“Just follow your heart.”
You’ve probably heard this statement before, right? It’s the advice we give or are given for a difficult or potentially life-altering decision.
Somehow people think that the heart is the place where all of our wisdom, knowledge, emotions, willpower, and decision-making are housed. It’s apparently the place that we go to when we need to make a deep, meaningful, or impactful decision in our lives.
The problem is, this is the worst advice anyone can give or receive. You’re actually better off flipping a coin since at least the coin is unbiased — your heart, however, is not.
While this may be surprising or seem like hyperbole to say that “following your heart” is just the worst advice anyone can give or receive, Scripture more than suggests others.
How We See Our Hearts Vs. How God Sees Them
First, we need to understand how we see the heart, and how God sees our hearts.
Here are a few ways of thinking about how important we make the heart out to be in our relationships, in our decision making, in conflict, and in expressing ourselves. We say things like:
“I give you my heart.” We say this phrase or something like it when we’re telling someone we’re giving the most important part, or all of ourselves. If they have our heart, somehow they have all of us.
“We need to have a heart-to-heart talk.” This means we need to have the most serious talk of all talks. We’re communicating that we need to be honest and reveal ourselves completely because something is deeply broken.
“My heart goes out to you.” We say this when we want to convey the deepest sympathy we can to someone.
“That breaks my heart.” Usually, we mean that something bothers us to the core. What we’re saying is it whatever it is, it cuts down to the very depths of our souls.
How God sees our hearts: While we may see the heart as the place where our deepest feelings, longings, pain, and the whole of our being comes from, it’s not exactly how God sees it.
Scriptures about Our Hearts
In Proverbs, Solomon gives us the wisdom of not trusting and following our heart, but instead guarding it above all else:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
When Jesus addressed the religious people about their attitudes and actions toward God, He said to the people who should have given their hearts wholly to God these chilling words:
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” Matthew 15:7-11
God is after the heart. He always has been. God looks into the heart, he watches what comes out of the heart, and He is interested in the hearts of all people more than anything else. And there’s a reason for this our hearts need some help. We could say it this way: We shouldn’t follow our heart until it’s fixed.
What’s Wrong with Following Our Hearts?
So, what exactly is wrong with our hearts? In the Old Testament, God showed how bad of a heart condition people had. Through the prophet Ezekiel He diagnosed people’s hearts as stone:
‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:24-26
What has a heart of stone? An idol does, and idols are dead. They’re not alive, they’re fake, stone-carved images of gods that don’t exist. God used this analogy not to describe Himself, but to describe the condition of the people who said they loved and followed Him. They had hearts of stone!
Their hearts, without God, were dead.
Later on, Jesus would comment on how a dead heart towards God impacts people’s behavior:
“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” Matthew 15:18-20
Jesus was essentially saying that their hearts, without God weren’t just dead, they were deadly.
And this wasn’t just an indictment on people back then, but all people, even you and I. If our hearts don’t belong to God, they’re dead and they’re deadly to ourselves and to others.
We Need a Heart Transplant
No person can live physically with a dead heart. The moment the heart stops beating, the body stops living. Likewise, no one can live a spiritually rich life dedicated to God with a heart that is dead towards Him. So how does our heart get fixed?
We don’t need heart surgery we need a heart transplant.
God had been planning a heart transplant for thousands of years. In Jeremiah, He tells us His plan plainly:
“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah 24:7
Give them a new heart? Didn’t you create them with a heart? Didn’t you create us with a heart? Was there some sort of mistake here? No, but there was something wrong with their heart, and with our hearts. Their hearts weren’t working right. They weren’t using their hearts and thinking and acting from their hearts as God intended. Because if they had their actions, their attitude and interactions with others would have looked very different. This goes for us too, without God, our attitudes and actions are not godly.
But God noticed this. In fact, He wanted to give a direct and compelling vision about how important the heart was, God was going to solve for all time. Later on, in Jeremiah, God says:
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.” Jeremiah 32:40-41
God will give us a new heart, His heart. Our dead heart will be removed, and God’s heart will be put in its place. Thousands of years later, God’s plan would finally come to pass. The New Covenant and new heart would come through Christ. Christ Himself sat down and gave them this new covenant:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28
And shortly after this, it happened just as Jesus said it would. He would bleed, His body would be “broken” by torture and anguish, and His heart would finally stop:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Matthew 27:50
Here’s the point: In order for God to give you a new heart, He had to stop His.
He was the donor. He wanted to give you His own heart so that you could finally follow it to God. Not your own heart, God’s heart. The only way we can follow, love, and truly find God is through God himself. It took Him giving up His own heart, for you to finally have a healthy one.
So, what does this mean exactly? What can you and should you actually do when it comes to making pivotal decisions and trying to follow your heart along the way? These are just my suggestions but here is what I’ve learned:
Commit your heart before you try to follow it.
God doesn’t ask us to follow our hearts, but rather to commit them to Him. He wants to know that He has all of us. If our hearts belong to God, then our attitudes, actions, and everything else will be oriented to Him too. But if our hearts aren’t His, everything we do will be wrong, painful, harmful, and draw us farther away from God. But if our hearts our His, we aren’t really following them at all, we’re really following Him.