What It ACTUALLY Means To Guard Your Heart

“Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” — Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

This verse is a fascinating one. Consider the first three words…it says nothing is more important than to guard our hearts! Yet who teaches us to do so? Or how to do it? What is it that we are to guard against? What does that really mean or look like? And what is meant by “heart”?

The Hebrew and Greek words translated as “heart” occur nearly 1000 times in the Bible, so this concept is clearly extremely important to God, and hence to us. What scripture is referring to by “heart” is not the fist-sized pump in our chest, but rather the affective center of our being — our inner personhood, moral character, and core identity. This is the term used by Jesus when he differentially diagnosed good people from evil ones. He explained, “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 (ESV).

Simply put, whenever we get unexpectedly knocked over in life, it is whatever is inside of us that spills out. When we get cut off on the freeway by some jerk, what is our immediate reaction? I’ll tell you what it is; it’s the overflow of whatever we have put — or permitted to enter — into our heart. That’s why it’s so important for us to strongly guard our hearts. Furthermore, in many version of the Bible, the final phrase of Proverbs 4:23 uses a water analogy, referring to “springs of life” flowing from our heart.

The original Hebrew word picture in today’s text is both dire and dramatic: it depicts a super tough, fully armored warrior trained for battle (think Navy SEAL/Delta Force/Army Ranger-type of elite soldier) who is garrisoned to protect all of our water supply. Nothing or no one is getting by without his permission.

Today, we pretty much take for granted easily available access to pure sources of hydration. But if you lived 3,000 years ago in the desert, you would be acutely aware of whether or not you could rapidly, regularly, and reliably obtain clean drinking water. If your enemy poisoned or polluted your water supply, your chances of survival would be bleak indeed. You would die very soon.

So when you reread the above verse, consider the absolute life and death intensity of this scenario. After oxygen, our bodies require water for survival more than anything else. In the same way, our spiritual and psychological lives absolutely depend on us guarding our heart with all our might and with all the fight within us.


This post is an excerpt from my book, Be Strong and Surrender.

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