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Follow Your Heart

From the series Relational Intelligence

America has a "relational anthem" - from advice blogs, to music, to movies - we know the well-worn adage, "Follow your heart." In part 2 of this series, Ryan Ingram, exposes the sad truth of where that message has gotten us and why.

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Message Transcript

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we all have this deep longing and desire that we would have an intimate, life-giving, character-shaping relationship that has a rugged commitment to one another.

Life-giving. You know the friends in your life that you just go, like, “Ahhh.” So good to be with and your soul is refreshed.

That it’s character-shaping that when you’re around them, you want to be a better person and you’re growing and shaped and formed. And it’s not just a fair-weather friend. It’s not just a fair-weather marriage. It has this rugged, deep commitment to one another.

And every single person in this room has been hardwired by their Creator, by God, to have that kind and those kinds of relationships. And so, the question is: how in the world do you experience that kind of a relationship? And I would suggest what we need is not more relational information. We have lots of that.

We need more relational intelligence. You see, we live in a world that is overwhelmed with information. You can Google everything and we are overwhelmed by it, and yet, we are starved for wisdom. And that’s what this series is about is talking about wisdom or relational intelligence. Relational wisdom. What is that?

It is the skill of navigating relationships well. It is this skill, it’s an ability. And what’s great about a skill is you can actually develop it, you can grow in it, of navigating relationships well and wisely, navigating conflict well, navigating finances well, navigating discussions and communication and emotions well.

And so, here’s what it is not. Relational intelligence is not merely the acquisition of knowledge.

It’s not just getting information; you have to apply it. A skill has to developed and honed. You have to take it in and get coaching and practice and be consistent with it. And it’s the application of the right knowledge. And, we have to make sure we are getting the right knowledge to live and navigate   relationships well.

In fact, Proverbs 14:12 says it this way, that, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” There’s a way of going about relationships that appears to be right. There’s a way that going about your dating that appears to be right, going about your friendships that appears to be right. However, in the end, it’s killing your relationships. It’s killing your marriage. It’s killing your friendships.

See, it doesn’t matter whether it feels good, whether it sounds good. The question is: is it really good for you? And so we said, inherently, with relational intelligence, there’s this challenge that it’s two things. It’s countercultural and it’s counterintuitive.

The gospel and Christianity is countercultural. It is not how everyone else is doing relationships. Now, if you look around and evaluate and you like the results that everyone else is getting, then go ahead and do what everyone else is doing. But if you look around and see the brokenness, the heartache, and the pain then chances are you might want to consider a different, countercultural way of doing relationships.

The other side of it is it’s counterintuitive, right? It means, in the gospel and the kingdom of God is leaning in and doing things that may not feel natural at first.

It’s counterintuitive to put your head in the water to swim well. And every young child fights the fight or flight response, “I’m going to drown putting my head in the water,” and we all know when our head is up, our body goes down. And you will never swim well.

And see, the same is true with relational intelligence, that we have to understand these things that we are going to be talking about, the things that we are going to be wrestling with, they are counterintuitive. It’s not going to be our natural response. And, yet, in like manner with the swimming, as we begin to put these into practice, what we will find is we are going to develop a skill of navigating the most important, meaningful relationships of our lives well.

And so, we live in a world filled with sound bites, don’t we? It’s got relational advice that unfortunately, what happens, because so much is coming at us, we tend to swallow whole never evaluating: is it true, is it good, or is it wise?

And there is a major difference, friends. Major difference between sounding good, feeling good, and being good for us. And so, what we are going to be doing is unpacking popular relational advice and then looking at the timeless principles we find in God’s Word to help us navigate our most important relationships with relational intelligence.

We are going to tackle the most pervasive relational advice in America. In fact, I believe it’s America’s relational anthem. In fact, many of you have given this advice, so don’t feel bad. We are going to talk about that.

Many of you have received this advice and you can, you don’t have to go far to find it almost anywhere and everywhere. America’s relational anthem goes like this: follow your, help me out – follow your heart. Oh, that sounds good, doesn’t it? In fact, it feels really good in the moment.

