Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Obeying God’s rules sets you free

I like doing my own thing. I don’t like to be bossed around. I’d much rather be on my own and accomplish my own goals and make my own mistakes and get credit for my own victories. Not to say I like the spotlight. I don’t. At all. But when it comes to living, my default is to follow my gut.

But the longer I live and the more I get to know the Lord, the better I understand that my gut–my own reasoning and my heart–aren’t always right. That is to say, my default isn’t to make choices that glorify God. My default is to make choices that make life easier for me.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not unique to me or to you or to anyone else on Earth. It’s not even unique to this culture or this period of time. It’s born into us, and it’s something God has been dealing with since Mankind decided to take life into their own hands.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Seagull flying – Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Psalm 81:8-14.

“Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.
O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
You must never have a foreign god;
you must not bow down before a false god.
For it was I, the Lord your God,
who rescued you from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.
“But no, my people wouldn’t listen.
Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires,
living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me!
Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths!
How quickly I would then subdue their enemies!
How soon my hands would be upon their foes!

It’s really easy to see God as this big fun-squasher in the sky. The eternal babysitter who’s only interested in reinforcing our bedtime or making sure we eat all our vegetables. But that’s a childish way to see God.

I mean, after all, as a grown up, you learn to recognize the benefits of a bedtime and eating your vegetables, don’t you? As children, they seemed like unfair rules, but as adults we recognize that those rules were for our good.

Christians, don’t you think it’s time we grew up?

The history of Israel and its relationship with God is written down in the Bible so that we could see just how faithful God is. If He hasn’t given up on Israel after all this time, He won’t give up on anyone. But the story is also there for us to understand what happens when we try to live life on our own terms.

You may be smart and respected and moral and kind. You can be all those things and still not know what’s good for you. You can be the best person in the world and still make choices that go against what God says is right.

God’s been very plain with us. He’s gone out of His way to help us understand what He says is right and what He says is wrong. It’s written down in plain language for everyone to see and read. And if you’re a Christ-follower, if you say you follow Jesus, then surely you’ve read the Bible. Surely you’ve made an attempt to understand what God says is right. And so surely when the moments come for you to obey, you obey. Right?

I can’t say I always have. I wish I could, but I’d be lying. It’s so much easier to just do what I want to do. That’s what I tell myself. That’s how I rationalize it. I tell myself that I’m not hurting anyone or that my choices won’t affect anybody else but me. But that’s not true. I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s coming. My choices today could have a huge impact on my future and anyone else I know. I can’t know that. But God does. So when God tells me to do something–or when He tells me not to do something–I should listen.

God won’t bless me if I live a life opposed to what He says is right. He won’t rush to my rescue when I’ve fallen into the pit I’ve dug for myself. Yes, He’ll hear me, and if I turn back to Him, He’ll come for me.

My own ideas and my stubborn desires have gotten me into more trouble than I care to admit, and it’s only in turning away from them and turning to God and to God’s rules that I’ve found true freedom. Funny how obeying the rules can set you free, while following your gut leaves you in chains to the consequences of your choices.

God hasn’t given us rules to keep us from having fun. He’s laid down His expectations so that we can live free.

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Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Follow God’s heart

How can I say that we can’t trust our hearts? The number one reason is because the Bible says so. Maybe that’s simplistic, but I have chosen to believe the Bible word for word. I believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, the absolute truth.

So what happens when the Bible contradicts “science” and “logic”? What happens when the Bible contradicts popular culture? What happens when the Bible contradicts the way I feel?

Is truth any less true because someone disagrees with it? No. Truth is bigger than any of our petty disagreements. But that’s a really deep answer to a pretty simple question. Can we trust our hearts? No. Because the Bible says so, and not just in Jeremiah 17:9-10.

Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Pelicans flying together – Galveston, TX

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. If we can’t trust our hearts because they are wicked, does that mean that we as people are wicked? Well, yes. But what about Christ? Did Christ’s sacrifice mean anything to our hearts? The Bible is full of examples of the fact that the sphere of influence and knowledge of God comes through the heart, but if the heart is wicked how can it seek after God? If our hearts are depraved, why do they mean so much to God?

