Just Follow Your Heart

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 26, 2018

Psalm 37:4 Christianisms: Just Follow Your Heart

The Book of Hezekiah
When I was around 11 or 12 years of age, during my annual week at Bible Camp at Inspiration Hills, I had a counselor who I thought was pretty cool. I don’t remember his name today, but I’m pretty sure he was a college student at Northwestern. And one of the things that really impressed me about him was his knowledge of the Bible.

In fact, one of the things he did a lot was when someone would say something interesting or profound, he’d say: “That’s in the book of Hezekiah. Hezekiah 3:15.” He did that repeatedly throughout the week. Sometimes he’d even quote verses and then tell us that they were from the book of Hezekiah. Hezekiah 2:21. Hezekiah 8, verses 6 and 7.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the week that one of us actually tried to look Hezekiah up in our own Bible that we figured it out: there is no book of Hezekiah. Hezekiah is a character in the Bible—he’s actually a king of Judah that gets mentioned fairly often in the Old Testament—but there is no book named after him. It was then that our counselor explained to us what he was doing:

He said that he had learned it in a Bible class at college. The professor had talked about the many ideas and sayings that people think are in the Bible, but are not. He liked to assign these fictional Bible verses to a fictional book of the Bible. Hezekiah. And my counselor and some of his buddies thought that was so much fun that they started doing it as well.

I don’t know why exactly—maybe it was a little foreshadowing of the preacher I would become—but I thought that was one of the coolest things ever. The book of Hezekiah. Hezekiah 12:22.

The Song of Disney
That story came back to me as I’ve been working on our current sermon series, which I’ve called Christianisms. There are these sayings—usually repeated frequently in Christian circles, often printed on greeting cards or Pinterest pages—that get said so often that we assume they must come from the Bible. We say them with such frequency, and quote them with such authority, that we assume they must be true. But, in fact, they are clichés, and often promote a way of thinking that is less than Biblical.

And one of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve worked on this series is that there is a small corner of the internet that is devoted to books like Hezekiah. That is, I’ve found blog posts about some of these clichés that often assign them fictional Bible locations. I’ve seen sayings attributed to Hezekiah. Fictional verses from Phillips 66. A book of Hesitations. Made up verses from 1st and 2nd Oprah. And a Song of Disney.

And it’s that last one that I want to talk about today. If our saying for today had a quasi-Biblical citation, it would have to be Song of Disney 1:1.

The saying is “just follow your heart.”

Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I might. I’m going to talk about some beloved children’s movies, and not everything I say is going to be nice. I’m going to challenge the worldview of the Magic Kingdom.

Before I do, let me say that for the most part, I like Disney movies. My first date with my wife Beth was to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I appreciate that there is a movie studio out there producing enjoyable movies that are not dependent on gratuitous violence or sex or profanity. And most of Disney’s movies have positive themes like friendship, courage, and sacrifice. Disney movies also teach our children that they don’t always have to come from a special place in order to do special things.

But one of the overriding themes of many Disney movies—and one which ties into a sentiment that is prevalent in our society—can be summarized in the phrase: “just follow your heart.” It’s the notion that inside of us is a moral compass whose arrow always points to true north; and if we just listen to our hearts, and follow our dreams, and believe in ourselves enough we’ll always know the right things to do and the things we do will always be right.

That’s the worldview promoted by Disney. But it is not the worldview of the Bible.

And if you don’t believe me when I say that is Disney’s worldview, let’s just look at some of the songs that come from their movies.

For example, the movie Cinderella, has a song called “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” It has lyrics that say:

Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep believing
The dream that you wish will come true.

That’s the modern myth of “if you believe it, you can achieve it” and it comes from a movie that is 70 years old.

And if that doesn’t sound enough like “just follow your heart” consider the movie Cinderella II. I didn’t know such a movie existed. It probably went straight to video. But it has a song that is literally called “Follow Your Heart” and contains these lyrics:

When you follow your heart
There’s no heart you can’t win
So reach for the sky
It’s not as high as it seems
Just follow your heart
Go as far as your dream.

There it is: the notion that your heart always knows the best path to take. The idea that if you trust your—what?...instincts? passions? desires?—you’ll be able to achieve whatever you want.
That’s the worldview of Disney, and a big part of our culture’s worldview. And it’s not just Cinderella. Consider one of the biggest Disney songs ever, Frozen’s “Let it Go”. Everybody loves to sing along with this ear catching-tune, but have you ever thought about what the words say? It includes these lines:

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free!

The context, of course, is a magic princess coming to terms with her magical powers. But think about it: do we really want our little girls (or our little boys, or anybody else for that matter) living by the motto: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me”? Isn’t that a sentiment you would expect from Charles Manson? Or Vladimir Putin?

And then, one more example. The song Jiminy Cricket sings in “Pinocchio”:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

The Disney company liked that one so much they made it their theme song.

“Just follow your heart” is a big part of our culture, and it is a phrase that will often creep into Christian circles. But we have to consider it critically. Just because it gets repeated so often does not mean it is true. So, as we have most of this series, let’s ask three questions: 1) Is there Biblical truth? 2) What is wrong with he phrase? And 3) Is there better news in the gospel?

