Should you trust your heart?
By Dale Porter
One day I heard a pop singer sing: “Listen to your heart before you tell him goodbye.” Was the singer perplexed and confused about what to do about a boyfriend? Maybe she was, but the implication left in your mind is that before leaving him—listen to your heart. You hear today the same teaching in phrases like “Trust your heart” or “Follow your heart.”
Our culture tells you through literature, television, social media or personal conversations that you must self-identify. Why would they say that? Because surely your heart—your feelings—would not mislead you! You are to trust your feelings and allow them to dictate your choices. You are not to rely on anything external to yourself—you can trust only self. Feelings are king! So, with this mindset it is not to difficult to see how the push for “self-defining” ideology is fueling our culture, churches and the people you counsel with self-indulgence and self-gratification.
What does the Bible say about all this? Does it help us to understand our emotions and what we are to do with them? Does it tell us how to please God with our feelings?
I can tell you confidently it does! Yet you must step back and define “heart” from a Biblical perspective. Heart, soul, spirit and mind are virtually the same when they appear in the Bible. It is the immaterial side of you as a human. Your heart is the core of who you are before God. It is the control center of your life. Your heart thinks (Proverbs 23:7), treasures things, people or God (Matthew 6:21), speaks truth (Psalm 15:2), dictates how you talk (Luke 6:44-45), purposes and plans (Proverbs 20:5) and expresses righteous emotions (James 1:2, James 5:13, Hebrews 12:2). What your heart is like is what you are like. When you think you begin to experience emotions: fear, anxiety, anger, depression, envy, joy, compassion, happiness etc. Your feelings do not erupt out of a vacuum. With your emotions you either obey or disobey God.
With all this in mind, the Bible cautions you not to trust your heart. Proverbs 4:23 calls you to: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” As a Christ follower you are to guard your heart from evil influences and what goes into your heart. What you want is thinking and the corresponding righteous feelings that resemble Christ’s life in you. Then, Proverbs 23:19 tells you: “Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. “ As a believer in Christ you are to guide your heart in the way. You are to guide your heart into the wisdom of God’s Word. Also Psalm 119:36 instructs you: “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” You like the Psalmist must ask God to convict your heart to follow Him. So these three verses should make you stop and think about the feelings you are expressing and how they are expressed—sinfully or righteously.
Next, the Bible instructs you that you alone cannot assess your heart properly. You might ask: “Why not?” First, the Scriptures tell you that your heart’s purposes and plans have the capacity for self-deception (Proverbs 20:5, 6:12-14). It is commonplace to assume that your heart is better than it really is. It is also customary to believe in your own innocence and goodness in your own motivations. A self-imposed blindness is endemic to the heart because of the effect of sin. Your heart labors to hide its wicked intentions from being acknowledged and exposed. (Psalm 51:4, 6). Second, the Scriptures teach you that your heart is self-identifying (Jeremiah 17:9). The outside world preaches to you that a self-determined reality is the only trustworthy reality. When you identify with yourself, your heart tends to go easily toward self-indulgence and self-gratification. Third, the Scriptures instruct you that your heart tends to be self-righteous (Proverbs 16:2). Your natural inclination is to see yourself as purer than you really are. You think others have a problem not you. Lastly, the Scriptures point out that your heart tends to be self-favoring (Proverbs 21:2). Self-assessment tends to be intensely self-favoring. Pride fuels being self-favoring. Pride puts a mask on to keep true self-knowledge hidden. You can pridefully evaluate yourself based on the multitude of “good” things you do to serve the Lord.
If your heart is so sinfully self-oriented, what are you to do with your heart and those feelings? The Bible makes it clear the Lord weighs your heart (Proverbs 16:2, 21:2; Jeremiah 20:12). Your Lord knows your heart the best. He will put your heart and feelings on the scale to see if it goes a direction toward right or wrong. Your great God goes at great length to show you what you cannot see. He’s a heart-knower! He often knows and tests your heart through the means of adversity, trials and suffering. When you begin to see your heart through suffering, it is both revealing and humbling. God does not take you through such difficulties so that He can understand what is in your heart. Clearly, your God takes you through difficulties so that you would know what in is in your heart (Deuteronomy 8).
To understand your heart you must go outside yourself to God. You need an objective source to help you make the right judgments about your heart and feelings. To understand Him, your God points you to His Word as means to know your heart and learn how to please Him. Psalm 119:9-11, 14-16 helps guide your thoughts and feelings in a right way. Verse 9 tells you to keep yourself pure by guarding it according to God’s Word. Verse 10 instructs you to seek God with your whole heart by not wandering from His commandments. Verse 11 reveals to you a heart that is filled with treasuring God’s Word to guide and direct your feelings and thoughts in the right way. Verse 14 and 16 tell you to a have desire to delight in God’s Word. Finally, verse 15 says to meditate on God’s Word in order to bury it deep in your heart.
Another way to understand your heart is to go outside yourself and to examine your desires by God’s Word. James helps you to understand your thinking and affections by saying: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1)” Notice the “passions” James speaks of are within you. They are at the heart-level. Passions spoken by James are sinful desires of commission and inordinate desires (Desires which can be good but you will sin to get it or when denied you will sin to get it).
Have you ever noticed how much you talk to yourself in a given day (Deuteronomy 8:17, 9:4)? When you talk to yourself you are expressing good desires or sinful desires down within yourself at the heart level. Questions are good ways for you or other believers in Christ to understand whether your heart and feelings are going in the right direction before the Lord. Here are some questions to ask yourself or let others ask you. Remember to answer them truthfully!
1. What do you need?
2. What do you expect?
3. What do you hope for?
4. What desires do you need to recognize as the source of your emotions (ie. circumstances changing)? 5. What do your feelings show you are wanting from people?
6. What do your feelings indicate you want for yourself?
7. What do your emotions indicate you’re wanting from God?
It has been my effort to have you not trust your heart like the world wants you to. Trusting your heart without God and without examining it with His Word can lead to disastrous things in your life. It will also affect your walk and relationship to Christ. Yet I do want you to have your heart and feelings totally pleasing and devoted to your God. When you have righteous thinking and emotions directed to God and in tune with the Scripture, then you will love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might!