Don’t Follow Your Heart

God made us to be emotional beings. We experience millions of varying emotions over the course our lifetime from elation, to horror, admiration to disappointment, anger to joy.

If God designed us to express and experience emotion, it is no surprise then that for many of us, our emotions are critical in guiding and directing us.

Yet, as believers, should we always yield to our emotions? Better yet, is it always safe and wise to follow our heart, wherever it may lead?

Because I can’t help but wonder, in all of the ways the Lord gave us to help guide us in making wise decisions–the counsel of others, the Bible, prayer, common sense, our intellect, and our heart–if following the latter is always the best choice.

Especially, when you consider the sort of shocking statement the Bible makes regarding the heart…

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

I re-read this simple verse about 4 times and felt rather overcome with sadness at the obvious truth of it. I had a montage of images flash through my mind–images of reality television, human beings and their depraved behavior, the rapid decline of morality in this country.

Sorry if I sound a bit melodramatic, but this is what I thought about–the sickness of the heart.

Of all of the things the Bible could say about the heart, God’s Word does not pull any punches. It tells us that our heart is not to be trusted and not only that, it is not to be trusted because it is depraved and ill–broken and filled with a sinful nature.


And yet so many of us have fallen for the lie that following our heart is necessary and even wise. Just like so many things I have written about before, the mantra “Follow your heart,” has become a sort of cultural bumper sticker applied to every kind of situation from choosing a career, to choosing an abortion, to choosing a divorce.

Just follow your heart.

We have added our own Christian-ese to the “follow your heart” anthem, as well. We say things like “God moved my heart,” “My heart wasn’t in it,” and the one that really irks me “Ask Jesus into your heart.”

But, after reading the verse from Jeremiah and really meditating on it (not that it needs meditation because man, it’s about as black and white as it gets) I doubt that I could ever again only allow my emotions to guide me.

And for good reason…

If I only followed my heart….

I would be selfish.

I would be vain.

I would be self-absorbed.

I would self-protective.

I would be untrustworthy.

I would be shallow.

I would be blind to the feelings and needs of others.

I would basically be the antithesis of Jesus.

And Jesus. What about Jesus? Did Jesus follow His heart? Dare I say, He denied His heart. He did not want to go to the Cross. His emotions, His heart as it were, were trying to prevent that from happening.

Thankfully and joyfully for us, Jesus did not listen to His heart, but rather the Spirit. He yielded not to His emotions, but to His Father in Heaven.

Jesus even said “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Matthew 15:19. He knew and He warned us.

Our emotions are meaningful. God made us to be emotional beings, but simply following our heart is not the wisest course of action. We can express righteous anger, feel overwhelmed by joy, drown in feelings of hope, or anguish, or peace yet none of those emotions alone, can lead us to the mind of Christ.

It is in following God, not our heart, that we can find true fulfillment. The heart is fickle. Our emotions cannot be trusted, but God can.

Have you ever subscribed to the mantra of “Follow your heart?” Has it helped or hurt you? How much should our emotions guide us?

39 thoughts on “Don’t Follow Your Heart”

  1. I think for me, my prayer is always that God would be altering my heart to match His. I agree with your words – we can’t follow our heart. I actually recently changed my blog name to “a Secondary Heartbeat” recently because of this same idea. I don’t want my heart to rule my life. I want Jesus to rule my life.

  2. Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, “God is a god of truth, not of emotions.” and I wanted to disagree with him, but the more I wrestled with that statement, the more I realised the truth of it. Yes, God has emotions, but the truth doesn’t bend with emotion like it does with us.

    God is truth.
    My emotions don’t rule that out.

    If I followed my heart, I’d be far from where I am.

  3. Yes, the unregenerate heart is wicked beyond imagination. The heart saved by Christ, however, is completely renewed, no longer a heart of stone but a heart of flesh that more and more grows to reflect God’s own heart of love. Sure, there may be times a Christian falls back into old patterns of thought and feeling, but that does not undo the inward transformation God has wrought that fid away with the wicked heart. I so long for believers to shed the guilt and shame of teachings like this, that even after becoming a new creation there is something deeply and unchangeably wrong inside. If anything, it’s the inward man that’s perfectly pleasing to God, and the outside behavior that needs to get in line with the truth of my redemption and new nature in Christ.

  4. Oh, quick question. You posit that “Jesus denied his heart”, and we should too, because the heart is wicked. If I connect the dots logically, it appears that you are beginning with the belief that the wholly-perfect Son of God could not trust his own heart, that it was desperately wicked too. How do you reconcile that?

