If we learn so much from the very day we are born by imitating, how does that influence who we become and what shapes our hearts, our loves, our desires?
We have models that are clearly designed to help us imitate. They include our parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, clergy, and others. We look to them to point us in the best path. That may not be perfect, but we hope it will be at least good enough because these early examples will help us shape our desires and what we believe will be “good” for us in the many years ahead.
Why is this so crucial? Here is the response by James K.A. Smith in his book You Are What You Love:
“You can’t not love. It’s why the heart is the seat and fulcrum of the human person, the engine that drives our existence. We are lovers first and foremost…we might say that the human heart is part compass and part internal guidance system.
The heart is like a multifunctional desire device that is part engine and part homing beacon. Operating under the hood of our consciousness, so to speak – our default autopilot – the longings of the heart both point us in the direction of a kingdom and propel us toward it.”
Then what causes the heart to look like Jeremiah describes it?
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?”
Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)
To understand what seems like a contradiction we need to recognize that our heart is bent toward what we love, what we want, and that has self written all over it from the beginning and can help us see what it is first and foremost our hearts that the Lord is after so He can transform them. Too many of our wants and desires, our hungers, are influenced by things our models did not intend many times. We caught things beyond things we were taught or encouraged to learn.
We also don’t grow up in a vacuum, so we begin very early to want things we see others have that look good to us. Not long after that we start going about whatever we need to do to get them. We take a toy we want from a child we are playing with. We grab something to eat that we long for from someone else’s hand or plate. And that is just the beginning of leading our hearts down the primrose path, away from the best choices.
“To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life, some picture of what we think counts as “flourishing.” And we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love. We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires. We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of the good life, not usually because we “think through” our options, but because some picture captures our imagination.”
James K.A. Smith
Few of us would disagree that we are flooded with images, sounds, ideas, and concepts of what that will look like more than ever before. It is happening every moment of every day from the time we awaken until we go to sleep. These same things can impact our longings, hungers, and habits without our awareness.
When we consider that along with the tendency of our unsanctified hearts, Paul’s words in Romans 7 about doing the very thing he hates makes a great deal of sense and can resonate more than ever.
God is love and everything about Him emanates from that understanding and it is little wonder that as human image bearers we have love built into our DNA and it should not surprise us that the enemy of our souls competes for our desires and longings.
It is also why when we sense God inviting us into relationship with Him that He sees this (as should we) as a heart decision. That decision is what invites Him into the process of transforming our hearts, our desires, our hungers and longings so they are reoriented toward what is truly good.
He understands what James K.A. Smith writes:
“While being human means we can’t not love something ultimate – some version of the kingdom – it doesn’t necessarily mean we love the right things, or the true King. God has created us for himself and our hearts are designed to find their end in him, yet many spend their days restlessly craving rival gods, frenetically pursuing rival kingdoms. The subconscious longings of our hearts are aimed and directed elsewhere; our orientation is askew; our erotic compass malfunctions, giving us false bearings.”
These things that we are influenced by not only affect our choices and what we do, they also do something to us. What our hearts cling to according to Martin Luther become what is our god.
It is any wonder that the writer of Proverbs reminds us of this wisdom:
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)
“No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God’s strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through.”
God’s grace and tender mercies toward us begin with revealing the condition of our heart and his love points (as a compass or GPS) to a better path beyond any other examples or influences that seek to bend our hearts in a path toward things that will never satisfy – no matter how good they may appear.