the heart of man

My early 20s – especially life after college – have brought along countless questions: What do I want to do? Where should I live? What is my calling? Where is God leading me to serve? How do I want to prioritize my time and resources? These questions have frustrated me and have led to self-criticism. I often want all the answers and I tend to look at the lack of these answers as a deficiency on my part.

I’ve read Proverbs 16:9 countless times before: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” and I’ve always thought it casts a very negative light on the heart of man. The heart of man is deceitful. The heart of man plans out of greed/selfishness. Following one’s heart = danger. Following the Lord = safety. But what strikes me when reading this now is that God acknowledges our heart’s pattern of sub-consciously planning our paths the way we want them to be (He says that our hearts will try to lead us). But He also says that He will move in spite of our desires. He will establish our steps.

The world tells us to follow our hearts. When  we think about this from a spiritual standpoint, we tell ourselves, “Don’t follow your heart.” This can be confusing, and it can be hard to  reconcile our flawed thoughts and desires with God’s plans. Partly because of the way I was taught growing up, when I desire to do something, I often think heavily about it (and I’m often indecisive). Reading about God’s very complicated plans for people in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, Joseph) leads me to the conclusion that our feelings and desires are no indicator of truth and of God’s plan (for example: Moses didn’t want to speak out against Pharoah, but God’s plan was for him to do that). But when taken too far, this idea can hinder growth and lead to spiritual stagnancy, which we don’t want.

Interestingly though, Proverbs 16:9 holds true even in the most complicated of Bible events. I was reading this reflection on the verse, which highlights that people of the Bible planned in their heart – and did so with their own resources/judgment (based on guidance by spiritual leaders and by God). God then directed their steps and the the steps of people around them to bring this plan to fruition.

So yes, from a Biblical standpoint, it is clear that the desires of our hearts can be bad. Matthew 15:19 says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” But at the same time, God doesn’t always condemn the desires of our hearts: He says in Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Reading these verses reminds me that I shouldn’t necessarily follow my heart, but that I also shouldn’t condemn my heart’s desires – because it will inevitably make its own plans. What I should do is trust that regardless of these desires, if I take delight in the Lord and seek first His Kingdom, He will give me (and in the meantime, will mold) these desires.

I am learning to be more decisive and to be content in the knowledge that if I seek first and delight in God, He will establish my steps, though my heart may plan my own way. I pray that instead of focusing solely on the desires of my hearts – and criticizing these desires in the quest to attain perfection – I instead choose to focus on making my heart good ground for receiving His Word.

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the India of my childhood

The India of my childhood. I knew her for the six first years of my life, and even when I left, she constantly welcomed me back with open arms. This India nourished me, gave me a family, and provided delicious food: rose Faloodas, sizzling Bombay duck with daal and rice, pepper and chili crabs eaten in the afternoon heat, cold coconut water with malai. The India of my childhood brought me evenings drinking chai on the ground floor of Cuz-Inns, the family-owned building in Bombay, filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She brought me days spent swimming in beaches by the Arabian Sea and in pools of blue waters. She brought me laughter as I played Rummikub and card games with my grandparents around a shining glass dining table.

But the India of my childhood has changed. She isn’t who she once was. And as I grow and change, I wonder if she was ever there at all.

I went back to Bombay this year for the first time after graduating from university, and I began to notice the difference. This India is filled with worries and prayers, and with a greater awareness of injustice.

She still holds the family and food I hold dear to my heart, but now she brings a heavier burden: old and weary parents hurt by the actions of selfish children and yearning for the simpler days, discord and harsh words spoken when one has had a tad too much to drink, empty rooms where loved ones used to sleep. Where laughter and constant noise once rang through the halls, things are a little quieter as kid cousins get older and go to school and as lives get busier and more complicated.

Where did the India of my childhood go?

I believe she’s still here. She still brings me peace and joy (and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten). But as I sit in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport waiting to board my flight back home, I realize that this time, she has brought me much more.

She taught me the importance of being thankful for what I have, especially what I take for granted. Because until now, I have never met people more thankful for God’s blessings in their lives than those I know here.

She taught me to suffer with others. I listened to stories from loved ones, of their fears and trials. I mourned with those who lost siblings and spouses at a young age and with those who were abused by family. I learned how to better trust in God and to pray when there is nothing I can do to make someone’s day better.