    1. Toni,

      Jesus was The Son of Man, born of Mary. While it is truer than true that He indeed lived a sinless life, thus fulfilling The Law via His flesh, His flesh was also full of a sinful nature. Notice however, that His sinful nature, not a one time, ever caused Him to sin against God. When the enemy tempted Him, Satan was focused on the flesh side of Jesus, as is his normal tactic. Jesus, of course, rebuffed these temptations by quoting The Scriptures, setting the precedent that we should do likewise.

      I believe Jesus had within Him a sinful nature due to being born of Mary, but at no time did He ever sin, because He was perfectly submitted to God not only as His Father, but as His God as well.

      So was the heart of Jesus sinful, as yours and mine are? Did Jesus have the capacity for sin within Himself? I would say Yes. But we both know He never, not once, sinned, thus remaining sinless as the Lamb of God through and through.

      Just a thought. I’m sure Nicole has some thoughts on this as well! Thanks for reading.

      1. No time for a long reply, but wanted to quickly point out that the idea of a Christ with a dual nature who overcame by resisting the lower nature is aPelagian-style heresy from ancient times and not supported in Scripture nor by orthodox historical theology.

        1. So Jesus was not The Son of Man as well as Son of God? Interesting. I am quite sure He said this of Himself once or twice.

          Sorry, Toni, I’ve no stomach for dead theology from ancient times. I am woefully ignorant of Pelagian-style heresy, but I’m sure the Holy Roman Catholic Church (Praise Mary!) is involved somewhere along the lines.

          I do not believe man is capable of goodness in and of himself or through willpower. Jesus called His Father as His God. That was Jesus Son of Man talking. And what is man, really, but the fallen that was meant to be the crown jewel of God’s Creation.

      2. Matt,Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think your postoiin is actually in disagreement if you follow it to its logical conclusion. The only way to support those implications flowing from the gospel is the proclamation of the gospel itself.I never meant to say that the gospel is the only thing we should support with the Bible there is instruction in righteousness, wisdom and joy to be had there. However, they are built on and ultimately point back to the gospel there is a God who died for His enemies.In Christ,Dave

  5. Nicole,

    My heart has one purpose, and I do not say this lightly:
    It is where Jesus is enthroned as King and Master and Lord of who and what I am. I do not listen to my heart in and of itself. It would be foolish to do so.

    But I do listen to it in the context of hearing Jesus speak to me from it, almost like a place of Wisdom, Knowledge, and Love. This happens only because, as I said, He is enthroned there and has redeemed my heart through The Spirit.

    In simpler terms, left to its own devices, my heart is corrupt. But ever since Jesus moved in and set up His Rule over me, I know it is an avenue in which The Spirit now guides me.

  6. Every time I’ve followed my heart, I’ve ended up getting crushed. Following God I’ve gotten crushed every time as well but at least I know it’s crushed for a good purpose rather than crushed because that’s what sin will do.

  7. I think it is important to nuance a discussion of emotions and “the heart.” The two do not necessarily equate!

    “The heart” is iconic. It is a metaphor to describe a great many things about what it means to be human, touching on the emotional, spiritual, relational, and physical aspects of experience. The Bible does describe the heart as deceitful in this ONE VERSE (which seems to be the author’s expression of frustration and chagrin more than God’s pronouncement). It also tells us that our hearts are the “wellspring of life” (Pr 4:23) something to be guarded. Indeed, God promises to guard it himself with the peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7). It seems like God places a great deal of value on the heart.

    How about the way scripture describes God seeking to give his people new hearts, hearts of flesh instead of stone (Ezekial), hearts on which his law is inscribed – oh, that’s the OTHER heart passage from Jeremiah (31:31-37 gives a decent context) that you DIDN’T mention. Hmm. And what about the way Jesus described the Pharisees? Their behavior was pious (look at Saul, a man who kept every commandment yet considered that “dirty rags”) but they are described as ones who “honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him” (Mat 15:8, Mark 7:6). For something that is so “deceitful,” God seems to be pretty concerned with the heart – sometimes more concerned about our hearts even than our actions? David was called a man after God’s heart despite his reprehensible behavior with Bathsheba and her husband. I wonder what that was about?

