I was on the tennis court, ready to receive serve, when I felt dizzy. The next thing I hear are the radio voices of emergency personnel as I am being wheeled to the waiting ambulance. That set me on an unplanned crash course on heart disease that included knowing symptoms of heart failure.
Contrary to my thinking, heart failure does not necessarily mean heart stoppage and instant death. It just means the heart is failing to do its job. Evidently, it can show up in different people in different ways. For me, the telltale sign was shortness of breath.
Spiritual heart failure is a serious matter as well, one which plagues us all. The heart doesn’t do it its job of loving God or neighbor. It tends to be lethargic and increasingly disinterested in the things of God.
What are the signs of spiritual heart failure? We can note at least six symptoms.
Attendance in weekly worship becomes optional and irregular. God designed us to be worshipers. He sought us and turned our hearts from idols to worship Him as the true and living God. Neglect of weekly worship can be a sign of a heart that suffers from spiritual arrhythmia.
A shallow prayer life. Like shortness of breath and struggle for oxygen, irregular prayer does not breathe in the oxygen of God’s grace in continual awareness of Him and dependence upon Him. This condition often takes in shallow breaths of periodic prayer that fail to fill the lungs or that hyperventilate in panic at times of great distress.
Gospel indifference. The diseased heart is no longer invigorated by the gospel. The amazing love of God in the giving of His Son does not animate our lives with the adrenaline of God’s grace. Christ preached and sacraments celebrated are God’s means to help restore our flagging spirit.
Poor appetite and inadequate diet. God has given us full nutrition of truth in His Word, all the nourishment we need for our growth in grace. But we content ourselves with snacking on a nugget every now and then, and even then not savoring its gospel richness through reflection.
Inactivity. A heart not strengthened through the exercise of service becomes weakened. It does not look to serve but to be served, unlike the One whose heart was in perfect health.
Spiritual listlessness. Indifference to the things of God and tolerance of what dishonors Him are signs of arteriosclerosis, hardness of heart. One contributing factor to this condition is isolation from fellow believers to stimulate us in the practice of love and guard us from the deceitfulness of sin.
How do we address spiritual heart failure? First, by concern for heart health. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Second, by attendance of the Great Physician. “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). Ultimately, that way everlasting is Christ Himself.