Guard your heart — Introduction
Over the years I have known many people in helping roles—pastors, counselors, small group leaders, and friends—who became overly emotionally involved with people they were trying to help. Many of them ended up sinning sexually, divorcing, and walking away from fellowship with God.
It’s important to love the people you are helping. But it’s also important to be wise, and to love with godly love.
If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself feeling sympathetic and protective toward the person you are helping. Or you might be attracted to his or her personality. You could find yourself getting involved in increasingly deep emotional talks. Be wise. Guard your heart.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-7)
Accountability partners or accountability groups are not enough
Accountability groups are good, but they are not enough. Many people who are in accountability groups or who have accountability partners slip into sin. It’s easy to lie to your friends or to violate your own boundaries.
What really matters is guarding your own heart. Train yourself to be honest with God in prayer as you go throughout the day. Deal with sinful thoughts the moment they come up.
Guarding your heart means being alert and wise. It means carefully watching your emotions. It means disciplining yourself. It means setting up boundaries that you won’t cross. It means being smart.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Related: Guard your thought life
Make personal boundaries
In general it’s wisest to minister to people of the same sex. If a person of the opposite sex needs support, advice, or counsel, ask someone of the same sex as that person to meet with him or her.
If you are a counselor or pastor who meets with people of the opposite sex, establish rules for yourself (such as keeping your office door open when counseling).
If you are asked to help someone of the same sex as yourself and you find yourself attracted to him or her, it would be wise to ask someone else to minister to that person.
Monitor your words and actions
If you are married, don’t complain about your spouse to the other person. Complaining about your own marriage, personal problems, or loneliness can be seen as an open invitation to the person you are helping.
If you are married, work to improve your marriage. God has plans for you—and they are with your spouse. Throw yourself into learning how to be the best husband or wife you can be.
These guidelines are not just for married people. If you are single, you also need to be wise. (This doesn’t mean you couldn’t ever eventually marry someone you are helping. However, move very slowly. As long as you are in a helping role and the other person is emotionally needy, neither of you should think about marriage.)
Be aware that someone you are helping may feel close to you. When you are helping or counseling someone, he or she may begin to develop emotional or sexual feelings toward you. Be alert, and be sure not to do anything that might encourage these feelings. Remember to help people learn to trust in God, not you.
Be aware that you may be developing feelings. When you are counseling or helping someone, you may begin to develop emotional or sexual feelings toward him or her. Stay alert. The moment you recognize growing feelings, identify them as sin and run from them.
Take action when needed
If you start to have overly-emotional or romantic feelings for someone, remember that your feelings are not really love. If you truly love someone, you want the best for him or her. Encouraging or helping someone else to sin in any way is not love.
If you have trouble dealing with your feelings or the other person’s feelings, ask a pastor or mature Christian for prayer.
If you continue to have trouble, ask your pastor for advice. Be ready to ask someone else to take over your helping role if necessary.
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)
What steps will you take to guard your heart?
Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
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