“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23)
The mantra of the world tells you to “follow your heart”. That can be very dangerous advice for the Christian to follow their heart if they are not aligned with God’s word. The heart of the natural man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Therefore, in the church, we are prone to make the bold, universal statement “DO NOT follow your heart”. While we certainly need to caution against “blindly” following your heart, I would say that is not entirely scripturally correct. We see that for the born-again child of God, the Lord has given you a new heart. This new heart from God is not deceitful and wicked but is pure and made in the image of God within us. We must certainly discern the thoughts and burdens of our hearts in prayer and by consulting God’s word to ensure that God is guiding our hearts and that Satan is not deceiving our hearts. God does guide his children by the burdens of our heart. Therefore, we don’t need to blindly follow our hearts, but instead, we need to discern our hearts and God’s will through prayer, faithful counsel, studying God’s word, and godly wisdom.
The Deceitful and Desperately Wicked Natural Heart
The definition for “heart”, as it is used in scripture, is “the seat of affection, passion, and understanding”. Heart is used to describe the innermost being of a man, our deepest desires, passions, and thoughts. The heart does not describe our cardiac heart that pumps blood all throughout our body, but it describes our innermost being and seat of affection. The word of God universally condemns the natural heart. The natural, dead in sins man has a heart that is depraved and stony. The natural man’s heart is dead to the spiritual things of God. All of mankind is depraved, prone, and inclined to disobey God in our nature. That is the effect of Adam’s sin to succumb to Satan’s temptation to “follow his heart” in the garden of Eden. Sin and all its horrible detrimental effects are in this world because Adam was enticed to indulge his lust and follow his heart instead of following God’s word. The hearts of all men and women have been corrupted by sin and now our natural hearts are not trustworthy and reliable. Instead, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) We cannot trust our natural heart because it is deceitful. Our hearts will trick us.
It would be very beneficial sometime for you to Google the phrase “follow your heart”. You will be amazed at everything online that is encouraging you to follow your heart; your heart always knows best; your heart is never wrong; your heart won’t lie to you, etc. That is a very dangerous teaching for the child of God to be deceived by. That is purely humanistic teaching, telling you to indulge in the lust and pride of this world (1 John 2:16). The world tells you to do whatever feels good in the moment; do whatever makes you happy right now. That is very dangerous because what makes the natural man happy is SIN. Lust is a desire by the carnal heart to partake of things forbidden by God and his word. The world tells you to indulge your lust and unapologetically partake of your desire to do what makes the carnal man happy. What makes the carnal man happy is to do the opposite of God’s commands. Then, when the child of God follows their natural lust and commits sin, it will always bring forth death (James 1:14-15). All external sins – particularly murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lies, and blasphemy – proceed out of the corrupted, depraved natural heart (Matt. 15:18-20). There will be severe chastisement for the child of God when we blindly follow our hearts and are enticed to sin.
Solomon gave wise counsel to his son in Proverbs to not follow his heart and lust and not be enticed by strange women (Prov. 6:24-35). Then, Solomon did not heed his own advice and had 1,000 wives and concubines that turned away his heart from God in his later years. “When Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 11:4) Solomon did not heed his own advice to keep and guard his heart with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). By the end of his life, Solomon is an old man writing Ecclesiastes, and he is absolutely miserable because later in his life he “followed his heart” instead of “keeping his heart”. Do a word search in Ecclesiastes for the word “heart” and you will see how Solomon is bemoaning his mistake to indulge the fleshly lusts of his own heart. Solomon counseled his son in Proverbs that the one who trusts in his own heart is a fool, and then Solomon played the fool in his old age. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26) The same is true today. If we solely trust in our natural, carnal heart, then we are a fool. However, if we walk wisely and discern our heart by the wisdom of godly counsel and wisdom of God’s word, we shall be delivered.
