Feed the Heart John 14:1-14 5.14.2017
Bring on the bacon. Grab the Pop-Tarts. Crack open the eggs. Squeeze the juice, smear some cream cheese on the bagel and pour yourself some Cocoa Puffs. Why? It’s time for breakfast – and you’d better be eating it.
Sure, many of us grew up hearing that breakfast was “the most important meal of the day,” but most of us assumed that was just Mom’s way of guilting us into grabbing a banana or something as we burst out the door to catch the bus. Although, that may have been true, it also turns out Mom was on to something. According to various studies from Mayo Clinic researchers, breakfast is, in fact, the most important meal of the day, at least when it comes to the health of your heart.
In one study throughout the course of 20 years, doctors tracked the breakfast habits and health statistics of some 2,100 individuals. The monitoring began in early adolescence and continued into adulthood. The goal of the study was simple: to determine the positive or negative overall health effects of skipping breakfast.
Respondents who grew up in homes where breakfast was skipped or who later in life chose to rebel against a pro-breakfast upbringing by passing on the meal as adults showed significantly higher levels of heart-wrenching health statistics. Their waistlines were larger. Their cholesterol was higher. Their insulin levels were out of whack. The bottom line? Their hearts were sick.
In fact, many doctors who have studied the report now recommend waking up and eating some kind – in fact, almost any kind – of substantial breakfast as an essential step in avoiding serious heart trouble later in life. So, what do you know? Mom was right. Pass the pancakes, butter & syrup.
Moms, doctors and the Mayo Clinic aren’t the only ones concerned about heart trouble. So is Jesus. In today’s gospel text, Jesus gives his disciples – and us – this clear command: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).
Now, to be clear, Jesus isn’t talking about cholesterol levels or bypass surgeries. No, he’s talking about a different kind of heart trouble: the kind that can also be classified as worry, fear, anxiety or stress.
It is the kind of heart trouble that can feel like a loss of hope, a lack of faith, a panic attack or the pains of uncertainty. The kind of heart trouble that keeps you up at night thinking about money, work, retirement, health care, the kids, the grandkids. Or biting your nails when you’re worried about a spouse, a child, a parent, grandparent, or on the phone with a friend craving advice for a crumbling relationship.
Perhaps already today you’ve had palpitations of worry or fear about some financial issue or family problem? That’s the kind of heart trouble Jesus is talking about. It’s the kind we’ve all experienced. It’s the kind of heart trouble, faith trouble and lack-of-peace-trouble that tends to run wild in our lives.
It’s clear that heart trouble – of the physical, emotional and spiritual kind – is a major threat to our well-being as followers of Jesus Christ. Thanks to the Mayo Clinic and others, we know a bowl of Cheerios will help our arteries. But what about our hearts of faith; our worries and our anxieties? What about those gnawing fears and gnawed fingernails?
Let’s be honest: Is it even possible, as a follower of Jesus in an extremely messed-up world, to heed his command and have an untroubled heart? Really? Sure it is.
According to God’s Word – according to Jesus himself in fact – having an untroubled heart of faith all comes down to what you’re feeding that heart. Just as an omelet makes a difference physically, what you’re feasting on or depriving yourself of makes all of the difference spiritually.
Ask any doctors, and they’ll tell you there are two keys to physical well-being: It all comes down to a good diet and regular exercise. Neglect either of those, and you’re headed for trouble.
The same is true with your heart of faith. It must be well-fed and well-run in order to be strong and healthy.
Take another look at the words from Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (vs. 1). Jesus tells us the key to “heart health” as one of his followers is to trust in and feast on him. What our hearts need to stay healthy is regular nourishment from Jesus and an active life of following him.
Now, at first glance, that answer may reek of Sunday school simplicity. But it’s true. Far too many followers of Jesus have heart trouble stemming from the fact that their lives involve no regular consumption of Jesus and no actual exercise of their faith in Jesus. As a result, they’re unable to withstand the anxieties of life that come up daily.