Follow your heart. Your heart will never lead you astray. We say things like this: go with your heart. Maybe you’re sitting and you have a tough decision in front of you, maybe relationally, what’s going on, someone says, “Well, well, what is your heart telling you?” Do what you believe feels right.

And we find this all over. In fact, this has been part of the fabric of our culture for a very long time. And some of you will remember this. Some of you were alive – I was not – when this song came out. 1972, Luther Ingram, great last name, came out with this hit song. “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” That’s right. If loving you is wrong.

All the way back then. See, Millennials, it’s not all new. I just had to give you that, it was like, “Hey! This is our anthem!” Like, no, it’s been around for a while. The Chainsmokers, great band, don’t suggest chain smoking, catchy song wrote “This Feeling,” and the chorus says this, “They tell me think with my head, not that thing in my chest,” and then it goes on to say that, “but if you’re the one that I want, if that’s really so wrong, then they don’t know what this feeling is like.”

Isn’t it amazing just to go almost, almost a fifty-year span and it’s identical, our songs, our anthem.

Now, I’m going to step on some toes here, I really apologize. So, just take a deep breath.

Uncross your arms, just for a second, because they are going to cross right back, I get it. Disney has been teaching this for a long time.

Tarzan says, “Trust your heart, let fate decide.” Aladdin. I love hearing the groans on this one. Aladdin says, “When did you last let your heart decide?” Okay, this is a deep track. This one is a little unfair. I – full disclosure, this wasn’t a song in the movie, it was in the closing credits. And so, this is only for the true Disney fans. Mulan.  I had to give it the preface because that one is really beloved. “Your heart can tell you no lies.”

See, America’s national anthem, when it comes to relationships, the most popular advice we give is: follow your heart. Now, what if we just stopped for a moment and thought about that? Follow your heart.

In fact, underneath “follow your heart” is actually a few beliefs, two in particular I want to highlight.

The first is, in following your heart means that your emotions are the best guide for making relational decisions. Now, none of us would ever say that, but that’s inherent in: follow your heart. Because your emotions, your feelings are the very best guide for making relational decisions.

Now, let’s just stop and think about that. What if we applied that to our health and nutrition? Follow your heart! Let me tell you how that would work out for us. For me, in particular, follow your heart means I love eating out. We would eat out all the time, so, financially we would be shipwrecked because we ate out so much.

I love desserts. I have a massive sweet tooth. If I could eat it after every meal and for breakfast, it would be fantastic. And so, that would not be good. And then instead of going to the gym, I’d just watch TV. That’s kind of what following my heart would look like in nutrition and health. I don’t know about you.

Now, just imagine if we applied this idea into the financial area, think about this. Suppose you sat down across from your financial planner, you are asking him or her their strategy on investments and they said, “Well, you know, I just really follow my heart.” Would you want to invest your resources, your money with the person who doesn’t have plan, doesn’t have a strategy, but just follows the whims of their heart? No! Then why in the world would we ever do it in something so significant and way more significant than money – the relationships in our life?

Now, I’m going to dig into this just a little bit deeper. Let me ask you this: has your heart ever led you wrong? Yeah. Did you ever follow your heart and end up regretting dating him or her? Sleeping with him or her? Marrying him or her?

Have you ever followed your heart only to realize a month later, a year later, your heart has changed? For some, your biggest regrets have come from following your heart. And then we say something that is so interesting.

Here’s what we say at the end of a season like that. You say it about yourself and certainly we say it about others when we watch the pain and the heartache. “What were we thinking?”

And therein lies one of the great problems with our culture in that we have separated out our emotions and our feelings with our thinking.

And so, we live this dualistic reality. And it feeds into this second fundamental belief under “follow your heart.” Not just that your emotions are the best guide for making relational decisions, but this is actually more deeply engrained belief.

Your emotions are the truest thing about you. We say things like, “Be true to yourself.” “You do you.”

See, when we talk about our heart, in our culture, we are primarily referring to our feelings. Follow your feelings. Your feelings are the truest thing about you, and so as a result, we live in an emotionally reactionary culture.

It elevates our feelings to being the most important way to discern what is best, what is true, and what is good.

