We are told in popular media, psychobabble circles and in our neighborhoods, that we should always follow our hearts. To not do so is to be dishonest; “What do you really want in life?” To not follow my heart is somehow supposed to be a violation of “who I am,” to deny the “real me,” as if my choices are somehow already made for me based on my biology.
However, a genetic predisposition for particular behavior does not equal absolute necessity of said behavior. Just because I am “born with” a taste for black coffee does not mean I must drink it that way. Desire does not equal genetics and genetics does not equal desire.
To say these ARE equal would validate the argument that some are “born criminals,” or are born pedophiles, racists, murderers, etc.. But the desire or inclination to a behavior does not necessitate obedience to that choice, “choice” being the operative word here.
Dr. James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame) believes everything we do is genetically programmed, that free will does not exist. By his reasoning, then, I am constrained by my genetic make-up to argue against his absurd proposition. So take that, Watson! Just because one feels rage at another does not mean he/she MUST behave in a destructive way toward that person. Just because one feels lust for another does not mean he/she cannot resist that urge and be faithful to a chosen spouse, or at least, not indulge in treating another as an object that exists only for one’s own pleasure.
Yet, Paul in Romans 2:15 tells us that God’s law is written on our hearts, making it reasonable that God may judge us fairly, based solely on whether we “followed our hearts!” So is the heart, or the conscience, a safe guide to do what is right? Should we not follow our hearts?
The key here is understanding that the heart is a good guide, as long as it is informed by God’s laws written thereon. However, no one’s heart perfectly matches God’s will, and so we must inform our hearts not only by what we “feel” is right, but by the Bible which tells us explicitly what pleases God and what distances us from Him.
The first thing we will find in the Bible validates that a conscience is a good thing as long as it leads us closer to God. Colossians 3:1 instructs us to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
“The conscience reacts to the convictions of the mind and therefore can be encouraged and sharpened in accordance with God’s Word. The wise Christian wants to master biblical truth so that the conscience is completely informed and judges right because it is responding to God’s Word. A regular diet of Scripture will strengthen a weak conscience or restrain an overactive one. Conversely, error, human wisdom, and wrong moral influences filling the mind will corrupt or cripple the conscience. In other words, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a light bulb. It lets light into the soul; it does not produce its own. Its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light we expose it to, and by how clean we keep it. Cover it or put it in total darkness and it ceases to function.” John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience
God did not give us hearts with the intention that we should ignore them, but we must lead them, especially when there is question of whether we are heading the right direction or not. In The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Hendrick emphasize this principle in one of their appendices: How Do I Lead My Heart? They suggest five factors to leading your heart, instead of simply following it.
- Check your heart: This means periodically asking yourself where you spend your time; in front of TV, at a sports bar, on the internet, with your spouse? Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)
- Guard your heart: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 14:2) This means to simply pay attention to what you allow to capture your attention. If all you think about is money, power, physical pleasure, ease, or material possessions, these will pull your heart away from what is really important and dull its sensitivity to the Father’s voice.
- Set your heart: There are times we may not feel like doing the right thing, but that is when “following your heart” will lead you most away from the satisfaction of pleasing God. We noted earlier the instructions from the Bible, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is.” (Colossians 3:1) Sometimes this will take extremely harsh self-discipline, but then discipleship is where we want to go, at times refusing to “follow our hearts.”
- Invest your heart: What matters most in your heart will someday become evident to everyone around you. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) If a man spends every dime he makes as soon as it’s in his pocket, he will have little to show by the time he is old. But if he invests it so that it will earn more interest, he will someday gain a good reward for his investment. Think of where you spend what is important to you: your time, energy, and money, and determine to lead your heart into wise investments.
- Pray: David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.” (Psalm 51:10) Only the Father knows the secrets of your heart, and He actually knows them even better than you do, yourself. So trust our Creator to put into your heart the desires that will please Him. And if you lack such desire, back up as many steps as you need and ask Him to give you the desire to desire Him, or the desire to desire to desire . . . etc. He is here and He is not silent, if you will listen for Him.
Then, when you know that He is leading your heart, it will be safe to Follow Your Heart.