When the Heart Leads Us Astray

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One of the most popular phrases we tell others when trying to guide or encourage them is, “Follow your heart.” It seems harmless and altruistic enough — and I am quite sure it is often delivered with the best of intentions. But what does that mean exactly — and what are the implications to our sexuality?

Recently I read a chapter in When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch that really convicted me about this topic. It is something I had been pondering for a little while as I wrestled with how to identify when we are following God’s guidance using spiritual discernment versus following our own wishes and believing that is what He would have us do. When I read this chapter, it felt like the author was speaking to my heart and I think I underlined almost every sentence. I would like to share some of this with you as I believe it is very pertinent to our culture today and has direct implications on our sexuality.

What the Bible Tells Us About Our Heart

Let’s start with the advice of “follow your heart.” Within that piece of advice is the assumption that the heart is ultimately pure and can lead us to the “right path.” Unfortunately, this is not the truth. In fact, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). I have always struggled with this verse because as a Christian and a counselor, I want to look for the best in people and find their strengths. I want to believe that under even the most tough exterior is a softness and a pure heart. While I do believe that each person is touched by the fingerprint of God and has His unique giftings and qualities within them, I cannot forget that in Welch’s words, “If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.”

In other words, if we begin to rely on ourselves to be our guides through life, then Jesus is not truly our Lord. He becomes smaller than ourselves. We turn from His Scripture and voice, putting more faith in our emotions and wishes. Welch then states, “If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth.” We are encouraged to go after what we want and the thought of discipline or patience is often ignored, or worse, viewed as oppressive.

You may be starting to see how I believe this concept of following one’s own heart can relate to our sexuality. As we have become a more self-centered culture, integrity, discipline, and service have lost standing in our minds as priorities. Discipline is often viewed as repressing our desires — some may even say “God-given desires.” Let’s take premarital sex for example. In His Word, God asks us to reserve the sexual relationship for within the confines of the marital covenant. Song of Solomon 8:4 (CSB) says, “Don’t stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” Our Heavenly Father urges us to practice delaying gratification because it will build character that will support our marriage and will ultimately lead to increased satisfaction. It is not to oppress us or test our loyalty.

Though our heart may wish to be intimate physically with the one we love, God has asked us to be patient and trust His wishes. Submitting to God’s will over our own is a practice that we will have to walk out daily in marriage as we struggle through financial issues, infertility, buying a house, job loss, illness, miscarriage, child-rearing, and so many other challenges. If we enter marriage following our hearts first rather than God’s will, we are often placing ourselves in a position that can result in serving self first, others second, and God last. His intention is the exact reverse. This example of waiting until marriage is just one way this concept can affect our sexuality, but can apply to masturbation, pressuring our spouse to try a sexual act that they do not feel peace about, pornography, and so much more. The heart can easily give way to lust if we follow it.

God’s Will Over Our Feelings and Desires

When feelings and desires become our highest authority, we can often find a way to justify any action and can start to become controlled by these desires, which are frequently labeled as “needs.” Welch states, “Whatever you think you need, you come to fear. If you ‘need’ love (to feel okay about yourself), you will soon be controlled by the one who dispenses love. You are also saying that without that person’s love, you will be spiritually handicapped, unable to give love to others.” If these words are challenging you, please know that I am right there with you! As a counselor, I am quite familiar with discussion of desires and needs. I think it is very healthy to discuss and communicate with your friends and spouse (and God!) what you wish for and desire. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” After reading Welch’s chapter, however, I am encouraged to look at this verse in a new light.

Previously, I always focused on the second part of the verse. Now I notice just how important that first piece is: “Take delight in the Lord . . .  and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If we take delight in something, let’s say new babies, we spend time adoring them and just being in their presence. We long to get to know their personalities and just genuinely derive joy from their existence. If we were to spend time with God like this, I cannot imagine how much He would change our hearts! The desires of our heart would be molded into His own as we were made increasingly into His likeness. I truly believe that as we seek Him, He even removes or weakens our desire to sin because our desire to glorify Him is so much stronger than our flesh.

