Pastoral Heart Disease by Ron Walters
To the poet, it’s the vault in which dreams are kept. To the athlete, it’s the high-test fuel that propels the body. To the romantic, it’s a gift to be given. To the zealot, it’s what is worn on the sleeve. To the physician, it’s a muscle extraordinaire. And to the pastor, it’s why the workweek never ends at forty hours.
The Heart—the unseen, non-negotiable center of human life.
Like an anxious kid waving his hand during show-n-tell, the beating heart is eager to be recognized. And with good reason, too. Its primary function is to receive, clean and pump as many as six quarts of blood through every nook and cranny of the body every sixty seconds—every twenty seconds if you’re exercising.
The heart is petite too! This little workhorse is only the size of a clenched fist and weighs less than a pound. And yet the heart is the most active and durable muscle in the body, beating 100,000 times every day or 36 million times per year.
In one hour the energy exerted by the heart is equivalent to lifting 1.5 tons one foot off the floor.
Because of its importance, physicians have tried to fix sick hearts for centuries—some with extraordinary results, others not so much. For example:
• In 350 B.C., the first bloodletting office was opened in Alexandria. Egyptian physicians hoped to eliminate heart diseases by eliminating diseased blood.
• In 1540, an English Barber’s License was issued permitting local beauticians to engage in haircutting and bloodletting—presumably at a full-service salon.
• In 1903, the electrocardiograph was developed to detect and record the electrical activities of the heart. (Rumor has it the electro-candygram was introduced then too.)
• In 1949, two doctors at the Yale School of Medicine used dime-store toys and various pieces from an Erector Set to build an artificial heart for a dog. The dog lived for more than one hour.
• In 1967, the first human heart transplant was performed. The recipient died of pneumonia 18 days later due to a weakened immune system.
• In 1982, the first successful artificial heart, the Jarvik-7, was implanted. The longest living recipient survived 600 days.
• In 1988, the first Hemopump was used, allowing patients to live without a pulse thereby giving the implanted heart time to heal before it started pumping again.
• In 2013, there were 2,000 successful heart transplants in the United States. Another 278 were not as fortunate.
All in all, the heart is critical property.
Pastors are also in the heart-fixing business. But our work has nothing to do with blocked arteries or damaged myocardium: Our challenge is to operate on the very serious and deadly hardened hearts.
Thankfully, the surgical tools we’ve been given are timeless and oh so effective.
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged scalpel, cutting deep to the soul and the spirit … to the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, exposing us for what we really are.”
It’s little wonder that almost 1,000 verses of scripture speak of the heart. God’s word has an uncanny ability to cut out sin and weaknesses. It binds wounded spirits and resuscitates weakened hearts. It gives birth to hope. It empowers once-dormant muscles. It revitalizes lost disciplines.
But heart check-ups aren’t just for parishioners. Scripture offers an EKG for pastors too.
The warning signs for pastoral heart disease can be found in five pressure-point areas:
1.) Don’t let the heart be snared by attractive evils.
2.) Don’t let the heart be vindictive in another’s misfortune.
3.) Don’t let the heart be troubled when God’s plans supersede our own.
4.) Don’t let the heart be bought by the highest bidder.
5.) Don’t let the heart wander into complacency.
Heart surgery, whether on a congregation or its pastor, is serious business. Though the pulse may be weak and the conditions grim, the solutions are always available.
Do not lose heart.