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The Key to Happiness—Don’t Follow Your Heart

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.

 

Editor’s Note: For more stories and perspectives on why we should not follow our hearts, read “When (Not) to Follow Your Feelings” and “Follow Your Heart . . . Really?“.

The Day I Believed in Jesus and Broke My Dad’s Heart

Written By Chen Pei Fen, Singapore

“Look at what you’ve done by becoming a Christian! You’ve deserted the family tradition. Your father feels like a failure. He couldn’t keep the family together.”

My mother was upset. Her distress was obvious as she attempted to persuade me to forsake my newfound faith. My father, meanwhile, was quietly heartbroken. He hadn’t slept well for several days, because his daughter had chosen to abandon family tradition and follow a “foreign” God.

I was 15 and had just accepted Jesus Christ into my life. I had made this decision with great joy, knowing I had done something significant. But now, I found myself in a storm. It pained me to see my parents so sad and disappointed.

As my mother pressured me to change my mind, I felt like I had to choose between Jesus and my parents. If I wanted to obey my parents and avoid hurting them, then I would have to abandon my newfound faith. But could I not follow Him and still love my parents?

 

 Believing in the promise

I was born into a traditional Singaporean Chinese family. My parents are of Hakka descent, one of the main Chinese dialect groups. Like most Chinese families, we were brought up to worship Chinese deities. We also burned incense and offerings to our ancestors to provide for their needs in the afterlife.

When a person brought up in such traditions decides to become a Christian, he is seen not only as abandoning his traditional faith, but also betraying his heritage. He brings shame on his family and community by following a foreign religion and putting his loyalty in a foreign god.

But none of this seemed to matter when I was making up my mind to follow Christ. At that time, the only thing that concerned me was whether it made sense to believe in Jesus. I had been asking questions such as, “Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Why is the world so messy, and is there a solution? What happens after I die?” Christianity seemed to have all the answers.

It all started when a Christian friend, Veronica, explained the Good News to me. She shared with me what she learnt in the Bible, invited me along to evangelistic events, and showed me verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Although I had been asking questions about life, my own was going pretty well at the time. I had a loving family, was popular with my peers, and was doing well in both sports and studies. I didn’t feel that I needed God. While the answers that Christianity gave to my questions seemed reasonable, I didn’t see a need to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus.

But one evening, as I was lying on my bed, I just felt really empty. So I prayed, “God, if you are really God, can you please show me who you are?”

Soon after, on a Saturday afternoon, I was walking towards an ice cream store when a stranger stopped me. She asked if she could share the Good News with me. Trying to be polite, I agreed. By then, I had heard it so many times that I could even recite the verses. But something happened that day. When the woman shared John 3:16 with me, the verse cut straight to my heart.

At that moment, I believe, the Holy Spirit touched me, and the truth of John 3:16 went from my head to my heart. All of a sudden, I truly understood what the verse really meant. I saw that “the world” that God “so loved” included me. I felt the weight of sin and recognized how terrible a sinner I was, and how much I needed Jesus. I finally understood why He had to die on the cross for me and appreciated just how much God loved me.

As the truth hit me, I couldn’t stop crying. For the first time, I realized that I was a sinner. At the same time, I felt grateful for God’s offer of forgiveness. That day, I confessed my sins to Jesus and received Him as my personal Savior and Lord.

The joy I felt, however, soon gave way to a sense of trepidation. I thought about the implications of my decision, and immediately realized how my parents would feel and react. “What have I done?” I thought. “What will my parents say when they find out?”

But the woman assured me that being the first in my family to become a Christian was a significant spiritual event. She reminded me of how Paul and Silas, after being freed from prison by a miracle, reached out to the jailer (Acts 16:30–31). When he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” they told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Of course, Paul and Silas did not mean that the jailer’s family would be saved simply because he himself believed in God. Salvation comes through a personal, individual response to God; it cannot be “passed on” or inherited. However, the gospel can gain a foothold in the lives of a family through the first person to turn to Christ. It opens the door for the rest of the family to hear and see the gospel in action.

These verses gave me hope that one day my parents and siblings would also come to know God. I had the opportunity to become the first messenger, the first witness of the gospel to my family.

 But first, I had to face their objections.

 

Facing the challenge

For the first few months, I kept silent about my newfound faith. I didn’t dare tell my parents for fear of what could happen. I also didn’t dare go to church, but was sustained spiritually through constant prayer, reading the Bible, and regular meetings with Christian friends who taught me about God after school. Every morning, I spent time praying to God and reading the Bible, but hid it after I finished so that I would not be found out. The secret, however, didn’t last long.

One day, I forgot to put the Bible away and left it on the table. My father spotted it and recognized it. Being a traditional Chinese father, however, he did not confront me directly, but asked my mum to question me about it. Soon after, she sat me down and went straight to the point: “Why is there a Bible on your table?”

There was little else I could do but admit that I had become a Christian. My mum didn’t know what to say and could only shake her head in dismay. For the next few days, nothing happened. Both she and my dad kept quiet about the matter, but I felt the tension in the air. I knew that there would be more to come.

Days later, my father personally handed me a handwritten letter and left for work without saying a word. In it, he wrote of his disappointment and sadness at me becoming a Christian. He spoke of his failure as a father to keep the family together, and of the possible consequences of my actions. “How can we have two different gods in the same household?” he pointed out.

