What do you say to a woman who after less than a year of marriage decides to file for divorce? “Have you sought help for your marriage?” you might ask. “No,” she answers. “I just know it’s the right thing to do. I’m following my heart.”
Everyone needs wisdom to help navigate this journey of life, but the delusion that a person can lean on his or her own understanding and emotions brings to light the absence of absolute truth. Proverbs, one of the Bible’s books of wisdom, tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (3:5, 6). As displayed in the following examples, it becomes evident that believers are not immune to succumbing to the lies of a misguided heart.
Scenario 1: Cohabiting “respectably”
Doug and Mandy, both Christians, have recently graduated from college and are engaged to be married. They do not have jobs but are trusting God to provide for this need. In the meantime, instead of renting separate apartments during their engagement, they decide to live in an apartment together to save money. They agree that sex before marriage is wrong; their friends want to believe they are remaining pure, but doubt it and lack the courage to challenge the couple’s choice in living arrangements. When newcomers Chris and his wife, Lori, learn that Doug and Mandy live together, Chris asks the couple’s close friend, their deacon, about the situation. The deacon replies, “Yeah, I know it looks bad, but they don’t have sex. They have a two-bedroom apartment and sleep in separate rooms.” Chris bursts into laughter. He and Lori have seen Doug and Mandy’s Facebook photo albums and notice engagement pictures of them vacationing in Florida. The engagement celebration appears to be a weeklong honeymoon-like experience, including sunset views from a hotel room.
Problem: Doug and Mandy believe that convenience and money trump a surrendered heart to God. Their friends lack the courage to share with them in love that lusting for each other is just as wrong as the sexual act (Matthew 5:28). Doug and Mandy also need to obey God’s command to avoid evil and prove what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22). Following this principle is the true nature of a Christian.
Scenario 2: Blaming God for a spouse’s inattention
Jeff and Susan have been married for 12 years and have three children. For at least the past seven years, their respect level for one another has faded immensely. Susan constantly nags her business-minded husband about his long working hours and has come to resent his success, as it has become more of a priority to him than she is. What happened to her loving and cherishing husband? To punish him, she belittles him in front of their children and comments under her breath when he’s home about how he doesn’t help out around the house. When he does help, she says it’s never done the right way.
A year ago Jeff had an affair. Now he denies God even exists. “I don’t deserve this,” Susan tells God from the privacy of her room. “I didn’t marry this man. Jeff was a committed Christian. He used to pay attention to me. He used to be the spiritual leader. Why did You do this to me?”
Problem: Susan believes that her husband is responsible for her happiness and unhappiness. She takes no responsibility in her failed marriage, but instead blames God for allowing her to marry Jeff.
Scenario 3: Overspending on presents
Charles and Christine can’t afford to buy a pile of gifts for their children at Christmas . . . but they do it anyway, charging all the gifts on credit cards. What a way to start the new year—in debt. But they don’t mind taking half a year to make payments just to know that their children have spectacular Christmas memories.
Problem: Charles and Christine put their children’s memories of Christmas ahead of being financially responsible.
Scenario 4: Marrying an unbeliever
King Solomon, ironically most known for his God-given wisdom, followed his own deceitful heart by marrying 700 women and 300 concubines. Many of the women were foreign princesses of nations with whom the Lord had said, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods” (1 Kings 11:2). That is the exact effect King Solomon’s wives had on the wisest man to walk the face of the earth. Consequently, he ended up losing more than half of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:29–35).
Problem: Against God’s warning, King Solomon gave in to the temptation to marry foreign princesses.
Notice a common problem in these scenarios? Each person is applying his or her experience and perception of truth rather than viewing the problem through the truth of God’s Word. God’s Word needs to be part of the equation if we are to follow the God of the universe and His perfect plan. Therefore, it is crucial that Christians not only know God and His Word, but believe and not doubt. The strength to obey comes only from believing God’s abilities and promises (Isaiah 48:17, 18; James 1:5–8).
