I was recently having a conversation with someone who is trying to figure out what she believes about God, Jesus, and Christianity. In the course of our conversation, we began talking about relationships and what makes people happy.
I asked her, “Why do you think God cares about these things?” To paraphrase her response: “To me, God is love and that means he’s okay with people being happy in the way they choose.” Her answer, while genuine, represents a common misunderstanding about God’s love so prevalent in our culture today.
Another way she could have worded her response was by saying that God shows his love for us by letting us do what we feel is best us. Whatever we feel will make us happy, that’s what God wants us to do. Because God is love, “he’s okay with people being happy in the way they choose.”
Growing up, every American kid is taught about the American Dream. In the classroom, at home, and through our televisions, we are taught that happiness comes as we follow our hearts and achieve our dreams.
Many television preachers have become quite famous for teaching that God’s best for us is the accumulation of health, wealth, and personal success. In other words, God’s best for us is the American Dream.
But is this really true? In order for God to love us, must He really give us everything we want? Do our hearts and God’s heart always go in the same direction?
In order to answer these questions, I believe we must make critical distinction between what we feel is best for us and what God knows is best for us. Let’s look at each of these more closely.
What We Feel
In our most honest moments, we must admit that following our hearts has not always worked out so well. Sometimes we follow our hearts into a bad job, a bad career, or a bad relationship.
This doesn’t mean that our hearts are all bad (see Proverbs 4:23), but it does echo what the Bible tells us when it says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9). In a culture that says, “follow your heart,” we desperately need the Biblical wisdom that tells us how badly that could go.
This is especially true when we confuse the desires of our hearts with God’s will for us. When we believe that God’s love is expressed by endorsing our own desires, we will inevitably experience the depression and confusion that come from un-met expectations.
“A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).
We rant and rave against God for not making us happy, when the truth is: it was our own false beliefs and wrong expectations that lead us to where we are. The heart is more deceitful than anything else…yes indeed.
This is why we must not confuse what we feel is best for us with God’s love for us. In reality, God’s love will often lead us the opposite of how we feel, because God’s love is so much more than the mere endorsement of our feelings.
What God Knows
Counter-intuitive as it often seems, the best way to find happiness is by surrendering our hearts to God. In our culture today, we don’t like the idea of surrender. We want to be in charge of our lives. We want to be the boss. We want to be in control.
And yet, the Bible consistently tells that true freedom and joy only come when we surrender plans to God and trust Him to direct our steps.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him,
and he will make your paths straight
Notice what this passage assumes. In order for us to follow its instruction, we cannot follow our hearts. Instead, we must lead our hearts to trust the Lord. Jesus said something similar when he said, “Remain in me, and I in you…because you can do nothing without me” (John 15:4, 5).
To remain in Jesus literally meant to “make your home” in Jesus. In other words, it meant to find your security, your rest, and your shelter in Jesus and His ways. Jesus tells us that if we will do this, “my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
When we surrender our lives to follow Jesus, we are not recruiting Him to make our desires come true. Instead, we are trusting Him to make our joy complete in His timing, in His way, and with His provision (see Philippians 4:19). We do this knowing full well that He may lead us down a different path that is better for us than we originally believed.
So, How Does God Love Us?
To put it simply, God loves us by giving us what He knows is best for us. This will often mean He leads us to suffer, to change, and to surrender more of ourselves to Him—things we would never do if we simply followed our hearts.
To that end, we must ask: what is best for us? God’s answer: to become more and more like Jesus—more gentle, patient, and kind. More truthful, humble, and righteous. As cliche as it may sound, to become more like Jesus is to become more joyful and unified with God’s will for our lives
Thankfully, God has already begun this work in our lives and will bring it to it’s completion as He daily works in our lives to “conform us to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 c.f. Philippians 1:6).
Only in Jesus do we find “life…in abundance” (John 10:10). Because God is more committed to our joy than we are, He will often change our desires, rather than endorse them.
This is one of the critical ways we can die to our selves and entrust ourselves to God’s wise and loving care over our lives. To do this, we must truly believe that God knows best and is worthy of our trust and surrender.
Is this what you believe? If it is not, then I would encourage you to use this article as a catalyst for prayer. Pray for God to help you trust Him with your life. Pray for the grace to believe that His desires for you are better than your own. Take the Scriptures referenced in this article and personalize them into your own words to God.
In the end, don’t be content with just knowing what you should do; spend some time with God and ask Him to do the work in your heart you are sensing needs to be done.
“You made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” — St. Augustine