‘FOLLOW YOUR HEART’. The thought drives us to excitement. It fills us with the hope of fulfillment. It sounds right – it even feels right – doesn’t it?
Here’s another one: ‘you do you and let me do me’. The world around us pushes us to do what our hearts desire and to only worry about ourselves. The world teaches us that we’re only responsible for ourselves and we don’t have to answer to anyone else. Life presents so many opportunities to follow our hearts and focus only on ourselves. I’ve been there.
My heart burned with anger. The sting of betrayal burned deeply. Tears flowed from my eyes further angering me that another person had caused so much hurt, anger, and pain. The emotions raged and I wanted to hurt the offender as deeply as they had hurt me. It felt right. My heart, like a broken record, kept repeating ‘What they did was wrong. You should hurt them back. You have the right to!’ I wanted revenge tenfold.
Then a Scripture came to mind: ‘Vengence is mine sayeth the Lord’. At the time, I didn’t remember the chapter and verse, or even the context. I just remembered that phrase and knew it was God’s Word. I resented that verse in the moment. Over the next several days and weeks that followed I detested it. I tried to ignore it. I didn’t want to follow it. I wanted to get even. I wanted to follow my heart. I wrestled with it. I argued with God all the reasons I should be able to get revenge while I prayed. But that verse would play through my mind, as unwanted as it was, when I thought about following my heart.
That nagging reminder from God’s Word kept me from doing all my heart desired to do in that situation. Ultimately, I didn’t do everything right, and there are consequences that have lasted for years because of doing what was right in my own eyes. I had to ask forgiveness for some of my actions.
It has affected me, my family, and those that look at me as an example of Christ. But, the outcome could have been so much worse had I not been restrained by the realization that revenge is for the Lord to handle. I no longer desire what I once desired. I am so thankful for being saved from the heartache that my heart could have caused.
The prophet Jonah followed his heart. He decided to go as far away from where God directed him to go and what God called him to do as possible. He detested the people God wanted to save. They weren’t like him. They were from a different area. They had abused Jonah’s people, God’s chosen nation. In Jonah’s heart God’s command felt like the totally wrong thing to do. So, he didn’t. He went on a cruise instead and became fish food. Jonah was thrown into a miserable situation where he thought his life was literally over all because he followed what he felt was right and not what was actually right.
You know how the story goes – the fish didn’t like his meal and vomited Jonah up. Jonah went to the place he didn’t want to go and did the thing he didn’t want to do and great things happened. God used him in spite of himself. Jonah was one of the greatest evangelists ever, but because of his heart he didn’t rejoice in the sovereign hand of God who worked a miracle among the people of Ninevah. He sat and pouted and wanted to die. He wallowed in anger, pity, and despair while a whole city began to worship and glorify the one true God!
Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitfully wicked. Jonah followed his heart. God, in His sovereignty, still chose to use Jonah, but instead of rejoicing and being a willing servant Jonah chose to be led by emotions and self-interest. He was a miserable, bitter man. The ending of the book of Jonah leaves you sad, and even frustrated, with Jonah.
By contrast, consider the life of the apostle Peter. Peter is one of my favorite Christ-followers in the entire Bible. I can relate to Peter. He wasn’t perfect. He was impulsive. He stuck his foot in his mouth. He messed up so many times in so many ways, but he loved the Lord. When he sinned and fell flat on his face, he got back up and continued to follow Jesus.
His bold faith is inspiring and the realness of his failures gives hope to the rest of us. Peter followed God and God used Peter in mighty ways. Peter walked on water. Peter healed a blind beggar. He cast out demons in the name of Christ. He raised a woman from the dead. He caught a ton of fish with one cast of a net. He healed a paralyzed man. He miraculously escaped prison. He was the first of the apostles to see Jesus resurrected. Peter’s walk with the Lord not only grew him, but it benefited others. Look at the lives impacted by his ministry. People were healed. Lives were transformed by God’s Word through Peter’s preaching and teaching. Christ was glorified. Peter’s willingness to follow God has resulted in one of the greatest examples of faith and ministry in Scripture, because he followed God and not his own heart.
There are countless examples of the dangers of following our own deceitful hearts and the blessings of pursuing the righteousness of God. Follow God. He will lead you beside still waters. He will restore your soul. He will give you strength and courage when you face evil. He will be with you. He will comfort you. He loves you more than you love yourself and He will lead you in the way everlasting! Follow Him.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Brooke Russell is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Cord of 3 Counseling, Wife and Mother of 3.