A New Heart
The natural man’s heart is depraved, sinful, deceitful, and can’t be trusted. For the child of God, when we are born again by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in our heart, we are called to life in Jesus Christ and made a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). Part of God’s new creation in regeneration is taking away our wicked, carnal, stony heart and giving us a new heart of flesh. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26) After we have a new heart filled with the Spirit of God, we now have the ability to make spiritual decisions and trust the guidance of our hearts. Jesus Christ now resides in the heart of the children of God after the new birth – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Born again children of God can now follow the guidance of their heart because Jesus Christ resides in our heart and is guiding his children. There is none good in our nature (Rom. 3:12), but now we have been made good by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. We have been given a good and pure heart by God. Therefore, we now have the ability to bring good things out of our good hearts from God. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45) We are now commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). We can now praise God with all our regenerated hearts (Ps. 86:12). David was a man after God’s own heart in tune with the Spirit of God for most of his life (1 Sam. 13:14).
Even though God has given us a new, godly, spiritual heart, the born-again children of God still have their old carnal nature that desires to sin. We see a detailed account of this spiritual and carnal struggle inside the child of God in Romans 7. God has written his laws into our hearts in the new birth, but yet our flesh (in which dwells no good thing, v.18) wars against our spiritual man. We desire to follow God’s Spirit in our hearts and obey God – “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” (v.22) Yet we have another law of our fleshly nature warring against the spiritual man in the born-again child of God’s heart. This is the warfare that all of God’s children have after the new birth. Part of us wants to still indulge in lust and sin, but our new spiritual heart convicts us and leads us to follow God. That is why we must be diligent to “keep” and guard our hearts and to discern our hearts by the word of God. Our hearts can be deceived by the flesh. Therefore, we must prove and test the desires of our hearts by God’s word and by godly counsel.
The blanket statement to “NOT follow your heart” is not truly applicable for the born-again child of God. God now calls us to love God and trust God with all our heart. Jesus Christ now resides in the born-again child of God’s heart and will guide his children in the impressions of their heart. We have to test and try the impressions of our heart by the word of God to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1). If we are feeling led to do something sinful or contrary to the word of God, then we know that is not the Lord leading our heart. If it’s not directly contrary to God’s word, it may be the Lord leading us, but it also could be our own preferences and will, even if it is not sinful. We need to follow our hearts to the degree it aligns with God’s word. For example, God’s word is clear that Christians are not permitted to marry an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14). Therefore, if your heart tells you to marry an unbeliever, then that is not God guiding your heart but the flesh. Then, if the person is a believer, that may not be explicitly forbidden by God’s word, but our personal desires may be attracted to someone who is detrimental to our spiritual walk. Therefore, we must bathe the discerning of our hearts in prayer, in studying the word of God, and in consulting with godly counselors. We need to know God’s word to be able to try our hearts by the word. We need to hide the word of God in our heart, so we can let God’s word guide our heart. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Ps. 119:11) We must discern and prove the burdens of our heart by the word of God.
God’s Guidance of the Spiritual Man’s Heart
It is true we need to discern the desires of our heart with caution due to our fleshly tendencies. However, it is evident in scripture that God guides his born-again children by the impressions of their heart. As a minister, I am asked what a “burden” feels like or how do you know the Lord is burdening you to preach on a topic, pastor a church, visit a person, etc? Well, my short answer is that God places a strong impression on my mind and heart that does not go away that gets stronger and more intense with time. When I pray for God’s will, this burden or thought makes its way to my mind during or after prayer. When this happens over an extended period of time, I believe that is evidence of God guiding and burdening my heart. Even the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord to turn it whithersoever he will (Prov. 21:1). If God can turn and guide the heart of even unregenerate, pagan kings in the Bible, how much more so can God turn and guide the heart of his little children in their lives? God guides his people by the impressions of the Holy Spirit upon our heart. Therefore, we have to be in tune with the Spirit in our heart to “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).
