Your Heart is a Lousy Compass

I am not much of a country music fan, but I do love Lady Antebellum’s song “Compass.” Good beat, easy to dance to – I’d give it a 10 if it weren’t for the first lines of the refrain:

So let your heart sweetheart be your compass when you’re lost
And you should follow it wherever you may go.

That right there is some bad advice.

Recently, I saw this “follow your heart” principle cause my middle son a lot of stress. He was trying to decide where to go to college, and he got completely stuck choosing between two schools he really liked. He was grateful to have options, but completely torn about which one was a better fit. At age eighteen, he had never made a choice of this magnitude before.

Over and over again, well-meaning friends would ask, “Well, what does your heart tell you?” That question frustrated him to no end because his “heart” wanted two different things and he could not possibly have both.

There are a number of reasons why “follow your heart” is not helpful advice, but Scripture tells us why it is downright dangerous: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus goes further, telling how this heart-sickness expresses itself in behavior: “…out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).

Clearly the heart is not the kind of compass we need. Rather, we need the Spirit of truth, who will guide us into all truth if we will learn to be led (see John 15:16).

How then do we help our kids learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

We allow our children to see, in age-appropriate ways, our own efforts to seek God with our choices.

Parents can model what it means to seek God through prayer, studying Scripture, and seeking godly counsel. More than anything, maintaining an attitude of trust while we patiently wait for God’s guidance speaks volumes to a watchful child.

We teach our kids to see the heart as a source of information, not a compass to determine choices.

Jon Bloom writes, “Remember, your heart only tells you what you want, not where you should go. So, only listen to it to note what it’s telling you about what you want, and then take your wants, both good and evil, to Jesus as requests and confessions.”

In other words, God designed our hearts not to take the lead, but to be led by the Spirit.

The heart reveals motives, and that can be useful. Say, for example, your daughter is invited to take a new invitation-only math class for gifted students. Praying with her and talking with her may reveal that she is nervous but thrilled about the challenge, and she can take a step of faith and rely on God to be with her in the difficult class. But prayer and discussion might also reveal that she wants to take the class because she is flattered, or wants that on her transcript, and her true passion lies in playing electric guitar. In that case, her step of faith might be to turn down the prestigious math class and use her free time to join a band. (That might also be a step of faith for mom and dad…)

We educate our children about what the will of God is, and what it is not.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

… God our Savior… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

It is God’s will that you be sanctified… (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

With just a few verses, we begin to see a pattern that the rest of Scripture confirms: God’s will is that we know Him, love Him, and look more like Him. To the extent that we prayerfully consider all choices in light of His revealed will, we can rest assured that we are following God, not our hearts. As Kevin De Young puts it, “If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”

If our options leave us free to pursue God, and if our motives are pure, then we can safely assume God is happy with whatever we choose.

Certainly, God’s will is carried out in part through the people and circumstances in our lives, so our choices DO matter. But God isn’t playing cruel games with us. His will is not an elusive bulls-eye: if we hit it, we win a lifetime of dreams come true, but if we miss it, we are doomed to a second-rate future. To think this way is to misunderstand our Father completely, who longs to bless His children.

As I watched my son agonize over his college decision, I prayed that God would guide my boy like the Father that He is. We prayed together and then revisited both schools. I saw my son talk with adults he trusted and research both options extensively. On Mother’s Day he told me which school he had picked, and then he told me how he arrived at his decision. As I listened, I heard him express not only his desires and feelings, but also informed, mature thinking. Best of all, he had gone from dreading the decision to genuine peace and happy anticipation – the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit.
Our wayward hearts won’t ever get us to that place of peace, but it is the Spirit’s delight to do just that. May we learn to put our hearts in His capable hands.


Anna is a single mom of three young adult sons. She is the Senior Director of Content at Rooted, co-host of the Rooted Parent podcast, a member of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL, and the author of the upcoming God's Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well (Zondervan, 2024). She also wrote Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.

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