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The Key to Happiness—Don’t Follow Your Heart

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

We’ve heard it a million times. We’ve read it on our Instagram feed, our coffee mugs, t-shirts, artwork, even in Christian bookstores: Follow your heart. But is it right to follow my heart? Will following my heart even make me happy?

There have definitely been times I regretted following my heart. I’ve followed my heart to indulge in a big meal, for example. But instead of happiness, I got a tummy ache. I’ve also followed my heart into a relationship that ended in sadness instead of happiness. This cry to “follow our hearts” seems to affect and color every corner of our lives.

 

The heart is deceitful

Many people strive to follow their heart, truly believing it to be the best guide they have. Yet Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Surely, we would not want to follow something that could lead us so far astray!

It is often difficult for us to realize that the heart is indeed deceitful. It takes hard work to change the narrative in our head and realize that our flesh may actually betray us. But as our hearts are transformed to be more and more aligned with the heart of Jesus—as we are washed and sanctified by God (1 Corinthians 6:11)—we can begin to trust our hearts a bit more. However, until we are remade and resurrected one day, our heart may still lead us down the wrong path.

It’s not that emotions are bad. Emotions allow us to experience God more fully. We know that He is with us in grief, in joy, and that He knows intimately what it feels like. But emotions should not be driving our decisions and actions. Ultimately, the driving force in our lives should be our faith—what we know to be true, what we trust regardless of how we feel. When faith is our driving force, our emotions will be less likely to send us awry.

So how can we find a balance between knowing that emotions are a gift from God and yet understanding that they might still lead us astray?

 

Don’t follow your heart, follow Christ’s heart

I think the answer lies in sacrifice. Sacrifice is an essential part of the gospel message. It is key to what we as Christians are about, because it was key to what Jesus was about. Jesus humbled Himself to enter our world; He served people through daily, regular sacrifice; and then He suffered the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. On the evening of His death, He prayed in the garden, “Not my will, but yours.” So we, as image-bearers of this Christ, have sacrifice stamped in us, as part of our spiritual DNA.

If we were always following our hearts, doing what we want and doing it our way, where would sacrifice come in? Can we truly be disciples of Christ and still get our way all the time? Here’s where the shift must come in: instead of aiming to follow our own hearts, we should follow Christ’s heart.

Since those two are not always the same, sacrifice is necessary. We need to lay down our will and our desires and take up His. We need to say along with Him, “Not my will, but yours.” And we do this because we trust His heart more than our own.

This is hard in our day and age, but I actually think that not getting our way is a helpful discipline. It reminds us that we are not in charge. Are we following Christ’s heart or our own? Are there areas in our lives where we should sacrifice our own wants?

In my own life, this plays out in my kitchen. If I followed my heart on any given evening, it would not take me to the kitchen. I do not enjoy doing the dishes, grocery shopping, and lunch packing. It also frustrates me that my kitchen stays clean for only a split second before there’s another crumb, another spill, another dish to clean.

But eventually I realized that there was no better place for me to practice the discipline of sacrifice than in my kitchen. In my kitchen, I can live out the gospel. I can die to self and align myself with Jesus’ heart. I can love the people around me in the form of a clean plate, a lunch packed, or groceries stocked. And that convicted me.

That might seem almost silly compared to people around the world who have sacrificed in far more intense and terrifying ways. But I believe God honors my regular rhythm of disciplined sacrifice, as small as it is.

So I head to the kitchen most evenings, packing lunches, prepping meals, doing dishes. But I don’t go there out of my own initiative or will. I go because God has asked me to love my family in this way. The truth is that since I’ve begun doing that, it’s been an immense blessing to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had followed my heart instead of Christ’s, I would have missed out on this experience—this practice—of living out the gospel in my day to day life.

 

Does that mean I’m not supposed to be happy?

Having said that, I’m not suggesting that God wants us to always give up what we want, to always be sacrificing, and that emotions are bad. As a parent, when I see my child happy, it brings a new kind of joy that I’ve never experienced. And God feels this way toward us. When we are happy, He is happy. What matters, though, is what we find our happiness in. God wants to grant us true happiness—lasting happiness that truly satisfies—and we can find this by following His heart.

How do we know what’s in God’s heart? Reading His Word is the best place to start—and will help us trust that He knows not only what is best, but what will truly make us happy. The things of this earth may entertain for a season, but they cannot satisfy our longing for the eternal. If we start looking for happiness on our own, by following our own hearts, odds are that we will settle on something lesser and temporal, and ultimately something that will disappoint.

