Proverbs 4:23 – Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Physically, I protect my heart by monitoring the type of food I eat, by managing stress, and by exercising. At least that is what I plan to do. Sometimes I am successful.
But Proverbs 4:23 is speaking of my spiritual heart. This instruction to keep or guard the heart follows encouragement to seek wisdom, which tells me it must be a smart thing to do, and precedes verses that tell me how to control my tongues, my eyes, my feet, and my hands (Proverbs 4). When I guard my heart, controlling the rest of me becomes easier.
Guarding my heart spiritually does not mean that I avoid all situations that could cause angst or hurt, any more than guarding my physical heart means that I avoid sweat and work. It is not isolation from all things but engagement with the right things.
The steps for spiritually guarding the heart parallel the physical.
First, I must monitor what goes into my heart. What do I watch? How do I spend my time? What do I love? What do I chase? Do I spend time in God’s word and in prayer?
Colossians 3:1 tells me to set my “affections on things above” referring to the attitudes and characteristics of God. So, I ask ‘what do I love’; on what is my heart centered? If my thoughts and affections are caught in the grip of this world, then my heart will be filled with the priorities of this world. My heart will hear the demands of the world over the voice of God. The result is a clogged heart that is not spiritually healthy.
I can also guard my heart by managing stress. Philippians 4:6 instructs me to ‘be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”. God calls me to give my stress to Him. When I lie awake worrying or fretting, my actions show that I am depending on myself more than I am depending on God. Do I trust Him to care for my children? Do I believe that He can provide? Do I recognize the blessings of each day and respond with thanksgiving to God?
Battling the cares of this world alone causes my heart to be overcome with despair and doubt. God’s way offers peace (Philippians 4:7).
Then, there is exercise. Spiritual exercise is service. It is the act of looking beyond myself to the needs of others and seeking to meet those needs. An anonymous author once wrote “the best exercise for the heart is reaching down and lifting another up”. Service removes the focus from self to others. It breeds purpose and fulfillment, and it demonstrates obedience to Christ’s law (Galatians 6:2).
If I guard my heart well, the evidence will be seen in my daily walk. I will focus on the Word rather than the world. I will be at peace when this world’s storms are raging, though this does not mean that I will be immune to the storm. I will be actively looking to the needs of others.
Heart disease, both physical and spiritual is rampant in this world. So, Solomon’s advice to keep or guard the heart is still pertinent today.
Follow the three steps to a protected heart: monitor what goes in; give cares to God; exercise in service.