Secretariat, the Thoroughbred racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1973, was named one of the Twentieth Century’s “most outstanding athletes” by ESPN. At the Belmont, he began pulling away before reaching the second turn, winning by an astounding 31 lengths.
Announcer Chic Anderson excitedly called, “He’s moving like a tremendous machine.” He was a horse with heart. In fact, the doctor performing Secretariat’s necropsy discovered his heart was over twice the size of a normal horse’s heart — 22 pounds. Dr. Thomas Swerczek confirmed it was a normal heart, pathologically sound. This advanced cardiovascular system pumped oxygen into his lungs at an abnormally high rate, giving Secretariat a greater gallop.
Though it helped propel Secretariat, an enlarged heart is unhealthy for a person. Mayoclinic.org reports an enlarged heart is not a disease, but a sign of other possible conditions needing diagnosis and treatment.
Spiritually speaking, an enlarged heart is a good thing. Psalm 119:32 reads, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” God enlarges one’s heart, making it stronger, more steadfast, more in tune with God’s Word and way. The Psalmist expresses confidence God will enlarge his heart as he clings to God’s testimonies (119:31) and runs the course of God’s commands (32).
In the context of Psalm 119, which elaborates on the extraordinary benefits of knowing and keeping God’s Word, a person with an enlarged heart is open to knowing God’s statutes and learning God’s ways. He wants to be taught and longs for God’s Word. He also wants to keep God’s Word with his whole heart (34). He’s totally committed. He is characterized by a deep love for scripture. Finally, this person possesses stronger endurance to “run the course” (32) and “walk the path of Your commandments” (35).
Just as shortness of breath, an abnormal heart rhythm or swelling point to possible heart problems physically, what signs indicate heart problems spiritually?
First, an unwillingness to forgive. Holding a grudge, waiting for an apology that may never come, and harboring an unforgiving spirit lead to bitterness that only poisons our lives. We hurt ourselves when we fail to forgive.
Second, becoming slack in attending worship. God wired us for worship and commands our corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25). It’s hard for many to gather in person in our Coronavirus context, but we must not get out of the meaningful habit of meeting corporately on the Lord’s Day. We need one another. Worshipping live online gives some sense of togetherness but should not become a permanent change of habit.
Third, an inconsistent prayer life. Irregular prayer hinders the flow of God’s energy into our life, showing God we’re not depending on Him, though apart from Him, we can do nothing. More prayer, more power for daily life.
Fourth, a poor diet. The Psalmist said God’s Word is his food (103). Our spiritual growth depends heavily on the consistent and regular intake of God’s Word into our minds and hearts. Reading, studying, memorizing and mediating on scripture feed our soul.
Fifth, tuning out the familiar. When the Coronavirus hit, our staff started having our weekly planning meeting by Zoom. Our wall clock chimes every fifteen minutes. I didn’t notice it until one of our staff members asked about it. I tuned it out. Have we grown so accustomed to God that we are no longer amazed by His grace? So used to worship that we no longer anticipate meeting Him? Have we tuned Him out?
Sixth, lack of exercise. My physician recommends running or walking at least 150 minutes per week, thirty minutes each day for five days. He told about a woman with high blood pressure whom he instructed to follow this regimen. She came back later with high blood pressure and confessed she had yet to follow his counsel. He reemphasized his recommendation, sent her on her way, and when she returned weeks later, her blood pressure was remarkably lower.
Lack of exercise affects the circulatory system. If we’re going to walk God’s path and run His course, we need to be active so we will grow stronger every week. Actively serving the Lord contributes to a healthy heart.
Seventh, indifference. Spiritual apathy is a warning sign our hearts are turning away from God and flirting with pursuits that may pull us away from God. Following God must be our main pursuit.
[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, 352 McDonough Road, Fayetteville, Georgia. Worship in person or online at 9 and 10:55 a.m. by visiting www.mcdonoughroad.org. Contact Chancey at firstname.lastname@example.org.]