by Steven Norris

     “Listen to advice, but follow your heart.” So said the great country artist, Conway Twitty. You could turn to countless other self-help websites or advice columns and find similar injunctions. There is no end to such popular wisdom, but is it a good idea for people of faith?

     On the one hand, there is something inherently appealing to the idea of being true to yourself. Certainly, as a pastor, I would never encourage someone to adopt an idea or belief that violated their conscience. There are just too many examples of spiritual abuse that begin in such ways. At the same time, experience tells me that merely following one’s heart is inadequate in the search for ultimate things like Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

     Scripture testifies to this skepticism of the heart as well. The Proverbs observe, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” In other words, we must be careful, for things are not always as they appear. Our ability to understand and see clearly is often very limited and we inadvertently head down a destructive or dead-end path.

     A little more pessimistically, the prophet Jeremiah rings out this warning, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Through my own experience and many sessions of counseling with parishioners, I can say with confidence that the power of self-justification knows almost no end to its power of persuasion (and delusion).

     Instead, the scripture offers a different picture for the people of God. In the book of Ezekiel, we find this promise to the people of Israel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

     It seems to me that when a person commits their life to the way of Jesus and is filled with the Spirit of God, he or she is given a new “wanter.” They literally want differently. This is how the Psalmist can honestly say, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When we are focused on delighting ourselves in God and surrendering to God’s way, our desires are aligned with God’s desires. Therefore, we are not following our heart as much as we are following God’s heart beating within us.

     Therefore, we should be wary of the advice, “follow your heart.” Alcoholics Anonymous has a popular slogan: “It was your best thinking that got you here.” In other words, you aren’t going to think or work your way out of this. The key is not better thinking, but surrender — surrendering our heart and will to “a higher power” (to God).

     So my advice is this: don’t follow your heart. Follow God’s heart and trust that God’s wisdom is better than your own any day.