There’s an old Hans Christian Anderson story about a little Dutch boy who saved the town of Haarlem (no, not that Harlem) from flooding. You see, the dike had sprung a leak and thanks to the quick thinking of the boy who stuck his finger in the hole, the town was spared disaster.
That’s not as easily applicable when it comes to another kind of leak… the leaking that comes out of our hearts. If your heart is the core of “you”, your emotions, desires, imaginations, and even some beliefs, and all of that is swirling around, it becomes clear that given the right circumstances, the heart leaks. What comes out? At times, virtue – patience, kindness, love, joy, etc. But more often than not, what comes out of us is ugly vice – impatience, unkindness, apathy, grumpiness, self-absorption, self-justification and the list goes on.
Now that have been in a mode of self-quarantine for weeks now, what started out as a change of pace can seem like it’s quickly turning into something quite different. When you live in close quarters, marriages, families, roommates will all experience up close hearts that leaks out sin. Some of the early reporting is that there has been an uptick in divorce filings in China as they are just coming out of quarantine. In some cases it’s just the irritation of living in close quarters with people, having to deal with kids the whole day, and the monotony of life stuck in our homes for the most part. But in other instances, the leak is actually revealing something much more serious – inattention to kids, a spouse, a lack of communication or poor conflict resolution skills.
This kind of leaking cannot be fixed by putting your finger in the dike. It can’t be fixed with sheer will power alone. This is saying that a person cannot change their character by moral fortitude by simply saying, “I’m going to change me.” Christians in particular are vulnerable to treating real spiritual growth as something closer to behavior modification. We know we are supposed to change but we revert back to our old ways of trying to fix ourselves (Gal. 3:1-3). Two simple initial questions might be, “How do you respond to you when your own ugly sin leaks out of your heart?” and “How do you respond to the other when their own ugly sin leaks out of their heart?”
A good friend of mine, John Coe who teaches spiritual formation at Talbot Seminary, would say that when sin comes leaking out of our hearts it’s an opportunity for us to say, “Mmmmm…” What he meant was it presents itself as a gracious opportunity for you to see the depth of your own sin that lies deep in your heart. You shouldn’t be surprised because it’s been there the whole time. That is your character that’s been habit formed over time. But it’s also a gracious opportunity for you to also see the magnitude and magnificence of the cross. His love is the greater than the guilt and shame, the pride and fear that come out of your heart.
So rather than hide or cover or blame-shift, we can take an honest look at our sin. It is sin and it’s ugly. But even that has been put on Christ on the cross. So, rather than seeing God lecturing us, as wagging His his finger in front of us (“you should know better” or “stop it” or “I’m so disappointed in you”), we can imagine Him coming up alongside of us, putting His arm around us. He is saying to you…
That is a lot of sin in your heart, but I want to walk with you through it all. Even this was paid for by my Son on the cross. Yes, you will put some effort into dealing with this sin at the root, but it’s grace-fused effort. I want you to learn the easy way of discipleship and that’s to yoke yourself to me. I’ll carry the heavy load and change you, but your daily work is to consent to my work by opening up your heart to me you would to a close friend. You will have to look and deal with your sin not at a surface level but the roots that go deep into your heart. That’s hard. But the easy part will be for you to ask My Spirit to come and grip your life with the gospel as our love sinks further down into your heart. When the gospel sinks down into those places in your heart where you really don’t trust Me, and you see the clear beauty of my Son, then it will effectively change your heart and out will come more and more of the right responses.
Don’t rush over this as you would any other “daily application” from a devotional, a sermon, a podcast or book. Keep practicing this spiritual reflection exercise and then go take a walk outside to get some fresh air and some space. But stay six feet away from everyone…