Heart problems run in my family. My dad’s mother had a heart attack when I was in the fifth grade; they lost her three or four times on the way to the hospital, but the paramedics were able to revive her. She required a pacemaker and lived for another 22 or so years. Then there’s Dad. Dad has struggled with atrial fibrillation off and on, not a serious health concern necessarily, but when you have two incompetent physicians working together and they nearly kill you, you have cause for concern. My brother Aaron had a problem with Prinzmetal’s angina, vasospasms which cause a narrowing of the arteries. In most cases Prinzmetal’s angina is not a cause for concern, just a little annoyance that causes you to feel like you’re having a heart attack.
Seven years ago today I left the hospital after a three-day stay in the Cardiac Care Unit. I remember it was seven years ago, for a month later – while having chest pains – I stood in line to vote for Chuck Baldwin for President (yeah, my politics align with the Constitution Party, but I’ve recently come to adopt David Lipscomb’s view on voting and government). I remember the date seven years ago, because one of the deacons where I preached begged me to tell the doctor I needed to stay another day or two. But, I had a son turning 10 the next day (he’ll be 17 tomorrow!), and I wasn’t about to spend RJ’s birthday in the hospital.
I saw my family doctor with chest pains a couple weeks or so before I was in the CCU. He examined me, and he found sinus tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat), but that was really all that he found; therefore, he referred me to a cardiologist but Scott wasn’t overly concerned. The cardiologist didn’t find anything on examination, but he ordered a couple test. The test came back normal, and I was told that I didn’t really have a problem: stress maybe, but hypochondriac was the most likely diagnosis.
I last saw the cardiologist a few days before I entered the hospital. On the morning I went to the ER, I woke up with absolutely excruciating chest pain, pain that radiated from my chest, down my left arm, and up into my neck. I had an elephant sitting on my chest, and I could barely breathe. I told Tammy it was time to go to the ER. Anytime Justin says we’re going to the ER, we have a very dire situation.
With my pain level (and the fact that it was chest pain), I was ushered into the ER immediately with Tammy following as quickly as her legs would carry her. An EKG simply showed tachycardia (my pulse was somewhere around 150 – I’ve seen it around 200). Nitroglycerin helped almost immediately: I wasn’t having panic attacks and I wasn’t a hypochondriac, I had a cardiac issue and I was told I was spending some time in the hospital.
It was nearly time for the boys to get out of school when I was finally taken my room in the CCU; Tammy left to get them. We had talked with the CCU nurses, and the boys couldn’t enter the unit, but they would permit me to go out to the lobby for a little while; therefore, Tammy brought the boys to the hospital so that they could see Daddy was okay. The next morning, I headed down for a stress test. I spent the entire morning and afternoon having that test. I got back to the CCU exhausted and hungry. As I was eating supper, the phone rang at the nurses’ station just outside my room, and I heard her talking with the cardiologist – I was spending some more time in the hospital because the stress test showed ischemia (my heart wasn’t getting enough oxygen). I was moved to the fourth floor to a cardiac room to await a catheterization the next day.
The cardiologist came in the next morning and said that my previous test showed I didn’t have a blockage; therefore, I was going home and a catheterization was unnecessary. My wife and other members of the church were furious, and they were especially upset that I was willing to go on home for RJ’s birthday, but I was going to be home for my boy’s birthday.
To shorten my story considerably, I finally had that catheterization, and my diagnosis? Prinzmetal’s angina, just like my brother. No wonder I had symptoms of a heart attack – blood flow to my heart was being greatly slowed by vasospasms. Today, I take two pills to lower my heart rate and blood pressure and I take a nitrate to prevent the vasospasms. The drugs are working very well: When I saw my neuro a couple weeks ago, my pulse was 73 and my blood pressure was 94/53. Thanks to medication, a daily swim, an 80-pound weight loss, and God’s help, my heart is in good shape.
But, I still have a very serious heart problem. I imagine you do, too. All of us have a serious heart problem.
- “The heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8:11). In my heart, I really don’t want to do the right thing (before you judge me, look at your own heart). I know what is right and I know that I must do what is right, but that’s not really what I want. Sometimes I fall into sin because of the desire to do what I want instead of what God wants.
- “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead” (Eccl 9:3). My heart is evil.
- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). My heart deceives me. Sometimes I think I’m doing right when I’m really doing wrong. Sometimes I think I’m doing things with the right motives, but my motives are as impure as they can be. My heart is “deceitful above all things.”
- After He finished the Parable of the Latrine, Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt 15:18-20). Every impure thought, every sinful act, every hateful word, and every other sin I ever commit derives from my deceitful heart.
- “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb 3:12). Every unbelieving act: not trusting God when I pray, not believing God can forgive me of my sin, or doubting His Word, comes from my heart, a heart that leads me away from the living God.
The diagnosis is not a good one: we have a serious heart problem. Let me tell you something: It would be far preferable for you to fall over dead with a heart attack right this second than to have an evil heart and fall into the hands of the living God.
What shall we do about our evil hearts?
- Immerse ourselves in the Word of God: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11).
- Trust in the Lord: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).
- Guard your heart: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23).
- Believe in Jesus:
- “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (Jn 7:38).
- “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).
- Allow the proclamation of God’s Word to pierce your heart: “When they heard this they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
- Obey God from your heart: “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom 6:17).
- Worship God with your heart: We’re to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19). No need for a piano or guitar or other mechanical instruments, for my instrument is my grateful heart singing praises to the Almighty God as I address those around me.
Our hearts are sick, dreadfully sick. But, Jesus heals. Jesus saves. Won’t you turn to Him today and allow Him to heal your heart? He will walk with you as He has walked with me.
If you need help, please email me, and I’ll do whatever I can.