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What’s “above all else guard your heart” actually mean? While it sounds simple, there is a deeper meaning that is so important for Christians to understand.
“I’ll never hurt this way again.” The quiet, yet passionate statement was backed by teary eyes and a resolute set to her shoulders.
This young woman had been heart by someone she should have been able to trust and was telling me how much pain she was feeling and her determination to never find herself in this position again.
“Seriously, I should have just guarded my heart like it says in the Bible. Then it would never have gotten hurt like this.”
Oh, sweet girl, that’s not at all what Scripture means.
What does it mean to guard your heart?
Solomon, the wisest man on earth, penned this admonition:
Above all else, guard your heart,Proverbs 4:23, NIV
for everything you do flows from it.
The intent behind the words, however, wasn’t to lock your heart up so tightly it would never experience pain.
No was it to hold people at arm’s length to protect your emotions.
No, the Word of God had a very different intent for this direction.
Be vigilant over your heart
Proverbs 4 is written from a father to his son, and the father is charging the son to be attentive and teachable, truly hearing the words of his father.
He calls his son to guard his heart vigilantly, or attentively, or with diligence.
My son, be attentive to my words;Proverbs 4:20-27, ESV
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
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.
A similar warning is given in Deuteronomy 4:9, where Moses records the Lord as telling His people to keep their souls diligently, making sure to not forget the things He had done for them, instead ensuring that future generations would know how He had led them.
The first aspect of guarding our hearts is that to do so, we must be vigilant.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “vigilant” means “keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.” This echoes the points made in Scripture of the importance of watching out for things that can destroy our hearts and souls.
To be vigilant in guarding our hearts is to be watchful, carefully discerning the truth of who God is and what He has done for us.
It is to remember His ways and keep a watch out for anything that might harm our souls.
This is essential for us as believers because Satan is far too good at deceiving us and leading us astray.
In fact, Peter warns us:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.1 Peter 5:8
Being diligent in keeping ourselves grounded in the truth and wary of worldly lies is vital to our faith and walks with the Lord.
Proverbs 4 continues on with advice on how to guard your heart.
Watch what you say and hear
The wise father in Proverbs 4 warns his son to put away crooked (tricky, lying, deceitful) speech and avoid talk.
He wants his son to be a man of integrity and not share friendship with those who lack truth, and to be a man whose words are trustworthy.
Part of guarding his heart is guarding what he hears and speaks.
Don’t be distracted; keep your focus
As with other places in Proverbs, the charge is to look ahead.
He didn’t want his son’s head turned by lust, drunkenness, pride, or any of the things likely to tempt him.
He urged him to keep his heart guarded by focusing ahead on the Lord.
Be intentional and don’t stray
He also warns his son to think about where he’s going and to actually go where he is heading; don’t get lead off course.
Part of guarding your heart is paying attention to where you spend your time and with whom.
Keep your heart true to God
Guarding our hearts also means we must remain true to God.
That means we should be “all in” when it comes to following the Lord, not wavering or being wishy-washy in the way we live.
1 Kings 8:61 tells us that being true to God involves obedience to His commands and an adherence to His ways.
God promised the people of Israel that if they remained true to Him, His presence would continue to be with them.
The same is true for us today.
If we walk in obedience and reject the destructive ways of the world, we can be confident that He will be with us no matter what circumstances may come our way.
He who calls us to be faithful is Himself faithful to His people.
The Guardian of our hearts
It’s important to never forget that, ultimately, God Himself is the guardian of our hearts.
While it is also true that we are responsible to be careful what we allow into our minds and hearts, the reality is that we can’t do so completely on our own.
At some point, our finite humanity will reveal its fragile state.
Take for example our experience of God’s peace.
With so many disconnected and even opposing things being hurled at us continually, whether it be circumstances or ideologies, it can be difficult to rest in the Lord and dwell in His peace.
But, in Philippians 4:6-9, Paul says we shouldn’t give in to feelings of anxiety, but rather bring the troubles we are facing to the Lord so His peace will guard our hearts and minds.
Paul then brings things full circle by pointing to the reality that guarding our hearts involves both God’s guardianship and our person responsibility.
We need to be cautious about what we allow our minds to focus on, and ensure that the things we think about and allow to influence ourselves are true and of God.
We must be willing to both take responsibility for the things we allow to fill our minds and turn our worries over to the Lord.
Above all else, guard your heart every day
What’s this look like in your daily life? And what doesn’t it look like?
How can you make sure you are, above all else, guarding your heart?
How not to guard your heart
Guarding your heart isn’t about protecting yourself from other people.
It’s about protecting it from sin that separates you from God. It’s about keeping close to Him and not letting anything pull you away, even your own desires.
Guarding your heart doesn’t mean you’ll never get hurt; it means you’ll stay anchored to God.
Caring for your heart today
So how do you guard your heart today, in the modern world?
Well, exactly how the wise father directed his son in Biblical times.
We need to watch what we take in: music, TV, podcasts, even casual conversations.
We need to be careful what we speak: casually, privately, even in our minds.
It’s important to watch who you spend your time with and where you spend your time: are you wasting it or investing it?
And, of course, are you abiding in Christ? Are you taking the time to read the Word and pray? There is no better guard for your heart than to live in Him.