“Follow your heart” might just be the worst advice ever.
Let me explain:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
I mean, that’s pretty directly refuting the modern claims that the purpose of life is to do whatever makes you feel happy. If the Bible says that your heart is going to lie to you then you had better not trust it to be your guide! Extreme example, but for some people something like stealing or hurting others makes them happy. Think carefully before you advise someone to base decisions off of emotion alone.
Granted, emotion is there for a reason. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says that there is a time for happiness as well as mourning, and we know that God experiences emotions like righteous anger, jealousy, joy, and grievance. Feelings can be very positive and many times used for good, even if that good is simply the sanctifying process of learning how to control one’s emotions.
But emotions can also be terribly deceptive and lead to sin and destruction. Emotion causes us to hurt ourselves and others, to make decisions for instant satisfaction, and to lead us astray. You see, our emotions are just as fallen as the rest of us, leading us off the straight and narrow into depravity and self-indulgence.
Emotion is often nebulous from a distance, seemingly two extremes but no way to tell them apart. Is the sadness you’re feeling a portion from the Lord to serve His purposes, or an attack from the devil to serve Hell’s agenda?
This treacherous line is why the Bible gives us very specific instructions to handle our emotions, good and bad, beginning with surrender. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” We are called to cast our anxiety on the Lord, and this doesn’t mean tiptoe up to the foot of the cross and sprinkle a little bit of your worry. No, CAST your anxiety on Him, “throw forcefully in a specific direction” according to Dictionary.com. The Lord God of the universe is asking you to chuck your feelings at Him! Not nudge them over, and not just pushing them away in any old direction, throw them at His feet and renounce ownership! If your want to be His vessel, make yourself wholly available to Him by emptying yourself of everything you own. This way, whether the emotion is from God or the devil, it’s all willingly put under the dominion of Christ in you and you can be confident that He is in control.
The next instructions the Bible gives us on how to deal with emotion is to rule our spirits. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Our feelings don’t rule us, the Lord God does! So often I let my emotions control me, I voluntarily allow my own sin-infected feelings to sit on the throne of my heart, a choice which always leads to self-destruction and division in my relationship with God. This isn’t to say that feelings can be added, taken away, maximized, or minimized at will (at least not in our own human power). In fact, feelings many times just are what they are. It’s how we respond and react to what we are feeling that matters in relation to self-control, and it’s these counter-behaviors that require Spirit-powered restraint. Self-control is also one of the fruits of the Spirit, so you can be assured the if you abide in Christ and He abides in you, the Holy Spirit will continue working in you to develop this skill.
The last example of Biblical responses to emotion that I’ll mention today is to focus on the vertical rather than the horizontal. Colossians 3:2 says to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Sure, there is goodness on earth. There might be happiness and laughter and gratitude. But it is nothing compared to what’s waiting for us. Even the goodness on earth is tainted by sin, but in the home that God is preparing for us there is no sin, there is no more crying or pain, there is only hope, joy, reverence, worship, thanksgiving, praise, and satisfaction for all eternity! Why would I dwell on this momentary earthly pain when I could be meditating on the great hope I have awaiting Christ’s return! Don’t become so tangled in the ups and downs of this life that you miss the beauty of what’s to come.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that emotion itself isn’t inherently bad and can be used for great good and enjoyment for God’s glory. But, our hearts fell just as far and landed just as hard as we did when sin entered the world, so beware of reliance or trust of something that the Bible says is incurably deceptive. Instead, place all your trust in the flawless, matchless name of Jesus, and let Him rule in your hearts.