I’ve heard it too many times to count. You’ve heard it as well. It is advice that is applicable to almost any problem in life. It is given to high school and college graduates contemplating the direction of their lives. It is given to people seeking job changes, and life decisions. It is given to people when thinking about relationships. It is given to people when trying to discern situations.
It’s also the worst advice anyone can give or receive:
Follow your heart.
From a biblical perspective, following our heart is foolish and dangerous. God even warns us of this danger throughout His word. In Numbers 15, we read of an admonition from the Lord concerning this:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments and to put a cord of blue on each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember to do all my commandments, and to be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God (Numbers 15:37-41)
In this passage, God is so serious about his people’s tendency to follow their hearts that he instructs them to sew a tassel on every garment in order to remember to follow God rather than their heart. Every time they walked they would feel the tassel’s weight swinging and hitting their legs. Every time they put their hands down they would feel the tassel. Every time they looked at themselves they would see the tassel…and remember.
Why, though, is God so serious about us not following our hearts? First, we have to understand what the heart is. Proverbs 4:23 tells us that the heart is the “wellspring of life.” That is, the heart is where everything about us pours out from. The heart is the epicenter of our being. It is the command center of our lives. When Jesus said, “From out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45),” he is pointing out that our behaviors and our words aren’t independent from our motives. They are merely the outpouring of what we are truly made of. So why, then, shouldn’t we trust our hearts and follow them? The prophet Jeremiah tells us:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9, underline added)
The natural, spiritual state of our core being, Jeremiah tells us, suffers from a coronary disease called sin. A disease so pervasive that it affects every thought, every word, and every action. Looking back at the passage from Numbers helps us to see this in action:
And it shall be a tassel for you to look at remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.
Read that line carefully one more time. Did you notice what the problem is? God tells his people not to follow after their hearts, because it is their hearts that they are lusting after. It is not necessarily the things that they are chasing that God is prohibiting. Rather, what God is prohibiting is the pursuit of their own hearts. He is wanting them to stop chasing after self-promotion, self-advancement, self-gratification, and self-glorification. God is telling them to stop following their hearts because they have made themselves their own god.
Anytime that you are being tempted to “follow your heart,” understand who you are being tempted by and what you are being tempted with. When you are told to “follow your heart,” you are receiving a demonic plea toward idolatry, and it must be silenced.
So if we are not to follow our heart, what are we to follow? Numbers 15 again is instructive. In verses 40-41, God says,
you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God (Numbers 15:40-41).
Instead of following our heart, we follow God. When we are wondering which path to take, which direction our lives should go in, or are faced with any situation in which we are tempted to follow our heart, we must follow the trusted and true advice of Solomon:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6)
When we abide in God and follow his wise and loving leadership, we don’t need to follow our corrupt hearts. God will always lead us to where he wants us to go.