In Welch’s words, “There will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs.” He will mold these desires and needs into His will for our lives. He will provide a community around us who pushes us towards a pursuit of purity and freedom in Him. He wishes to partner with us. Our emotions truly are a gift when surrendered to Him, but we cannot be ruled by them. If so, our hearts can lead us astray. And they will. All of us will sin and fall short at times as we put our desires above God’s call on our lives. But He is faithful to forgive if we will repent and come back to Him. Then, my friend, take delight in Him, for in His Presence is freedom and joy and healing!

Related Resources:

Amy is with us for the month of February to talk about intimacy and give us a biblical perspective on relationships and God’s will for us when it comes to love and sex. Check out her first article, “3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex,” in this 3-part series and corresponding podcast episode by clicking on the link here or one provided below her author bio.

Next week she will wrap up the series with a candid look at issues that often arise in sex in the married relationship.

 

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex

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As I look around in culture today, the thought so often enters my mind, “Lord, where are you? How did we get here?” It seems that so much of our media is sex-crazed, almost to a point of worshiping it. Sex has become confused with the notion of love and intimacy. While it can certainly be an act that represents and expresses precisely those things, the way it is often portrayed in movies or shows is quite the opposite. It tends to be self-centered, greedy, and far more depictive of lust than love in the world. What are God’s thoughts on sex? What does His Word provide as our guidance on how we can align our thoughts, actions, and speech with His?

Coming into college, I had no idea what path I was going to choose for my life. On one hand, I had been introduced to Jesus and had been invited to a student ministry that I knew had been a large part of changing my sister’s life. On the other hand, I still struggled with a lot of insecurity, and my primary way of finding security in the past had been by seeking romantic relationships or friendships to give me a sense of value, so the partying side appealed to me greatly too. Through a series of events, I wound up attending a prayer and worship service with my sister, and God’s love touched me in a way that I had never experienced. I felt His conviction heavy upon my heart. As I repented of my sin, I felt His freedom and nearness like never before. I was sold and fell in love with Jesus and His people.

Shortly afterward, the student ministry advertised a new small group being offered that semester on God’s heart for sex. I was very intrigued because all I had ever been taught regarding what the Bible had to say about sex was that Christians were supposed to wait until marriage. Most Christians I knew would never dare talk to me about sex, so the idea that someone was inviting me to a group where we would openly talk about what the Bible had to say about sex was fascinating to me.

As I joined this group, God began to fill me with His passion for His creation of sex. I saw how He created boundaries around sex to protect us, not to deprive us. It was His perfect love for His children that created these laws, not His desire to test our obedience to Him. He knew what would be best for our hearts and spirits because He is the One who made us precisely as we are in the first place.

That being said, I would like to share with you a few of the Scriptures and truths that God revealed to me through this group. I pray that as you read His Word, God would ignite a fire in you to seek after and pray for His righteous sexuality to grow in us and in our nation.

What Scripture Teaches Us About Sexuality According to God’s Design:

1. Sex is innately pure.

The first commandment God gives to Adam and Eve as a couple is, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). The Lord saw that it was “not good for man that the man should be alone” and gave him a helper in Eve; similarly, he made it so a man and woman would leave their mother and father and become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24). God created sex and He made us to be incredibly relational beings. He is the one who formed our anatomy and chose for this to be the path through which He creates new human life.

How sweet that He chose to bring children from an act of love. Our sexuality was present before the Fall, so we can know that it was His intention from the beginning and was originally marked by complete purity. Now that we are living in the world after the Fall, however, this purity must be sought after with vigilance. In 2 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality” because it is a sin again one’s own body, which is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”

2. Sex is powerful.

In Ephesians 5:31, 32 (ESV), the apostle Paul begins by citing Genesis 2:24 regarding marriage and explains he believes marriage is a metaphor of Jesus’ union with His Bride, the Church: “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” No wonder it has such power! The act of sex not only has the potential to create life, but also the potential for the most intimate act of unity a couple can partake in, as it is an opportunity to connect physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Although we rarely do engage in this potential because of our own wounds and baggage, the potential remains there.

