Above all else, guard your heart

Proverbs 4:20-27:  20 My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.  21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; 22 for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.  23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 24 Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. 25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. 26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. 27 Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

So you get this picture of a father speaking to a son, and the son is listening, and the father is giving words that are really to guide the child’s life.  Because if you listen, these words will help set the course or direction for your life.  And tucked right in the middle is verse 23.

Proverbs 4:23:  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Above all else, before you worry about the words you speak, or where your feet step, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 

According to Scripture, the heart is like the life center of all we are.  It is the totality of or the well spring of our emotions, desires, and actions (Luke 6:43-45).  Knowing our hearts are really the core of who we are, then it makes sense that we are commanded to guard our hearts.  So what does it mean to guard your heart?  Probably one of the best ways to describe what guarding your hearts means is to describe what it is NOT.

One time while in high school, I was driving, took my eyes on the road, and just a handful of seconds later, found myself driving off the edge of the road and into the ditch (btw…barbed wire fence doesn’t do wonders on a paint job).

When it comes to guarding our hearts, if we take our eyes off of what is fixed up ahead (Proverbs 4:25) and off of Jesus, we can notoriously land in one of two ditches.  Ditches that don’t necessarily reflect the meaning and application of Proverbs 4:23.

Here is the first ditch we can run into…To guard your hearts does not mean that we will avoid all pain and hurt in life and relationships.  It is the ditch of self-protection.

Where we guard our hearts in such a way where we think we will never get hurt.  Our friendships and relationships are shallow at best.  We keep people at arm’s length.  No one really knows us very well, and we like it that way.  That might be because of past hurt or some other factor, but we have guarded our hearts to such a degree that we think we will avoid heartache when in fact we’re just avoiding experiencing love.  As followers of Christ, we are not to live in a way that is walled off or isolated.

CS Lewis said this as it relates to the false idea of guarding your heart in an attempt to avoid hurt or pain.  “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”

We should not lock up our hearts in such a way that we don’t allow our hearts to then break with compassion for others, or enter into the glorious mess of relationships in the family of God, or reaching outward with the Good News of Jesus.  If we fall into this ditch, then we really set up our hearts to become hard, not only to those around us, but ultimately, and worse yet to our God.  To guard your heart doesn’t mean to suffocate your heart.

On the other side of the road called ‘guarding your heart’ is the ditch called being careless.

To guard your heart means that we will actually guard our heart.  That we will keep it with all vigilance.  So, yes don’t suffocate your heart in an attempt to avoid pain.  You’re going to get hurt and have trouble.  But that also doesn’t mean that you should be flippant about your heart and leave it unguarded.

When we are careless with our hearts, we start to walk down relational paths that we know aren’t healthy, but we do it anyways.  We don’t really care what the Word of God says on something, because we’re going to do it our way.  We blindly listen to the advice of ‘follow your heart,’ but such counsel is never given in Scripture.  We begin to form habits or fall into sinful ruts and routines that lead us to opening up our hearts to idols that would come before our love for Jesus.

We live in a world that is spiritual.  John 10:10 tells us the devil is out to steal, kill and destroy.  1 Peter 5:8 compares the devil to a lion that prowls around looking for someone to devour.  So God’s will for us is to be watchful.  In other words, to guard our hearts, and by doing so guard our lives.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Springs of water can become toxic.  Springs don’t get tainted overnight.  If that source gets poisoned, then what flows out of it will become toxic.  Now on the positive side of things though, if we guard our hearts, then life will flow from them.  So we don’t ‘guard our hearts’ simply to avoid unrighteousness, we guard our hearts to also prepare us to be used by God for the good works He has for us (Ephesians 2:10).

Our hearts naturally want to drift not toward the things of God, but toward the things of sin and self.  And so our Heavenly Father calls us to guard our hearts.  We do that when we are consistently opening our Bibles and reading God’s Word, when we are praying and talking to our Father in Heaven, and asking Him to search us and see if there is any way in us that is offensive to Him (Psalm 139:23-24).

We also guard our hearts when we are doing life in Biblical community.  Where there are people in our lives who know us, and we know them beyond the superficial.  Where they know the tendency of our hearts, and vice versa.  As believers, we’ve got to live in such a way where we’ve intentionally built Biblical community into our way of life so that the blind spots of our hearts, don’t remain blind to us.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Are you in the ditch of self-protection or carelessness?  Have you fixed your gaze on something or someone other than Jesus?  Have you opened up your life in a way that welcomes the counsel and support of brothers and sisters in Christ helping you guard your heart?  Are you praying Psalm 139:23-24 as you follow and trust in Jesus?

May the Lord help us guard our hearts so that we might glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.