    Of course, all of that is to say that the heart is obviously a complex subject matter, one about which the Bible has A LOT to say, and I think you hit on the real meat when you describe our hearts in relationship to God, the church, scripture, and intellect. We are meant to be whole beings in relationship with and pursuing God – not in isolation but in community. We are to turn our hearts to God and allow him to form and fashion them, to teach them how to love, not to abandon them as “deceitful.” God never said to detest or spurn our hearts, and I don’t think that Christ could have laid himself on the cross if his heart weren’t in it. In fact, the very way that he prayed in Gethsemane seems to intimate that he was offering his very heart – with all its pain, love, and desire – to God. After all it was “for the joy set before him” that he endured the cross (Heb 12:2). That doesn’t sound like a man who denied his heart but who knew how to offer it -wholeheartedly- to God the father and to His kingdom.

    I think that if you equate heart with mere emotions, you go astray in interpreting scripture. Maybe that is what pop culture means when it talks about “following the heart,” but that is not what scripture seems to describe when it describes the heart. So I agree with your challenge of culture and the urge to understand the place of emotion AND the heart in both the human experience and in our multifaceted relationship with God, but not with your proof-texting, my friend.

    As a final note, I am one who has stifled her heart. I spent a lifetime making decisions on intellect and input from “wise others,” and on a black-and-white understanding of scripture. There are some things that I think are right and wrong. But it turns out that there are a great number of things that are “matters of the heart.” It was a shock to me when God himself led me to embracing my heart – the heart HE CREATED, that he knit together in my mother’s womb, and fashioned to reflect in some small way his own. God himself not only asked me to feel and pay attention to emotions – not to be ruled by them but to be whole – but he asked for my heart, asked me to know it, to invest in it, to cherish it and to offer all of it to him – the way any lover would desire his beloved’s heart, not just her intellectual ascent or some subservient obedience. The fact is, God DOES speak to our hearts, and our hearts are a vital aspect of knowing and being in relationship with him. That is what makes all of this so risky. God chose to take on that risk. Do we think our judgment better than his, that we could simply label our hearts “deceitful” and dismiss them? No, to reject my heart is to reject the very thing that whispers to me of God. Perhaps in that, we are in agreement: This is about following God. And I will follow him with MY WHOLE HEART.

    1. Luke 22:41-44 NAS
      41And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
      43Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.
      44And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

      Hm. Doesn’t sound to me like a guy who was too happy about knowing He was about to die. Angels needed to strengthen Him. He was in agony. I don’t believe His heart was ‘in it’. By submitting to His Father’s Will, it didn’t matter if His heart was ‘in it’. What mattered was that as a son, and as The Son, He was doing as His Father wanted, and that right there was Jesus being a Father-pleaser.

      The principle here screams volumes. Not our will, but His Will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven. Period. Our hearts desire, or our approval of His Will, are simply not considerations.

      1. Interestingly, Donald, that is the very passage that I think proves that Jesus brought his whole heart to God. If it wasn’t Christ’s heart to serve the father, he wouldn’t have wrestled over this in the first place, let alone wrestled so ardently! He would have walked away without the pain of sweat and tears and prayer. This shows Christ’s heart – ALL OF IT – the pain and the angst and the sacrifice – and the love and the dedication and the courage! He cared SO DEEPLY that he poured his heart out to God and, just as you noted, God gave him strength. Where did he experience that strength, I ask you? Was it not his heart that was strengthened? Consider all of scripture when you consider the definition of the heart, not just the notion of “feelings” or self-serving instincts. Jesus didn’t just ascent to God’s will. He gave his heart to it.

        Lamentations 2:19
        “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.”

        Romans 5:5
        “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

        1. For Jesus to say, ‘Not my will, but Your will be done’ denotes that it was not the will of Jesus The Son of Man to die for humanity. Otherwise, that conversation would have had a much different feel.

        2. I would add this verse to the discussion from Hebrews 5:7 “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

          I don’t think, based on this verse, that Jesus’ “heart” was in it. He did not want to go to the Cross, but He chose to do so. That is the power of the Gospel–His sacrifice.

          I would also add that in the Romans 5:5 verse you listed, it is the HOLY SPIRIT who pours out God’s love. That is our power–the Spirit, not our “hearts.”

          1. I guess I don’t quite understand why these verses convinces us that Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. On the contrary, I think it’s pretty clear that what Jesus wanted was whatever his Father willed, if that should be sparing his life then sparing his life, and if it would mean giving it up, then giving it up.

            I guess it wouldn’t make any sense to me to say, “God, I don’t have any desire in my heart to follow you, but I’m going to do it anyway.”