Psalm 86 has long been a favorite of mine. King David says in verse 11: “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” He has it right—our hearts are divided. And because of this, they lead us astray. So instead, we echo the psalmists’ words and say “Teach me your way, O Lord” (emphasis mine).

Our motto need not be “Follow your heart,” but instead “Follow His heart.” This shows an implicit trust in His ways, an acknowledgement of His authority. It shows the world that when we drink of Him, the Fount of Life, we are satisfied. We have tried other methods and they have been found wanting. He alone satisfies; He alone can make us happy. Follow His heart.

 

Editor’s Note: For more stories and perspectives on why we should not follow our hearts, read “When (Not) to Follow Your Feelings” and “Follow Your Heart . . . Really?“.

How Can We Look to Christ’s Return This Christmas?

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

While remembering Christ’s first coming during Advent and Christmas, we also anticipate and prepare for His second coming. Many people feel fearful when they think of Jesus’ return, perhaps because there is so much unknown about it. But I would like to suggest that His return should be something that brings encouragement to our hearts and minds. Christ’s return is the best news we have, because it promises fruition of His kingdom!

But how do we cling to this encouragement? What does it actually look like to anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return during this Christmas season?

Here are three ways we can look to Jesus’ return this December:

 

1. Examine Ourselves

First, I think one of the most important things we can do is to take some intentional, quiet time to examine ourselves. If we are truly preparing for Christ’s return, then we have to ask ourselves some hard questions:

If He came back today, would I regret the way I had used my last moments and days? Would I have wasted them? Would there be something I wished I had done or said?

This is sometimes difficult to think about, and can make us feel sad or even morbid, but I think it is worth our attention. By examining our lives in light of our eventual end, for example, we might realize that we have been wasteful in how we spend some of our time. This self-reflection can help root out areas of concern or laziness, and re-energize us to steward our time well.

So I encourage you to carve out some time for yourself this December to examine your life. Maybe grab a coffee and write this out in your journal, or stay at home in your favorite chair. Go ahead and reserve a time and date in your calendar for this!

I’ve done this before in other circumstances, and this year I look forward to reflection as part of my Advent celebration. Here are some questions I will be considering, and perhaps you will find them helpful in your time of reflection:

  • Do I have any unresolved or unconfessed sin?
  • Am I aware of any area of disobedience? What am I going to do about it?
  • Is there anything God is calling me to do or say?
  • Do I have any relationships that need to be reconciled?

Ultimately, ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time. My prayer as I begin my time of reflection will be from these words of the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 23-24)

 

2. Strengthen Our Faith

I’ve been studying the gospel of Matthew for a while now, and noticed almost right away how many Jewish prophets the author quotes. All these Jewish prophets spoke of a time when a Messiah would come. And just as the Old Testament prophets were waiting for the Messiah to come, so we wait for the Messiah’s return. Just as His first coming was promised, so is His second (Acts 1:11, John 14:13, among others).

The Old Testament prophets knew what it was like to live in the midst of the waiting, and we can find strength and encouragement alongside them. Isaiah, for example, wrote his prophecies roughly 750 years before Jesus was born. This means the world had to wait 800 years between Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ coming! But Jesus did come, and the prophets did not wait in vain.

Friends, even if we have 750 years left to wait before Jesus’ return, we can wait with purpose and encouragement, knowing that He will come as He promised. Because of this, we know that we are not just wandering aimlessly through this life; we are building and waiting for a Kingdom that will come to fruition. We are kingdom builders.

I don’t know about you, but this purpose emboldens and energizes me. When I see how the original prophecies were fulfilled, my faith is stirred. I’ve seen God stay true to His word; I have evidence of it, and I have no reason to doubt He won’t stay true to it again.

 

3. Encourage Each Other

Paul talks of Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4. It seems that some in the church of Thessalonica had some questions about what happens when people die, and so Paul sought to alleviate their concerns.

In verse 16, he gives a description of what will happen when Jesus returns: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” He then concludes with these words: “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

These words offer us hope: that in the midst of a world where everything has gone wrong, one day Christ will come, and all will be set right.

Recently, a family member passed away after battling cancer. We prayed that he would be victorious in Jesus over this cancer. And though he ended up dying a physical death, I realize he was victorious over the cancer—because the physical death is not the end of his story. Because he knows Jesus, he will rise again one day, in a resurrected body to live in a resurrected world (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

Friends, encourage one another with these words this Advent and Christmas season. We hurt and grieve when we lose someone or when something is cut short, because we are made in the image of God: we’re hardwired to long for the eternal. So when your spirit is restless with grief or the effects of sin, rest assured and encourage one another: this is not the end of the story.

John says in the book of Revelation, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

 

Be encouraged, friends. Go forth and celebrate—remember Christ’s first coming, but look ahead too! Anticipate and prepare for His return. The Messiah is coming!