First question: Is there Biblical truth? Is there any part of this phrase that matches up to Biblical teaching? And the short answer is: “No”.

But if we want to be generous, we might point to the second half of Psalm 37:4:

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

That sounds pretty close to “just follow your heart.” In fact, this line matches up very closely to the line from Pinocchio: “anything your heart desires/will come to you.”

It wouldn’t even be unusual for you to talk with another Christian who might reference Psalm 37:4 to tell you that God wants to give them their heart’s desire. This sounds like a promise from God to give you whatever you want.

But we have read the first half of the verse. It’s not a good idea to take Bible verses out of their context. The whole of Psalm 37:4 says:

4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

That’s an important pre-condition. We are promised that God will grant the desires of our hearts when we “take delight in the Lord.” The verse before says that we should “trust in the Lord and do good.” The idea is that as we take pleasure in learning more about God and following His will, God will more and more shape the desires of our hearts to conform to the things He wants.

Instead of a suggestion that the desires of our heart are always good and God will give us whatever we desire; this verse is a call for us to move our heart towards God so that the things we desire look like the things He wants to accomplish.

When we are aligned with His will, our Father wants to give us our heart’s desires—in His time. As we learn to enjoy Him for who He is, our self-focused wants are replaced by His perfect will and purpose for us. https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/daily-devotions/desires-of-your-heart

This is a key idea for this sermon, and we’ll come back to it later. But for now, I want to show you that this is not the only place where the Bible speaks like this. Consider Proverbs 19:21:

21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Our hearts are not life’s infallible guides; but the Lord’s purpose is. Proverbs 16:9:

9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps

And then, from the New Testament, Romans 12:2. Rather than use the New International translation of this verse, let me share with you the New International Readers Version. It helps us get the sense a little easier:

2 Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.

The point is, when we let our way of thinking be changed—that is, when we conform our hearts to the heart of God—then we will agree that what God wants is what is right. We are not supposed to follow our hearts so much as we are supposed let our hearts be transformed to reflect the good, pleasing, and perfect plan of God.

All of which is to say: “Just follow your heart” does not contain much Biblical truth. In fact, the Bible teaches something that is almost completely the opposite.

Lies, Desensitization, and Arrogance
Let’s go now to the second question: What’s wrong with it? Where does this statement go wrong? I have three answers to this question.

First, the heart is a liar. It’s a bad idea for us to follow our hearts, because our hearts have a tendency to steer us wrong. Jeremiah 17:9:

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

This is not a very encouraging verse. But it is in keeping with the Biblical view of the sinful nature of humanity. Our hearts tend to be selfish, self-centered, and on the lookout for the path that will lead to the greatest pleasure for ourselves. And so our hearts have a tendency to lie to us. They have a tendency to tell us to pursue paths that are not always right, best or good; but which appeal to our sinful natures.

One of the reasons we don’t always notice the bad advice when Disney characters are told to just follow their hearts is because the heroes in those movies tend to make the good and right and heroic choices. Their hearts tell them to do the right thing. But that’s not real life.

Jon Bloom is an author who has a book called “Don’t Follow Your Heart.” He writes:

The truth is, no one lies to us more than our own hearts. No one. If our hearts are compasses, they are Jack Sparrow compasses. They don’t tell us the truth; they just tell us what we want... They are not benevolent; they are pathologically selfish. In fact, if we do what our hearts tell us to do, we will pervert and impoverish every desire, every beauty, every person, every wonder, and every joy. Our hearts want to consume these things for our own self-glory and self-indulgence. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dont-follow-your-heart

For a Biblical example, he points to David. David is described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22) And, in fact, when he followed God’s own heart, he did very well. He established the kingdom of Israel, wrote most of the book of Psalms, established the family lineage of Jesus.

But there are times in David’s life when he followed his own heart, and the results were disastrous. When David followed his heart into an affair with Bathsheba, he robbed her of her chastity, ended up robbing her husband Uriah of his life, and brought on a pattern of family dysfunction that almost cost him his kingdom and resulted in the death of his son Absalom.

How many of us can think of examples of financial disasters that have resulted when someone has followed his or her heart into a terrible business decision? Or marriages that have been wrecked when a spouse followed his or her heart into an affair? Or lives that have been destroyed when someone has followed his or her heart into an addiction? The heart is a liar. It does not always give us the best advice.

Or, again, second answer: culture has a deceptive magnetic pull. It’s a bad idea to always follow our hearts because are hearts are affected by our culture in ways we may not always realize.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is the beginning of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah enters the temple and has a vision of God seated on his throne with angels surrounding him and calling “Holy, Holy, Holy.” When Isaiah realizes he is in the presence of the Holy God he says something interesting. Isaiah 6:5:

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Not only is Isaiah aware of his own sinfulness, he is also acutely aware of the sinfulness of his people. I take that to mean, in part, that Isaiah lives in a culture that has moved away from God so much so that there may be things that he does and believes that are so normative to his culture that he is not even aware that they are sinful. Isaiah is admitting that he is guilty of sins he doesn’t even know about; because they are a normal part of the place he lives.

