Spring Cleaning the Heart

Spring has arrived. Allergies notwithstanding, when it comes to seasons, spring is my favorite season of the year. I love the promise and renewal that spring ushers in.  The promise of resurrection which it holds. The vivid reminders spring gives that there can be life after death. That the cold, harsh and painful moments of life which can leave us in need of warmth, comfort, and healing, can give way to gentle, life giving rains and days, and hope and renewal. 

Spring can also be a time to declutter, a process known as spring cleaning in the Western world. Declutter is one of those words whose meaning is not hard to deciper – to remove clutter from a room, an area, etc. The thought of decluttering can seem overwhelming but there are numerous resources (podcasts, blogs, friends and family) with tips for how to declutter our physical surroundings.

Too often we can focus on the physical clutter that we can see but overlook the clutter that is within us. Clutter within us? Yes. There is clutter there. And, sometimes, the external clutter can be a reflection of our internal clutter. Internal clutter such as negative or self-critical thoughts, fears, wrong beliefs about God, ourselves and others, worry, and desires influenced by the world’s standards.

All that creates clutter is not inherently bad; some of the clutter can be things no longer useful in our current season. For example, the things that we needed to survive in one season may not be what we need to thrive in another season and as such become clutter, things that hinder our growth and derail our dreams.

We know that the condition of our hearts is important to God. An example of this truth is demonstrated in the Biblical story of God sending the prophet Samuel to anoint the 2nd king of Israel, as recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 16. Upon arriving at the home of Jesse, where God had directed him, Samuel looked at Eliab, one of Jesse’s 7 sons, and  said, “‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).  Another example of the importance of our hearts is found in Proverbs 4:23. Here we are instructed, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (HCSB).  In addition, in Romans 10:10 we are informed that it is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

When we speak of the heart in this context, we are not referring to the physical organ in our chests that pumps blood through our bodies and keeps us alive.  What are we speaking of when we talk here about the heart?  I found the Bible Project’s Word Study Video on the heart helpful in understanding what is meant by the heart in Scripture and I reference content from that video here.

In Scripture, the heart is seen as the place where all of human intellectual activity takes place: for example, we know with our heart. It is with our heart that we understand and make connections. Wisdom dwells in the heart (Proverbs 14:33). We use our hearts to discern between truth and error. It is with our hearts that we think and make sense of the world. 

In addition, we feel emotions in our heart, for example, pain, fear, distress, depression, joy.  The heart is the generator of physical life and the center of our intellectual and emotional life. It is where our desires are centered (Psalms 37:4). The heart is where we make choices motivated by our desires. In the Bible, the heart is the center of all parts of human existence (Proverbs 4:23).

Given all that the heart is, according to the Bible, the necessity of having a healthy heart, an uncluttered heart cannot be overstated. How can we declutter our hearts? To declutter our hearts, we need to know what is in our hearts. And how do we know what is in our hearts? The content of our hearts is revealed by the words we speak. The NKJV’s translation of Matthew 12:34 tells us that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. The NIV’s translation of this verse states, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How do we know what is in our hearts? By paying attention to our words.

What is in our hearts is also revealed by our actions. Jesus points to the heart as the source of both our words and actions. In Matthew 15:17-20, Jesus states, “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But whatever [word] comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles and dishonors the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts and plans, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slanders (verbal abuse, irreverent speech, blaspheming). These are the things which defile and dishonor the man; but eating with [ceremonially] unwashed hands does not defile the man” (AMP).

But how do we determine what constitutes internal clutter? One of the questions the author of the blog post, “13 questions to help you identify clutter” poses is, “Is the item adding enough value to your life to justify the time, space and energy it takes up?” She is referring to physical clutter but I believe it is applicable to internal or spiritual clutter also.  Ultimately, however, the truest standard for identifying clutter in our hearts is the Word of God. Psalm 119 describes the Word of God, telling us what it is and does. For example, Psalm 119:105 states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (AMP). Hebrews 4:12 is another verse that describes what the Word of God is and does, “For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart” (AMP).  

Let us commit this spring to examining our hearts by paying attention to our words and our actions so that we can engage in the decluttering process. Some ways of speaking and behaving can become habitual so we do not notice how harmful some of our words and actions are to us and to others.  We need and have the help of the Holy Spirit to identify what we need to remove from our hearts and His power to declutter our hearts. He invites us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV). God’s help is available but we must make the decision to ask for His help and then do so. We can pray as David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (AMP). It is encouraging to remember, as stated in Philippians 2:13 (NLT), that God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. It is only through Him that we can remove anything from our hearts that keep us from loving Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind and from loving others as He loves us. Decluttering involves a desire to be free of things that hinder our spiritual life/our relationship with God, the decision to let go of those things, and then doing the work necessary. We can count on God’s help every step of the way.

And we do not have to wait until spring to declutter. Let us ask our gracious Heavenly Father to help us develop and maintain the spiritual practices that bring us regularly into His presence (prayer, reading the Bible and and meditating on It; praise and worship; expressing gratitude to Him).  Let us ask Him to make our hearts tender towards Him so that we prioritize daily what He says is important and let go and stay free of what we have removed in the decluttering process. 

This post is from Season 5 – Episode 1 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast. You can listen to it here.