 

4 Ways To Celebrate Reformation Day

Written by Ashley Ashcraft, USA

While October 31 is more popularly known as Halloween, the date also holds a special place in the heart of many Christians. On this day 501 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther published a list of grievances against the Catholic Church. He nailed this list—which later came to be called the 95 Theses—to the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg, and this ignited a movement. All of Europe, and eventually the whole world, would feel the effects of Luther driving the nail into his list.

Until I became a Church History teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the Reformation. Its impact just felt commonplace to me. But when I started teaching about the Reformation, I began to understand how truly revolutionary it  was—this lone monk standing up against the powers that be to call for reform, for truth.

For this reason, I think we should not let October 31 pass us by without remembering the work God has done in His body—the Church—during that momentous time. But, how do we do that? Here are 4 ideas to help you celebrate the Reformation:

 

1. Read Your Bible

When studying about the Reformation, we often overlook the impact of Luther translating the New Testament into German. Before he did this, the common person in Germany did not have access to the Scriptures for themselves or in their own language. So when Luther translated the New Testament into German, it was a revolutionary move: they no longer had to rely on those who could read Latin to translate for them, but could read it for themselves.

In a day and age when we have Bibles everywhere, literally at our fingertips on our phones, it can be easy to forget the people who dedicated their lives to making sure we could read the Scriptures in our own language. I encourage you to get a physical copy of the Bible out, flip through the pages, and read it. Read it with a grateful heart and mind, and the realization that to have your own copy, and to have it in a language you can read, is a monumental gift.

If you’re wondering where to begin, perhaps start with the book of Romans, a letter from Paul that was very influential and life-changing for Luther himself. It was Romans 1:17 that changed Luther’s life: “The righteous will live by faith.”

 

2. Watch The Movie Luther

If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it! Made in 2003, Luther is an excellent portrayal of the events of the Reformation. While some details are highlighted or added for the sake of storytelling, it does tell us the bulk of the story. And, better yet, it is captivating. I show this movie to my students every year, and they love it. They clap at some parts; they cry at others. And they don’t want to it be over when it ends. That’s a good recommendation!

This movie is rated PG-13, so put the littles to bed tonight, pop some popcorn, head on over to Amazon, and watch this film. You’ll be glad you did!

 

3. Reflect On What God Has Done

Not only is it important to look back in history—to learn from what went wrong and what we did well—but God Himself commands us to do so time and time again. In multiple places in Scripture, God tells us to remember and rehearse the ways that He has worked and moved among His people. God told Joshua to set up 12 memorial stones to help the people remember how He helped them cross the Jordan (Joshua 4). He also asked Samuel to set up a pillar called Ebenezer so Israel would remember how He had been victorious in battle (1 Samuel 7). And He definitely worked through Luther and the people who stood with him in protesting the Church. So let’s set October 31 up as one of these pillars or stones of remembrance, and take some purposeful time to remember what God has done among His people.

What we had then was a church suffering from years of corruption; we saw people seeking unity, but not at the cost of truth. We had a man willing to stand up to this corruption, and we saw a handful of supporters rallying behind this bold leader. So I give you these questions to intentionally think on and discuss with your loved ones this evening:

How should we actively seek unity and truth in our local church communities today?

When is it right to stand up to authority?

What does obedience look like for you right now?

Who are your people who will encourage you and champion your calling?

 

4. Learn More About The Reformation

A last way to celebrate the Reformation today would be to spend a bit of time learning about the events and important players of the time.

If the 95 Theses are what started all of this, then it would be worth our time to look into them. You can find a list very easily on the Internet. And if they’re difficult to understand, google a modern translation.

Look into the issues that dominated the Reformation, such as indulgences, purgatory, the power of the pope, and the five solas. Check out key people like Pope Leo X, John Tetzel, Prince Frederick, and Katarina Von Bora. All of these people played important roles in Luther’s life and in the Reformation. Maybe even add a few Reformation trivia questions to your evening! Knowing this story will help us appreciate what  happened, as well as how the events of the Reformation affect our churches today.

And how does the Reformation affect our churches today? Had Luther not stood up to the authorities and called for truth and change, many things would have been different. The power of the Pope might have remained unchecked, and the sale of indulgences might have persisted. We might not teach or believe justification by faith; the common everyday person may not have access to the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant branch of the church, with its many denominations, may not even exist. The influence of the Reformation is huge and lasting, and worth celebrating! Happy Reformation Day!

3 Reasons Why We Should Stop Church-Shopping

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

Are you guilty of church-shopping?

