Let me tell you a little story about a boy who wanted to be a basketball coach.
Several years ago, a boy thought he wanted to be a basketball coach. He had dreams of making it all the way. He started out at a small high school in Alabama and eventually worked his way up to college. Things seemed to be working out just the way he planned.
He became the head coach at the college at which he once played, had the same office of his coach, a man he idolized. He thought he would stay there for a few years, win a couple of conference championships, and move on to a higher level. He thought, “I’m only a few steps away from making it to the big time.”
He smiled thinking about how great a coach people would think he was, how great his teams would be, how many championships he would win.
He thought he was following his heart.
But his plans were soon thwarted. After two long seasons, not only did he fail to win championships, he had a losing record.
Sadly, he woke up one day after the season was over and didn’t want to coach again.
The world told him to “follow his heart” but basketball had broken it.
Gathering himself, he searched for something else to do in life. Nothing seemed to be an adequate replacement for coaching, for basketball.
In ways, he felt like he had lost his identity.
Eventually after years of uncertainty, that boy opened up a small publishing company. He had little money, but he had one thing: a second chance in life as a writer.
As you can probably guess, that boy is me.
When I step back and begin to process what happened to me as a basketball coach, I realize—and I don’t want you to miss this— that I was chasing an image. I had fallen in love with an image of a basketball coach. As I mentioned before, I idolized my coach, a man who was larger than life. I thought to myself, “boy, wouldn’t it be nice to be loved and adored like him? Boy, wouldn’t it be great to win championships and trophies and be known all over America as a great basketball coach?”
And here is where I was really deceived: I convinced myself that I was doing it for other reasons. I convinced myself that it was all about the kids.
As it turns out, I was not really following my heart. If you peel back layers of analysis like an onion, I was really following myself.
I wanted the glory. I wanted the lights to shine on me.
In this world, poets, entertainers, musicians, and others encourage us to “follow our heart.”
I did, and it led me to a strange place.
“Follow your heart” may have a Hallmark ring to it, a grandfatherly, hand-on-shoulder admonition, but often when you strip it all down, we will discover that our motives and intentions are not pure or selfless, but shrouded in greed, idolatry, lust, and pride. When we strip it all down, often what’s left is self-love and exaltation.
So where do we go from here?
Biblically speaking, the heart is mentioned several times in Holy Scripture but unfortunately we do not find one consistent description. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8) but the words of the prophet Jeremiah tell us “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (vs 17:9).
The heart is deceitful? Beyond cure? Wait, I thought I was supposed to follow my heart?
Now let’s add another verse from Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
Our heart is like a can that sits outside and every day the acid rain of the world falls on it. It won’t be very long before that can is corroded. The same occurs with our sin. The contamination of the heart is accomplished through sin and love of the world. The more we sin, the more our inner chambers become polluted and corroded.
Now why would anyone want to follow something that was so contaminated? Perhaps we should be more concerned with the condition of our heart rather than whether or not we should follow it.
So how is the heart “cleaned,” so to speak?
You say, “Well, I obey…is that not enough?” Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to purify our own hearts, hard as we may try. Our righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Further, Proverbs 20:9 says: “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”
The answer is no one.
The good news is that the heart can be purified, but only through the concept of displacement: sin out, Christ in, and God has to do it.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
The process involves replacing the impurity, discord, and deceitfulness of the human heart by the purity, righteousness, and holiness of Jesus Christ. In other words, God, you come in and fix my heart because I can’t do it myself.
Notice that this goes beyond our ability to obey (Old Testament religion) to real heart-level change (New Testament grace). We may be able to tidy up for awhile, but true cleanliness occurs when God comes in like a housekeeper with lemon-scented 409.
Remember that the heart is deceitful? I thought I was following my heart by becoming a basketball coach. As it turns out, it was leading me into a wilderness of self.
And your heart may be leading you into that same wilderness of idolatry.
It’s interesting that out of all of the people who encourage us to “follow our heart,” Jesus is not one of them.
Instead, he said something interesting.
He said, “Follow me.” 78
Prayer: Lord, help me to live for you and not for myself. Cleanse me of all unrighteousness and forgive me of my sins. And help me to walk in the Spirit, so I do not gratify the desires of the flesh. Thank you for helping me, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Al Blanton is the owner and publisher of Blanton Media Group. He is not on Twitter.