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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?“.

When Your Heart is In the Right Place – Is it Enough?

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

“At the end of the day, what matters is whether your heart is in the right place.”

That was the gist of what I said to my friend Christy* a few days ago, when we were talking about life in general and how to honor God in our lifestyles. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that Christy was there to point out that good intentions are never enough.

Her comment reminded of what another friend had told me: “My heart tricked me”. Sometime before that, he called and I could hear from his voice that he was distraught. He had once more succumbed to the temptation of pre-marital sex; she was beautiful and tenacious, it was the perfect setting and before he knew it, the damage had been done.

He felt guilty after the act and knew he had to break all contact with her. He was particularly torn up inside because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings but he also knew he couldn’t live a life of sin. Breaking up with her and hurting her feelings was a terrible thing to do, but encouraging such a relationship was also not an option. He told me the only reason it had gone that far was that he believed he was falling in love with her.

However, she was not a Christian and did not believe in waiting for marriage; he had believed that his heart was in the right place when he slept with her. He wanted to make her happy, and he felt a natural extension of showing her he loved her was to give in to what she wanted. But he also admitted that a part of him did it because he wanted to.

It’s hard to rely on good intentions

Christy rightly pointed out that “our hearts being in the right place” does not necessarily equate to living a lifestyle that pleases God. Her words caused many verses from Scripture to come to mind. The Bible warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), which is why it also teaches us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Or as the New King James Version puts it, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life”.

Now, these two verses in conjunction do not necessarily mean that every intention from our heart is evil. Many saved and unsaved people alike have done great things stemming from a heart full of kindness. The former verse shows the fallen nature of man and the sin that ensues from that fallen nature, which is why so many of us, myself included, feel this inherent pull to things we know are sin. We lie, we cheat, we commit adultery, we get tangled in all sorts of vices and are continually perplexed as to why we keep on acting this way.

The main point to this is that we cannot trust our hearts to tell us if our intentions are purely good (Jeremiah 17:9). Fortunately, Jesus pointed us in the right direction, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). At first I always thought that this only meant I should keep my eyes heavenward and that’s my treasure. But it also means investing in the things of God and not in the things of the world.

 

What is your treasure?

I was reading an excerpt from American authors Allan Kelsey and Jimmy Evans’s book Strengths Based Marriage, where they highlighted the need for spouses to make their treasure a passionate relationship with their significant other. When something is your treasure, you prioritize it and all your energy is invested in making that venture a success. A good example is when a person falls in love. It is all-consuming—you are constantly thinking of them, calling, messaging.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is very goal-oriented. Whenever her exams come around, I know I won’t be hearing from her till it’s over. She goes off social media and she does not respond to messages or even return calls. She literally drops off the grid until her exams are over. Even though I know she hates to study, she constantly tells me, “No pain, no gain”. Her treasure is getting an A in her exams, and nothing comes between her and that goal.

My friend reminded me that it is important to ensure my environment is free from distraction and optimized to help me achieve my goal: to attain a life pleasing to God. I have noticed that whenever I get fully involved in church, volunteer, attend services and Bible study groups and hang out with Christian friends—that  I know keep me accountable to my faith—I find myself making progress in avoiding sin and living a more Godly life.

The more I pray and spend quality time with God, the less I get random thoughts that don’t glorify God, and the more I find it easier to love, to overlook offenses, to think of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely,  admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)

I have developed a habit called “the heart check” by periodically asking myself, “Where is your treasure? In what are you investing most of your time?”

So I do believe that we can overcome vices by making sure our heart is in the right place. And as we draw closer to Him, I can testify by experience that we will slowly begin to lose our appetite for things that displease Him and start craving the things that please Him.

 

 

 *not her real name

Why We Must Engage Both Mind and Heart

When I was a much younger Christian, I was taught that feelings were unreliable. I learned that God still loves me even when I don’t feel like He does—just as a chair would still support my weight even when I don’t feel like it would.

My feelings did not determine reality, I was reminded, and neither should they be allowed to dictate my actions. I was told that I didn’t have to wait until I felt like praying before I started to pray; I was to pray because it was in line with God’s will.

I’ve tried to keep this in mind, but I’ve found that it can be challenging to act against my own emotions. There were times when I willed myself to go to church or cell group, but my heart remained unwilling or even grudging towards God. Although I was obedient outwardly, I felt no joy inwardly.

That is how I’ve come to realize this: it’s not healthy to always act according to my mind without engaging my emotions.

After all, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27). Both our heart and mind must be engaged in loving Him. Just as it isn’t wise to trust the heart without checking back with the mind, it isn’t healthy to always go with the mind without engaging the heart, either.

But how are we to do that when the heart and mind sometimes pull us in different directions? God has taught me a few things that helped me to see that this doesn’t always have to be an ongoing battle, but the heart and the mind can instead have an ongoing conversation.

 

Listen to our Emotions

God showed me that while my feelings aren’t always reliable, it doesn’t mean that I ignore them. Even though my emotions may not always tell the truth about reality, they do tell me something about myself.

So if I feel a sense of rejection even when I’m surrounded by loving family and friends, I won’t immediately think that they are actually rejecting me. But I would ask myself why I’m feeling this way. I would seek God’s help to reveal to me any deeper issue that’s causing me to feel like that. After I get some idea of what might have led to that feeling of rejection, I’d ask God to comfort and heal me, and to show me His truths about me and the situation. He might remind me, as He has in the past, that He has accepted me (Romans 15:7) as His beloved son (1 John 3:1). And He might show me how I’ve misunderstood the situation or misperceived the intents of others.

Processing my emotions with God can help me to apply His truths to myself. If I have been hurt by something, God can bind up my wounds (Psalm 147:3). If the underlying issue is a sinful attitude, He can show me where I’ve gone wrong, so that I can confess my sin to Him and repent of it.

