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Follow Your Heart…Or Not

What strange clichés we so often feed each other: Believe, have faith, everything will work out fine. Live, love, laugh. And how we like to hear: Follow your heart. Follow your dreams, your arrow, your passion. Pursue your own path to happiness. Follow the yellow brick road. And by all means, follow the money, honey.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

And why not? A happy heart is, after all, far from an unworthy or ungodly goal, right? Either you strive to make your dreams come true or you pour out your life on someone else’s dreams. Isn’t that the truth.

I’d agree…except for a verse I re-read this week: “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer. 15:19, ESV). Back in 2018, I chose this as one of the themes of Seaglass Blog and my writing life. The verse reminded me again how important it is to speak and write wisdom and not waste breath, ink, or cyberspace on empty words.

So, while I certainly believe in living an intentional life, I’m challenging myself today on the whole “follow your heart” philosophy. Should I tell myself that? Should I urge my friends and family to?

I’ve been reading all along this month about the weeping Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. He laments that his people “have stubbornly followed their own heart” (9:14) and “the deceit of their own minds” (14:14).

God knows (surely) how much I’d prefer to indulge my heart’s fancy, but here through the prophet, He begs us to turn back.

Turn around, make a 180, look at Him, and listen.

Why Not Follow Your Heart?

Confession time: Only God and I really know my heart, and it’s not nearly such a “sweetheart” as you might (I hope) believe. Of course, I have genuinely generous moments and truly altruistic aims, while in morning prayer. But around 10:30 a.m. my grand ambitions tend to implode and vanish.

The problem is I’m quite a bit like Jeremiah’s people who found God “near in their mouth and far from their heart” (12:2). I know the talk well, but at the back of my throat I balk and choke. My heart hides pride, hypocrisy, bitterness, selfishness, and frankly so much worse.

If I follow my heart, believe me, I’ll take the low and easy road, not the higher path that’s harder. I’d become a hermit, a rebel, an adulterer, even a murderer. I’d ditch my responsibilities and commitments at the next rest stop. Along with all those galling but good-for-me disciplines.

Follow your heart? Then maybe, like me, you’ll forget God and race toward the glittery mirages always just ahead. It takes so little to distract me, and the Enemy loves it when I chase rainbows, seek greener pastures, wander onto detours.  

“Not all who wander are lost,” wrote J. R. R. Tolkien. Agreed, totally. But not all who follow their heart have found their way either. “They have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” Good question, Jeremiah (8:9).

Should I follow my heart? When my emotions so often deceive me? When I heed Satan’s lies quicker than God’s truth and trust myself and my perceptions more than God’s good heart?

“The one principle of hell is—‘I am my own.’” –George MacDonald

Dear Lord, don’t let Satan take me captive. And if I stumble when I stray—Save me!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” –Psalm 139:23, ESV

Why Not “Follow Me”?

Jesus never told us to follow our hearts. He did mention to the disciples of Galilee: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mr. 1:17).

  • He taught us to pray: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:13).
  • And gently counseled us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33).
  • The Apostle Paul urges: Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (I Tim. 6:11).
  • And Peter adds that Jesus left us “an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (I Pet. 2:21).

What about seeking God’s heart, like David, the “man after God’s heart”? In his Shepherd’s Psalm (23:3), he marvels that Godleads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

How about listening to the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him for they know his voice” (Jn. 10:3-4).

Droplet Gift #37: I will follow Jesus’s heart, not mine.

Then I must encounter the little matter, ahem, of the Cross. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his (or her) cross and follow me” (Mr. 8:34). Ouch. My heart cringes when I read that. Yes, seriously, it does.

But how can I tell myself, “Follow your heart,” when Jesus asks me to follow Him? I hardly dare contemplate it, but what if I embrace that Via Dolorosa? It’s much easier to follow your heart. But for this undeniable fact:

“Only one life, ‘Twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” –C. T. Studd

It’s been a long time since anybody reminded me that you have to lose your life to find it. And honestly, doesn’t that sound sort of 1950ish? As if we were talking about missionary martyrdom and senseless sacrifice and the bygone glory days of the gospel.

How About a Change of Heart?

The heart of the Cross is about love. That’s agape love, which “does not seek its own” (I Cor. 13:5, NKJV). It cannot be turned inward, only out toward others. It conceals no mixed motives. Agape lays down its life. It gives all.

“How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos!” –G. K. Chesterton

As I follow Jesus, the love of the Cross must change my heart. It’s purified into “a clean heart” (Ps. 51:10), tamed to “a broken and contrite heart” (5I:17), taught “wisdom in the secret heart” (51:6). And how about a grateful heart instead of going after the insatiable more?

If I want to follow Jesus (and I do), my dreams are basically not about me anymore. As His followers, we are entrusted with a stewardship, an opportunity to participate in a grand vision far bigger than us and ours. Even in 2022.

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” –Elisabeth Elliot, missionary to the Waodani

BUT…

We fear that to follow God is to forsake our own heart. After all, isn’t that what “deny” means? Yet…what if it turned out to be our greatest fulfillment? Pastor Mark Batterson describes God as the Dream Giver (Whisper).

We often misunderstand and misuse the promise of Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” But when God truly becomes our fountain of delight—our source of dreams—then He can whisper His heart to ours. It’s an absolute certainty: He will give me the desires of my heart when what I want aligns with what He wants.

The problem with most of us is we don’t follow the calls God has placed in our hearts. Many people don’t even know their own heart. When I ask, “What is your dream?” I frequently get a shrug or a blank look. They might suggest something about a job or a vacation, home renovations or children. Maybe taking a class, winning a prize, or knitting an afghan.

Marvelous, if that’s the purpose God has given you. I just don’t want to resemble the general in Babette’s Feast (a lovely little book I recently read) who found himself “wishing that one little dream would come his way” at the end of his life. This great man had acquired and accomplished everything his heart desired, yet finished just short of satisfied.

What’s Worth Following?

My upcoming book Pursuit of the Pudú Deer poses the question: What’s worth pursuing? You’ll have to read the story to learn the complete answer, but this quote sums it up well:

“God has paths for us to take, but we need to seek Him to find them.” –Chris Syme, Women Finishing Well  

It’s not as if I (or any of my friends, literal or literary) do an about-face once and for all and start following Jesus instead of chasing my own dreams. Day after day, like a stubborn sheep, I have to hear His voice, stop, and turn around.

How I need, not the freedom to follow my heart, but love and humility enough to follow the Shepherd.

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” –Peter Marshall, U. S. Senate chaplain

Dear friend, follow your heart. When it’s God’s heart.

Lord, don’t take me home until… I’ve followed and fulfilled your dreams for my life.

5 Comments

  1. This is beautiful. I’ve just finished going through Beautiful Outlaw with my study group, and it feels like it ties in together very well with what I’ve been hearing.

    1. Thanks, Lisa, for your encouragement! I just looked up Beautiful Outlaw, and it looks like one for my list.

  2. Beautiful Outlaw is great! Didn’t get to read this until today. Your words are always encouraging and often challenging. Like this week’s. Wowza. Thank you.

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