If you just follow your heart, it will never lead you wrong. And it plays out like this: do you love him or her? Doesn’t it? “Well, I just fell out of love.” “You know, I’m not in love with my mate anymore and I’m in love here, so it must be right and it’s okay. I’m just – it’s the truest thing about me.” It plays out: “Do they make you happy?” “They just don’t make me happy anymore.” “They make me happier.” “I just got to…”

It even seeps into this idea of: do they accept you for you? If I had to change some, oh my goodness. And we make major conclusions, don’t miss this, we make major conclusions about who we are, our identity, our sexuality, and our future based solely on how we feel.

In our culture, the underlying belief is everything good and true is already inside of you, you just have to tap into it. That’s actually Eastern Mysticism. You just need to know where the roots of these come from.

But let me ask you: have your emotions ever been wrong? Have they ever led you astray? You see, when the Bible talks about the heart, it speaks very poignantly and gives us a different picture than they are the best guide and the truest thing about you. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah wrote something so painfully insightful.

He says this, “The heart, is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” The heart, it’s not like the truest thing about you or the best guide for decisions, Jeremiah the prophet would say. He would say, “No, no, no, the heart has this incredible capacity for self-deception.” And it’s sick. And so, the question is: what do we do with our heart if we don’t follow it? What do we actually do then with this heart, because we are a little confused now. And I know I just spent some time helping us think through and undermine and deconstruct our cultural philosophy. But then what do we do?

Now, one of the things our culture has gotten right is our heart is of central importance. The Bible has actually a lot to say about the heart. And when it speaks about the heart, it doesn’t just speak about your feelings or your emotions. In fact, the Hebrew thought didn’t separate the interior life of a person. The heart, according to the Bible, when you read that in Scripture, it means the center of a person’s mind, emotions, and will. It is the seat of one’s moral conscience and affection. This is the heart. It is the interior you.
Now, one of the things our culture has gotten right is our heart is of central importance. The Bible has actually a lot to say about the heart. And when it speaks about the heart, it doesn’t just speak about your feelings or your emotions. In fact, the Hebrew thought didn’t separate the interior life of a person. The heart, according to the Bible, when you read that in Scripture, it means the center of a person’s mind, emotions, and will. It is the seat of one’s moral conscience and affection. This is the heart. It is the interior you.

And so, when the Bible speaks of it, it speaks much more broadly and significantly in how we are to attend and care for our hearts and that is not separated from your mind, your will, or your feelings. But it’s all of who you are.

And in Proverbs, if you would open up to Proverbs chapter 4, verse 23, the author gives us incredible wisdom. Okay? If we’re not going to follow our heart, if it’s not the best guide, if it’s not the truest thing about me, what in the world do I do with it? Because now I’m just confused. I don’t know which direction to go, Ingram.

Listen to what the author says. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Just underline above all else. This is one of those comparative statements where he’s saying: if you’re going to compare your activity, your intentionality, your energy, and your time – where you’re putting the most energy, the most time, the most focus in – guard your heart. Watch, protect, preserve more than anything else.

If you do nothing else, is what he is saying, guard your heart. Why? For everything, circle that word everything, everything you do flows from it.

Principle, the author is saying: all of life flows from your heart. All of your life flows from your heart. Everything you have done and will do has first originated from inside of you, from your heart. And so, the condition of your heart directly impacts the quality of your relationships around you. So he says, “Guard your heart.”

And our tendency, when we think about our heart, our tendency is to think our hearts are neutral, that they are just this neutral reality. And yet, the truth is, our hearts are deeply and profoundly influenced. How we think, how we feel, how we act is actually shaped and formed by what I call these streams of influence.

And I’ll pull up the proverb again, “Above all else, guard your heart for from it flow the,” help me out, “springs.”

Now, he’s painting a picture here and I want to paint a picture for you. And, yes, I can’t help but get the whiteboard out. And I know in the back you’re going to have a little hard time seeing this but this picture is going to stick with you and it might be one of the most important pictures you see and you get this year. I call it “The Streams of Influence.”

Because if we can understand what the author is saying here, it will reshape how you go about your life.

Now, what he’s saying is I just want you to have, you have a heart in your bulletin and I know it’s not like Thanksgiving – uh – Thanksgiving? Valentine’s Day yet. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to write your name right in the middle. I’m going to write mine right there, Ryan. This is your heart.

