Episode 1. Boundaries – Heart and Mind
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There’s nothing worse than when someone treads on your toes – you know they get in your space, they tread on your toes and what you feel is something between discomfort, anger and fear. That’s …
There’s nothing worse than when someone treads on your toes. You know, they get in your space, they tread on your toes, and what you feel is something between discomfort, anger, and fear. See, that’s why boundaries are so important.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BOUNDARIES
The concept of setting and maintaining boundaries in our lives is actually very important, yet it’s not something that we tend to think too much about until someone crosses a boundary; until someone, as I said, treads on your toes. Then all of a sudden we react, and more often than not, our reactions aren’t all that good. That’s why it’s important for us to think about and to understand our boundaries, and that’s why it’s important to set our boundaries in the right place with the right controls. Boundaries that are too tight end up isolating us; boundaries that are too loose allow our lives, our emotions, our possessions, to be plundered.
Different people have different concepts of boundaries. I remember back in the nineteen eighties I was doing a consulting job for the city of Melbourne in Australia. They set up a small office for us in a small alleyway not far from the town hall in a building that we shared with, amongst other things, an English language school with lots of Asian students.
There was only one elevator in the building and as I recall, it was a pretty small one. Now we all have a concept about when a lift or an elevator, as some call it, is full. You get in; you take a look; it looks too packed to you, so you decide to wait until it comes back again empty, but it turned out that the Asian students coming from countries much, much more crowded than Australia had a totally different notion of what full looked like, and so they’d just keep on packing in and packing in, and when I thought we simply couldn’t squeeze anyone else in, four more people would get in the lift.
That truly tested my notions of the boundaries of personal space, with bodies pressed up against me and people literally treading on my toes, but it didn’t seem to bother them because they were used to that sort of overcrowding. It was entirely normal for them. Fortunately though, the lift never broke down. I don’t know how I would have coped with being stuck in there for half an hour pinned to the wall, so we all have different ideas of what boundaries are acceptable and what boundaries are unacceptable.
You see it between nations. In most of the world, you have to have a passport to enter a country as a foreign national, but not all foreign nationals are the same. Many countries treat different nationalities differently, in terms of visa requirements and security requirements and so on. I have to fulfil certain requirements to get a visa to enter India, but if you’re a Pakistani national, the requirements are much more stringent, and yet travel to Europe and now most people can pretty much move across national borders without any sort of control whatsoever.
The more you think about boundaries, whether on a personal level or a national or international scale, the more complicated it gets, but there’s one thing for certain: If someone (that person, that group of people, an army or a nation) steps over a boundary that they’re not supposed to, well, there’s going to be a clash of some sort; anything from friction to all-out war. That’s why boundaries are important, and yet we spend little if any time thinking about, talking about, the boundaries that we’ve set. Mostly, the setting of boundaries is an unconscious thing, and because boundaries are never talked about, people step over them, often without knowing it until it’s too late, and right there, you have the beginnings of a potential conflict.
Given this subject is such an important one in our lives, it won’t come as any surprise to you that God has rather a lot to say about the boundaries in our lives. It seems to me that if I set the right sort of boundaries in the right sort of places, with the right sort of controls, balancing stringency and defence on the one hand with kindness and openness on the other, I’m going to have a much better life.
The Bible tells us that we should pursue peace, and since war happens over this whole issue of boundaries, it seems to me at least that it’s worth talking about and thinking through the boundaries that we set in our lives, and perhaps adjusting a few of them to bring about more peace. That’s why we’re talking about boundaries: Learning to set the right boundaries over the next few weeks, and today I want to get us thinking by kicking off with some wisdom on this whole issue of boundaries from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Have a listen. Proverbs 22:28:
Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.
Landmarks were the basis of boundaries. When Israel came into the promised land, every one of the twelve tribes of Israel bar one (the Levites) were allocated their own land in this promised land. The ancient landmarks were set up to draw the boundaries between the lands, between the tribes, but here this idea is being used metaphorically. It’s this idea that God has ordained certain boundaries, certain things that are good, and yet in this day and age, we want to toss all those things out because they aren’t all that convenient – because we think we know better. Meanwhile, wars continue to be fought over boundaries. Marriages continue to fall apart over boundaries, and lives continue to be robbed of God’s peace over boundaries. Just a few verses on, God takes this to a whole nother level. Proverbs 23:10-11:
Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their cause against you.
He uses the example here of the orphans: The poor and the needy and the vulnerable in society. God has a heart for the poor, and what He’s saying here is, “Look, don’t step over that boundary. Don’t move that ancient landmark because God, the Redeemer of the orphans, is strong and He will defend them”.