God guides our hearts to know his will. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:1) The word “preparations” here means “a plan or an arrangement”. The plans of our heart – when we are walking in the Spirit – are guided and directed by the Lord. How do we know that this is the right decision to make? God is guiding the plans of our heart when we are walking in his will. However, we cannot have total blind reliance on our heart either. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” (Prov. 16:9) Here we see that man’s heart can devise a way that may not be in accordance with God’s will. Thankfully, God is sovereign and will still guide and providentially bless his children even when our hearts are not perfectly right with the Lord. In Acts 16, Paul’s heart desired to go into both Asia and Bithynia, but the Spirit twice forbade him and then suffered him not. Paul had a good desire, but he was wrong in following the correct pathway. We can be very sincere in thinking we are taking the proper path, but remember, we can easily be “sincerely wrong”. Ultimately, God prevented Paul from going the wrong way (he directed his steps) and soon opened an effectual door in Macedonia that was very blessed. God overruled the poor discernment of his heart’s guidance by Paul. Our own hearts may “devise” our own way, but God will overrule and “direct” our steps.
When our hearts are right with God, then we can trust God with all our heart. “5) Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6) In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6) We don’t need to try to discern God’s will based on our own fleshly, finite understanding. Don’t lean unto your own understanding, certainly not solely on your own heart. Instead, when we trust God with all our heart, forsake our own understanding, and acknowledge Jesus, then God has promised to direct your steps. How do you know what decision to make and what step to take? God will guide the preparation of your heart. When our hearts are in tune with God, then the desires of our heart will align with God’s desires. “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Ps. 37:4) If our hearts are in tune with God, then our heart’s desire will not be to sin or disobey God. The desires of our heart are the same as the desires of God’s heart. Just like the young shepherd boy, David, our hearts are then after God’s own heart. When our heart’s desire is aligned with God’s heart, then the Lord will give you what you desire – which is God’s will.
How does God guide in our hearts? It is a very mysterious thing to feel that God has spoken directly to you, even though you have never heard the audible voice of God. It is hard to explain unless you have experienced it. God did not speak to the discouraged prophet, Elijah, through the impressive external “signs” of a strong wind, an earthquake, or a fire. God was not in the external things of the world that we often look to for God to give us a “sign” of his will. No, God spoke to Elijah in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). The word “still” means “totally silent”. Voice is caused by the vibration of our vocal cords. Therefore, this was not an audible voice of God that Elijah heard. It was also not loud and blaring. No, the voice of God was a “small” voice. It was a faint voice of God speaking not audibly, but speaking directly to Elijah’s heart in a still, small voice. I believe this still small voice of God is described by Isaiah. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) There seems to be a faint, small voice behind me speaking to me. I can’t identify exactly where the voice is coming from. I’m still having to walk by faith. However, I feel deep down in my heart that God spoke to me by his voice according to his will. This is how God will typically guide his children in their heart today. We don’t hear a loud voice from heaven or see a burning bush. We will hear a faint, still, small voice behind telling us “This is the way, walk ye in it”.
Since God’s voice is so mysterious and oftentimes difficult to discern, we can see the necessity of proving God’s will when you feel he speaks to your heart. Many people will decide to do something ridiculous, even sinful, and say that “God told me to do this; God laid it on my heart.” No, God will never burden your heart to do something sinful, contrary to his word. There are other things that are not downright sinful, but we want them so much, we might hear “our own voice” instead of “God’s voice” speaking to our heart. That is why we have to be cautious and prudent to prove our hearts by prayer, by God’s word, and by the counsel of godly men. Even now, the born-again child of God can have their hearts deceived by themselves, Satan, and the world. Therefore, we must be very diligent to discern God’s will in our hearts by prayer and God’s word to ensure we are not deceived by our own natural heart.
Keep Your Heart With All Diligence
Now we have arrived at our text for this article. We have to be very diligent to “keep”, to guard, our hearts. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Since we are prone to have our hearts deceived, we must prove and discern the desires of our heart. We must be diligent to vigilantly protect and guard our hearts from the world. How do we know if our hearts are being led by the Lord or deceived by ourselves, Satan, or the world? “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) We are told to try the spirits, to discern and prove whether they are of God. We must do the same thing with our hearts. We need to “try our hearts” to see whether this is “of God” or not. What is the standard by which we discern if something in our hearts is “of God” or not? The purifying fire of our hearts is the word of God. We must protect our hearts because “out of [the heart] are the issues of life”. Every action we undertake in our life proceeds from the heart. If our hearts are deceived, bad results will soon follow. Therefore, our hearts must be in tune with God to protect us and to guide the issues of our life, according to God’s will.