        3. The emphasis on the pacmriy of the gospel here is a great reminder for people (1 Cor 15:3).But I don’t think this is actually right. The thing someone most supports from the Bible can be a result of many factors. It was either Machen or Luther or made the great point that if we are failing to stand up to the specific point that the devil is primarily attacking, we are not confessing the gospel.But the main reason I don’t think it’s right is because of passages like Jeremiah 22:15-16: Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of hte poor and needy; then it was well. _Is not this to know me?_ declares the Lord? In other words, knowing God results in being passionate for the things God is passionate about. The gospel is first and foremost; then there are critical implications that flow from it. Any one of these implications (or, alternatively, foundations of the gospel in the doctrines of grace) may be the thing most calling for our attention. The key is that all of this is in service of the gospel, rather than an interest that is disconnected from the gospel.Perhaps it’s a subtle distinction, but I think this is the heart of the issue.

      2. Jesus’ heart was totally in it. He was beautifully in tune with his emotions and dialogued with his Father about them. His heart’s desire was still that the Father’s will be done, although the thought was agonizing. I’ve never read this and thought about it like that before. Wow.

  8. I recently “followed my heart” and it led me down a desperately wicked path that I am trying to recover from. I consider myself a Christ-follower to the core of my being, but one wrong turn caused grief and pain to myself and others that I am not sure how to rectify. I know our Savior has forgiven me and my sin is forgotten. I know His grace covers me. I *know* all the right answers, but am struggling with getting over the pain. Thank you for your blog – it helps to keep it real.

    1. Michele,
      Thank you for sharing. I too, have followed my heart in the past, much to my destruction.

      But, as you said, He is full of grace. if you have repented you are forgiven. No question. Although reconciling this with truth with our minds can be difficult at times.

      Praying that you take hold of His forgiveness and redemption and that you might be free in His love.

    2. Being In Christ means we weren’t his enemies. Christ was Perfect, and if we beelvie in Election He only died for a certain few. Those few because of His ministry are made perfect as well. Of course we are born hating God, but we who are the Elect were chosen from the foundation of the world, so even though he allowed us to hate Him for a little while, God replaced our heart and will with His own. Christs work was finished on the cross, the fate of man was sealed. Some are bound for Hell, Some are bound for Heaven .Many are fooled about which place they are going. After conversion, there is Unity with God through Christ Alone. There is no other gospel but that. I think guarding certain biblical truths puts fear into the heart of men no one wants to be reminded that they deserve, or better yet, want Hell. Everyone wants some kind of recognition for a job well done. How do we accomplish this, to hear those sweet words, Well done, good and faithful servant?

  9. Love this, Sparrow. Thank you!

    “As a final note, I am one who has stifled her heart. I spent a lifetime making decisions on intellect and input from “wise others,” and on a black-and-white understanding of scripture. There are some things that I think are right and wrong. But it turns out that there are a great number of things that are “matters of the heart.” It was a shock to me when God himself led me to embracing my heart – the heart HE CREATED, that he knit together in my mother’s womb, and fashioned to reflect in some small way his own. God himself not only asked me to feel and pay attention to emotions – not to be ruled by them but to be whole – but he asked for my heart, asked me to know it, to invest in it, to cherish it and to offer all of it to him – the way any lover would desire his beloved’s heart, not just her intellectual ascent or some subservient obedience. The fact is, God DOES speak to our hearts, and our hearts are a vital aspect of knowing and being in relationship with him. That is what makes all of this so risky. God chose to take on that risk. Do we think our judgment better than his, that we could simply label our hearts “deceitful” and dismiss them? No, to reject my heart is to reject the very thing that whispers to me of God. Perhaps in that, we are in agreement: This is about following God. And I will follow him with MY WHOLE HEART.”

    1. 10Create in me a pure heart, O God,
      and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

      11Do not cast me from your presence
      or take your Holy Spirit from me.

      12Restore to me the joy of your salvation
      and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

      Psalm 51. Our hearts need to be cleaned.

      1. Exactly! May God give us pure hearts with which to follow him!

        If you think our hearts are of little consideration to God, consider the stories of Hannah, Hagar, and even Hezekiah (the summarized version can be found in Isaiah 38 wherein God granted the man 15 years of life even when it meant that he would father one of the most evil kings of Israel). I’m sorry, but God is interested in our hearts; scripture demands of us a mature and nuanced understanding of the heart and its part in relationship to him and in his kingdom.

