Emotional Health•Healing•Recovery • 9 minutes to read
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
We have a funny story in my family that gets retold often at family gatherings. When my siblings and I were all teenagers (the four of us are within 6 years of age), we were traveling together on a family road trip. From her seat, my older sister suddenly laughed and exclaimed, “I get it! The Country’s Best Yogurt!” In those days, TCBY was a popular frozen yogurt chain around our part of the country. My sister had seen the company’s signs for over a decade before it dawned on her that “TCBY” was just an acronym for “The Country’s Best Yogurt.” I wasn’t able to admit it at the time, but I was in the same boat! I had never connected a familiar sign—TCBY—with the actual meaning it held.
This happens to us in many areas of life. We can be very familiar with an idea or concept without pausing to ask if we really know the true meaning of what we are seeing. This may be the case for us with one of the best-known verses in the Bible, Proverbs 4:23. In the NIV it reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Or, as an older version of the NIV reads, “(the heart) is the wellspring of life.” Is it possible that we might know and love this verse, but haven’t really paused to consider what it means?
If nothing else, this verse tells us that the heart matters. Out of the heart comes life—everything we do. The heart is the wellspring of life. What a great word: “wellspring.” I get this image of a fresh, gurgling spring bubbling up with a continual supply of clean, refreshing water, giving life to everything around it! The author of Proverbs, King Solomon, recognized 3,000 years ago that this was a metaphor of our spiritual heart. Everything else we do is impacted by the condition of our heart. So, what exactly does it mean to “guard” this heart of ours? I want to share with you five principles of heart-guarding that can set us up with health for the long haul.
1. Make sure you are facing in the right direction.
Sometimes when we think about guarding the heart, we might be tempted to imagine the heart as this wild, untamed beast that needs to be caged and patrolled 24/7 in order to prevent it from hurting others. Our hearts are fickle. They can be dominated by sin or distorted thinking. After all, the prophet Jeremiah does warn us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). “Guarding” this feral heart of ours makes sense when viewed from this angle. But is that what Solomon had in mind when he called us to guard the heart?
I would suggest no. When Solomon says that everything we do comes from our heart, he is speaking about our heart as a source of life. Our will, desires, and emotions are rooted in our heart and impact everything we do. Instead of guarding the outflow of our heart, what Solomon is directing us to in this verse is protect our heart from what may be coming into it. Our focus—the point of our guarding—is to turn out and guard against the outside forces that could taint this precious stream. Rather than simply paying attention to what is coming out of our heart and trying to “contain it,” our effort is better spent on guarding what goes into the heart and keeping undefiled what God is creating there!
So take a moment to evaluate: are you turned in or turned out? Is your focus on the fear of that wily old heart getting out, or instead, on the purity of what you are protecting? Solomon’s wisdom invites us to see that we are like soldiers guarding a fresh mountain spring to keep it clean and untainted. Our primary attention in heart-guarding should be outwardly focused—paying careful attention to what might attempt to come in and alter the condition of our heart. We aren’t guarding a scary prisoner; we are defending a priceless treasure! Which leads us right into the next principle…
2. Remember the value of what you are guarding.
Perhaps you grew up like I did with some traditional theology that goes a little like this, “We are wicked and depraved. God had pity on us as sinful beings, so he sent Jesus to take away our sins and make us right with him. Apart from Christ, we are nothing.” Now I don’t want to turn this article into a theological debate. I recognize there is truth in all of these statements. What I want to draw your attention to, however, is the way in which this kind of theology may have inadvertently given us a very low view of ourselves, and in turn, our heart. We may have become so accustomed to seeing ourselves as “vile worms,” in the words of the puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, that we miss other teachings of Scripture.
Think about this. We are told in the Bible that we were made male and female in the Imago Dei—the very image of God! And when God stepped back and looked at the humans He created, He called them “very good” (Genesis 1). Does sin and fallenness mar this reflection of God? Sure. But does it change our inherent value as image-bearers of God? I would suggest no! King David proclaims that God, “created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well! (Proverbs 139:13-14). Did you notice that? David calls you and I “wonderful” even before we are born into the world. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul echoes this when he says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Yes, the stain of sin had to be dealt with through Christ, and I would never take away from our need for salvation. At the same time, however, we can acknowledge that we have tremendous value and worth to God as His very own handiwork.
