“I wonder what informs their decisions.”
The question hung between us in the cool autumn air as my friend, and I sat around a gas lantern while visiting in his second-story apartment in downtown Nashville. Choices, decisions, and the results of those decisions were on the table as we shared heart to heart that day.
Our hearts inform our decisions. Simplistic but true. Choices are not made in a vacuum. Even simple decisions such as when to arise in the morning, what to have for breakfast, and how to spend my Saturdays have their roots in my overall value system. And my choices in those areas reveal my values.
So do other choices, choices of how I will raise my family, what church group I will align myself with, and what visible symbols of my allegiance I will display. These are not minor decisions and are not made in a vacuum. Our hearts influence these decisions. And only a heart that has God and His Word as its first love will make wise choices in these areas.
Not only do our hearts inform our decisions, but those decisions, in turn, inform our hearts. It is commonly believed that liberal theology precedes liberal practice, but perhaps the opposite is true. Liberal practice develops a love for liberal lifestyles. And when our conscience calls us back, we either hearken or explain. So it is that we find ourselves using scripture to justify the flesh. Each decision that runs along the edge of our convictions sets us up for the next decision, the next choice in the same arena. Small choices build a monument that becomes our past and directs our future. As someone has said, “Man makes his choices, and those choices make the man.”
You see, the heart eventually believes what the hands do.
Take clothes for example. Our clothing choices not only reflect our hearts, but also influence our hearts. Every time we choose to dress on the edge, perhaps just a bit immodestly, or a bit after the latest fad, we are influencing our hearts. With time the line moves, and now as we get the feeling of “freedom,” we need to once more ride on the edge of our conviction. Only this time the line of conviction has moved. What once felt edgy, no longer feels edgy. Our decisions have influenced our hearts. With time we come to accept more and more ungodly dress patterns and also come to accept the values associated with those clothing choices.
Financial choices run along the same line. The chance to purchase the second farm, or to invest in the next venture, made us pause. Was this really what Christ wanted for His children, this amassing of more stuff? But the purchase was made, the investment secured, and time didn’t bring the feared repercussions. No lightning struck, no thunderclap proclaimed us heretics, and our children are still in the church. Suddenly what seemed edgy is no longer edgy. It is comfortable. When the next opportunity comes along, we don’t hesitate quite so long or agonize quite as hard over application of scripture. Our decisions have influenced our hearts. And somewhere, sometime, at a point undefinable to man, we go beyond meeting legitimate needs and cross the line that separates the pilgrim from the parabolic rich fool.
The social media demands our attention. We now have at our fingertips vast technology, bringing into our homes and businesses the latest update in world news as well as the most recent events in our friends’ lives, be that news important or ever so trivial. This constant influx of media not only influences us, but also drains our time and energy, demanding our time at the expense of those people at our elbows. In her 1967 prolog to her book 40 Acres and No Mule, Janice Holt Giles describes the change that came to the Appalachian people through the advent of television: “Bought for entertainment, television is a most subtle and powerful educator. In one decade, ten short years, I have seen our people changed more by television than by any other medium.” Perhaps conservative Anabaptism stands poised on the same brink. Just as the pink flamingo gets its color from its diet and the bitter monarch butterfly gets its taste from the milkweed it consumes, so God’s people, if they drink too long from the same fountain as the worldly wise man will inevitably acquire the same color and taste as they.
Every choice regarding ones heritage, whether that be a good heritage or an ungodly heritage, has its roots in the love of the heart. Some choose to leave an ungodly heritage because of their love for God and His Word. Others decide to pass on a godly heritage because they love God and His Word. Still, others opt to set aside godly principles one by one, choosing to give their children a mere shell of what was once a godly heritage, a shell no longer fleshed out with applications that work. And a mere shell of religious past is like the shell of those clams and other mollusks we find on the beach, typically found and honored only as some relic to be placed on a shelf or in some museum. Very little value is there, except, perchance in guiding some future generation to once again flesh out their lives with Christian application.
The time has come for God’s children to take note of our decisions. The heads that once shook at spacious mansions, investment portfolios, and expensive recreation, are now borrowing money from the bank or God’s work for the same. The clothes that once spoke eloquently to us of ungodly values are now on the backs of our children. Sports figures and compromising music groups invade our homes. Little by little, the applications of God’s Word that fleshed out our experience with God are being set aside. How long will it be until we are left with a mere shell, brittle with age, set on a shelf to be discussed at our reunions and honored in our museums? If indeed our heart informs our decisions, as I have alleged, then we have heart trouble. And if our decisions further inform the heart, then these decisions will further inform our hearts to evil.
It is time to strengthen those things that remain. Let us hold on to our community values, insisting on helping each other build our barns and pay our medical bills and raise our families. Let us press forward with a family-friendly lifestyle, complete with family-friendly occupations, round-table mealtimes, and evenings at home. Let us continue to evangelize, calling those whom God has chosen to join us in building God’s kingdom on earth. Let us continue to base our beliefs on the Word of God rather than on the experiences of others. Let us continue to call our pastors and leaders out of the hayfields and carpenter crews rather than out of the seminaries. And let us continue to honor obedience above explanation, lifestyle above theological jargon, and lifetime servanthood above the American dream.
Let us make decisions informed by a love for Christ and His Word, tempered by the lessons of history, and let those decisions inform our hearts.
“I wonder what informs their decisions.”