Just as in all things that God creates for good, the enemy will try to use them for destruction, so sex also holds the power for great harm as well. It is often used to abuse, shame, control, or exploit others. This is a heartbreaking reality that must be addressed as it is often the source of many women’s pain and skepticism in approaching sexuality — and rightfully so! But we know that God is a miracle-worker and whatever the enemy intends for evil, He will use for our good. He offers healing in His Presence and the presence of His people. He is faithful to make any experience a testimony to His goodness and power.

3. Sex offers potential for intimate oneness.

The Hebrew word often used to describe sex in the Bible is “yada” which means “to know.” Any sexual act requires incredible vulnerability and openness. Our physical nakedness represents a full bearing and surrender of ourselves. And this is the first thing that Satan attacked. In Genesis 2:25 (ESV), prior to the Fall, Scripture tells us, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” However, after Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate, both of their eyes were opened. Therefore, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths in an attempt to hide their nakedness (Genesis 3:6, 7). Shame covered them and kept them from engaging in intimate relationship with the Lord and others.

It is so common for us to hide our sins, especially sexual sins, allowing them to grow in the darkness. Instead, we are urged to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12, ESV) and to “walk in the light . . . [to] have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). We are promised that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

In other words, shame holds us back from true healing and reconciliation with God and others! Our Lover urges us to come out of hiding. In Song of Solomon 2:14 (ESV) He cries, “Let Me see your face. Let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” This vulnerability takes a great deal of confidence and trust, which is why I believe God has gone to such great lengths to warn us of its potential for harm if used outside of His good purposes.

Conclusion:

This is just a beginning into what God’s Word has to say about His divine plan for sex and includes some of the highlights that I have learned on my own journey of studying this topic. As our nation continues to indulge in the world’s way of viewing sexuality, I believe God is calling us to be lights in the darkness to offer hope and healing to those who have been hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned by what the world teaches. In the words of Chris and Rachel McCluskey in their book When Two Become One: Enhancing Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, “The church must take back sex and claim the truth that it belongs to God and it is good — but only when practiced within His guidelines . . . Our union as husband and wife bears testimony in the heavenlies to the promised consummation of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church.”

Related Resources:

Like this article and want to read more from Amy? This article is the first in a 3-part series on love and sex. Check out Amy’s article next week about the deceptiveness of our heart and the following week for her tips on enhancing sex in the marriage relationship.

Don’t have time to read a post or prefer to listen to the points in podcast form? Check out the podcast episode above this article where Amy explains the major ideas and concepts discussed in her writing.

Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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3 Things to Consider Before Entering Into a Dating Relationship

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I sat in the seat of the mini-van and watched my mom’s lips curl downward into a frown. She turned to me, “I think you need to be careful about how much of your heart you give away.”

I sulked in my seat, “I know what I’m doing.” In my head, a rebellious litany broke forth, Why does she have to be so strict. I am just fine! At 16, I didn’t think I needed her advice. I was pretty sure I knew everything I needed to know about myself and the object of my heart’s affection. However, years later, I would have to reflect back on that conversation and realize my mom was right.

I hadn’t been very careful about guarding my heart in a dating relationship, and I got burned. Just at the point when I thought our relationship would take off, he dropped me. It would take me years to get over the hurt and find healing. I should have heeded my mom’s advice and never entered into a relationship with him.

While we can’t always foresee how a relationship will turn out or protect ourselves from disappointment, we can be wise about whom we enter into a relationship with. Song of Songs 8:4 warns us not to “arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” In other words, we should be careful about allowing romantic feelings to be stirred in our heart.

As detailed later in the same passage, love is strong and “burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (Song of Songs 8:6). It is a wonderful connection God allows us to feel with someone else. Because the emotions are so strong, we need to be careful about opening our heart to just anyone.