In light of this, we need to look on our imperfect, flawed hearts and see a part of us that God values and loves very much. And if He feels this way about our heart, who are we to disagree? You see, this is so important to point out because we won’t work hard to protect something we don’t see as valuable! Soldiers are vigilant to guard a city because they protect their own families and all those that they love. They roam the walls with sharp focus, ready to lay down their own life because of how highly they value the people they are protecting. In the matter of guarding our heart, we need this same purpose that is born out of our passion for the value of what we protect. Do you see your heart as supremely valuable before God? When you do, you will make the task of protecting it a high priority.
3. The enemy is insidious—so stay vigilant!
The word insidious means “subtle in a harmful way.” When the enemy comes after the wall of our heart, it is rarely an all-out frontal assault. We could see that coming and be prepared. No, the enemies of our heart are usually much quieter, cunning, and subtle. The work of the enemy might be a whispered idea that gets stuck in our thinking. “You don’t need to be fully honest—just keep some parts a secret.” The tactic of the enemy might be an unhealthy routine of scrolling through our favorite social media site every time we are bored. The approach of the enemy could be getting us to read up on the news each morning while neglecting our Bible. The scheme of the enemy could be getting us to stay just a little too busy or tired to prioritize a weekly date night. All of these strategies and a thousand more could be the subtle encroachment of an enemy on our heart.
We must stay vigilant. The disciple Peter reminds us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (I Peter 5:8-9). Enemies look for weak points—for the places where our resistance has grown thin. For this reason, we must continue to patrol the ways in which our culture, our friends, our media habits, and our use of time are either working for or against us. We take stock of our strengths and weaknesses, taking encouragement from where we are strong, and redoubling our efforts in areas we are weak. To some, this may seem like too much work, but to the wise, they know this is a key to guarding the source of our life!
4. Monitor the access points.
Allowing anything and everything into our hearts is like a city without a wall. Guarding is only possible when a city has access points that are monitored and controlled. For us in our Pure Desire groups, this means utilizing healthy guardrails that keep our heart and mind headed in the right direction. We set up a guardrail anywhere we recognize a behavior that could lead us away from our priorities and the people we love back toward old, unhealthy behavior. Rather than just being a restriction, a guardrail helps us make room for the good things we want in our life.
Limiting our time on social media or scrolling, exercising discretion in the kinds of movies and TV we watch, determining where and when we can be on devices, and having boundaries with unhealthy people are all examples of ways we can monitor the access points to our heart. Jesus told us, it is what comes out of the heart makes a person unclean. Since this is true, we want to be vigilant about what we let into the heart so that we get the kind of outcomes we want!
5. Never guard alone.
Guards get sleepy. Guards look away and get distracted. Why? Because they are human. Which is why every security detail throughout the history of warfare has included multiple people, when possible. If we are the only one that knows of our efforts to guard our heart, we will experience limited success. Our efforts will come up short at times—not because we are bad, or wicked, but simply because we are human and to be human is to be imperfect. This is why we must invite others into the process of heart-guarding.
A friend or a spouse can help us see our blind spots. They can hold the line when we feel drawn toward unhealthy behavior. They may provide the encouragement we need when we grow weary or lose sight of the goal. Who is on the wall with you helping you guard your heart? Lean into their wisdom and friendship along the way—even and especially when it feels uncomfortable!
Your heart matters. It is a wellspring of life, bubbling up and influencing everything you do. So guard it. Care for it. Keep this source clean and undefiled, whatever it takes. And know that Jesus is with you in the process. He is the ultimate purifier of our heart, and He will continue His good work in us until it is complete.
May you trust deeply in Him on your heart-guarding journey!
Nick Stumbo is a featured speaker at this year’s Pure Desire Summit! Join us—in person, online, or at a Host Site—September 15-16, 2023, as we explore what healing and recovery looks like From the Heart.
The views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not reflect an official position of Pure Desire Ministries, except where expressly stated.