And that is one of the constant battles a Christian must fight. There are so many things—cultural beliefs, popular trends, conventional wisdom—that are such an ingrained part of our society that, even though they might not square up with the Bible, we tend to take them as accepted truth. If our hearts do carry a moral compass, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing how the needle is being pulled off-center by the magnetic power of our culture.

That’s why we need to think critically about the lessons our culture teaches us. The idea that everybody has their own truth; the notion that every religion leads to the same ultimate place; the idea that moral choices are all relative…these are all ideas that can lead our hearts down some strange paths.

And then, third thing that is wrong with this saying: We answer to a higher authority. It’s a bad idea to just follow our hearts because our hearts do not get the final say. Consider this verse from 1 Corinthians 4:3-4:

3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Paul is defending himself against critics who say he should not be an apostle. The details of that dispute are not important to us now, but notice what Paul says about his conscience. He says that he has checked his heart, and everything he has done has fit with his heart. His conscience is clear. He doesn’t feel like, or believe, that he has done anything wrong.

But then notice what he says: “that does not make me innocent.” Paul gets that just because he believes his motives are pure, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were. He understands his heart may have led him astray. Ultimately, he says, the one who will judge Him is the Lord.

That reminds me of another phrase that is out there; but is not really Biblical. I’ve heard people say: “Only God can judge me.” I believe it is popular as a tattoo. It’s the name of a rap song by Tupac. And the impression I get, when I hear people say it, is that they feel as long as they are true to themselves, and have a clear conscience, then all their critics should be silent because it is between them and God. In other words, it’s just another way of saying that they set their own rules for life.

But that is pretty much the opposite of what Paul is expressing here. He is admitting, up front, that his conscience can be a faulty guide. He is not claiming that his heart is the final authority; but that he needs to submit himself to the Lord’s will.

If you truly believe that the best solution to every decision you must make is to “just follow your heart;” then you have set your heart (and yourself) up as a higher authority than God.

Let God Lead Your Heart
Finally, let’s ask the third question: Is there better news in the gospel? Does the Bible have better advice for us than to follow our lying, arrogant hearts? Of course, it does. I have three things to say here as well:

First, trust the God who changes hearts.

That verse from Jeremiah 17:9 is pretty grim. The heart is deceptive above all things. It is beyond cure. Who can understand it? Basically, from a human perspective, our hearts are unfixable. From a human perspective, we should never, never, ever, ever trust our hearts, or anybody else’s.

But God is in the business of changing human hearts. What is impossible for us is not impossible for God. Romans 6:17-18 says this:

17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

God can take out your heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) That’s part of the miracle of salvation Jesus won for us at the cross and the empty grave.

The first thing we need to do, if we don’t want our hearts to continue to lead us astray, is surrender them to Jesus. Admit that we are not the final authority in our lives, but He is. Allow Him to do some heart surgery and send the Holy Spirit to start giving us better advice.

But, even when we do surrender to Jesus, that doesn’t mean our hearts are going to be always right. As long as we are still alive on this earth there will be parts of our old nature, and the influences of our fallen culture, still influencing our lives. So, the second thing we need to do is lead our hearts.

Instead of following the wishes and desires of our hearts, we need to learn to train our hearts to wish for and desire the correct things. Colossians 3:1-2 says:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

The key is to set our hearts on the things of God. That’s the point Jesus is making in the Sermon on the Mount when he says “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). The idea is that our hearts are going to move towards whatever we treasure most, and so we must make a point to treasure God most so that we can lead our hearts towards Him.
It’s the same idea that we saw in Psalm 37:4: When we find our delight in the Lord, then he will give us what our hearts desire. It’s the point of Romans 12:2: When we transform our hearts and minds, then we start to see how good and right and pleasing God’s will is for us.

It is only when we lead our hearts to focus on things above that we can really trust our hearts to take us where we belong.

And then, third, we must follow Jesus.

Jon Bloom writes this, and I’ll let it be the final word this morning:

If we make our hearts gods and ask them to lead us, they will lead us to narcissistic misery and ultimately damnation. They cannot save us, because what’s wrong with our hearts is the heart of our problem. But if our hearts believe in God, as they are designed to, then God saves us (Hebrews 7:25) and leads our hearts to exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).

Therefore, don’t believe in your heart; direct your heart to believe in God. Don’t follow your heart; follow Jesus…

So, though your heart will try to shepherd you today, do not follow it. It is not a shepherd. It is a pompous sheep that, due to remaining sin, has some wolf-like qualities. Don’t follow it, and be careful even listening to it. Remember, your heart only tells you what you want, not where you should go. So, only listen to it to note what it’s telling you about what you want, and then take your wants, both good and evil, to Jesus as requests and confessions.

Jesus is your shepherd (Psalm 23:1; John 10:11). Listen to his voice in his word and follow him (John 10:27). Let him be, in the words of a great hymn, the “heart of [your] own heart whatever befall.” He is the truth, he is the way, and he will lead you to life (John 14:6). https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dont-follow-your-heart