If we are practicing our faith in order to grow spiritually and relationally with Him, we tend to look for clues about how best to do that. And frankly, there are dozens of books and workshops on this. Some of us try them and pick up a few good hints, but often those hints don’t stick very well. Of course, we plan to use them, but they get stuck on one of those “to do” lists and too often stay there rather than taking us deeper.
As we read in our Bibles, we see often that we are admonished to take charge of our thoughts and renew our minds as keys to a disciplined life of discipleship. Paul writes about this in many places:
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10;5 (NIV)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
These are good and helpful in guiding our decisions and training our thoughts, but even with practice they can get derailed because what is driving the engine inside of us is what we want at any given point in time and that is a heart issue first.
I was challenged to look at this when I read the following words by James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love:
“What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart?”
You would think we would just clearly “get” that wouldn’t you? No one ever asks us to invite Jesus into our heads, but always into our hearts. Somehow after that we start doing the thinking things and lose track of the reality that the battle is always going to be about our hearts.
We can all think of examples that make that clear. One easy one is our commitment to lose those extra pounds and watch our intake of sugar and fats. We know what we need to do. We have committed to one program after another and made progress here and there, but too often we slip back. Why? Because we want that ice cream sundae on these hot summer days and that want will very often win over what our head tells us to sacrifice.
That doesn’t mean we don’t use our “thinkers” to try to rein in our “wanters” that are not healthy for us, but if we think the thinking things are going to have an easy time of it we miss that the clue to success is having our hearts bent to a different want or desire.
What did Augustine say was key to our identity?
“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Smith’s book suggests this regarding what Augustine writes:
“The longing that Augustine describes is less like curiosity and more like hunger – less like an intellectual puzzle to be solved and more like a craving for sustenance.”
I think the psalmist nails the idea in Psalm 42: 1-2 (NIV):
“As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?”
If we are honest with ourselves as we assess things, we can see how our wants and desires are what propels us forward. That is what it is crucial for the Lord to recalibrate our hearts so they long for Him and what He desires because He is the only one who can satisfy whether we realize that all the time or not.
“The center of gravity of the human person is located not in the intellect but in the heart. Why? Because the heart is the existential chamber of our love, and it is our loves that orient us toward some ultimate end or telos (goal). It’s not just that I “know” some end or “believe” in some telos. More than that, I long for some end. I want something and want it ultimately. It is my desires that define me. In short, you are what you love.”
James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love
John Eldredge often writes about how God made us for intimacy and adventure. I love that concept because it brings us into the relational being of the Lord with us. If we miss that by being a “thinking thing” our attempt to take every thought captive will falter.
“Our heart will not totally forsake the intimacy and adventure we were made for and so we compromise. We both become, and take to ourselves, lovers that are less dangerous in their passion for life and the possible pain that comes with it – in short, lovers that are less wild.”
And don’t mistake that the adversary, our enemy, knows the action to seduce is in the heart center as well. His lures are many and filled with all manner of sensual passionate yearnings that can take us down a path we did not intend.
So if you are looking for clues along the journey, be sure you keep inventory on your heart – its longings, desires, wants – that will give you a big boost in taking thoughts captive and renewing your heart. Otherwise, it can be a good exercise with little fruit at the end of it.