Having pledged our loyalty to one set of deities, my family believed that we would have peace, harmony, and security—everything that my parents desired for us. But now, by turning my back on what we worshiped and choosing to follow Jesus, I would anger the deities and put my family’s well-being at risk.

That same afternoon, my mother sat me down and followed up on the letter. This time she was visibly agitated. “Your father hasn’t been sleeping well,” she told me, her voice rising. “He’s very disturbed. He feels like a failure. Look at what you’ve done! You’ve not been a filial daughter—after all that we’ve done for you, is this how you repay us?”

I didn’t try to defend myself or argue with her, but just listened in silence. Perhaps mum was hoping to change my mind there and then, but since I didn’t respond, she gave up after a while. I went back to my room to think about what she said—and to seek God’s help.

“Heavenly Father,” I prayed with a heavy heart. “I’m so sad because of how this has affected my family, but please help me to stay strong in the faith. I know you are real, but I need strength to endure. What should I do?”

I faced a dilemma. I felt as if I was being asked to choose between God and my parents, yet both were important to me. My parents wanted me to give up this “foreign” God, yet I knew I couldn’t. At the same time, I didn’t want my parents to feel as if I was deserting them.

Jesus spoke about this challenge in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus wasn’t asking His disciples to hate their families in the literal sense. He was challenging them to weigh the cost of discipleship and ask themselves if they were ready to make Him the Lord of their lives. What Jesus was really asking was this: How far are you willing to go to follow me? Are you ready to put me before your family? Are you prepared to give up everything that you hold dear, including your life?

I now faced this challenge. How far was I willing to go to follow Jesus? Was I willing to face my parents’ displeasure for making Him Lord of my life? And how was I supposed to reconcile and “balance” my love for both Jesus and my parents?

 

Trusting in assurances

I was hoping to get specific instructions on how to answer my mum and dad and what to tell them. Instead, I received a simple directive from God: Be His witness.

The answer gave me great comfort. It was as if God was telling me that I had done the right thing in choosing to follow Him, and my mission now was to share my discovery with my family. I wasn’t being asked to choose between Jesus and my parents; I was being tasked to share Jesus’s love with them.

Luke 6:39 emphasizes the importance of us recognizing and understanding the truth ourselves before we seek to share it with others. Jesus said, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” We cannot lead others in the right direction unless we are sure that the path we are taking is the correct one.

This verse gave me great encouragement. Now that I had found the truth—that only Jesus can save us—I could lead my family to this wonderful discovery. And the best way to do this was by loving and honoring my parents. Through my words and actions, I could show them Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world.

 

This is an excerpt from Discovery Series, Keeping the Faith: The Cost of Following Christ. Read the rest of Pei Fen’s story here.

The Perfect Game Plan: Unsung Heroes

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Day 20

Heaven’s heroes are usually unknown on earth.

READ: 2 Kings 7:3-11

Collecting the ball in his own half, he ran up the pitch and swapped passes with a teammate in the opponents’ box. Deftly dribbling past a defender, he cut back to the lurking Tardelli just outside the D. Despite a clumsy first touch, Tardelli managed to strike the ball across goal into the far corner of the net. History was made as Italy won the World Cup against Germany in 1982.

That was Gaetano Scirea the libero (sweeper), a player who could defend as well as attack. “Gai” was a quiet man who shunned publicity even though he had won for club and country every major football trophy in his day. It was only after his retirement that his genius was widely recognized. Like all unsung heroes, his focus was on doing what is right.

The Bible records an account of four unknown lepers who did the right thing. Outcasts from their besieged city, they discovered a deserted enemy camp. Rather than keeping it a secret and eating their fill of rations, they decided to “go back and tell the people at the palace” (2 Kings 7:9). These outcasts actually saved the inhabitants of Samaria from dying of starvation.

Anyone can be an unsung hero. When we choose to live by God’s standards and acknowledge Him, we begin to make better choices and put the needs of others before our own.

World Cup Trivia
Name the continents with the most players and winners in the World Cups.

The Perfect Game Plan: Change Of Tactics

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Day 14

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. —Harold Wilson

READ: 2 Peter 3:3-10

The match proceeded at a furious pace as both teams went at it hammer and tongs, fighting hard to control the mid-field. No quarter was given nor was any asked.

Midfield control is crucial to the modern game because that is where attacks are usually orchestrated. But there was a time when the midfield was nonexistent. Teams played 4 or 5 defenders and up to 6 strikers. Those were the days of hoof-and-chase, where defenders pumped long hopeful balls upfield and strikers chased them down. It would be suicidal to insist on playing that way today because the game has changed and moved on.

The apostle Peter highlights that there would be scoffers who refuse to believe in Jesus and consequently laugh at His promised return to judge the world one day. They foolishly think that since from the beginning of creation nothing has changed, life will go on as usual (2 Peter 3:4).

But the game plan has changed ever since Jesus came and died for us. God has now made Him the basis on which He will judge mankind (John 3:18). Unless we believe in Jesus, we will not be let off. Anyone insisting on playing by the old rules will be left behind. Now that we know what is coming, what kind of people ought we to be?

World Cup Trivia
Who was the creator of the current World Cup trophy that replaces the Jules Rimet cup?