Updated: Jul 20
By Drew Zuverink
"My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything that you do flows from it."
We have all heard the advice at some point or another to "guard your heart." Maybe we went out on a date that went really well, and we come home with butterflies in our stomach and stars in our eyes, and we tell our parents, "I think I just met my future spouse." Our parents might have wisely advised us that it was wonderful that we had a great time but guard your heart as well. Maybe we've heard this advice from a pastor but what does the Bible really mean when it tells us to guard our hearts?
First of all, this really matters for two reasons. Number one; God is not only concerned with our actions but he cares about our hearts as well - because like Proverbs 4:23 says, "for from the heart flows everything that you do." Our actions are important but so are our thoughts and feelings and motivations that cause us to act in certain ways. God wants people who have pure intentions behind their actions and a more pure heart produces more pure actions. Number two; the heart is where Satan focuses his work. Humans cannot be forced to do evil and they cannot be forced to do good. They must choose to do either or. How do they make that choice? By being persuaded that one course of action is better than the other. So Satan works to persuade, or to put it honestly, deceive us into choosing evil over good.
So we understand why it's important to guard our hearts, but how do we practically do it?
Our mind is the portal to our hearts. Our thoughts are the portals to our desires. What we fill our brains with is the portal to our actions. The most common advice on how to guard our hearts is probably to avoid things that would get us thinking about sin. If a person struggles with lust it's probably wise to guard their heart by avoiding much of social media and TV shows. If a person struggles with drunkenness it's probably wise for them to avoid friends that would try to convince them to go to a party. You get the idea, if out of our hearts flow all of our actions, and if our mind is the portal to our heart, then we should guard our heart by keeping sinful and enticing thoughts out of our head.
But less common advice on how to practically guard our heart, and arguably more important too, is to fill our minds with God so much and so often that our desires and our affections can't be enticed as easily by sinful things. Remember, Satan does his work at heart level. He knows that he can't force us to sin so he has to convince us to do it. Remember how he tempted Eve in the garden, he didn't force the fruit down her throat - he deceived her into thinking that it would be a better decision to eat it than not to eat it. We do not have the option of having a neutral mind. Our thoughts cannot be empty. We are constantly on the verge of choosing good or choosing evil and so the battleground is in our thoughts.
Paul said that the downward spiral of humanity started with them not retaining thoughts of God in their minds. "Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity," (Romans 1:28-29). Dallas Willard says this, "Deciding to fill our minds with God is how we guard our hearts. To listen to his word and to nourish our whole beings with it is not a nice thing that we might do occasionally. Our very lives depend on it. When we get out of bed in the morning our very first thought should be to connect with God. We don't do devotions in the morning because it's a nice way to start the day, but we do it because the only way to stay on the straight and narrow is to be filled with God and his word."
So guarding our hearts is very important. Out of our hearts flow our actions. The devil knows this better than anyone and so he's coming for them. He's going to try to convince you to sin today. I wish he'd take the day off but he won't - he never does. And he's good at his job. He will make sin seem like a really good decision, maybe even a better decision than obeying God. You know his attacks are coming and you know where they're going to be focused. He's going to get at you through your thoughts. So guard your hearts by filling your mind with the truth of God's word today. You can't take today off for any reason or your heart will be exposed. Think of God often. Talk with him continuously. Guard your hearts.
Much of this was inspired from Dallas Willard's book titled, "Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23."