work that needs to be done to be a better Christian, it’s time to relax and slow down, to take a deep breath, and ask God to not only redeem and heal your heart but to also take the lead in your life today!

It is all about the heart.