Proverbs 4:23 consists of an exhortation and an explanation, a command and a reason. The verse begins with a call to keep your heart with all vigilance. Like a soldier defending his post against attack, you must guard your heart.
We typically associate the heart with our emotions. In scripture, however, the heart represents the mind, the will and the emotions. The heart is the seat of personhood. It is one’s innermost being, the control center of life.
The command to keep your heart reminds us of the priority of the inner self. What happens within us is always more important than what happens around us. The attitude of our hearts matters more than the circumstances of our lives. The heart of the matter is always the matter of the heart.
Keeping your heart is an ongoing responsibility. It is not like setting an alarm and trusting your house is safe as you go about your day. It is like posting armed security at the door to protect the house against intrusion or invasion. You must keep your heart with all vigilance. Do whatever it takes to guard your heart. Practice diligent oversight of the state of your heart.
Why is keeping your heart important? The heart is the wellspring of life. From it flow the springs of life. Your thoughts, choices and feelings flow from what is in your heart. The heart is a mighty river. Life is an overflowing stream. The flow of the river determines the life, health and strength of the stream.
Many people struggle to experience meaningful life-change because they deal with their problems downstream instead of upstream. They work downstream to get debris out of the water. The more they remove, the more flows in. True change only happens when you go upstream and address the heart of the matter.
What does it mean to keep your heart with all vigilance?
Keep your heart flowing. A stream will dry up if there is no source of water flowing into it. So will our hearts. The heart cannot survive in its own strength, wisdom or resources. We need to praise the glory of God in worship. We need to feed on the truth of God in scripture. We need to trust the help of God through prayer. Blessed is the heart that thirsts for God, as a deer pants for streams of waters (Psalm 42:1).
Keep your heart clean. The tragedy of an oil spill is not the wrecked ship that caused the spill. It is the contamination of the water and the destruction of life that results. In the same way, if your heart is polluted, your life will be polluted. By the atoning blood of Christ, the sanctifying power of the Spirit, and the renewing work of the Word, keep your heart clean. Pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:1).
Keep your heart strong. When a stream flows in many different directions, its strength is dissipated. Life works the same way. You may feel the pressure to chase after many good things in life. But if you do not guard your heart, the good becomes the enemy of the best. A strong heart is not a shared heart. Keep your heart strong by a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Share Paul’s testimony, “This one thing I do …” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Keep your heart quiet. As the storms of life rage, the tumult disturbs the unkept heart. The temptation is to flee to a place of peace. But if the storm rages within, relocation will not find a calm refuge. Conversely, the quieted heart stands firm in the tempest. Do not worry about anything. Pray about everything. As you pray your worries away, the peace of God will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Keep your heart useful. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea, because waters flow into it from the Jordan River, but nothing flows out. There must be both inflow and outlet to sustain life. Guard the flow of your heart coming and going. As the truth, love and grace of God flow in, obedience, service and generosity should flow out. Be a river, not a reservoir. Pour into the lives of others from the overflow of the Lord’s goodness to you.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – H.B. Charles is pastor-teacher at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park, Fla. This article appeared on his blog, hbcharlesjr.com.)