And what about 2 Corinthians 5:17? “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Does this verse not reference our hearts too? If we’ve chosen to follow Christ, that means we have become new people. Are our hearts exempt?

Just as I believe that the Bible is word-for-word, literal absolute truth, I believe it never contradicts itself. And if you study it, you’ll realize it never does. If we ever think it does, it’s always a lack of understanding on our part.

So, are our hearts wicked? Yes. Are our hearts new if we believe in Christ? Yes. How can those two truths be true at the same time?

Before I go any further, let me say again that I am not a scholar. I don’t speak Greek. I’m not a historian or a cultural expert. I love the Bible, and God has been my best friend for longer than I can remember. And this is an issue I have struggled with, but please don’t take my word for it. This is just my opinion on what the Bible says about this topic. It’s so much better (and it means so much more) if you work out what you believe on your own rather than trusting what I say or what someone else says.

That being said, also remember that this devotional today is directed at Believers. If you haven’t made the choice to follow Christ, that’s your prerogative. But just so you are aware, Believers have a lot of choices to make even after they choose to follow Christ. It’s not just a box you check on a form. Yes, our lives and our spirits are redeemed, but we aren’t made perfect. We don’t always make the right choices by virtue of our faith in Christ. That’s why we have the Bible, to help us know what is right and true. That’s why God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can understand God’s will for our lives. So if you haven’t accepted Christ, none of this will make any sense to you. But if you have, this is probably an issue you struggle with or at least it’s a question you ask frequently.

The first thing to remember, Christians, is that every Believer is two people. Even if you have given your heart to Christ, that doesn’t mean that you are perfect. Not yet.

The best example I know about the sin nature of a Christian comes from Romans 7:14-25, where Paul is talking about his frustrations with sin.

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Right now, as we are living on earth as Believers in Christ, our lives have been redeemed. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sinful pasts or our bad choices; He sees the blood of Christ, who died to forgive us and justify us.

But within every Believer is the capacity to do horrible things. Still. Even though our hearts and our spirits are redeemed, we can still choose to do what we know is wrong. Why? Because we have the choice to be led by the Spirit or led by the Flesh. Those are really theologically biblical terms, and they sound kind of freaky. So let me try to find another way to say this.

The Flesh is your human nature. It’s your pride. It’s the “if it feels good, do it” mentality. It’s the pragmatic, the-end-justifies-the-means outlook on morality and ethics. It’s the eye-for-an-eye, grudge-holding, stony-hearted perspective on life. The Flesh is relying on your own understanding. The Flesh is living life by listening only to your emotions.

The Spirit is your second nature, if you believe in Christ. The Spirit is what God has put inside you and healed inside you so that you can be connected to Him. It’s that part of you that knows what is right and what is wrong. It’s that part of you that helps you understand Scripture, the part of you that communicates with God. It’s the whisper at the back of your mind that what you’re about to do will make God sad.

There’s no in between option. And Christians can still make decisions based on the Flesh, even though we are all called to make decisions based on the Spirit.

Okay, so where does the heart come into all this? In the devotional I posted yesterday, I said it was never a good idea to follow your heart. I probably should have been more specific. What I should have said is that it’s never a good idea to follow just your heart.

There are times when God will put a desire in our hearts. In those moments, when your heart moves you to do something, you should do it. But before you do it, you need to make sure that the desire really comes from God.

Why? Because we are two people, remember? As Believers, we have two natures living in our lives, and all too often, they get jumbled up. But there’s a way to tell when a desire comes from God or from your Flesh:

A dream that comes from God will always put others first and always bring God glory.

This is an excerpt from The Love Dare written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick:

King Solomon said, “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” (Ecclesiastes 10:2). Just as your heart can direct you toward hatred, lust, and violence, it can also be driven by love, truth, and kindness. As you walk with God, He will put dreams in your heart that He wants to fulfill in your life. He will also put skills and abilities in your heart that He wants to develop for His glory (Exodus 35:30-35). He will give you the desire to give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and worship (Ephesians 5:19). As you put God first, He will step in and fulfill the good desires of your heart. The Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). But the only time you can feel good about following your heart is when you know your heart is intent on serving and pleasing God.