See, there are some good boundaries that we can set in life. We’re going to talk about a few of those in the rest of this series, and there are some very bad boundaries we can set, like exploiting the vulnerable as in this case, or being selfish. When you think about it, selfishness is about setting the wrong boundary in the wrong place: Having more than enough, and not sharing it with those who are in need; placing your comfort above others’ needs, and when we move from being selfish to generous – with our resources, with our time, with our encouragement, what we’re doing is we’re saying, “Hey. This boundary around what I have and what I own, I’ve had it set in the wrong place. I actually need to move it outwards a lot more. I need to make its defences less stringent, so that some of what I have can flow out to those who don’t have what I have and who need what I have”.
You see the point? Do you see how important it is to have our boundary set in the right place? The question is, where is the right place? What is the right level of control? Well, the answer to that is that the right place is the place that God sets up, according to His ancient landmarks.
We tend to think of things ancient as being irrelevant. “Hey, come on, the world’s moved on”. In this era of instant connectivity, in this era of having the world in the palm of your hand on your smartphone, what possible relevance can ancient landmarks really have? Well, with God the answer is, rather a lot of relevance, as things turn out. Let me bring you back to it. Proverbs 22:28:
Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.
What landmarks have you set up in your life that define your boundaries? Are they where God would have them, or have you set them up to suit yourself, with little or no thought as to God’s will for your life? Now that’s something worth thinking about. Have you removed God’s ancient landmarks in your life?
BOUNDARIES OF THE HEART
We talk a lot about the heart: Not just our physical heart (that amazing pump that beats on average around seventy-five beats a minute, a hundred and eight thousand times a day, or almost forty million times a year), but our emotional heart – our spiritual heart (that part of us that’s so deep inside, it’s who we are; where we live; where we experience joy and sorrow and laughter and pain). Proverbs 4:23 says this:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows out of it.
Now that’s pretty much it. What happens deep in our hearts ends up influencing (no, influence isn’t quite the right word), it ends up determining how we behave. That’s what Jesus said too. Matthew 12:33-35:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad. For the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you’re evil? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.
Your heart is incredibly important when it comes to how you live. That’s why it’s so important to guard your heart, but how do you guard your heart? Where do you set the boundaries? It’s funny how often the Bible talks about boundaries without ever explicitly calling them that, but that Scripture from Proverbs 4:23 about guarding your heart is all about boundaries.
Back in those days, to protect a city, you did two things: First, you built a dirty great big wall around it. The wall that Nehemiah built around Jerusalem after the Israelites returned from their exile in Babylon was forty feet high and many feet thick, so the first thing you do is, you build a wall. The second thing you do is, you put guards on-top of that wall to keep watch, so that you can see if someone is coming to attack the city, so yes, this whole thing about guarding your heart is about setting up boundaries and setting up defences, but as I’ve just said, not all boundaries are good boundaries. Think about your heart. What boundaries, what defences, have you set up?
Some people are defensive and touchy. What that tells me is that they’ve built their wall too high, they’ve drawn their boundaries too tight, and what they’re guarding tucked away in their heart isn’t worthy of the defence. When it comes to your heart, it’s not only the walls that we’re talking about, but what’s in your heart that matters. God’s Word draws some sharply different pictures of the human heart. On the one hand, it says Jeremiah 17:9-10:
The heart is devious above all else; it’s perverse. Who can understand it? I, the LORD, test the mind and search the heart to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
But on the other hand, Matthew 5:8:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
And Ezekiel 11:19-21:
I will give them one heart and put a new spirit in them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow My statutes and keep My ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be My people and I will be their God, but as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds down upon their own heads,’ says the LORD.
It seems to me that God is vitally interested in what’s going on in your heart and mine, and what He’s looking for is a pure heart: A heart of good intentions; a heart that wants to honour Him; a heart that’s fit to burst with love for Him, and unless we guard that purity of heart, unless we defend and we contend for it, then the enemy is going to plunder it, for he knows that if he can plunder your heart, if he can fill it with impurity, with evil thoughts, with bitterness and vengeance and the like, he’s going to ruin your life because your thoughts, your words and your actions flow from what’s going on in your heart. That’s why the Bible says Proverbs 4:23:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows out of it.
Did you pick up the first bit there? Above all else, before everything else, of principal primary importance, is guarding your heart. Well, how do you do that? Tell you what I do. When I see evil coming my way, in whatever form it takes, as an idea, as a temptation, as someone else’s poor behaviour or low standards, I close my heart to that: Not perfectly every time I have to say, but my intent is always to guard the goodness that God puts into my heart by His Spirit, as I read His Word; as I pray; as I worship Him. All those things fill my heart with the goodness and the purity that God’s looking for. It doesn’t come from me; it comes from God. After all, that’s precisely what He promises to do, back in the Scripture from Ezekiel 11 – to give us a new heart, so it’s to evil that God wants us to close our hearts, but to good things, they should be wide-open: To generosity, to compassion, to kindness, to gentleness, to sacrifice, to Jesus … To those things, our hearts should be wide-open, but to the things that will breed evil in or hearts, they should be closed shut.