She taught me about faith, about the different ways that faith can manifest, and how to not judge when someone’s interpretation of faith is not my own. I saw faith in a woman who didn’t know how to read and write and had faced the bleakest of trials. She prays to Jesus even though she cannot read His Word, and her faith shines through her kindness and generosity.

With this faith, suffering, and gratitude, this India is different from that of my childhood. I have come to realize that the biggest difference is that while she is still there for me, I am now also there for her.

hacksaw ridge

After watching Hacksaw Ridge with some friends yesterday, I started to think about story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. In this chapter, the Israelites were dismayed by and terrified of the giant Goliath, a heavyset warrior champion with deadly armor who would taunt and defiantly shout at them. But in the middle of this, we see David, a young shepherd boy. David goes to the camp and starts to question Goliath, a man who would dare come against God’s people. 

When David goes to fight, he forgoes the armor Saul gives him and fights with his own weapons and with God at his side and on his mind. David rejects the weapons of this world, just like Desmond did in Hacksaw Ridge. This is not to say that this armor was bad – but both David and Desmond chose to live out their beliefs and to choose the armor that they had been given – a sling and a rock, and a desire to help the injured. 
Reflecting on this led me to a few thoughts to meditate on:

1. The Lord fights and conquers our giants and our battles (even when it doesn’t look like we can win): When we go with the armor and the resources and the convictions God gives us (and refuse to compromise these) God is our secret weapon. 

2. God uses these battles to reveal Himself to people: In Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond is mocked and scorned to start. He stays courageous and keeps praying, and in the end, his story is nothing short of a miracle – it is a story that brings glory to God and saves so many other people. 

3. God calls each of us to use different weapons and strengths and strategies in our daily “battles.” Then it is up to us to be obedient. David and Desmond could have easily taken the armor someone else thought would help them win – but instead they had to lean on what they knew, even when they didn’t know what would happen. One person’s convictions and weapons are not necessarily everyone’s. 

God is calling us to stand firm in different ways. My instructions may not be the same as someone else’s. But whatever these instructions and convictions are, it is our duty to fight our giants and our battles according to the way God is pointing us. We can choose to fight the battles ourselves with the weapons other people give us – or we can fight the battle on God’s side. I always forget that God works in unexpected (and to the world,seemingly foolish) ways. To those around Desmond, going into battle with no weapon was a sure way to die and endanger others around him – but because it is what God called him to do, it was the only way to save those 75 men. What God asks of us often tests our faith and stretches our minds, but what He asks is always intended for our good and for the good of a broken world and its hurting people.

humility & our calling 

During the past few weeks, my Bible study group has been mediating on the idea of humility. Recently, we learned about Paul’s humility.

What strikes me about Paul is that his characteristics and strengths remained constant through his journey: before he knew God and after he found God’s grace and mercy. He was always a zealous, perseverant, thick-skinned person – but it was once targeted for persecution, and then changed to a zealousness for telling people about mercy, repentance, and the gospel.

While most of us aren’t as extreme as Paul (as in, we don’t persecute Christians or use our gifts for the complete opposite of God’s calling), I have realized one thing: when we use our strengths on our own terms, we often think we are using them well and that we are in a good place. We don’t necessarily know what lies ahead of us and how much more we could do if we used these for God. This is where humility comes in. 

I was reminded of my youth pastor, who once talked about how she got to a ministry of helping addicts and the homeless. She said that she originally went to school for hotel management and hospitality, and she always thought she would use this to establish a career managing trendy restaurants and hotels in the city. God changed her plans, and she was humble enough to let Him do so. God used her strengths and passion to change her ministry and define her calling. Instead of managing restaurants, she now serves thousands of meals to the homeless. Instead of managing hotels, she manages sober living facilities for men coming out of drug addiction, prison, and homelessness. This new mission required the same general skills, but has a very different purpose. 

I can’t help but apply this to my own life, and ask questions about how God will use my experiences and gifts to reach the lost. But I also don’t think that I, with all my limited understanding, have the knowledge and foresight to put this together – to figure out how to use my strengths for God. What I have learned and what I continue to learn is that part of humility is 1) trusting in God and 2) letting go of our plans so that His better, more perfect plans can begin to emerge.

a broken heart 

Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a strong man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and his holy words.” -Jeremiah 23:9 NIV

As Lent continues, I continue a prayer to God to break my heart – because His heart breaks for each of us and because He uses people with broken hearts. 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, was one of these broken-hearted people. Told to preach a message of repentance and to be a voice of warning to Judah, he persevered when shunned, unwelcome, and criticized. He served with a broken heart, and he wept over people’s sin and their unwillingness to turn back to the Lord.

