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I have a confession to make: I have, at times, had a hard time reading the genealogies in the Bible (aka, “the begats”). When I was a kid, I would just jump over the lists of names and pick up reading again after the list was over. As I grew older, I felt a bit guilty about ignoring and skipping over sections of God’s Word, so I did what I could to try to white knuckle my way through the begats.

Seemed like each time there was a list, it would take forever to read, and all of the names would just fade into one another without any personal meaning or understanding. It was kind of like watching somebody else’s vacation pictures—something that was meaningful to them but completely empty to me.

So in a moment of desperation, I prayed. I asked God to reveal Himself in the middle of the begats, and that I would see Him there. I started reading in the Gospel of Luke through the list of Jesus’ ancestry. It’s a familiar section of Luke, one that I’ve either jumped over or skimmed many times before. But this time was different. The names on the pages jumped out, almost like they were highlighted—each name was a story. A life. A why.

For as far back as I can remember, it has been important to me to know why I’m doing something, not just the what. To me, lists, methods, rules, disciplines, and dos and don’ts all have their genesis and purpose in the why, the value or reason behind the what.

And now I saw a why revealed. Reading the begats this time, I heard in my heart the admonition from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (NIV). Not just “guard your heart” for vigilance’s sake, but guard your heart because everything in life flows out of it.

It hit me like a gust of freezing wind, almost taking my breath away: Who I am, what I say, and how I live come from the overflow of what’s in my heart. The state of my heart forms and colors the kind of man, husband, father, son and friend I am. People I am in relationship with currently, people I will meet, and even people not yet born—people downstream from me—are touched, or will be touched, for good or for evil by what is going on in my heart—and by how well it is being guarded. And by whom.

These lines of begats in Luke came to life as I saw them for the first time, interconnected. Fathers. Sons. Generation to generation. Some representing holiness, perseverance and hope, inspiring faith, courage and devotion to the Most High God.

Others were not so good—with stories of immorality, fear, idolatry and selfishness—serving as a reminder of a heart left unguarded, with just as real a legacy passed down, referred to and remembered every time these genealogies were revisited.

I see myself in my very own list of begats—my family tree, a line stretching out both before and beyond me—and I hear again the command to guard my heart, and know why this must be. I’m not just living for me, for my own hopes and dreams. Rather, I’m part of a greater story, one that I want to point to the glory and honor of Almighty God.

And so I pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

And now I like to read the begats.

is senior pastor of Hillside (Reno Foursquare Church) in Reno, Nev.