        The heart can be given to evil. It can also be given to God. If my heart is given to God, then I will follow as God leads it with the love and correction of the scripture and the saints.

        Good stuff!

        1. Indeed, He is interested in our hearts, of course. But it still requires His power to clean them and redeem them. Left without His Spirit, our hearts are evil and selfish.

          Matthew 15:
          19“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20“These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

          Our hearts are automatically opposed to God as Father. From the first breath.

        2. Sparrow,

          I have read all of your comments, and I understand (I think) your nuanced argument. I don’t have time for a long reply, but I wanted to encourage you in your journey with God. I can tell you have wrestled, and sought God with your mind, heart, spirit, and will. Blessings.

  10. To be honest, I’ve tried letting both my heart and my mind lead, and what I’ve found is that when I let my mind lead, it continually finds ways to create doubt and tell me “I can’t”. When I follow my heart, it shows me why I should, what could be, and tells me that “I can”. Following my heart more often than not allows me to live more vibrantly, more fully, and much bigger than following my mind does.

    But I guess I do think I need to listen to both. My heart will let you dream. My mind will help me make good decisions. And I think God really wants to use both of them to guide me and speak to me.

    In the end, I think the key is to let God transform both my heart and my mind. As this happens, following either will be more in line with the desires God has for me.

  11. So funny you should post this today. Yesterday, we were working on a sermon on Solomon’s demise. 1 Kings 11:4, makes the statement that Solomon wasn’t ‘wholly devoted’ to the LORD.

    In Hebrew, Solomon is SLMH and the verb used for ‘wholly devoted’ is SLM. A commentator noted that the author is making a wordplay: In straying from God, Solomon is straying from his True Self.

    There’s a lie we all believe: that we have some “Self” we need to find and connect with, a Self that’s totally independent of all religion and family and vocation and… etc.

    One thing I appreciate about post-modernism is the way they critique this myth of Self. They point out that we have no true, independent sense of Self apart from everything else.

    Christians know that we only find our true Selves when we find ourSelves in Christ. Like Solomon, we aren’t truly US unless we are wholly devoted to God.

  12. Awesome post, as usual Nicole.

    Maybe once we’re done trying to follow our hearts, and we see where that gets us, we should take some advice from Toucan Sam and follow our noses…taking the advice of a cartoon cereal mascot might actually be the better option. :)

  13. Interesting to note that the word “deceitful” is the same word in Hebrew as Jacob. Jacob was always making deals w/ God and others (Esau’s birthright). Our hearts are deceitful, even to us…our heart can make a convert of our mind. Hitler knew that. Logic and reason fly out the window.

    Even early on (Genesis 6:5) – “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

    Ecclesiastes 9:3 – The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live.

    Which is why David cried out “Create in me a clean heart, O God” in Psalm 51. That word CREATE in Hebrew is “barros” – the same word used in Genesis 1:1 when God created the heavens and the earth. Something out of nothing. Something where nothing existed a second ago. Something that never was before. So if David asks God to put into him something that never existed there by itself (a clean heart)….to bring into existance that which he did not naturally have….well I guess we all need to do that too. I need a new heart God, one unlike mine, create in me like you called the world in existance a heart that is clean and pure and holy wonderful. Not like the one I have already.

    “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.”

  14. On the one hand, I’m figuratively jumping up and down and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Finally!”

    On the other, my inner Al Borland is saying, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

    I think the distinction here is whether you have ceded control of your heart–Jeremiah was right in his assessment, when we consider man’s innate sin–to the Spirit. A heart surrendered only to itself is the worst thing to follow. A heart surrendered to Christ is the best thing ever.

    I would have had a lot less broken-hearted moments (through my own decisions) if I had given up control of my heart to God in the first place.

    I would have missed out on a lot of overwhelming-hearted moments if I hadn’t given up control of my heart.

    Does any of this make sense?

    The upshot for me, really, is in choosing to approach life in the heart of God, allowing THAT to take precedence.

    This means my heart will be overflowing. Sometimes with good things, sometimes with those things that break God’s heart. And my life will be richer and my walk with God deeper as a result, I think.

  15. Yeah–I think about this a lot. I think you’re right on–although Nadine S does have a point about asking God to change our hearts. I think ultimately Jesus followed His heart because, for some reason, He’s crazy about us, and because His heart was one with His Father’s. It meant He was able to push through the more self-centered impulses–because they weren’t His heart. But we’re “a little” more internally divided, so we have to actually deny our hearts sometimes.

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