“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).
One of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the temptation to focus on rules rather than on the relationship with Jesus Christ. We think rules will keep us from sin. Often, they can lead us into sin, because we focus on what we cannot do rather than how a particular area of our life is related to our walk with Christ.
Much of the book of Proverbs contains wisdom that King Solomon sought to pass on to his children. One of his key instructions is, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.”
Keep your heart: Not your activities. Everything we think, say, and do flows from our hearts. When our hearts are in the right place, we will do the will of God.
John Wesley wrote that heart means “thy thoughts, will and affections.” It sums up our inner life. What do I choose to think about? What do I want or try to do? What spurs my emotions? Define these, and you have described your heart in this biblical sense. Wesley writes that the second part of this verse means “From thence proceed all the actions, as of the natural, so of the spiritual life, which lead to eternal life.”
If we do not guard our hearts, our outward behavior can suffer. Many Christians focus heavily on rules rather than this heart-protection, and as a result they may approach life trying to see how close they can get to sin without actually falling into it. The unmarried couple can try to see how far they can go without actually falling into sexual sin—and then their hormones take over, driving their emotions to take charge and forcing their intellectual agreement with the Bible into the background. The person who is struggling to overcome alcohol addiction may decide, “I can go to the bar if I don’t drink”; but, his desire to fit in and be accepted overtakes his desire for sobriety and he falls off the wagon. Similar examples can be given for a host of human weaknesses.
What are some ways to guard our hearts, so that we do not fall into this trap?
First, change your standard. Numerous churches have a canon of moral and ethical rules they demand of their members. Some are biblical (“do not commit adultery; do not lust; do not steal”); some are logical extensions of biblical rules (“don’t spend time alone with a woman to whom you are not married”); some are man-made rules (“don’t dance; don’t listen to rock music; don’t smoke”). Rules tell us what we can get away with.
The New Testament standard is different: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (I Corinthians 10:23). Instead of asking, “What can I get away with?” we can ask, “What will strengthen me spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, etc.? What is the best way to use my time and resources? How can I best glorify God and build up his people?”
Proverbs 4 adds a few other ways to guard our hearts. Take charge of what you say and hear. Proverbs 4:24 tells us, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” Do not allow yourself to give in to dishonest, perverted, negative, or hate-filled speech. To do that, one has to avoid listening to such speech. We will end up treasuring the things we focus on in our hearts: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
This should probably be the real guiding principle in our entertainment choices. Many preachers talk about the sensuality and vulgarity in popular music, movies, and television. These are serious issues; they influence the values of their audiences. But, what about the anger and negativity on many talk and news shows? What about the quick rushes to judgment whenever a rumor pops up about a celebrity or politician? We seem to think the command to “not bear false witness against your neighbor” does not apply if it involves bad news we want to believe about a celebrity we have never met. However, that constant barrage of negativity into our ears is bound to corrupt our thoughts and feelings and come out in our attitudes and speech.
Finally, let us keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in His direction:
“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Renewing the mind is all about learning to think like Jesus and know Him better. To do that, we must keep our eyes on Him. We do that by reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping Him. He should be the vision that we place directly before us and, as we follow Him, we must choose not to deviate to the right or to the left.
Following Jesus should adjust our priorities. When we place our eyes on Him, we know the most profitable way to use our time and abilities. It becomes easier to say “No” to good options when we know God’s best plan for our lives. I could easily overburden myself, making more commitments than I can fill. Before I take on a responsibility, I bring it to the Lord in prayer and ask, “Is this Your will? How does this tie in to Your mission for my life? Have you equipped me with the abilities to pull this off?” Being overburdened leads to burnout, which leads to tiredness, depression, and discouragement, along with other negative attitudes that leave one open to temptation.
Temptation hits us hardest when we do not guard our hearts. When we allow Satan to nail us with negativity and discouragement, or hit us in our weak spots, we open ourselves up to temptation, sin, discouragement, and defeat. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we can play with fire without getting burned. Guard your heart!
This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.