Juxtaposition: the act or instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect. A couple months ago, I explored the idea of treating others according to their potential, not their past—which I wholeheartedly believe. But what happens when treating other according to their potential, not their past, puts us in hazardous emotional/spiritual/physical situations? How do we guard our hearts while still believing the best? I’m not even going to pretend to understand all that this means. It’s a deep question to answer and one of the many juxtapositions of our faith. But as I reflected on this idea, some verses came to mind. First, what does guarding our hearts mean? I’ve always assumed it meant to kick out my sinful desires and to protect myself against temptation. But what if it also means to guard myself against the sinful actions of others? What does Proverbs 4:23 mean?
Sandwiched in a chapter on acquiring wisdom, we’re told to guard (NIV) or watch over (NASB) our hearts because this is where our life springs from. Our emotional life. Our spiritual life. The word for ‘guard’ and ‘watch over’ is interesting. The Hebrew word, natsar. It means to guard, watch, watch over, keep. It carries this idea of keeping something hidden and safe from a besieging force. That idea shook me because besieging forces come from outside. This is so much bigger than I originally thought. This is more than being carried away by my own sinful desires (James 1:14-15) Guarding your heart while believing the best. The very definition of juxtaposition. Is this what Jesus lived out as a man walking the dirt roads of Israel? Jesus, performing signs. Jesus, amassing believers. Jesus, the celebrity of Passover. John tells us that in the midst of what looked like outward support, Jesus didn’t entrust himself to anyone, because he knew what was in their hearts.
Was Jesus guarding his heart? Our Savior’s own words counseled the disciples to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. More juxtaposition.
The most powerful thing that hits me as I read these passages is that Jesus is not living a life of self. Everything he does, every word he says, every action he takes is drenched in purpose. His actions support God’s plan. His words usher in God’s kingdom. When he protects himself, it’s not with the goal of self-safety, it’s with the goal of mission-safety. Each one of us who have been born again has been baptized into purpose. When we leave our hearts unguarded it puts our mission in jeopardy. But encouraging, building up, strengthening in love…those are part of the mission too. Another juxtaposition. This is why Paul says we fight not against flesh and blood. He’s saying, “Stay on track! Don’t forget who you’re really guarding against!” How do we get up each day and treat each other with innocent love, faithfully operating under potential not past while also faithfully guarding our own hearts? By keeping our eyes on the mission. What’s the mission? Jesus. It’s impossible any other way. When Peter climbed out of the boat and locked eyes with Jesus, he stomped through the waves. But when his eyes slipped to the waves crashing against his calves, he started drowning. Look up. Lock eyes. Don’t pay attention to the waves that are about to drown you. Believe the best but guard against the worst. Encourage others but also speak truth. Love the person hurting you but fight the enemy. Embrace the juxtaposition.