We need to cultivate a pure and clean heart for the Holy Spirit to guide us in his will. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) If we are allowing unrepentant sin to fester in our hearts, that will diminish our clarity of God’s guidance in our hearts. God removed himself from manifest guidance from Saul for his sins, even though Saul still sought the Lord’s counsel (1 Sam. 28:6). We must get rid of that sin out of our hearts to where God can properly guide our hearts. David prayed this prayer after his egregious sin with Bathsheba. He was a man after God’s own heart, but his heart had been deceived by sin and lust. Now, he needed the Lord to bless him to cleanse his heart to return to close fellowship with the Spirit. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10) We desire to be holy and in communion with God down to our hearts. We desire for the mediation of our heart to be acceptable in God’s sight. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord , my strength, and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
God will never lead our hearts to do anything that is contrary to God’s word. Therefore, we test and try our hearts by the word of God. God has placed his law in our hearts by the new birth, but we also have to be diligent to actively learn God’s word in our minds too. “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.” (Ps. 37:31) “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” (Ps. 40:8) We need to be diligent to read, study, learn, and memorize scripture. We need to hide the word of God in our heart. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Ps. 119:11) Sometimes, the decisions we make are very fast, and we don’t have time to open up God’s word and pray and meditate on a decision for a week or a month. Therefore, we need to know God’s word so well that we can test our hearts in the moment.
We also keep and guard our hearts by discussing the burdens and desires of our heart with godly counselors who also believe and uphold the word of God. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Prov. 13:20) If you surround yourself with wise, godly counselors who you discuss the desires of your heart with, then you will make wise decisions by following their advice. Also, you don’t need to just ask one wise counselor, but you need to have multiple wise counselors with whom you discuss God’s will. There is great safety in the multitude of wise counselors who instruct you according to God’s word. “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Prov. 24:6) There is safety in the multitude of counselors because one person can be wrong. However, if we consult 3-4 godly counselors steeped in the word of God and they all tell us the same thing, we can take great confidence in that counsel. If they all counsel you against doing something, you need to take heed to the multitude of counselors and flee to safety.
We need great wisdom to be able to discern God’s will in our hearts. Thankfully, God is very liberal with his godly wisdom. He has promised that if we ask him for wisdom, then God will graciously grant us wisdom. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5) The wisdom of the world can confuse and cloud our hearts. How do we discern God’s wisdom from the world’s wisdom? The wisdom of the world will lead to bitterness, envy, strife, confusion, and evil works. That wisdom is earthly, sensual, and devilish (James 3:13-16). The wisdom of this world is “sensual”. We are focused on what feels good in the moment, and it leads to bitterness and strife. In contrast, the wisdom of God will give us peace in our heart. “17) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18) And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17-18) The effect of God’s wisdom and guidance in our heart will always be “peace”, which is a fruit of the Spirit and an attribute of God. When we are following God’s will in our hearts, it will create peace in our soul and with the people around us. God’s will in our hearts will never create strife, confusion, or envy. When we are following God’s will, we will have great peace in our hearts.
Our hearts are deceptive and sinful by nature and cannot be trusted. When the child of God is born again, we are given a new heart that is guided by the Holy Spirit. However, the old nature is not totally removed, and we are destined for an internal warfare our entire lives between the flesh and the spiritual man. How then do we discern if our hearts are being guided by the Lord or deceived by ourselves, Satan, or the world? We discern the still, small voice of God by the word of God. The Lord will speak to us in our hearts, like a small, faint voice behind us saying “This is the way, walk ye in it”. If that voice ever entices us to do anything contrary to God’s word, then we know that is not from the Lord. We test our hearts by the word of God and by the multitude of godly counselors who will counsel by the scriptures. We pray for wisdom from God to guide our hearts according to his will. God’s wisdom will always give us peace in our hearts and promote peace in our lives. We can trust and follow our hearts as long as our hearts are in alignment with God’s word and God’s will.
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Similar to this discussion on following your heart, it can be very difficult to discern God’s will in our lives. You may view and download below a study guide on The Will of God that hopefully can be beneficial in discerning and walking in the Lord’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.