A great friend of mine (who really is a Bible scholar) posted a response to yesterday’s blog that I thought was pretty awesome and explained the root of the issue succinctly.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything else flows from it.” Some versions say it’s the “wellspring of life.” This does not mean put your heart under lock and key and never share it with anyone, but actually more the opposite. It’s telling us to be careful what we let IN to our hearts because everything else/life flows FROM it! Once something gets in, it corrupts what flows out, whether for good or for bad. So the problem of letting sin into our hearts is that we can no longer trust our hearts. However:

“When you make God your primary passion, He transforms all the passions of your heart. The result of this transformation is that it will be God’s pleasure to fulfill those passions. Beyond this wonderful promise is the realization that when this transformation occurs, your passions become your best compass for your spiritual journey. When God is your desire, you can trust the passions of your heart.” – Erwin McManus (Uprising)

So in essence, it’s better to make the term “Just follow God’s heart.” Because everything else (life!) flows from it. Literally.

And I like that. Follow God’s heart. Because you know you can trust God’s heart. And if you are truly intent on doing what God wants, if you are truly seeking Him first and following the Spirit’s lead in your life, you probably can trust your heart too … but only because those qualities represent God’s heart in your life. And it’s a daily (hourly, mintely?) choice to keep following God’s heart because it’s not our default setting.

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Follow your heart?

What does it mean to follow your heart? I’ve started hearing that a lot recently and not just from secular movies and television shows. I expect it from them. But I’ve started hearing it from Christians. Christians have started saying “follow your heart” when faced with a difficult decision. But I’m afraid it’s turned into one of those statements that everybody says but nobody really understands what it means.

In my understanding, following your heart or being true to your heart means that you should make the choice that reflects who you are inside.

Okay. Well there would be nothing wrong with that if our hearts were trustworthy. But they’re not.

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

A rocky path with a light at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 17:9-10.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

The heart is a Western euphemism to refer to the seat of the emotions. The Western world uses the heart to describe the core of a person, who they are, what they’re about, etc. So if you tell someone that they have a kind heart, you’re telling them they are a kind and compassionate person. And if you tell someone to follow their heart, you’re telling them to judge a situation for themselves and make a decision based on what they think is right.

I think I understand what Christians are trying to say when they tell me to follow my heart. They’re telling me to do what I think is best. But I’ll be honest, if I’m involved in a difficult situation, and if going to do what I think is best, it won’t turn out for the best. If I’m going to do what I think is right, the whole situation will all come crashing down on my head. Because on my own I don’t know what’s best. Because on my own I don’t know what’s right.

If I want to know what’s right and what’s best, I need to consult with God. Not my heart. Not my inner self.

And yes, I’m redeemed. So is my heart. But I can’t trust my heart. My heart will tell me that I want something that God has already told me I shouldn’t have. My heart will tell me to react harshly in conflict where God will tell me to be kind and humble. My heart is never satisfied where God calls me to be content.

Christians, we shouldn’t follow our hearts. We follow Christ.

Your heart won’t rest until you’re ruined. And even then, it will still try to keep you down. Our hearts are dangerous, dark things. They can’t be trusted at all.

Does that mean you can’t be who you are? No. Not at all. Who you are isn’t dependent on your heart. Who you are isn’t dependant on your physical body or your actions anyway. Who you are depends on who God made you to be. And no one knows you better than God does, so He won’t guide you to do something that contradicts His plan for you.

If you don’t know what to do in a situation, don’t look deep inside yourself for the answer. You don’t have it. If you don’t know what is right, ask God. If you follow Christ, the Holy Spirit lives inside you anyway. He’s right there. So just ask Him what to do. Read Scripture. And if you can’t think of a good Bible story that matches your situation, Google it. And if that doesn’t work, ask a trusted mature Christian friend.

But whatever you do, don’t follow your heart. You’ll end up in deep trouble. You’ll cause more problems than you solve. And in the end, your heart will only dig you a deeper hole to fall into rather than lighting the path for your escape.