Feed the Heart
According to the Mayo Clinic, to minimize heart trouble, there's one meal you shouldn't skip. 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, we all grew up hearing it was "the most important meal of the day. Although, that may have been true, it also turns out Mom was on to something. According to a new study 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. 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. 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: "Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 14:1, ESV). 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. The kind of heart trouble that can feel like a loss of hope, a lack of faith, a panic attack or pangs of uncertainty. The kind of heart trouble that keeps you up at night thinking about money, biting your nails when you're worried about your child or on the phone with a friend craving advice for a crumbling marriage. 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 rampant 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 Christ. Thanks to the Mayo Clinic, we know a bowl of Cheerios will help our arteries. But what about our hearts of faith, our worries and anxieties? What about those gnawing fears and gnawed fingernails? Let's be honest: Is it even possible, as follower of Jesus in an extremely screwed-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 Jesus' words. He says, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (v. 1, ESV). 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 Christ and an active life of following Christ. Now, at first glance, that answer may reek of Sunday school simplicity. But it's true. Far too many followers of Christ have heart trouble stemming from the fact that their lives involve no regular consumption of Christ and no actual exercise of their faith in Christ. 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 Christ in his Word or craving some lasting peace that can come only from standing on his promises, 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 cable news, thinking the talking heads from your preferred political tribe will give you lasting wisdom in a crumbling world. You may join the neighborhood gym 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, the Mayo Clinic 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. That's all. 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 Christ and exercised in a life of following him. Remember Christ's own words immediately following the command that our hearts be trouble-free. Five times - 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 Christ? It comes down to being connected to the promises of his Word, found in the Scriptures, and the power of his presence, found in his 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 his people are essential for a strong heart of faith. In verse 18 (ESV), Christ makes a promise, saying, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Quite often, when our hearts are troubled and we feel furthest from Christ, it's simply because we are far from the two places - his Word and his people - where he's promised to always be found. What's more, we live in a world in which access to God's Word has never been easier. Just one example: At the Web site youversion.com, one can read the Bible in hundreds of languages and translations, take notes that can be shared with others and use an endless number of reading plans that make connecting with Christ easier and more accessible than ever before. Once your heart of faith is fed with Christ, the essential element is to make sure it's regularly stretched, exercised and put to the test in a lifestyle of relentlessly pursuing Christ. 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! "Truly, truly," said Jesus, "whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do ..." (v. 12, ESV). The disciples needed hearts that were fed with Christ because they'd be thrown into lives of doing incredible, frightening, heart-straining works in the name of Christ. 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 sister-in-law, you prayed for courage, sought God's people for counsel and then approached her in an attempt to reconcile? * What if you pushed aside inconvenience and ignorance and signed up to serve at a soup kitchen downtown? * What if, rather than worry about your finances, you trusted Christ to be King over your treasure, set an actual budget and attempted to tithe? * What if, rather than feeding your heart with excuses to stay where you are in life, you took bold steps to train, engage and grow your heart? What if? 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. "Let not your hearts be troubled." It's time to heed Christ's call, feed on his Word and begin flexing that faith. Come on, if Mom was right about breakfast, then certainly Jesus is right about this. Amen.