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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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.

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.

words

Words have power. It’s a cliched idea, but words can speak life and they can speak death. They can hurt or they can uplift. They can bruise or they can heal. 

This week, God has been calling me to pay more attention to the words that I speak. I would say that on the whole, I am not a terribly mean person – granted, I have been mean to people countless times before, but have at least improved in the sense that my words are not said with ill intentions or to hurt people. But there is still a long way to go, and God is calling me to pay attention to the following areas: 

1. Words of sarcasm: I can tend to be exceedingly sarcastic at times. Sometimes it’s through jokes, while other times, I just get impatient and the sarcasm in me comes out. While sarcasm is not intrinsically bad, I believe that some sarcasm has roots in bitterness and anger. This is not good. Other times, sarcasm can just hurt people even though I may not know it and they may not say it. 

2. Words I speak to those closest to me: I think this is true for everybody, but I tend to less carefully choose my words when it comes to immediate family and my close friends. While I love these people so much and try to speak words of love, the angry and harsh words I may speak have the potential for more hurt to them than if I spoke these to a stranger. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

3. Useless words: These words come when my mind is running non-stop or when I am just in a weird mood. Usually these words end up being jokes I make (usually terrible jokes!) or even silly stories I tell about my life or my day. None of this is terrible in itself, but these words can be pointless and at worst, selfish. I have to remember that there is a time to speak and there is a time to listen, and that time I spend talking aimlessly could have been a moment for someone to share with me their story. 

Today, I pray for a spirit of gentleness and wisdom when it comes to my words. I pray that the words I speak build others up instead of tearing them down. I pray that I can be a better listener.

overflowing peace 

Because I am generally an anxious person/someone who struggles with worrying too much, I can go through periods of time during which I do not truly feel God’s peace. Most of the time, it is my own doing; I get so easily caught up in my thoughts about situations, especially when these thoughts race a hundred miles a minute, that I forget about the bigger picture and lose perspective. I am sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. 

While this can be frustrating (and while I want to remain at peace instead of going in and out of it), I have learned to savor even more the peace and serenity that Christ and His love offer me. It is the moments of being so abundantly filled with His love and just basking in the knowledge that there is nothing that can separate me from Him, these moments, that carry me through. These moments of being Spirit-filled inspire me to overflow and pour out onto others. 

I am so thankful for these moments.