The picture that the author is saying is your heart is like a reservoir. Your heart is a spring from which life or water flows. And so, what the author is saying is this is your heart and like a reservoir has one place that it pours out, that is your life. Your identity flows from here.

Right? Your work. Your relationships. The way you love. The way you talk. In fact, Jesus would say, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The way you spend your energy, your time, your passions – all of who you are and what you do flows from here. Just one river coming out.

All of that, what you treasure, you want to know what has your heart? Jesus would say, “What you treasure and value most has your heart.” Now, here’s the part we miss.

The part we tend to miss on this is that our heart is constantly being influenced and impacted. That’s the reason the author says, “Guard,” or, “watch over your heart.”

Just like a reservoir, it has streams, streams that are flowing into it. These streams fill up the reservoir and once the reservoir is full, only out of the overflow does the reservoir pour forth. The question is what are the streams of influence in your life?

See, I know for some of us, many of us, past hurts, maybe trauma is a stream of influence in your life that’s pouring into your heart. Maybe it’s your family of origin that’s pouring into your life. Your self-talk and what you say to yourself, the shame, the guilt, the “you’ll never be good enough,” you have to prove your desire for acceptance is pouring into your life.

Okay, let’s get a little bit personal here. Social media. The average person we said last week, spends three hours a day on social media.

I did some quick math, because I’m fantastic at it – that means on average, adults spend one thousand, ninety-five hours per year on social media.

Now, here’s the fascinating part: we all know and have seen the studies, at least I assume so, time on social media platforms increases anxiety, depression, insecurity. Like, we understand that this stream is pouring into here and what’s coming out is insecurity. What’s coming out is anxiety. What’s coming out is a sense of comparing and never being good enough. Do you get it? Okay.

Oh man, this one is going to hurt. TV, media, movies, binge watching,

See, we somehow have deluded ourselves to think that I can take all that in and it has no impact. And, yet, it is like a stream pouring into the reservoir. Now, here’s how we are – this is the reason, Jeremiah would say, the heart is deceptive above all else. It starts as a trickle, it starts little, and it just slowly kind of fills up.

You ever seen something gradually change over the course and if you’re constantly there all the time, you never notice the change. For many, that’s the state of your heart. Music. Don’t mess with my music! I love music, by the way.

I was watching the Grammys the other night – love the Grammys. It was one of the most dark Grammys I have seen.

Jesus would say it this way, “As a person thinks, so they become.”

When I was in high school, I got into a phase of Nirvana. Nirvana was big. Some of you just need to go look them up, it’s fine. And I had one, because I had to sneak it, my parents wouldn’t let me have it.

And I’m listening on repeat and I just remember being so depressed and down and not even knowing why, because as a teen, we don’t get it. We don’t understand it, but we just kind of take it in because we’re like, hey, I like it! And it’s kind of rebellious, that’d be great. And, yet, it is flowing into our hearts.

Now, ooh. This is a big one. Friendships. Who are the people around you? Paul would say it this way, take note of this in 1 Corinthians 14 or 15. “Bad company corrupts good character.” Like, the friendships you surround yourself – it’s been said many times, “Show me your friends and I can show you your future.”

Why? Because they are a stream of influence into your life that is shaping and molding who you are. And some of you are going, like, Ingram, are you ever going to get to God’s Word? Yeah, right now, thank you very much.

Think about this, God’s Word is a stream of influence. Psalm 119 says this, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to Your Word,” then it says this, “I will seek You with all my heart.” How much of their heart? All of it. Why? “Don’t let me stray from Your commands. I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Like God’s Word streaming into our hearts.

Godly mentors. “He who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools suffer harm.” Who you surround yourself…church! Worshipping together, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word, and the applying it.

See, let me ask you, how is your heart? See, at some point, we have to address and think about the streams of influence that are feeding into our hearts, because those are the very things that shape our future and what we do. They shape our relationships and how they go.

And so, relational intelligence says this: Don’t follow your heart. Guard your heart. Don’t follow your heart, guard your heart – why? For all of life flows from it. Parents, quick word to you. We are guardians of the streams of influence in our kids’ lives.

