Each time I sign a book for a reader, I write, “Guard your heart with diligence, for it is the wellspring of life. Pr. 4:23” on the first page, above my signature.
The key term in the Proverb, “nasar,” embodies the idea of protection and preservation. It is to watch over something or someone in order to guard that thing or person from danger. Psalm 119 uses the term repeatedly to stress the importance of guarding and protecting God’s statutes, precepts, and testimonies. This same diligent protection is to be applied to my own heart. In pursuit of that protection, those of us who embrace Long-View Living strive to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
It is from the heart that life flows into us, through us, and from us. Jesus confirmed this truth when he said:
For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. – Luke 6:44-45, NASB
Just as bad trees do not produce good fruit, neither can a bad, unprotected, corrupt heart produce a pure, holy life. So impactful is the condition of my heart, that it defines me – it is my identity.
As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. – Proverbs 23:7, KJV
God is, and always has been concerned with the inner man. Consider these statements from scripture:
- Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
- Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
A stark contrast exists between the call to guard our hearts and the dominant theme in the cultural battle that rages between contemporary society and the evangelical establishment. Society demands its right to do X, Y, and Z, while the evangelical base screams in protest, “No, you cannot do those things because they are wrong, immoral, ungodly, or unethical.” We do so in our naive expectation that a godless community is going to willingly submit to the dictates of a societal segment it despises, and one it cannot comprehend. (1 Corinthians 2:14) The focus of this battle is on activities or actions, rather than the heart that gives birth to those actions.
We focus on killing one’s baby, a genuinely horrifying act, rather than focusing on the heart that devalues life to that degree. We focus on political corruption, rather than focusing on a heart that is hardened against truth, honesty, and service. We focus on homosexual activity, rather than focusing on a desperate heart that needs to fall in love with Jesus to the extent that everything else pales in comparative value.
As far back as the Shema Yisrael of Deuteronomy 6, we have the call from God to work on our hearts.
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. – Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NASB
This, Jesus identified as the greatest commandment of all. Given that reality, if I cannot do anything else well, I would be on a good path to pursue loving God with all my heart.
Establishing any level of intimacy with God is a matter of the heart. Indeed, finding God at all is a matter of our heart’s longing to do so.
But from there [lands where they were held captive] you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. – Deuteronomy 4:29, NASB
You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13, NASB
It is with the heart that we believe and are justified. It is holding to sin in our hearts that hinders our prayers. It is not our actions, but our hearts that condemn us before God, because the thoughts of our heart define who we are. The mouth speaks what the heart holds. The real battle for the Christ-follower lies not with my hands, my eyes, or my feet, but rather with my thoughts, motives, ambitions, and values, because when God has my heart, my hands will follow.
O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart. – Psalm 15:1-2, NASB
Victoriously in Christ!
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Over to you: What practical ways do you actively guard your heart?
I like your focus on the inner workings of the heart rather than the outer activities that spring from the unseen heart. God can change the outer behavior after He works on the inner being.
I guard my heart first by simply realizing I need to do so. I attend church, and read the Bible and Christian books to get a better idea of God's outlook, to see what He thinks is important. I didn't grow up in a faith-oriented environment. That gave space for a lot of wrong beliefs about God, the devil, the world, and myself to creep into me–and I didn't have any "ammunition" to fight back with. I'm in the process of calling wrong beliefs wrong, and replacing them with good beliefs. I have a lot of re-programming to do, with God's help. I am thankful for His patience, kindness, grace, and long-suffering. I'm thankful He looked beyond the wrong beliefs I had about Him.
Oh, yes, Peggy. The life in Christ is lived inside out. As we read through the sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel, we are quickly persuaded that everything in the life of a Christ follower is a heart issue. Once God has my heart, my head, hands and feet will follow right along.