One of the most common pieces of advice given by the self-help talking heads in our culture is to find happiness you should just follow your heart. It’s not new advice; it’s actually some of the most ancient advice ever given. But why is it bad? I mean if it was bad advice, why has it endured for so long? Here’s three reasons why “Follow your heart,” is bad advice.
First, and most importantly, Jesus taught the exact opposite. He very explicitly teaches in Matthew 16:24 that we are to “deny ourselves” and “follow him.” There cannot be a more opposite thing to Christ’s teaching than “follow your heart.” When life presents you with difficulties, the most anti-Christ thing you could do is follow your heart. He has told us to deny what our impulses and emotions tell us, and to walk in his footsteps and follow his ways instead. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful and “desperately sick” so much so that the Lord declares that no one can understand it. Trusting your heart is a dangerous risk to take with the one life you have been given because your heart doesn’t even understand it’s own longings. Why not trust Jesus, the only one who knows your heart completely, and can help you avoid the pitfalls that would bring harm to you?
Second, many times when making decisions we are searching for a peace about our decisions. This peace is a feeling of reasonable certainty that brings us comfort about our choices. This one is tricky because the Holy Spirit does bring us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). But there is also a false sense of peace that comes from our own fallen understanding. Your heart (which is deceitful) will often give you a sense of peace about a choice because that choice satisfies the desires of your flesh. Remember Adam and Eve? When they ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they had a peace about doing what the serpent was telling them to do. They had resolved in their hearts that this would be a good thing. But it was actually a really bad thing. Don’t believe something is right just because you have a peace in your heart. Search the Word and pray to see if the peace is from God, or if it is from your own deceitful heart. Too often the peace we follow is emotional peace instead Holy Spirit peace.
Third, following your heart is idolatry, plain and simple. The two greatest commandments lead us squarely away from following our hearts. Matthew 22:36-40 tells us that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God,” to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that on these two commandments rest all of the rest of the Law and Prophets. First, love God, and love him with everything that is within you. Then love your neighbor as if you were loving yourself. The emphases here are on God and on others, not ourselves. If I follow my heart then I have taken my love away from God and others and placed it squarely on me. That makes me my own idol. Now that is not to say that we shouldn’t love ourselves. Not at all, but the truth is that we love ourselves by loving God and loving others first. How does that work? In God’s kingdom, the last will be first and the first last (Matthew 20:16). Succeeding in God’s economy is based on giving, not taking; loving others, not being loved by others.
Are there times when your heart and God’s heart are aligned? Of course. Are there times when your desires and the leading of the Holy Spirit are the same? Absolutely. But you cannot rely on the heart for direction. Let the Holy Spirit lead, even when your heart wants to go elsewhere. Peace may not be present in your heart during that moment, but you can rest assured that following the Holy Spirit will always eventually lead to the peace of God that surpasses your understanding.