Monday, July 4, 2016

I'm having heart-surgery!

I'm about to have heart surgery! Go figure. I'm leaving town for heart surgery in a week, and the truth is, I've hardly thought about it. Don't get me wrong. I've been doing plenty of reflection these past six months. I haven't been to work since late December (!!), and yet, despite my physical limitations, I haven't wanted to waste this precious gift of so much time off. So I've been reading some really good books that I've felt God direct me to read. I'm presently on my 11th devotional book since February, and I'm journaling what I learn from each one. God's been touching lots of character stuff. Click here if you'd like to see my 2016 reading list. 

But lately I've felt as though the Holy Spirit has been nudging me – trying to get my attention – wanting me to reflect a little more on what's been happening with my heart. I've gotten the feeling that He's been wanting to emphasize a specific lesson I'm meant to learn from this health issue, as though there's more going on than what I see with my eyes and see in my schedule. So I decided to look some things up. Feel free to be amazed that I hadn't done this sooner, but I went to a couple websites to check out how they described what my cardiologist said my problem was. Here's what I found:

Mitral valve regurgitation is a condition in which your heart's mitral valve doesn't close tightly, allowing blood to flow backward in your heart. As a result, blood can't move through your heart or to the rest of your body as efficiently, making you feel tired or out of breath. If regurgitation is severe, increased pressure may result in congestion (or fluid build-up) in the lungs, and the heart may become enlarged in order to maintain forward flow of blood. This may produce symptoms ranging from fatigue, shortness of breath during exertion, coughing, congestion around the heart and lungs, heart palpitations, and arrhythmia, and can potentially lead to heart failure.

Treatment of mitral valve regurgitation depends on how severe your condition is, whether it's getting worse and whether you have symptoms. For mild leakage, treatment may not be necessary. For severe leakage or regurgitation, you may need heart surgery to repair or replace the valve. Left untreated, severe mitral valve regurgitation can cause heart failure or heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia) that will create an increased risk of blood clots that may cause a stroke.

Wow. Sounds pretty serious. And I've experienced all of those symptoms since December, and would be considered in the "severe" category. Yet those details fill me with gratitude, because if it hadn't been for the endocarditis I had this past winter – an infection in the lining of your heart that will either damage or (as in my case) worsen previously damaged heart valves – we may not have discovered that the regurgitation in my heart had become life-threateningly severe until it was too late. Thank you Lord!

But I sensed that the Holy Spirit wanted me to look beyond what's been happening to my physical heart. I feel like He's been helping me to see how there's more going on than meets the eye, and how I'm receiving more than one kind of heart surgery during this time off.

It was then that I wondered – if you'll permit the analogy  that if we all have physical heart valves that receive life-giving blood for our bodies, what would be our spiritual heart valves that receive the life-giving blood of Jesus? And what would it mean if our spiritual heart valves were regurgitating, or resisting, the life-giving blood that was meant to be flowing through them? What would cause that?

The Gospel of John has many references, from start to finish, to the spiritual "life" that Jesus came to bring. In chapter one, we see that "In Him [Jesus] was life..." (1:4), and near the end we see that "these things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (20:31). The many references to the life found in Jesus that occur between those two verses frequently mention what we see in John 20:31, that it is by "believing" in Jesus, and in what He has done for us, that we experience the spiritual life flow He wants us to enjoy both now and for eternity (see 3:15; 5:24-26; 6:35, 40, 47 for some examples). But John also mentions another aspect of how we receive life from Jesus, and that is to "come" to Him (see 5:40; 6:37, 44). John 6:35 mentions both: "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.'" 

That would mean then that the spiritual life flow of Jesus would be restricted when we fall prey to unbelief and unwillingnessSo according to my analogy, spiritual heart valve regurgitation would be unbelief and unwillingness. And that would mean that the valves of our spiritual heart would be our mind and our will. You can also be sure that the symptoms of this heart condition would also lead to death if left untreated.

If this analogy is valid, then for anyone experiencing severe spiritual heart valve regurgitation, it is imperative that we give attention to our mind and to our will. We may even need the Lord to do surgery on them. And that is why I believe that the first passage that came to my mind (without any sense of context) when I first began sensing the Holy Spirit nudging me regarding all this was Romans 12:1-2, which says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." This speaks of both our will and our mind being totally surrendered to God for His purposes, which is what Scripture teaches us is truly living. 

I believe there are two clear applications from all this, and they just happen to be the very same two things that God has very lovingly been persuading me to focus on these past six months. By God's grace, both my prayer life, and my reading and study schedule have flourished since recovering from the endocarditis in February. Prayer and reading/study.

It is by prayer that we repent of our independence and submit our will to God. John Piper wrote that “Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence.” It is the act of "waiting for God  acknowledging our helplessness and His power, calling upon Him for help, seeking His counsel.” An active prayer life allows God to operate on the spiritual heart valve of our will. It is how we can increasingly "come" to God, presenting ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, flexing our will to continually wait on God. 

And it is by reading and studying and memorizing God's Word, as well as reading books by godly writers, that we can grow in our knowledge of God and His ways, so that our mind can thus be transformed. A well-planned reading schedule of both the Bible and of other books allows God to operate on the spiritual heart valve of our mind. It is how we can increasingly "believe" God, our mind being transformed by His living word, as we fill our mind with His truth.

So please join me in receiving spiritual heart surgery every day as we wait on the Lord in prayer and learn from Him in His Word. It will save our lives, as well as give us His life!

© 2016 by Ken Peters

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