“Look within yourself to find the good.”
“We need to be more in touch with our emotions to find what we really want.”
“Follow your dreams.”
Society instructs us that if we peer deep inside our hearts that we will eventually find what makes us happy. It almost seems that a magical inner voice informs us of our desires, hopes, and dreams. Our emotions dictate our lives. Also noted, throughout modern society, depression runs rampant. When we feel depressed, often symptoms appear as laziness, disability, and other disruptive behaviors; direct actions that sabotage our lives and usually based on emotions. Essentially, the brokenness of the individual’s will cause them to be “unable” to follow their hearts, or that the lack of opportunity to pursue their passions lead to said depression.
There seems to be a strong correlation between depression and the ideology of “following” one’s heart. As a lack of responsibility and structure in one’s life decreases the sense of purpose, depression increases. Instead, society tells us to experiment with drugs (antidepressants) and chase false hopes instead of solving the problem. Shunning social obligations and familiar responsibilities in order that one might increase a sense of individuality commonly occurs. Refusal to commit to nearly anything adds to the confusion. Preaching of “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” leads to existential crisis and identity disruption. Instead of supporting a definitive sense of personhood, we are force fed a mush of nothingness, unable to reach assertive conclusions and opinions.
Problems with Human Nature
Contrary to what society recommends, the Christian Scriptures do not support following one’s heart. Instead, we must remain obedient to God regardless of what our hearts tell us. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” It leads us astray from the quiet safety God designed for us. Our curiosity grows into sin as we make futile attempts of “knowing good and evil” as the First People did. It hinders the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to us, causing us to be double minded and unstable in our ways (James 1:6-8). We cannot serve two masters, either we serve our own self-interest, or we serve God. (Luke 16:13) We can either follow our hearts, or we can trust in the Truth.
In Scripture, there are several examples of why we should not follow our hearts.
Old Testament Examples
Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19)
God’s request that Isaac be offered as a sacrifice should be the ultimate sign to not follow our hearts. It required Abraham to completely trust God. If Abraham followed his heart, he would not have even considered following through with this request. Jewish history might not exist if Abraham pursued his own desires.
Lot (Genesis 13:1-14:24; 18:1-19:38)
Lot followed his heart and chased after what he thought to be a good business deal when he moved into the land of Sodom and Gomorrah. The richness of the land and wealth of the city would attract many, but the corrupted nature of that society lead to the downfall of Lot’s life and ultimately the destruction of his family. He thought that he could resist evil, keeping one foot in worldly pleasures and the other in obedience to God. However, he lost everything.
Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:29-34)
In this interaction between the two brothers, Esau showed lack of wisdom when he despised his birthright to satisfy a temporary hunger. He severely sold himself short to fill his stomach one time. Giving in to his heart’s desires at that time led to severe family conflict that could have been entirely avoided.
Moses (Exodus 3:1-22)
Multiple examples can be drawn from Moses’ life, but the one near the beginning of his career stands out. In his dialog with God, his anxiety and fear can almost be felt. He felt as if he was the wrong person to obey God’s command. Again, if he insisted on following his own heart of self-doubt, Israel’s history would be very different or non-existent.
New Testament Examples
Simon Peter (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-23)
Peter’s profession was as a fisherman, and likely had been the profession of his forefathers for several generations prior to him. If Peter followed his heart and continued in the family tradition, he would have rejected becoming an apostle of Christ.
Paul (Acts 26:1-32; Philippians 3:3-7)
Paul, formerly a Pharisee, refused to follow his heart. Continuing to persecute the early Christian church certainly had been following his own wicked heart. Being a Pharisee meant years and years of training and education, as it required extreme devotion. Receiving Christ as Savior meant that all those years as a member of that sect had to change. He went from being zealous for the legal traditions to preaching a very different message of grace. As we see from Philippians, even though his parents committed devoutly to the religion, he likely was not well received in his own family when he received Christ.
Ananias of Damascus (Acts 9:10-19)
Fear captured Ananias’ heart when he heard God’s command to lay hands on Saul (aka Paul). At that time, with Saul’s rampage against Christians, it took a large leap of faith to heal a man who would have murdered him not long before. Fortunately, he chose to obey God and not his heart.
The Heart to Connect with God
Our hearts, if our wandering nature should be bound up in love only God might provide, can prove to be useful tools in helping us grow closer to Him. The Psalms of David show us how he used his heart to connect with his Redeemer. He always advocated for obedience to God, even when he seemed frustrated and angry with Him. Sorrow, joy, bliss, or pain, they always pointed back towards God. Humans need emotional interaction to develop a relationship.
Psalm 42, a psalm of Korah’s sons, shows how our emotional needs may be met in a relationship with God. Our longing for meaning cannot be fulfilled in ourselves, nor our misplaced and disobedient desires. The key to connecting with God via our hearts lies in testing it against the fruit of the Spirit and other Scriptures.
Testing Our Fruits
“I say then: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissension, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like: of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
If any of our desires fall under the “fruit of the flesh” category, we immediately know that acting on it will bring the destruction of our relationship with God, along with hurting ourselves and others. Often our hearts (namely the sinful nature of humanity) lead us to think that our actions are justified for some reason or another. A spouse might justify cheating because his or her partner did not pay him or her enough attention. One might justify excessive drinking because of a suffered trauma, and so on.
On the contrary, we can know if we act according to the Spirit if our actions and thoughts are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and not impulsive. As our hearts become more disciplined and in accord with God’s commands, fewer desires for sinful things will consume our minds.
Our hearts and desires must be regularly tested. As Psalm 26: 2 states “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me. Try my mind and my heart.” If we stray from obedience to God, our hearts will lead us down very dark and destructive paths. Unredeemed hearts will continue to tempt us into sin. Romans 12:2 tells us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Also, our actions must be disciplined in a way that works out our faith, such as stated in James 2: 26, “For the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”