I believe I have grown complacent to the needs of the world around me. On one hand, these past few months have been ones of such fulfillment and inspiration from God. But in ways, I still fail to let this overflow onto others and ignore the needs of people – especially when meeting those needs comes in the way of my own personal desires and needs. Denying myself and my flesh is slowly changing this, and this is where my prayer comes in.

I want my heart to be broken for: the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people around me, for sin and self-destruction, and for injustice in this world. I want my heart to be broken so that I not only feel compassion, but so I am moved to act with compassion. 

To be honest, I do not know if I have what it takes for my heart to be truly broken (it sounds pretty terrifying). Jeremiah had such a heavy weight to bear. So while I have prayed this prayer in the past, it too often turns into me trying to just be a good person to meet others’ needs out of my own will. This inevitably fails because I burn out and become a weeping person with no joy – not someone like Jeremiah, who had tenacious faith and determination. So I pray that I allow God to continuously fill me so that my desire to be salt and light does not run dry. I pray that rejection I may face does not discourage me, but that it brings me closer to God’s own (rejected) heart.

lent (and questioning our feelings)

I recently saw a clip featuring Judah Smith and his discussion of the often-embraced idea that our feelings are truth. This idea is so engrained in our culture (especially Western, 21st century culture) that questioning it can seem odd. Basically, Judah Smith insinuates, what we feel – often intertwined with our desires, dreams, and thoughts – can be wrong and/or harmful to our physical, mental, or spiritual health.  

In light of the start of Lent, I choose to meditate on the counterintuitive idea that my feelings are not truth. This season, I am giving up processed/refined sugar. It is only day one but I am already feeling mild withdrawal symptoms – lightheadedness, stomach weirdness, all that jazz. True to my sugar addict tendencies, my desires and thoughts pull me towards sugar. But what this time of starving my flesh has already taught me is that desires and feelings can lead us towards unhealthy things (aka sin). Like addicts, our lifestyle patterns are often reinforced by our feelings. If we are addicted to sugar, we eat more of it and we want more of it. If we lie, we grow desensitized to lies and lie more. So on and so forth. 

Cutting off these negative desires and feelings at their source 1) reminds us that they are not truth and 2) reveals the strong grip they may have on our life. But cutting them off also begins to change the way our flesh and minds think. This interesting article on sugar and Lent talks about several tests that were done on rats’ and actions in relation to their sugar consumption. The article says: “Rats in sugar withdrawal are more likely to show passive behaviors (like floating) than active behaviors (like trying to escape) when placed in water, suggesting feelings of helplessness.” Essentially, sugar dependency caused these rats to be more passive, impulsive, and prone to anxiety and depression. 

To carry this forward into our lives: our feelings towards sin are of  n like those of the rats towards sugar. This is not to say that we are literal addicts (although we can be). But when we live by our feelings, we can become passive and impulsive (or even anxious and depressed). The end irony is that those feelings that we thought would set us free if followed are what end up trapping us in a cycle of perpetual sin and unhealthy behavior. 

love languages

Today, I took the love languages test. My top two languages were 1) quality time and 2) words of affirmation. I took this test because recently, I’ve felt a bit disconnected with specific loved ones in my life. I know these people love me and sacrifice a lot for me – but I still often feel like they don’t understand me and that our relationship feels disjointed. Unfortunately, I have seen that I usually don’t appreciate or even notice the little sacrifices that they make for me. I thought by taking the test I could understand the different ways of showing (“speaking”) love, and apply these lessons to my life.

What I learned, and what I have to remind myself of, is that we all have a different love language we use to show others we love them. For some people, it’s taking care of things for others and acts of service. For others, it’s quality time. For others still, it’s gift-giving. The fact that we all have these different love languages is really a beautiful thing, because it gives us the chance to experience different kinds of love from people in our lives. We can know the joy of receiving a small, but thoughtful gift; we can be grateful for an act of service or words of affirmation. We can savor quality time and take comfort in physical touch. 

So when it comes to the relationships in my life, I pray that I can remember these love languages in my life. I want to remember that not everyone has the same love language as me – sometimes, people show their love in different ways. I may have to make more of an effort to appreciate someone else’s love language, and more importantly, make more of an effort to give them the love they need in their language.