By digging deeper into what our emotions may be trying to tell us, we can receive God’s comfort or cleansing from sin. Our minds can then use the truths revealed by God to align our emotions closer to Him and His truths.

 

Get our Treasure Right

That said, while emotions are important, it doesn’t mean that we need to be controlled by them. When I was younger, I thought that my emotions would always have a huge hold over my actions. If I felt like doing something, it’d take a lot for me to not do it. I believed that there was nothing I could do to change how I felt.

That is, until one day when God spoke to me through Matthew 6:21: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He brought to my attention that the verse didn’t say, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also”—which would mean what I love is dependent on how I feel—and if I don’t feel that way, then I can’t make myself love it.

However, what God was saying in the verse was this: what I intentionally choose to value will eventually become what my heart cherishes. This gives me a lot of encouragement because it means that I don’t have to helplessly succumb to the influence of my emotions!

For example, I didn’t use to like to pray or read the Word. But I asked the Lord to help me to want to treasure whatever was upon His heart. So, with God’s help, I began to pray and read the Word as my way of giving value to these things, regardless of whether I felt like doing so or not. Over time, my heart began to follow suit. Today, I love to pray and read the Word much more than I did in the past. Through this, I learned that what I choose to value with my actions can affect what I emotionally treasure in my heart.

There’s something my pastor used to say which I’ve come to experience personally: “When you see as God sees, you will do as God does. But sometimes, you have to do as God says before you can see as He sees.”

When my heart isn’t aligned with what is upon God’s heart, I’m very thankful that He has given me a mind that can lead my heart to prefer His ways. Instead of needing to first feel like I agree with or value what He says before I can obey Him, God showed me that—regardless of what I feel—when I choose to do what He says and lay my treasure where He wants me to, that would help me to see as He sees and so, treasure what He treasures in my heart.

 

Think Right Thoughts to Influence Emotions

And ultimately, we can also influence our emotions by thinking the right thoughts. I’ve heard a quote that goes, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” Another saying explained it this way:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

This, to me, underlies how our thoughts play a primary role in determining the kind of person we become and life we live. This must be why the Bible instructs us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This helped me to better appreciate why God’s Word exhorts us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8)—and nothing is more excellent and praiseworthy than God and His Word, will, and ways. If these are what we think about more, our brains will not only retain them, but these thoughts will also affect our heart, and ultimately, our life.

 

In my desire to love God, I want to love Him with both my heart and my mind. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller said, “You have a circumcised heart when what you ought to do and what you want to do are the same—pleasure and duty are the same.”

On our journey of letting God circumcise our heart more and more, I’m glad that God has given us ways for our heart and mind to engage each other so that we can love God fully. He is totally worthy of us loving Him with our whole being—because He’s the One who first loved us with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Follow Your Heart . . . Really?

Follow your heart, and do what makes you happy.

People offered me this advice countless times while I was growing up. They said it was the secret recipe to living a pleasurable, joyful life. This creed to finding happiness was to be found everywhere—whatever I read, watched, and listened to. Needless to say, my impressionable mind soaked in it.

So I followed my heart—and dived straight into a whirlpool of destructive choices. I pursued romantic relationships, casting aside prudence and warnings because I was desperate to be with somebody. I let my heart’s desires and pride take precedence over others, and hurt my friends in the process.

It didn’t help that the culture I grew up in was inclined to follow our sentiments. It was easy for me to sway from one compromise to another, driven purely by the emotions that movies, music, or certain individuals evoked in me. I allowed my feelings to steer my judgments and to determine my actions. That took me onto a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I chased and dropped people, ran after achievements and things, and went after the world’s applause. It was an insane ride that carved a big hole in my soul. I wasn’t sure who I was becoming. I was destroying myself, bit by bit.

I felt trapped, lost, and confused. The irony was that the pain I felt led me to more irrational decisions and even more suffering. My own heart piloted me to ruin; it didn’t occur to me that it was not reliable when it came to what was good and true; I had presumed it would point me to real happiness.

In the end, after an extensive stint in the department of self-inflicted pain, I realized: My heart was not dependable.

Who Knows Our Hearts?

Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

With my unenviable past in the backdrop, this verse spoke truth to my weakened soul when I first read it. It showed me that as the heart was deceitful and wicked, following it wouldn’t be a wise prescription if I wanted to live a meaningful, happy life. So, if I couldn’t trust my heart, what could I trust? What or whom could I turn to for guidance?

Psalm 37:4 and Luke 10:27 offered answers: Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Love Him with all of yourself—your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind. These were the missing components in the creed I had been subscribing to. I realized that only God could truly know my heart. When I learned to cherish Him with all of myself and take pleasure in Him (which I learned through consistently spending time with Him), He became my heart, and His desires, my desires. I began to long for righteous things and to seek to honor Him in all that I did.

Before this, I had been foolish. I had let my heart, with its own fleeting and fickle appetites, lead me into making all kinds of decisions and choices that left me scarred. Although there were moments when I felt happy chasing my own fleshly inclinations and doing what I wanted, the happiness was always short-lived, and in the end, I always felt acutely empty. A big vacuum had settled in my soul that I didn’t know how to fill.

But now, in grasping how to delight myself in God more and more, I have discovered that I am enjoying His presence above all else. Now, I not only find life more pleasurable, but the emptiness that I used to feel has vanished. In its place I find an overflow of love, joy, and happiness, because my satisfaction now rests in the Lord.

Adore the Lord first and above all. Let Him reign supreme in your heart. Let your contentment be found in Him alone. Let His glory be your utmost goal. Only then will following your heart make you truly happy.

 

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