Walking beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called to four fishermen, "Follow me." Simon and Andrew "left their nets at once and followed him." James and John "followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind." All four responded to Jesus immediately (Matthew 4:18-22).
As they physically walked behind Jesus from place to place, they found that following him means so much more. For example, if their feet followed, but their hearts did not, God didn't count it as "following."
Still the first disciples had a visible, tangible starting place for learning to follow Jesus. Because our Lord doesn't walk the earth today, we may talk about following Jesus without knowing at all how it looks. We may think we're following him when, in fact, we've been fooled by counterfeits.
Following God is not following your heart. While it sounds inspiring to say, "Follow your heart," it's deadly to run indiscriminately wherever your desires lead.
Moses said, "Remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined" (Numbers 15:39, NKJV). Solomon wrote, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26, NKJV).
Following God is not following your own understanding. Many people think it's foolish to pursue uncontrolled emotions–but safe to follow wherever rational thought leads, especially rational thought based on Scripture. The Jewish religious leaders thought the same thing. They studied the Scripture diligently and taught it meticulously. But when Jesus appeared on the scene, they didn't even recognize him, much less follow him.
"Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track" (Proverbs 3:5-6, MSG).
What a paradox: Don't follow your heart. Don't follow your own understanding. But do employ both your heart and your mind in following God.
Following God is not blindly following others. God can and does speak to us through other believers. Proverbs 19:20 says, "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life."
While it's good to listen to godly counsel, it's crucial to know which advice truly reflects God's heart. Job's friends spoke true principles. Ah, but they did not rightly apply those principles. Their counsel only frustrated and disheartened Job. Ultimately, God told Job's friends, "You have not spoken accurately about me" (Job 42:7).