I am what I love??

A brief series of thoughts on stewardship/giving. Part 3: I am what I love?

At our panel discussion on Sunday I offered this thought:

We are not so much pushed along in life by what we know, but rather pulled about by what we love.

Allow me first to properly attribute that thought to James K. A. Smith, whose writing has profoundly impacted my understanding of the central role our hearts and the affections of our hearts have in discipleship. The first book I read by Smith is entitled, You Are What You Love, in which he unpacks that thought. I’d like to reiterate that idea here, as well as spend a little more time unpacking its implications not only for discipleship, but specifically in this area of giving/stewardship.

Smith argues in his book that discipleship in the church has been detrimentally shaped by assumptions bought from classical philosophy, and especially the Cartesian slogan, “I think, therefore I am.” He joins a chorus of other contemporary voices in revealing how these philosophical ideas have resulted in a stunted anthropology, or understanding of who we are as humans. To quote Smith, these underlying assumptions have caused us to view humans as merely “thinking things” (p. 3). He writes of the ill-effects of this assumption,

It’s the mind we picture as “mission control” of the human person; it’s thinking that defines who we are. “You are what you think” is a motto that reduces human beings to brains-on-a-stick. Ironically, such thinking-thingism assumes that the “heart” of a person is the mind. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes said, and most of our approaches to discipleship end up parroting his idea.

Smith, p. 3

When discipleship is shaped by this vision of the human person, though, then it will only be about information. If we simply come to know (as in comprehend) the right things, then we will do the right things, so to speak. But Smith asks a simple question that directly confronts those assumptions for all of us when he writes, “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?” (p. 5), to which I believe the immediate answer from all of us is a resounding “Yes!” How often do we act despite what we know? Or, let me ask it this way: how often, when confronted about a specific decision or action, have you responded with, “I know” as the response? The truth is, we usually do what we want to do, not as a result of information we have stored away, but just because that was what we wanted to do in the moment.

Smith goes on to argue that perhaps rather than viewing ourselves primarily as thinking things, we should instead view ourselves as lovers first. Drawing from Augustine, he suggests that we should “think of the heart as the fulcrum of your most fundamental longings–a visceral, subconscious orientation to the world” (p. 8). He adds to this that, “the center of gravity of the human person is located not in the intellect but in the heart…because the heart is the existential chamber of our love, and it is our loves that orient us toward some ultimate end or telos” (p. 9). This end, or telos, is what we long for, or want to ultimately realize.

All of us have, according to Smith, some vision of the “good life,” or a vision for how we believe the world ought to be. It is a picture of what we believe flourishing looks like. Smith’s premise is that this vision is what actually orients our lives. It is what we live towards. It is with that understanding that he comes to the thought I shared this past Sunday and above in this post: We are not so much pushed along in our lives by what we know, but rather pulled about by what we love. We are pulled by, compelled by, that vision we have of the good life, or our telos.

If you would imagine all of us have this telos, this vision, in a thought bubble above our heads, what would you say would be found in yours? The truth is, although we can certainly offer a verbal answer to that question, the actual truth is not ultimately found in our words. The truth is always found, however, in our actions. We answer that question through the pattern of our lives. “You are what you love,” writes Smith, “because you live toward what you want” (p. 13).

So here is the corrective needed in the way we understand the central role of the heart in discipleship in a series of quotes by Smith:

Discipleship, we might say, is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.

(p. 2)

In short, if you are what you love, and love is a habit, then discipleship is a rehabituation of your love. This means that discipleship is more a matter of reformation than of acquiring information.

(p. 19)

The reminder for us is this: if the heart is like a compass…then we need to (regularly) calibrate our hearts, tuning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.

(p. 20)

What does this have to do with stewardship/giving? I’m glad you asked! We need to understand this: faithful stewardship and generous giving will not be the result of gaining enough of the right knowledge. Rather, it will flow authentically out of a properly calibrated heart that begins to rightly order its affections through the work of the Spirit. To put it more simply, we don’t fail to give out of a lack of knowledge or understanding. We fail to give because our hearts long for something other than Christ and his Kingdom, and our lives (including our finances) are pulled about by what we ultimately love and treasure as supreme.

We live in (and are immersed in) a culture that is constantly shaping and calibrating our hearts. A neutral heart is one that is far too easily captivated by the things of this world…especially those things that are currently captivating other hearts around us. But it’s not just the world around us that is to blame, as our own hearts are also “idol factories,” as a product of our sinful state. Smith writes, “Our most alluring idols are less intellectual inventions and more affective projections–they are the fruit of disordered wants, not just misunderstanding or ignorance” (p. 23). I believe that analysis to be spot on.

It boils down to this: A lack of faithfulness in the area of stewardship/giving is not ultimately just a head problem, but primarily a heart problem. We can’t address it just through proper understanding or by gritting our way to a renewed commitment to give. Jesus is not calling for our rote obedience; he wants our hearts. Our giving should flow from an ultimate longing for his Kingdom, to see his Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Our giving should authentically flow from a supreme desire to proclaim the preeminent worth of Jesus, our Lord and King who is the greatest treasure that exists. Our giving should flow from a heart that is captivated and overwhelmed by the riches of mercy, grace, and love that we have received and continue to experience in communion with the Source of those riches. Our giving should flow from a heart anchored in the hope that our inheritance awaits us in the Kingdom that Jesus will bring when he returns, and that nothing else but him can truly satisfy the persistent longing of our hearts.

A lack of faithfulness in giving is not a problem of ignorance, but rather a problem of miss-aimed and disordered love. It is an indication that what resides in our thought bubble as our telos is not Jesus and his eternal Kingdom, but a rival kingdom that is worldly and temporary. The remedy is not found in a renewed commitment to do something, but in a heart that has been recalibrated through repentance–true repentance–and reoriented toward the only treasure worthy of being supreme.

So, what fills your thought bubble? What is your vision of the good life, your telos? Don’t just answer with your lips. Take a close look at the pattern of your life. Work backwards. How does the pursuit(s) of your life answer that question? What is it that holds sway over your life and pulls it along? What captivates your thoughts? What are you currently sacrificing in order to attain? What are you willing to rearrange your schedule for? What do you find yourself longing to realize or have? What would someone who most closely watches your life give as the answer?

At the end of the day, my greatest desire as a pastor is not for our local church to be filled with people who are committed to tithing as a consistent, disciplined practice for the sake of principle. My greatest desire is for our local church to be filled with disciples whose whole lives are continually brought into alignment with Christ and his Kingdom as the affections of their hearts orient them more and more toward him as supreme treasure. Giving will simply be one unmistakably tangible fruit of that reality.

We are what we love. What, then, do you love, and how is that shaping who you are?

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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