We’ve heard it a million times. We’ve read it on our Instagram feed, our coffee mugs, t-shirts, artwork, even in Christian bookstores: Follow your heart. But is it right to follow my heart? Will following my heart even make me happy?
There have definitely been times I regretted following my heart. I’ve followed my heart to indulge in a big meal, for example. But instead of happiness, I got a tummy ache. I’ve also followed my heart into a relationship that ended in sadness instead of happiness. This cry to “follow our hearts” seems to affect and color every corner of our lives.
The heart is deceitful
Many people strive to follow their heart, truly believing it to be the best guide they have. Yet Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Surely, we would not want to follow something that could lead us so far astray!
It is often difficult for us to realize that the heart is indeed deceitful. It takes hard work to change the narrative in our head and realize that our flesh may actually betray us. But as our hearts are transformed to be more and more aligned with the heart of Jesus—as we are washed and sanctified by God (1 Corinthians 6:11)—we can begin to trust our hearts a bit more. However, until we are remade and resurrected one day, our heart may still lead us down the wrong path.
It’s not that emotions are bad. Emotions allow us to experience God more fully. We know that He is with us in grief, in joy, and that He knows intimately what it feels like. But emotions should not be driving our decisions and actions. Ultimately, the driving force in our lives should be our faith—what we know to be true, what we trust regardless of how we feel. When faith is our driving force, our emotions will be less likely to send us awry.
So how can we find a balance between knowing that emotions are a gift from God and yet understanding that they might still lead us astray?
Don’t follow your heart, follow Christ’s heart
I think the answer lies in sacrifice. Sacrifice is an essential part of the gospel message. It is key to what we as Christians are about, because it was key to what Jesus was about. Jesus humbled Himself to enter our world; He served people through daily, regular sacrifice; and then He suffered the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. On the evening of His death, He prayed in the garden, “Not my will, but yours.” So we, as image-bearers of this Christ, have sacrifice stamped in us, as part of our spiritual DNA.
If we were always following our hearts, doing what we want and doing it our way, where would sacrifice come in? Can we truly be disciples of Christ and still get our way all the time? Here’s where the shift must come in: instead of aiming to follow our own hearts, we should follow Christ’s heart.
Since those two are not always the same, sacrifice is necessary. We need to lay down our will and our desires and take up His. We need to say along with Him, “Not my will, but yours.” And we do this because we trust His heart more than our own.
This is hard in our day and age, but I actually think that not getting our way is a helpful discipline. It reminds us that we are not in charge. Are we following Christ’s heart or our own? Are there areas in our lives where we should sacrifice our own wants?
In my own life, this plays out in my kitchen. If I followed my heart on any given evening, it would not take me to the kitchen. I do not enjoy doing the dishes, grocery shopping, and lunch packing. It also frustrates me that my kitchen stays clean for only a split second before there’s another crumb, another spill, another dish to clean.
But eventually I realized that there was no better place for me to practice the discipline of sacrifice than in my kitchen. In my kitchen, I can live out the gospel. I can die to self and align myself with Jesus’ heart. I can love the people around me in the form of a clean plate, a lunch packed, or groceries stocked. And that convicted me.
That might seem almost silly compared to people around the world who have sacrificed in far more intense and terrifying ways. But I believe God honors my regular rhythm of disciplined sacrifice, as small as it is.
So I head to the kitchen most evenings, packing lunches, prepping meals, doing dishes. But I don’t go there out of my own initiative or will. I go because God has asked me to love my family in this way. The truth is that since I’ve begun doing that, it’s been an immense blessing to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had followed my heart instead of Christ’s, I would have missed out on this experience—this practice—of living out the gospel in my day to day life.
Does that mean I’m not supposed to be happy?
Having said that, I’m not suggesting that God wants us to always give up what we want, to always be sacrificing, and that emotions are bad. As a parent, when I see my child happy, it brings a new kind of joy that I’ve never experienced. And God feels this way toward us. When we are happy, He is happy. What matters, though, is what we find our happiness in. God wants to grant us true happiness—lasting happiness that truly satisfies—and we can find this by following His heart.
How do we know what’s in God’s heart? Reading His Word is the best place to start—and will help us trust that He knows not only what is best, but what will truly make us happy. The things of this earth may entertain for a season, but they cannot satisfy our longing for the eternal. If we start looking for happiness on our own, by following our own hearts, odds are that we will settle on something lesser and temporal, and ultimately something that will disappoint.
Psalm 86 has long been a favorite of mine. King David says in verse 11: “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” He has it right—our hearts are divided. And because of this, they lead us astray. So instead, we echo the psalmists’ words and say “Teach me your way, O Lord” (emphasis mine).
Our motto need not be “Follow your heart,” but instead “Follow His heart.” This shows an implicit trust in His ways, an acknowledgement of His authority. It shows the world that when we drink of Him, the Fount of Life, we are satisfied. We have tried other methods and they have been found wanting. He alone satisfies; He alone can make us happy. Follow His heart.