We need to consider a few things before we enter into a dating relationship with him:

1. Our relationship with God.

While this may not sound like a logical place to start, we need to evaluate if we are in a good place with God at the moment. Are we regularly spending time with Him? Are we seeking His will for our life in prayer?

In order to have any hope of entering in to a godly union with another person, we need to focus on getting ourselves in a place where we are strong in our own relationship with the Lord. If we are solid in our spiritual walk, we will have better discernment about whom we should and should not date, and our priorities will be in the right place. If God isn’t the center of our life, we will be more likely to seek out someone to take that “savior” place and enter into an unhealthy relationship (where we are not consulting God about life or His will for our life).

2. His relationship with God.

The Bible talks about not being “unequally yoked” with another person (2 Corinthians 6:14, NKJV). In other words, we don’t want to choose someone who isn’t making God a priority. The reason for this is that no matter how handsome or charming or amazing this person is, we can’t foresee how this person will treat us years down the road. We may think he will change into a more spiritual person, but we can’t count on it.

A good way to know whether or not this person has a great relationship with the Lord is to not only observe his actions in various scenarios but to pay attention to what other people say about him. What kind of reputation does he have in the community? In his church? With mutual friends?

Once I went on a date with a good-looking guy in my college, He had just broken up with a previous girlfriend. He spent most of our first dinner date talking about her. Shortly after that date, a few of her friends urged me not to go out with him again. Apparently, his behavior toward his girlfriend had been less than desirable. We never went out again after that first date. He ended up moving away, but I felt uneasy because the things he said about himself didn’t match up with what people said about him.

Obviously, he had some baggage to work through, and he wasn’t a good candidate for a new relationship. When considering whether or not to enter into a relationship with someone, we should do our homework and find out a little about this person and what others say about him. Someone who has left behind a string of broken relationships or displayed a pattern of undesirable behavior is someone we need to stay away from.

3. Warning signs.

Perhaps some of you reading this struggle with people-pleasing. You struggle to say no and try to please those around you. In a dating relationship, you may make excuses for a person’s repeated bad behavior and disrespect of you because you don’t want the relationship to be over. You want to believe that it will get better, and you may struggle to assert yourself for fear that you will lose the relationship.

However, pay attention to the warning signs, that feeling in your gut that something isn’t right. Personally, as a young person I discovered that a guy’s actions say much more than his words. If he says great things in your presence and says he will call you, but then doesn’t, he isn’t really that committed to the relationship.

Years ago, a book called He’s Just Not That Into You came out. The author wrote it because he got fed up with the denial his female friends were living in. His main point in the book is this: If a guy is not calling and is evasive and doesn’t have time for you, He’s just not that into you!

Chasing after someone who doesn’t treat you well is never going to be a good scenario for you. While it may be painful to break if off initially, you will be happier in the long run. You will make space for a person who does treat you well to come along and practice setting boundaries that show you respect and value yourself and expect others to do the same.

Not too Late to Make Good Choices

If you are reading this and you know that you haven’t been wise in your dating relationships, it’s not too late to start. In addition, if you are feeling bad because not only have you chosen poor candidates to be involved with but have also veered outside the boundaries of God’s Word by getting too physical before marriage, know that there is no condemnation for you as a believer (Romans 8:1). You can repent and allow God to cleanse you and make a new beginning.

By making a conscious effort now to use wisdom in choosing a person to date, you will set yourself up for more peace and fulfillment down the road.

Related Resources:

If you need help breaking free of emotional connections from past unhealthy relationships, check out the articles on soul ties listed below the author box in the “Related articles” section beneath this post.

Also, if you struggle to form healthy relationships and allow others to love you because of low self-worth, these articles can help: Self-Worth: The Question Every Woman Asks, Self-Worth: How to Start Accepting Yourself, Self-Worth: How to Feel Better About Yourself, and 4 Reasons Why You Should Forgive Yourself.

*Updated February 15, 2018.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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