A friend of mine gathered his family of four around the television. It was a big day. Everyone was excited. The Holy Spirit had whispered in his ear that this would be a good week to buy lottery tickets. Millions of dollars would be such a huge blessing to this family encumbered with debt and college tuition looming. They would be sure to use some of it to advance the kingdom of God, too! Clutching their tickets, they could hardly wait for the show to begin. What a surprise (to them and no one else) when none of their numbers were selected. What went wrong?
We may raise our eyebrows at what seems like an obvious case of wishful thinking, but who hasn’t let their hopes make a monkey out of them at one time or another? We get so emotionally involved with what we’re doing that we spiritualize our own desires, biases, and preferences. We conclude that God is leading us forward when we are actually leading ourselves astray. Simon and Garfunkel sum up well this common human weakness in their hit song, The Boxer: “All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. Hmmm Hmmm. Hmmm.” What’s the remedy? Am I suggesting that you stop trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you, contrary to what I argued in my previous essay, “Spirit-Led Living: A Simple Path”. No, not at all. Rather, I’m cautioning you against naiveté and false expectations. In any discernment process, instead of just going with your feelings and what you want to be true, you need to prayerfully use your head, too. Learning the hard way It started with an overwhelming sense of compassion and grief. None of the kids I met on the streets of Yangon had fathers. Begging for food was a daily occurrence. One orphan boy had been living on the street for much of the past three years. Their clothes were filthy, their bodies skin and bones. Was I being called to give them the helping hand they needed in order to transform their lives? Soon, everything seemed to be falling into place. We were successful at getting two of the kids off the streets and into homes, and three of them back into school. They looked so proud in their new school uniforms, and seemed so eager to ride their new bikes to school. It felt great to be doing something so concrete and meaningful for the poorest of the poor.
Four months later, I found out that the kids had been lying to me about having to pay school fees. School is free for children in Myanmar, but no one told me; and when someone did, I chose to believe the kids and their ready explanations over the adults who knew better. Then I found out that they were lying about going to school at all. Some of them actually did go to school occasionally, but I eventually found out that the one who I thought was my star pupil had been lying from the beginning. They were using the “school money” for food, games, movies, gambling, and sometimes drugs (glue). If you’re thinking, “What did you expect? You should have known better,” you are simply making the point of this essay. Yes, I should have known better, but I was too driven by my own emotions, personal needs, and desires. I wanted to believe that we were making more progress than we actually were. I didn’t check up on them as I should have, and blinded myself to what I should have been able to see. We’ve now addressed the issues, and have made the necessary corrections in how we are going to work with the kids going forward. We hope to not make the same mistakes in the future, but the past six months have taught me again how easy it is to fool yourself. No matter how experienced you may be, how knowledgeable, how prayerful, or how full of love and compassion, there simply is no substitute for paying attention to what is truly going on, facing the truth, and thinking through what you’re doing. The balance Are you struggling with confusion, disappointment, frustration, or hurt from some actions you’ve taken that you thought were prompted by God, but now question? If so, maybe you need to make some adjustments to your discernment process. Don’t over-react, but don’t miss the learning opportunity either. If you feel yourself in the grips of emotion or driven by your desires to the point that you or others are starting to question your judgment, maybe you need to take a step back and take an honest look at what’s going on. For the sake of those you care about, for your sake, and for the sake of whatever work you are doing for Christ in the world, beware of just believing what you want to believe. Pray more, not less, but don’t expect answers to come in the form of sentimental feelings and implausible revelations. And don’t expect the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and guidance to replace your responsibility to think through your course of action. Ask God to guide you through your rational thought process as well as through your feelings and desires. Listen to those who know you well and who can be a bit more objective. Face whatever truth the Spirit wants to reveal to you, and use your head. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). And, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28).
9 responses to “Use Your Head!”
This is so true and spot on! I just had a deep conversation with others last night about how we often allow our emotions and how close we ‘feel’ to Christ to put a grade on our spiritual growth. Intimacy with Christ goes far deeper than our emotion. In the same way this article reminds me not to allow the emotional experience of helping and loving others to speak in absolutes to the Spirits guiding. The spirit guides our mind, our heart, and our soul. This article reminds me to use my head (not just my heart and my intuition). Thank you!
Yes, it is true, Dr. Tim. Some of my friends asked me how to do mission work in Myanmar. I just replied to them that they believe in God and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are many cheaters around us but there are also many very godly people.
That is why I pray that Christians in Myanmar be sanctified by God day by day so that will become the light of the world.
Thanks for the important word. As you and I have talked before, there are 4 guidance systems, not just the direct leading of the Holy Spirit through internal revelation and emotions. It also takes eyes wide open in circumstances, and how they evolve. I have learned this the hard way also.
Thank you for sharing a difficult lesson. And thank you for strengthening Christian leaders around the world! May God continue to bless your work.
Sir, did you have a chance to watch the movie “Kungfu Panda”, the first one? Your story just reminded me of that movie. In the movie, the master Shifu raised Tai Lung with all his might so that one day he would become the Dragon fighter. Actually, Shifu was blinded by himself and expected more than he should have. And finally Tai Lung was the one who was trying to kill his master. Yeah, even after you stepped back and saw what should be, sometimes, you may not want to change if you heart is so desiring for something. That’s my battle right now.
Thank you Tim for your honesty, transparency, and wisdom. Such an important reminder that when we trust in our own emotions and understanding we get caught up in the fallacy of a world built on us rather than Him.
Tim, Thanks for stating so well what I have been thinking and experiencing along the pathway of life. I appreciate your perceptive thoughts and succinct comments, and especially your logical and balanced conclusion: “Ask God to guide you through your rational thought process as well as through your feelings and desires. Listen to those who know you well and who can be a bit more objective. Face whatever truth the Spirit wants to reveal to you, and use your head.”
Dear .Dr. Tim,
Thanks for your sharing. You got a big lesson from this experience. As you know that there are so many needy people in our country. we can not support them all. Our friend, S’ Joseph know very well about the street children. Before he joined M.I.T, he worked with the street children under world vision program. We all are learning through our experiences. One of the wise saying said, ” experience is the best teacher.”
Than Zaw Moe
Like others have commented, thanks for sharing that event with those boys.. My guess is a lot was learned from this experience and you are better for it and hopefully you can continue on with those boys or help others as you know the ropes better now ? I pray for you on occasion and will trust God to continue to use you and your wife for His Glory.
Bless you and keep you. . .