(Don’t) Follow Your Heart

A few years ago, the car I was driving started to have an awful smell. It was absolutely repulsive. I thought it might have been some mildew from water damage, so I pulled it into my garage and used a fan to dry it out.

It still smelled. So I shampooed all of the mats and scrubbed the floorboards.

It still smelled. Eventually, I realized that the smell was coming through the vents. But I’m not a mechanic, so I kinda guessed at this next part. I found the air intake valve near the floorboard, turned the A/C on full blast, and dumped an entire bottle of Lysol in there. I thought that was pretty clever, but it didn’t fix the smell—which, by this point, was like a middle school cabin on the last night of camp.

So, begrudgingly, I took the car to my mechanic, dropped it off, and braced for the $400 bill.

My mechanic called me less than an hour later, laughing his head off and telling me he had done the job for free. But he wouldn’t tell me what happened until I got there. When I pulled up, he had the weirdest grin on his face. Then he held up this poor, dead, mangled rat. “There’s your smell, son,” he said.

And suddenly, the grinding sound I had heard (ever so briefly) a few weeks prior began to make sense.

We all have a problem like that. Probably not in your car—but in your heart. We have a “rat” down there, and its stench or aroma is spread all over the place by our words.

When we say something we regret—words of anger, condemnation, judgment—we tend to say, “I didn’t mean that. That wasn’t really me.” But in the moment, it sure felt like you. You never meant anything more in your life! The truth is, we’re not surprised at our words; we’re just frustrated that we didn’t filter them better. But even if our filter is working, it doesn’t mean the thoughts aren’t still there.

While we’re frustrated at our inadequate filters, we should be lamenting the heart condition those words reveal. We can try air freshener after air freshener, but nothing will mask the dead rat.

In James 3:6, James says that the tongue is set on fire by the flames of hell itself. That’s not just a hyperbolic metaphor—the powers of sin and corruption and hell itself are at work in our hearts and manifest in our tongues.

“The heart is deceitful above all things,” the prophet Jeremiah said, “and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (17:9 KJV). The heart has a wound, Jeremiah goes on to say, that is incurable! Or as Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (ESV).

Our culture says, “Follow your heart,” but according to Scripture, that’s the last thing we want to follow.


So how do we change the depravity of our hearts?

In Exodus 15, Moses and the children of Israel were wandering through the desert when they stumbled upon an oasis. At last, water! But as they eagerly drank the water, they spat it out and began to vomit. The water was bitter.

God told Moses to have them cut down a tree and throw it in, and when they did that, Scripture says, “the water became sweet” (v. 25). Their deliverance is a picture of the cross—God puts the cross into the bitter waters of our hearts and they become sweet.

Later, in Isaiah 6, God calls Isaiah to ministry and reveals himself to him in the splendor of holiness. Isaiah sees the Lord on his throne, high and lifted up, and the angels around him singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips …” (v. 5).

The first thing Isaiah realizes in the presence of God is how dirty and unclean he is. When we stand in God’s holiness, the first and dirtiest place we see our sin is around our mouths. Every idle word of ours is going to be brought into judgment (Matthew 12:36).

An angel then takes a burning coal and touches Isaiah’s mouth. Instead of injuring him, it heals him. Bitter made sweet.

This is why, Paul says in Ephesians 5:19, when we come together we should speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, because in doing so we are reminding each other of the good news of the gospel, which purifies the water of our hearts and cleanses our lips.

As we consider our words, as the old hymn says, we “ponder anew, what the Almighty can do! Who with his love doth befriend thee!” over and over until we become better friends to others, until our minds and hearts are renewed in the gospel, until our hearts and words become like Jesus’—healing and life-giving.