So when someone comes alongside and starts grumbling and complaining, say about the leadership of our church, that’s something I’m closed to. And when someone comes along and talks to me about serving and helping, that’s something that I try very hard to be open to. It’s a boundary of discernment that God is calling us to build around our hearts: A boundary that’ll maintain the purity of our hearts, so our thoughts and words and deeds which flow from the heart will be God-honouring; will glorify God; will speak to the people around us of this Jesus, who came and died for them. Above all things guard your hearts, for out of them flows the wellspring of your life.
BOUNDARIES OF THE MIND
As I said, the mind is an incredibly powerful thing. If we use it positively and creatively, we’ll end up living a positive and creative life. If we use it in a negative way, we’ll end up living a negative life. As Joyce Meyer once said, “You can’t have a negative mind and expect to live a positive life”, but our mind, these days is being bombarded with so many things, so many negative and unhelpful ways of thinking, that if we’re not careful we end up taking that negativity on and making it part of our minds.
Just one example: The sitcoms that play themselves out on television these days. On the surface, yeah; they’re funny and we laugh and we feel entertained, but more and more, these sitcoms are being used as platforms for delivering wrong thinking about sexual promiscuity and perversions, much in the same way as cigarettes were merely a delivery platform for the addictive substance nicotine. Now that’s a somewhat unpopular thing for me to say because so many people have consumed so much of this stuff, so many people have swallowed the promiscuity and the perversions hook, line and sinker that it’s become part of them. It’s now how they think. It’s now what they believe.
There will be many people who hear me say this today who will write me off as some conservative crackpot and I know I’ll get many, many emails from people contending with what I’ve said. That’s ok; I don’t mind that, because the lies of this world are not what determine how I think. God’s Word is, and God’s Word says this. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:
Shun fornication and flee from it. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the fornicator sins against the body itself, or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own, for you were bought with a price? Therefore, glorify God in your body.
We’re talking in this series ‘Learning to Set Boundaries’ about the boundaries that we set in our lives, and one of the important boundaries that we need to set is the boundary around our mind: What we let in and what we don’t. It’s about guarding your mind from that which is wrong, and feeding it with that which is right, and one of the reasons this is so important is that the mind is the gateway to the heart. It’s a bit like the relationship between the mouth and the stomach. We take food into our mouths; if it tastes bad, we spit it out; if it tastes good, we chew it, we swallow it and it goes down into our stomachs, where it’s broken down, digested and then subsequently absorbed into our bodies, where it becomes part of us, and the reason that so many people are sick and obese these days is because they’re putting the wrong sort of food into their mouths, swallowing it, and slowly killing themselves.
Well, it’s kind of the same with our minds. We’re presented, let’s say, with a seductive idea of promiscuity or perversion, wrapped in the sweet-wrapper of the comedy of a sitcom, and that hits our minds, and we chew it over, and then we can either swallow it or spit it out. Swallow bad stuff and it’ll give you heart disease; swallow good stuff and it’ll make you strong and pure. The problem is that we consume most of these things uncritically. In other words, all we see is the humour in the sitcom that makes us laugh, rather than thinking over what they’re feeding us. Isn’t that what we do? We swallow before we chew, taste and decide whether this is any good for us or not.
These days so many people in God’s church, people who proclaim that they believe in Jesus, will become all defensive when God’s Word on promiscuity and perversion is preached. Why? Because they’ve swallowed the rubbish, and as I’ve said, that’s just one example. There are many, many others, but God’s Word says that He’s given you a powerful mind: A mind that can begin to affect powerful change in your life. Have a listen to this. Romans 12:2 says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Now I know that that particular Scripture is going to be a familiar one for many, but how often have you ever read it with the understanding that it’s talking about the power of your mind to set new boundaries? What it says is that as we renew our minds by starting to believe God rather than the father of lies, by starting to consume God’s Word rather than the poison of this world, our lives will be transformed. Listen to it again. Romans 12:2:
Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Isn’t that powerful? It’s talking about real transformation by starting to believe God over the world, because that’s where you’ll discover the good and perfect and acceptable will of God for your life, so to come back to the example that I’ve been using today, the apparently innocuous but actually poisonous sitcoms that we get dished up on television every night, those that are poisonous (not all of them are, but quite a few of them are) I simply don’t watch. Ever. Full stop, and when I’m watching a movie that promotes promiscuity, I see it for what it is and reject it, and if a sex scene pops up unexpectedly, I actually fast-forward through it. Yeah, call me square; call me old-fashioned; call it whatever you like, but I am determined to guard my mind – to set boundaries, but at the same time, I allow my mind to wander free over the hills and valleys of my dreams and my imagination, because God has spoken to me so often out there on those hills and in those valleys. I’ve chosen not to be conformed to this world, but to let God transform my life by changing my mind; by renewing my mind; by setting the right boundaries around my mind.