"At the end of the day, what matters is whether your heart is in the right place.”
That was the gist of what I said to my friend Christy* a few days ago, when we were talking about life in general and how to honor God in our lifestyles. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that Christy was there to point out that good intentions are never enough.
Her comment reminded of what another friend had told me: “My heart tricked me”. Sometime before that, he called and I could hear from his voice that he was distraught. He had once more succumbed to the temptation of pre-marital sex; she was beautiful and tenacious, it was the perfect setting and before he knew it, the damage had been done.
He felt guilty after the act and knew he had to break all contact with her. He was particularly torn up inside because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings but he also knew he couldn’t live a life of sin. Breaking up with her and hurting her feelings was a terrible thing to do, but encouraging such a relationship was also not an option. He told me the only reason it had gone that far was that he believed he was falling in love with her.
However, she was not a Christian and did not believe in waiting for marriage; he had believed that his heart was in the right place when he slept with her. He wanted to make her happy, and he felt a natural extension of showing her he loved her was to give in to what she wanted. But he also admitted that a part of him did it because he wanted to.
It’s hard to rely on good intentions
Christy rightly pointed out that “our hearts being in the right place” does not necessarily equate to living a lifestyle that pleases God. Her words caused many verses from Scripture to come to mind. The Bible warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), which is why it also teaches us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Or as the New King James Version puts it, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life”.
Now, these two verses in conjunction do not necessarily mean that every intention from our heart is evil. Many saved and unsaved people alike have done great things stemming from a heart full of kindness. The former verse shows the fallen nature of man and the sin that ensues from that fallen nature, which is why so many of us, myself included, feel this inherent pull to things we know are sin. We lie, we cheat, we commit adultery, we get tangled in all sorts of vices and are continually perplexed as to why we keep on acting this way.
The main point to this is that we cannot trust our hearts to tell us if our intentions are purely good (Jeremiah 17:9). Fortunately, Jesus pointed us in the right direction, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). At first I always thought that this only meant I should keep my eyes heavenward and that’s my treasure. But it also means investing in the things of God and not in the things of the world.
What is your treasure?
I was reading an excerpt from American authors Allan Kelsey and Jimmy Evans’s book Strengths Based Marriage, where they highlighted the need for spouses to make their treasure a passionate relationship with their significant other. When something is your treasure, you prioritize it and all your energy is invested in making that venture a success. A good example is when a person falls in love. It is all-consuming—you are constantly thinking of them, calling, messaging.
On the other hand, I have a friend who is very goal-oriented. Whenever her exams come around, I know I won’t be hearing from her till it’s over. She goes off social media and she does not respond to messages or even return calls. She literally drops off the grid until her exams are over. Even though I know she hates to study, she constantly tells me, “No pain, no gain”. Her treasure is getting an A in her exams, and nothing comes between her and that goal.
My friend reminded me that it is important to ensure my environment is free from distraction and optimized to help me achieve my goal: to attain a life pleasing to God. I have noticed that whenever I get fully involved in church, volunteer, attend services and Bible study groups and hang out with Christian friends—that I know keep me accountable to my faith—I find myself making progress in avoiding sin and living a more Godly life.
The more I pray and spend quality time with God, the less I get random thoughts that don’t glorify God, and the more I find it easier to love, to overlook offenses, to think of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8).
I have developed a habit called “the heart check” by periodically asking myself, “Where is your treasure? In what are you investing most of your time?”
So I do believe that we can overcome vices by making sure our heart is in the right place. And as we draw closer to Him, I can testify by experience that we will slowly begin to lose our appetite for things that displease Him and start craving the things that please Him.
*not her real name
First published on YMI Today on 8 June 2017