Thankfully God gives us examples of people who chose to trust and obey Him. Joseph is one of my favorite examples of someone who chose God’s way of responding to life. He was sold into slavery because his brothers hated him, but after years of hard, faithful work in Egypt, he had charge of all the governor’s possessions. Instead of giving in to sexual temptation, Joseph fled from the governor’s wife’s attempts to seduce him, and was unfairly banished to prison because the governor did not believe his innocence. During at least two years in prison, he helped interpret the dreams of two prison mates, who forgot his kindness to them after their release. Eventually, after much testing, Joseph’s obedience and faithfulness to the Lord produced fruit. The Lord used Joseph to physically rescue the Israelites and Egyptians during seven years of famine. And, as the ultimate test of Joseph’s knowledge and understanding of God’s sovereignty, he forgave his brothers (Genesis 37; 39—50).
Having been single for 30 years, I went through times when I let my emotions rule my heart rather than seeking the Lord’s direction in my relationships. When I was in my late 20s, a man had me believing he was the one I was to marry after just two months of getting to know each other. However, when he was confronted with my dad’s hesitations about getting married so quickly, the man’s godly characteristics disappeared. I was already too emotionally involved to see his true colors.
The next few weeks were filled with debating my parents on the matter. My dad asked me to call off the relationship completely. He believed I had a responsibility as his daughter to obey him, even quoting Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
I was 27 years old and hated feeling as though I were being treated like a teenager again. I went to my room and tried to find any verse that would get me out from under the authority of my dad. However, I found nothing. I came to learn that the Greek word for “children” is not defined as a young child, but as a position in one’s family. While not everyone would agree with my reasoning, I came to understand I should still respect my dad’s authority.
Although reluctantly, I believed that if I disobeyed my father in this matter, I would be sinning against God. The next day I called my boyfriend to tell him I was submitting to my dad’s wishes. I was hoping he would be encouraged by my desire to submit to my dad even though I disagreed with him. To my dismay, he was enraged, and the 10-minute conversation ended with his cold statement, “Have a nice life, Andrea, being controlled by your parents. You’ll never get married.”
Even though the man I was dating had said unbiblical things and showed undeniable signs of selfishness, I was sure he was the one I was to marry. After we broke up, I began to pray in faith, asking God to change my parents’ hearts toward him. I prayed that he would be waiting and praying for us to be together too.
However, through a series of events just two weeks after the breakup, I learned that he had been dating at least three other women at the same time he was asking my dad for my hand in marriage. The reality of the situation hit me like a crashing wave of the sea. Perhaps he didn’t care about me. Ironically, two polar opposite emotions—anger and relief—enveloped me at the same time. I was thrilled that God’s power gave me the strength and courage to obey Him. I immediately became aware of the protection my sheer obedience to the Lord gave me and couldn’t stop praising Him for being so real in my life.
Right away I ran to my dad’s office, and with tears of gratitude thanked him profusely for fighting so hard for me. To this day I still thank the Lord for giving me the courage and strength to simply obey. The story doesn’t end there. God has used this experience of obeying Him to speak truth into the lives of many other women who are choosing to believe their emotions are what’s true rather than subjecting their emotions to the truth of God’s Word. Every believer needs others in their lives to help them see when their faith and belief become clouded by lies of a misguided heart.
The beloved Oswald Chambers explains in My Utmost for His Highest what it means to be guided by God: “At first, we want the awareness of being guided by God. But then as we grow spiritually, we live so fully aware of God that we do not even need to ask what His will is, because the thought of choosing another way will never occur to us. If we are saved and sanctified, God guides us by our everyday choices. And if we are about to choose what He does not want, He will give us a sense of doubt or restraint, which we must heed. Whenever there is doubt, stop at once. Never try to reason it out, saying, ‘I wonder why I shouldn’t do this?’ God instructs us in what we choose; that is, He actually guides our common sense. And when we yield to His teachings and guidance, we no longer hinder His Spirit by continually asking, ‘Now, Lord, what is Your will?’”
Christians will experience the joy, peace, and confidence they can have in Christ when they believe God enough to trust and obey Him. Jesus tells believers over and over to guard their hearts and follow Him in order to have the peace in life that passes all understanding (Isaiah 48:17, 18; James 1:22–25; Proverbs 4:23; Philippians 4:6, 7). I cannot emphasize enough the need for God’s Word to penetrate our hearts and minds.
Andrea Chamberlain is a freelance author who leads RBP’s Seeds of Faith seminars for children’s ministry.