I hear well meaning people say it all the time. “Just do what you want.” “We just want you to be happy.” We hear inspirational speakers say “You know best, just follow your heart.” This idea exists (even in Christian communities) that we should follow our hearts. We hardly question it. We’re told that our heart knows best and we’re supposed to trust our instincts. We don’t really sense that there’s anything wrong with such a notion. But what does the Bible say?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
Why would we recommend to young people that they follow something that is deceitful, wicked and sick? Why would people ask us to listen to something that we cannot understand? This rings true, doesn’t it? We all know ourselves. We each know our own selfishness, our potential for depravity and evil. So why would we listen to and follow it?
Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. (Prov. 23:19)
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23)
My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. (Prov. 23:26)
You see, God says that we should guard, direct and guide our hearts down the right path. God knows our propensity for self-centeredness and wrong doing. Therefore He says we’re to guide our own heart. Left to its own devices the heart will ruin our lives. I’ve lead Bible studies in juvenile detention centers. If honest, when asked what landed them in prison they will confess it was following their own hearts that landed them in jail. You likely know someone who has made a mess of their life. What do you think got them into that mess? They listened to their heart. Because our heart is so desperately wicked and sick, is it any wonder God is asking us to give Him our hearts?
“…Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:13)
When the Israelites were sorrowful and repentant they would rip their clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. Sackcloth is like burlap; it’s scratchy and not very fashionable. The Israelites were proclaiming that they didn’t care whether they were comfortable or how they looked when they repented. They spread ashes on themselves because they spent so much time on the ground prostrated in a sign of utter humility. God asks us to break or tear our hearts. To tear my own heart. God would rather that we rip our hearts, to be broken and contrite in heart. He cares more about what’s in our hearts than on our lips. But who wants a broken heart?
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
It’s so hard for me to be broken in heart. It’s hard not to follow my heart. I find it so difficult not to give into my own self-centered feelings. I need His help to break me. I need Him to create a new clean heart in me. I need His help to guide my heart. I need to give Him my heart. Without Him, my heart will deceive me and run rampant down a path of selfishness headed towards destruction and regret.
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart…” (Heb. 3:7-8)