Church-shopping is when people hop from church to church, never quite settling or putting down roots anywhere. This is especially prevalent among people who are setting out on their own for the first time. Perhaps it’s the college kid who is trying to find a new place, or the new family who just moved cities. For whatever reason, when we’re in a season of transition, it’s intimidating to plug into a church, and so church-shopping inevitably follows.

I can understand the appeal of church-shopping. I got to see a lot of churches growing up. My dad served as an interim pastor for so many churches, I can’t even count them all. And while we had a church that we loved and called our home, I often opted to go with my dad on Sunday mornings because I loved seeing how different churches did things. I saw so many church buildings, church hierarchies, a variety of worship music, Sunday school classes, business meetings. . . And I loved it. I became fascinated with how churches operate, as well as how people choose which church they will call their home.

While it can be wise to check out a handful of churches before committing to one, it can be dangerous when this becomes a prolonged process. Here are a couple reasons why we should be wary of continued church-shopping.

 

1. We let our preferences control us

One of the reasons church-shopping is so dangerous is because it tends to make us believe that going to church is about us, as if church exists to entertain us or fulfill our preferences. This is dangerous thinking. How often have we heard of divisions in churches over music preference or preaching style?

But in all honesty, corporate worship is not about us and our preferences. There should be a much bigger and stronger bond than music preference that holds the people of a local church community together. Being part of a family means that you don’t always get your way, and that’s okay.

I remember being at a small church where the pastor left, and a new interim pastor was called to step in. We didn’t love the new guy’s style of preaching, but we didn’t leave the church. Now don’t get me wrong: if there is wrong or unbiblical teaching happening at a church, that’s reason to leave, or at the very least, call for change. But that wasn’t the case here. What he was preaching wasn’t wrong; it just wasn’t our style. But we decided to stay.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but church is more to us than preaching style. Church is about God and His people. It isn’t really about us at all, and so we pressed on in that little church community. And I’m so glad we did. Real growth happened in us while we were at that church. We were given opportunities to lead and serve. Had we moved because of our preferences, we would have missed out on all this goodness.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that Christ is the cornerstone of the Church. The cornerstone is the first stone set in place when a building is being constructed. And every other stone or brick is built around that One stone. The same is true of Christ and the Church. The Church is about Him, not about us. Everything we do is because of Him.

 

2. We lose the opportunity to serve

Church-shopping for a prolonged period of time also means we never commit to a certain church community. We never put down roots. We don’t serve in churches we’re just “shopping” at. And this is a major problem. Paul describes, in multiple places, the church as a body that is made up of many members. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many,” he says in 1 Corinthians 12:14. If this is true, then by church-shopping, we are excluding ourselves from the body of Christ—which isn’t healthy for us. It also means that we are depriving the body of Christ from the gifts and service it needs to grow into its fullness.

At our current church, I’m so very thankful for the teachers of my daughter’s class, for the kind woman who works so hard at serving coffee, for those who greet me at the door with a smile. I’m grateful I get to teach a class to the ladies at our church. I’m grateful for my husband who mans the sound booth. No one gift or place of service is better than the other. Some are more public, but that doesn’t mean they are more important. The copies made, the door held open, the diapers changed, the craft prepared, the sermon delivered. All of these are vital and important in the inner-workings of a local church community.

 

3. We miss out on accountability

A lot of us prefer to church-shop because it makes it so easy to be invisible. Maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable or real. Maybe we are afraid to commit to serving or might have experienced hurts from our previous churches that make us wary of being part of another church community.

There was a time in my life when I was guilty of this kind of “invisible” church-going. My husband and I were newly married, and we had just moved to a new part of town. He was job searching; I was finishing school. And it was just a difficult time for us. So, while we believed that going to church was important, it was easier for us to just go in and out of a church service each week, invisible and anonymous.

It was easy, but it wasn’t healthy. At a time when we should have been especially surrounded by our people and held accountable, we weren’t. We eventually became dissatisfied with this type of church-going. We were lacking something and we knew it. Finally, God called us out of this anonymity. He confirmed for us that being invisible was a far cry from His purposes for the Church.

What then, are the purposes of the Church? In Acts 2:42, we are told that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here we have a glimpse of what the early church looked like. Correct and biblical teaching, community, and regular prayer—all of these should be part of any local church community.

But lest we forget: our local church communities are part of a much bigger Church—Christ’s body, His bride, made up of His people all over the world and all throughout history. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of the Church with such affection and compassion. He loves his Church. And because the Church matters to Christ, it should matter to us. We must persist in “doing” Church. We need people who are willing to dig deep, put down roots, and work hard at being God’s people, at being the Church.