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The Key to Happiness—Don’t Follow Your Heart

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?“.

Stan Lee: The Man Behind The Marvel-ous Superheroes

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

There is something about superheroes that speaks to us, inspires us, and motivates us. Many of these superheroes whom we have come to love can be attributed to one man: Stan Lee.

When news of American comic book writer and Marvel co-creator Stan Lee’s passing broke on November 12, tributes flowed in from every corner of the Internet. This is no surprise as Stan Lee has been credited for creating many of the world’s most popular superheroes, including the X-men, many of the Avengers, Daredevil, as well as my personal favorite, Spiderman. His creations have made a major impact on the entertainment industry from Marvel’s comic book sales to the many film and TV adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, Marvel’s most recent Avengers film, Avengers: Infinity’s War, was the highest grossing film of 2018.

So what is it about Stan Lee’s creations that have entertained and inspired millions of fans worldwide?

One of Stan Lee’s defining talents was to tap into our deep desire to witness sacrificial acts of heroism. In a 2016 interview with The Big Issue, he was quoted as saying, “The world always needs heroes, whether they’re superheroes or not. Since time immemorial there were stories and legends about evil power who had superpowers, and some human being had to find a way to conquer them. It seems to be part of the human condition.”

We celebrate when Spiderman saves Mary Jane from a villain. We get emotional when Iron Man seemingly sacrifices himself to save New York at the end of Avengers. We are inspired when Wolverine saves other humans, even when those same humans are trying to exterminate his fellow mutants. We love seeing Thor use his supernatural powers to battle against evil forces threatening to take over the Nine Realms.

But perhaps Stan Lee’s greatest contribution was to create superheroes with flaws and personalities that all of us can relate to. As he said, “I thought it would be great to do superheroes that have the same kind of life problems that any reader—that anybody—could have.”

In The New York Times’ obituary, the writers noted that: “Under Mr. Lee, Marvel transformed the comic book world by imbuing its characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, as well an awareness of trends and social causes and, often, a sense of humor.”

The Hulk has major anger issues. Daredevil struggles with his dark, violent tendencies. Iron Man has a gigantic ego. Years of violence and unforgiveness has built up to self-destructing resentment in Wolverine’s soul. Even Spiderman is prone to rash decision-making. But in spite of their flaws, they always triumph over the evil powers at the end of the day.

Stan Lee’s characters give us hope that we can all be superheroes in our own ways. As he himself said, a hero is:

[…] someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being and will go out of his or her way to help them—even if there is no chance of a reward. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.

This reminds me of what the Bible says in Philippians 2:3-4. As believers, we are called to put the needs of others above ourselves, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

We can be “superheroes”, but the difference is this: we do not draw strength from ourselves.The reason we can now love and serve one another—regardless of our flaws, limitations, and circumstances—is because we are image-bearers and recipients of God’s love (1 John 4:7).

Christ has set the ultimate example to show us what this looks like: He “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7) and chose to come down to earth as a human in order to become one of us. He allowed Himself to be tempted in every way so that He could empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and show us a different way to live.

Stan Lee might have been closer to the truth than he realized when he said: “There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love.”

John McCain: A Life That Reminds Us Why We Value Sacrifice

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Scrolling through Facebook over the past weekend, a post caught my eye. My friend had shared a video link to the speech American Senator John McCain gave when he received the Liberty Medal last year (the Liberty Medal recognizes leadership in the pursuit of freedom). His comment that went along with the video included the statement, “Thank you for your great service to our country”.

I remember thinking the comment was peculiar because, at a time when political debate via Facebook is so commonplace, I had grown  used to seeing this friend post particularly left-winged, Democratic articles. If I knew one thing of John McCain, it was that he was a lifelong Republican Senator, and two-time Republican presidential nominee—far on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Shortly after my friend’s post, Senator John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Twitter, former president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party spoke out to highlight the shared fidelity he had with McCain to “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Obama continued, praising the Senator who ran against him in the 2008 presidential election for his great courage and dedication to putting the greater good above his own.

Echoing the same sentiment, former president George Bush, who competed with McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, also shared his very high opinion of McCain’s public service, and his vibrant, vivid life.

Since the news of his passing, I’ve seen a wave of posts across political lines that show due honor and respect to this man’s long life of service. On my social media feed, friends from competing parties have displayed a common outpouring of sympathy to his family and tributes to his long career serving our country. Many have even dubbed him an American Hero.

As a young man, John McCain served in the Vietnam War. When his plane was shot down, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for over five years. After enduring injuries caused by the plane crash, as well as torture at the hands of his captors, John McCain was eventually released. Later, he entered into what would become a lifelong career as a public servant.

Personally, what I find most striking about the life of John McCain, is that he had a big-picture view of life. He made sacrifices, but always with purpose. He believed in the history of sacrifice that built up this nation with ideals like freedom, prosperity, and justice—and he strongly urged the U.S. to be a champion of these ideals abroad in order to build a better world. He knew that this position didn’t come without costs, but believed in an innate moral obligation to do good where good could be done.

This man’s death had a way of humbling an entire nation, and called for a brief respite where political differences could be set aside, and people across party lines could express gratefulness for how he served. John McCain fought for our country. He was wounded and tortured, and it didn’t deter him from continuing to fight for what he thought was best. He was willing to make sacrifices because he believed they were worth it.

John McCain was a determined, dedicated man. But, to be sure, he had no shortage of critics and contentious moments of service…especially in relation to his congressional voting record. He often challenged traditionalists in his own party and ruffled many feathers. He had a “do what it takes” reputation that could come off as offensive to those who weren’t totally on board with what he thought needed to be done.