Starving for a sense of direction that comes from Jesus in his Word or craving some lasting peace that can come only from standing on the promises of Jesus, we wind up looking for nourishment in all the wrong places. We skip the spiritual meals in favor of earthly solutions. Later, we binge on earthly things, believing they’ll bring us God-things.
For example, you might religiously consume the news, whether from the newspapers or the internet, thinking the talking heads from your preferred political tribe or view will give you lasting wisdom in a crumbling world. You may join the neighborhood gym or plan for more walks and begin obsessing about your physical appearance and calorie count, wrongly believing that regaining control over your body will give you control over your startled soul.
Meanwhile, our unfed hearts of faith are going through prolonged periods of disengaged laziness. Our troubled hearts of faith that were once tested in tough conversations with unbelieving friends in college and put to use through prayer in times of stress now sit on the couch and consume nothing but junk. No wonder we feel ill-equipped for the worries of life!
If you already know you suffer from actual heart disease, doctors prescribes a dizzying array of “easy” steps to help establish a healthier existence. Simply stop smoking, control your cholesterol, manage your diet, get moving for 30 minutes each day, manage your stress, practice good hygiene, maintain a healthy weight, take your vitamins and be sure to get a flu shot.
But when it comes to our hearts of faith, it’s once again about just two things. Our troubled hearts need to be fed with Jesus Christ and exercised in a life of following him.
Remember the words of Jesus immediately following the command that our hearts be trouble-free. Five times in just two verses Jesus uses the words I or me. It’s nothing less than a plea for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that he gives and the work he’ll one day return to complete.
So how do we feed our hearts the power of Jesus? It comes down to being connected to the promises of Jesus found in the Scriptures, and the power of his presence, found in God’s people.
Just as someone who’s cultivating physical heart health by taking up running might subscribe to Runner’s World for insight and join a local running club for accountability, God’s Word and God’s people are essential for a strong heart of faith.
Quite often, when our hearts are troubled and we feel furthest from Jesus, it’s simply because we are far from the two places – God’s Word and God’s people – where Jesus promised to always be found. Once your heart of faith is fed with Jesus, the essential element is to make sure it’s regularly stretched, exercised and put to the test in a lifestyle of relentlessly pursuing the will of God through our faith in Jesus.
Immediately after telling his disciples to feast on him, Jesus boldly proclaimed that they would be living lives of faith in which they achieved more amazing things than he did! Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these . . . (v. 12). The disciples needed hearts that were fed with Jesus Christ because they’d be thrown into lives of doing incredible, frightening, heart-straining works in the name of Jesus.
Could it be that one reason your faith feels so weak is because it never gets off the couch?
Could it be that the very reason you feel so ill-equipped to face life’s obstacles is because you’ve only attempted to avoid them?
Could it be that the very means of strengthening your heart of faith is jumping at opportunities that will test it?
- What if, rather than avoiding that difficult conversation with your family member or relative, you prayed for courage, sought God’s people for counsel and then approached this person in an attempt to reconcile?
- What if, rather than being uncomfortable around people who are different from you, you searched God’s Word to discover Jesus’ heart toward those who live on the fringes of society, or of a different race, or religion?
- What if you pushed aside inconvenience and ignorance and signed up to be personally involved in some form of ministry here in this congregation or out in the community.
- What if, rather than worry about your finances, you trusted the words of Jesus and you set an actual budget and attempted to tithe to the church?
- What if, rather than feeding your heart with excuses to stay where you are in life, you took bold steps to get educated, train, engage and grow your heart? What if?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year some 785,000 people suffer their very first heart attack.
Heart disease is the number-one health issue among adults, both male and female. Each year, more than 630,000 of us will die of a heart-related disease. It’s the number-one killer.
It’s time to start feeding your heart a little breakfast. Each day, millions of disciples will feel a few shooting pains run through their hearts as their work-stress rises, a relationship gets rough, money gets tight or health grows weak.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
It’s time to heed the call of Jesus, feed on God’s Word and begin flexing that faith. Come on, if Mom was right about breakfast, then certainly Jesus is right about this.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, May, 2017