Being authentic is about how you listen

When I was a kid, keeping up appearances was pretty normal. Not that you were expected to lie about having a bad day or any of the tough stuff that was going on in life. Not at all. It was just better if you didn’t burden other people with it. That was sort of the general environment of most churches I attended as a younger person. I mean, if you were really having a bad time, you could talk to a pastor or a deacon, but just regular old church-goers didn’t really have the time or the resources to help. That’s just the way it was.

But church in today’s world is a little different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t talk about the difficult things in their lives, but it’s expected now that everyone will be transparent. You walk into a church or a school or a business, and you are who you are. And to a certain extent, that’s somewhat liberating. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to put on a brave face. You can just be yourself.

But what does “being yourself” actually look like? What does it mean? Can you really be 100% transparent with other people, or do you need to draw the line somewhere?

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:14-17.

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Being who you are is more than how you dress or how you speak or how you walk. You are more than the clothes you wear or the food you eat or the places you’ve been or the number of letters after your name or the complexity of your job description. That’s not who you are.

I used to be all about me and what I wanted. And even after I chose to follow Jesus, I still wanted my own way most of the time (sometimes I still do!). But over the years, God’s really taught me that I need to be about Him instead of me. The new life He gave me isn’t focused on what I want or what I need or how I can get the most out of life. No, my New Life is about what God wants me to do and how He wants me to do it.

But does having New Life and being a New Creation mean I shouldn’t talk about my problems? Not at all. One of the reasons why Christ-followers are encouraged (commanded, really) to gather together is to pray for each other, to encourage each other, to help each other. And nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.

But it does mean that you’re humble. You see your troubles from a new perspective. You see them as lessons that God is allowing you to experience so that you can learn something. And you recognize that God has every right to do whatever He wants with your life, without your permission.

That’s what it means to have faith. Authentic faith.

If you are a Christ-follower, you are new. Period. You aren’t the same person you were yesterday, or you shouldn’t be. God is changing you every day, the longer you follow Him, teaching your heart, teaching your soul, how to live the kind of life He wants. And you’re either listening to Him or ignoring Him.

Authenticity isn’t complaining. It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not getting up in arms about everything you think is unfair in your life. I mean, if that’s where you are right now, that’s fine, and you need to talk about it. And you should be honest about the way you feel. But if you want to be an authentic Christ-follower, be honest about what God is teaching you right now. Maybe it’s a good lesson. Maybe it’s a hard lesson. But you know it’s a lesson, and you know you need to learn it.

If you’re authentic, you’ll accept that you’ve still got a long way to go before you become the person God wants you to be. And you’ll be thankful for how far God has brought you, because you know you’re not the person you used to be. And if you’re struggling to understand why God is allowing you to go through these difficult times, bring it up. Ask someone. Please, please ask someone. Don’t hesitate to find another Christ-follower and tell them about where you are in your life and how you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be willing to listen to a godly answer.

It’s one thing to talk. It’s something else to listen and do something about it.

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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.