Despite his faults and shortcomings, after his passing, most will remember him for the sacrifices he made for his nation. And it is in his sacrificial moments that I see a reality that should point us to the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The outpouring of tributes to Senator John McCain shows that people are drawn to this idea of sacrifice. We respect and long for an example of someone who knows good, and will give anything up to pursue it. But Jesus is the only one who can truly meet those longings.

Jesus knew the costs of His sacrifice, and yet He willingly gave himself up. He suffered at the hands of men who tortured and wounded Him. But the Bible says that He endured the cross for the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had joy in the sacrifice He made because He knew it was worth it. It was worth it because by His single act, He achieved the ultimate good. He gave up Himself, and in turn, an entire world of people were saved.

Human effort and human sacrifice is limited—even the sacrifice of someone dubbed an “American Hero”. No human effort will ever lead to a perfect world. But Jesus, in all His power, gave Himself up so that He could make us perfect by His blood.

As I see a nation honoring and praising a man who gave up so much for our country, it challenges me to remember that the highest honor and praise belong to Jesus alone—because it was Jesus who gave His very life for the truest “ultimate good”. The good Jesus brought is perfect relational restoration to the God who created us, which is the only way we can know real peace, joy, and freedom.

Why I Was Captivated by the Thai Cave Rescue

Screenshot taken from Facebook Video

 

Like many others all around the world, I cheered when I read the news yesterday evening that all 12 Thai boys and their 25-year-old assistant soccer coach had been safely rescued from a cave in Northern Thailand—after being trapped inside for two weeks.

Since reading about how they had gone missing on June 23, I found myself riveted to my phone screen for any news about the “Thai cave rescue”.

My heart went out to their families and friends when I read that they had been missing for more than a week after what was supposed to be a half-day trek into Tham Luang cave. And I was moved to read that 1,000 people (from all over the world, including Australia, United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and China) had stepped forward to help in the massive search to find them.

When they were found nine days later (July 3) by a pair of British divers some 4km from the cave entrance, I was elated. But joy quickly gave way to heartache at the news that a former Thai Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, 38, had lost consciousness and died last Friday after placing spare tanks along the route.

The dramatic and dangerous rescue operation, which started on Sunday morning, had me on the edge of my seat, and every news notification I received about another boy being successfully extracted from the waterlogged cave evoked relief and joy.

I didn’t know any of the boys or the rescuers personally, but I was emotionally invested right from the get-go. At first, it might have been because I felt as though I could empathize with them in a tiny way, having visited a cave in South Korea a few months ago, which helped me envision the cold, damp, dark, rocky, and dreary environment they were in.

But like many others, what eventually captivated me were the stories of selflessness and sacrifice from the many individuals who had stepped forward to help out in this rescue endeavor—on their own accord and at their own expense. From the soldiers, engineers, paramedics, divers, cooks, and even volunteers who helped to wash the uniforms of the rescue workers, it was apparent that the boys’ plight had not only gripped the world, it had galvanized the international community into action.

Even in the cave, the acts of selflessness continued. The assistant coach had reportedly given his share of the meager food supply to the boys during their 10-day ordeal and was therefore one of the weakest when they were found by the British divers. It was also revealed that a doctor and three Thai Navy Seals had stayed with the group the whole time since they were found more than a week ago.

But perhaps the greatest act of sacrifice that made the strongest impact was the news that former Thai Navy Seal diver, Saman Gunan, had died in his attempt to rescue the 12 boys and their coach.

Despite knowing how dangerous and risky the operation was, that did not deter him from willingly putting his life on the line for the boys. Days before his death, he had even recorded a heartbreaking video clip that had showed him standing near the steps of an airplane, and vowing to “bring the kids home”. His mindset then probably reflected what a Belgian cave diver had said in another news report, “If you’re a Navy Seal, yes, you’ll sacrifice yourself.” A BBC report later summed up Gunan’s death poignantly, “He died so that they might live.”

And that eventually proved to be the case, with all 13 of them finally rescued successfully in a grueling effort that spanned three days and involved 13 international divers and 5 Thai Navy Seals. Not only had Gunan’s death underscored the perils of the operation, it ultimately contributed in a large way to ensuring that the necessary safety precautions were taken so that no more lives would be lost.

It’s sacrifices like these that move us to tears because it shows us two things: the value of life and the best of humanity—shown in the form of love and sacrifice. As the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I couldn’t help but notice many parallels between the Thai cave rescue and God’s rescue plan for humanity. Just like the 12 boys and their assistant coach who were trapped in the cave, unable to save themselves from their predicament, we too were stuck in our sins, completely helpless and incapable to save ourselves. In both cases, the only outcome that awaited us was death.

Help had to come from the outside. Theirs came in the form of expert divers who were prepared to risk their lives and dive into the waterlogged caves where there was near-zero visibility in order to save the lives of the 13. Similarly, Jesus Christ had to enter into our fallen world to live among us and eventually die for us on the cross. Though He knew it would cost Him everything, it did not stop Him from doing so, because that was the only way that we could live.

So as we applaud and recognize those heroes who sacrificially gave of their time, effort, resources and even lives, may it remind us once again of the greatest act of sacrifice done for humanity: Jesus giving His life for us not merely while we were strangers, but while we were enemies.

Let’s also not stop at thanksgiving and awe. As CNN writer Jay Parini put it, “And everyone is beholden to Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who lost his life a few days ago while making his way out of the Tham Luang complex of caves.” Just like the boys, who would be forever beholden to Gunan and whose lives would change forever because of this incident, our lives must change because of what Christ has done for us.

Jesus died for us all, so that we could live—not for ourselves, but for Him who died and was raised for us (2 Corinthians 5:15).