And that changes, obviously, as they get older. But I’m very concerned that too many parents are handing their kids iPads, having no idea what they are on and allowing them to be shaped and formed and influenced by everything else instead of going, “Guess what, I’m a guardian of my kids. And so I am going to know the type of friends, the music, what they are watching, social media – I want to know the self-talk that they are telling themselves because I want God’s Word to inform their identity, not culture, not social media.”

The secret streams, we didn’t talk about those, did we? The streams that you don’t want anyone else to know. The stream that you say, “Well, it’s not hurting anyone else.” Oh, the first one that comes to mind: pornography. The secret streams not only pollute your heart, but it will ultimately, publicly expose in your relationships.

See, there are streams in your life that you need to dam up. There are streams in your life that you need to put a filter on. A Brita filter for that stream in your life. Maybe it’s with your social media. Hey, I have a filter. I just don’t have any social media on my phone. I don’t even get the news feed anymore because the news feed was messing me up. And I’m like, I don’t want all that coming in at me.

So, maybe you need to put a filter on it. Maybe there’s some friendships that honestly, or a dating relationship that is a stream that is polluting your heart and you actually need to cut it off. And I know that sounds harsh.

The question isn’t follow your heart. It’s are you guarding your heart? So let me ask you: what are the streams of influence that are polluting or purifying your heart?

Would you take that picture and actually unpack it in your life and recognize, “Oh.” What are the streams of influence that are polluting? What are the streams of influence that are purifying and refining you?

Like, we’ve got to amp up God’s Word, we’ve got to amp up and actually commit. I get that this is a busy season and a busy place, but you’ve got to get in a group and grow with some people and get honest and be real and go, “You know what? I want to become the man or the woman God has created me to be and so I am going to begin to invest in these areas.”

What are the streams of influence that are polluting or purifying? And I just want to give you just this one word here, it’s a process. See, we kind of think, “Oh, I got into God’s Word and everything here should change.”

It took a long time to fill that reservoir up and it’ll take time of cutting off some bad streams, filtering out some of those, and pumping in fresh, clean, pure water. And as you consistently do that, what you’ll see is your heart and your life will change and your work and your relationships and the way you talk, your identity.

What are the streams of influence that are polluting or purifying your heart? And then this question: for the sake of your, and you fill in the blank, where do you need to apply disproportionate energy?

For the sake of your marriage, where do you need to apply disproportionate energy? Remember, it said, “Above all else.” That is disproportionate energy. Where do you need to go above all else for the sake of your family? Where do you need to apply disproportionate energy for the sake of your friendship, for the sake of your future – listen – and you can write this one in – for the sake of your heart? Where do you need to apply disproportionate energies?

Singles in the room, I want to just extend this challenge to you, when it comes to relationships in this, would you focus, would you focus on becoming the right person over finding the right person?

Would you focus on the heart work instead of just trying to get someone to meet you?

In fact, I have given this challenge multiple times and it’s the one thing that people come back to years later and thank me. In fact, my wife and I were on a date the other day and this guy, stopped and thanked me for this bit of advice. He said, “When you said, during that relationship series,” and I challenge men on this. Men, we need this. Women, you are more in tune but you need this as well, but men, you need to step up in this.

Take one year, stop dating and focus on your character, focus on your heart, focus on your relationship with Jesus. About three months, on average, the woman of your dreams will enter your life. Oh my goodness! And if she’s really the woman of your dreams, you just let her know you made the commitment and you can be friends, but you can’t date. And she’ll wait. But you know what? I’ve had the joy of having men come up to me years later, introduce me to their wives, thank me for that piece of advice, and then show me their kids and they’re like, “I’m so grateful for it!”

See, because everything you do flows from here in your life and so, if you want to have a great relationship, it starts with your heart. And that’s my word to some of you “marrieds.”

Maybe you’ve been in a relationship a long time. Would you focus on your heart-change over trying to change your spouse? It’s hard. We spend way too much time and energy in marriage trying to change our spouse’s heart. You can’t. Only God can. So, stop trying and realize it’s an issue of my heart. God, I’m going to give You my heart. Would You change mine?