Follow Your Heart?

From Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, to Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors, from R&B singer Patti LaBelle to country singer Conway Twitty, the one piece of advice that you’ll hear in common between them all is, “Follow your heart.”

This piece of wisdom is embedded firmly in our culture. Few, if any, would ever dispute that this is the right thing to do. After all, isn’t your heart the place where you discover your true self, your deepest motives, and your most tightly-held values?

So, it’s kind of shocking to come upon the statement that we find in Jeremiah chapter 17. It’s about 600 B.C., and Jeremiah is writing a commentary on current events and issues amongst God’s people. There are a lot of things to comment on. And few of them are good or positive.

The root of the problem, Jeremiah states, is that the people of Israel have been following their heart. Unfortunately, their heart has been seriously deceiving them and misleading them. And there is no cure, no course correction, in sight.

The thing is, in our own day and age we still need to have a realistic view of where following our heart might lead us. We need to learn to take our heart with a huge grain of salt. Because, as Jeremiah tells us, our heart is not just deceitful. It’s “deceitful beyond cure.” Our heart, in other words, is desperately ill and dramatically dark. It is an unsolvable riddle.

And so, our heart is far from being the most reliable guide. In fact, just the opposite — it may actually be the worst possible choice for us to look to our hearts for leadership and guidance.

Instead, look to God’s heart. There is a heart that is fully trustworthy, faithful and true. There is a heart that is clear and steady. There is a heart that will always guide our steps into the right course.

And where do you find out what the thoughts and feelings of God’s heart are?

That’s not hard at all. Simply open your Bible and begin to read.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 8, is Jeremiah 16:1 – 17:27, Colossians 4:2-18 and Psalm 118:17-29.

Lord, send me your Holy Spirit and help me to follow your heart, not my own heart.

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Wisdom or Foolishness?

Enrollment in degree-granting post-secondary school institutions increased by 15 percent between 1992 and 2002. And in the ten years following that, enrollment increased an additional 24 percent, from 16.6 million to 20.6 million.

We are quickly becoming the most highly educated society in history. Just think about it. That’s not to mention all the resources available to us to gain knowledge on our own — resources like modern libraries, seminars, conferences, and especially the internet.

Sadly, much of this modern education exalts various forms of humanism. It holds that human thought and wisdom is all there is, and really all that is needed. It’s a full-on embrace of human reason and the things that human reason can produce — so much so that humanists typically have little need for God.

Paul dealt with the same struggle 2000 years ago — long, long before modern universities and the internet. Greeks exalted knowledge, wisdom and human inquiry. We still refer to the “Socratic Method” as great instructional methodology.

Certainly, Paul had no great beef with learning. He was a very learned man himself, perhaps one of the most learned of his day.

But he did put human reason in perspective. To Paul, human reason makes a great servant, and a lousy master. We can use our reason all we want in the service of God. Reason is a great tool to bring glory to God.

But once our human reason — the wisdom of this world — exalts itself over God’s reason that’s when the problems begin. When our human logic demands precedence and control over the revealed knowledge of God, then we soon find ourselves moving away from God. We are already on the way to being separated completely from our trust in God.

Why go that direction, Paul inquires. The important things are already ours, he emphasizes. Jesus is ours. And we are his. And that makes us God’s.

To put a slight twist on words Jesus once spoke, it’s really just foolishness to gain the knowledge of the whole university (or the whole internet, even), and forfeit your soul.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, August 7, is 1 Chronicles 24:1 – 26:19, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 and Psalm 92:1-15.

Lord, grant me your divine wisdom and knowledge. Help me to set aside my own human wisdom and logic and humbly realize that these make great servants, but lousy masters, for my heart and mind. I want to have the mind of Christ, because I want to be of Christ. Help me, Lord!

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Impulsively React or Thoughtfully Respond?

I’m a person who has always struggled mightily with my mouth. I tended to impulsively react to events and say things before really taking the time to think them through. One reason I reacted this way was that I arrogantly believed that I was almost always on target with my words.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Then I began to learn. I heard from my wife, my children, my good friends, and even from some who were not always so friendly. I learned from the Bible, and there heard from God.

Once I was schooled in this, here’s what I found out: Impulsive reactions are most frequently not a good thing. They are not a sign of great native intelligence. In fact, the Bible would call them unwise (or just plain dumb!), and more than once labels them sin.

Some seem to know this more “naturally.” It’s like it’s built into their personalities to respond more carefully. But others, like me, spend a lifetime learning the importance of responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting impulsively.

One of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of inner peace, a calm-heartedness, and an ability to just slow down a bit in one’s thought-processes. Some decisions are best reached quickly. But many decisions are wisely arrived at after a few moments (or hours, or days, or even weeks) of thought.

One of the best places I learned this was in the book of Proverbs — the book of God’s wisdom. And here are a few things one can learn about the blessings (or, alternatively, the curses) of our choice to react or to respond:

  • When I talk with an evil intent toward someone (or behind their back), that’s going to end up being a harmful trap for me!
  • When I speak with an innocent heart, I don’t have to worry so much about traps.
  • Words that are thoughtful and well-crafted can really benefit me and those I speak about too.
  • Fools react in a headstrong fashion, impulsively thinking they are always right.
  • Wise people take some time to listen to others for advice before they announce a decision.
  • Fools have a short fuse and get annoyed quickly.
  • Wise people know how to overlook insults and let them run like water off a duck’s back.

“Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble. From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward. The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult” (Proverbs 12:13-16, NIV).

Lord, help me by your Spirit’s power to control my mouth and respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively. By your Son Jesus’ blood, wash me clean and forgive me for all the sins that I have committed with my words. Thank you that you have spoken to me with thoughtful, loving words and promises. Help me to hold those in my heart at all times.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, May 16, is Ruth 1:1 – 2:23, John 9:1-34 and Proverbs 12:8-17.

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What Money and Our Goodness Have in Common

In Luke 14, we hear that large crowds are following Jesus. This is prime time for Jesus and his teaching.

During this period, Jesus makes some pretty surprising points. To almost anyone’s natural way of thinking, the things he says are certainly counterintuitive. He says things like this…

  • When you attend a party, take the most undesirable seat in the house.
  • When you throw a party, don’t invite your friends or family members.
  • If you’re not prepared to suffer when you follow Jesus, then don’t bother.
  • 1 lost person deserves more attention than 99 already-found people.

Yikes! Really?! Does anybody actually live like this? Want to be even more convinced of how different Jesus’ teachings are? Here’s another one…

  • People value stupid stuff.

In Luke 16, we read,The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:14-15, NIV).

Jesus tells the Pharisees (apparently scattered amongst the people in the large crowds that followed him) that no one can serve both God and money. And in doing this, he also takes aim at the Pharisees’ desire to “prove” themselves worthy of God by generating their own goodness. Because the Pharisees thought they could generate their own goodness, they highly valued that goodness (or righteousness) — just like they highly valued money.

In our culture today, money and human goodness still have this in common. Both of them are highly, highly valued. But God says they have another thing in common. Not in culture, but with God. Both of these, in and of themselves, are worthless to him.

The only way to make our money or our goodness worthwhile is to delve into the heart. That’s why Jesus tells the Pharisees, “God knows your hearts.”

The Pharisees hoped to elevate themselves with their money and goodness. The Christ-follower’s heart, on the other hand, seeks to elevate God with money and goodness.

What a difference the “why” makes! Ask yourself: Do I use my money and my goodness to elevate myself, or my God?

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, April 14, is Deuteronomy 21:1 – 22:30, Luke 16:1-18 and Proverbs 9:13-18.

Lord, help me to know how to value things the right way. Help me to see that my money and my goodness both come from you. You generate them in your grace, not me. And help me to use both as blessings to thank and glorify you — to elevate you rather than myself.

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The Single Most Valuable Thing You Possess

Jesus taught his disciples to put the right value on things. And he made it clear that one should not value anything more highly than their own soul.

Whatever a person needs to sacrifice to gain their soul, Jesus said, they would be well-advised to give it up willingly.

Even if someone could promise you that he could deliver on your fondest wishes.

Even if someone could promise you the winning Powerball ticket.

Even if someone could promise you the person of your dreams, the mansion of your wildest imagination, the fulfillment of your greatest vision.

Even if you could gain the whole world.

Let it go. It would be far, far better to hold tightly to your soul. Don’t ever forfeit that.

Not for money, not for power, not for the most gorgeous woman or the most understanding man. Not for fast cars, sex, drugs or rock and roll.

Just don’t do it.

Because your soul is the single most valuable thing you possess. And Jesus died to redeem it from sin, death and hell. He paid a precious price for that soul.

And he wants you to keep your soul for eternity.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36-37, NIV).

Lord, thank you for giving me an eternal soul. Help me to value my soul above all things, and be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of my soul. Thank you for sacrificing your life for my soul, for bleeding and dying on the cross as the payment for my soul. Help me to cling to faith in you for the salvation of my soul.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, February 25, is Exodus 37:1 – 38:31, Mark 8:14 – 9:1 and Proverbs 6:1-11.

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Found, and Held Fast

Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, calls them “keystone habits.” These are single habits or patterns that, once successfully established, will “pay forward” and help us create other positive, productive habits and patterns in our lives.

It can be something apparently small. Did you know, for instance, that people who have the keystone habit of making their bed in the morning tend to be more organized and focused in other areas of their lives–making them more successful than the general population?

It can also be something very big. Making a habit of searching for God’s wisdom is one of those keystone habits, according to Solomon, the author of Proverbs. It’s extremely profitable to find and hold on to wisdom, he says. In fact, “nothing you desire can compare with her” is Solomon’s big claim for the Lord’s wisdom.

Really? Nothing?

That’s what Solomon says. And he guarantees that blessings will follow our acquisition of that wisdom.

As you’ll see in just a moment, Solomon makes a lot of promises about wisdom. They are huge promises. The thing is, right now in our daily readings (see below), we are also reading the book of Job. So we know that sometimes these blessings are not received immediately. Sometimes, in fact, big blessings from the past can even be stripped away.

That’s why it’s important to remember what Paul tells us in the book of 2 Corinthians: “For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV). And that applies here too. We seek God’s wisdom and its accompanying blessings by faith. Even when we don’t see the results right away, we know that they will come. If they don’t come today, then tomorrow they will. If they don’t come tomorrow, then next week, next month or next year.

And even if they never come in this life, faith in Christ teaches us that they will certainly come in eternity. So find wisdom, and hold it fast!

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NIV).

Jesus, I believe that when I find your wisdom, I find everything. Your word is the one thing necessary. Bless me with your wisdom as I read your word and put it into practice in my life–by faith.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, January 28, is Job 8:1 – 10:22, Matthew 19:16-30 and Proverbs 3:11-20.

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