Perhaps no phrase better captures the contemporary mindset than the saying, “follow your heart.” We can imagine nearly any Disney hero or heroine proclaiming this mantra, and ourselves nodding in agreement.
But where will following one’s heart really lead? The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs did a great deal of thinking about this in his classic book, “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”, first published in 1648. Burrough’s concern was to teach how we can be content in any circumstance, as Paul claimed in Philippians 4:11. One way Christ teaches his children contentment, wrote Burroughs, is by “teaching them what a great and dreadful evil it is to be given up to one’s heart’s desires.” When a Christian truly learns to be content in all circumstances, he or she will be just as happy when God grants us our desires, as when he withholds what we want. The simple reason is that we are made rich by the gospel: we have all we need in Christ.
Now, this is the opposite of what the world teaches. According to worldly wisdom, there can be no arbiter of one’s desires above the heart. “The heart wants what it wants,” Woody Allen has famously said. But contentment lies elsewhere. We all know how restless our hearts are, flitting about from one desire to another. We have all experienced disappointment or disillusionment when we’ve actually gotten what we wanted. In fact, says Burroughs, “the greatest misery of all is for God to give you up to your heart’s lusts and desires.” It is an act of God’s judgment to be given over to our heart’s desires, as Paul talks about in Romans 1:24-26. Contrary to worldly wisdom, the Bible teaches that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).
If not our own heart, then who should direct our desire? Why, the creator of our hearts of course! When Jesus came to visit her home, Martha bustled about, cleaning, preparing food, and serving, while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Martha overlooked the more important thing. We are like Martha: Jesus, if you could just beef up my IRA a little, I’ll be content; Jesus, if I could just have that boyfriend, that house, that game, if my children could just be healthy, if my husband could just get better, then, then I’ll come sit at your feet. How did Jesus answer Martha? “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus teaches us that he is that one necessary thing. The one thing that our heart may desire, and then never desire another thing. The one thing that our heart may find rest in. Burroughs put it this way:
“Before, the soul sought after this and that, but now it says, I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it is not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin . . . it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. The other things are pretty fine indeed, and I should be glad if God would give me them: a fine house, and income, and clothes, and advancement for my wife and children: these are comfortable things, but they are not the necessary things; I may have these and yet perish forever, but the other is absolutely necessary.”
Turn your heart away from what it wants, and set it on Jesus. He will not disappoint you.