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 you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4:20-23 NIV
It’s no secret that I like to walk—except for the fact that I typically walk under cover of darkness before the sun comes up. Gretel Ehrlich, novelist, poet, and essayist (b. 1946) is known for saying, “Walking is also an ambulation of mind.” This is a primary reason why I find walking so enjoyable. It gives my mind room to roam before the day’s demands begin to vie for bandwidth.
Some days I spend the better part of an hour meditating on a single verse or passage of scripture. Other days I focus on prayer. Then there are days when my mind bounces from one seemingly random thought to another like a pinball in an arcade machine.
For the better part of six months, Proverbs 4:20-23 has been a staple of my morning meditations, and verse 23 continues to exert itself upon my soul: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Let’s briefly consider the three components of this verse:
The phrase above all else really gets my attention. It signals to me that what comes next is significant. “Above all else. . . .” But what could possibly be so important?
Above all else, guard your heart. Guard it! The Hebrew word for guard means essentially what you would expect it to mean. Look after it, protect it from intruders, keep in what’s good and keep out what’s bad. Oh, and be diligent about it.
“But why do I need to guard my heart?” you ask. For everything you do flows from it.
Not a single thing you do originates other than from the heart (Matthew 12:34, Matthew 15:18-20); and it’s what flows from the heart that has the potential to defile a man—and those around him. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th-century writer and philosopher, put it this way:
To add insult to injury, your heart is deceitful above all things, beyond cure, and impossible to understand (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). So just when you think you’ve finally surrendered your whole heart to the Lord, guess what? Along comes a crisis—a little test, a little irritation, an unkind remark, an inconsiderate motorist, etc. to reconfirm that yes, your heart is still desperately wicked and beyond cure. And such a crisis, if handled properly, gives us an opportunity to shine forth the beauty of Christlikeness in our everyday lives. Mishandling it, however, makes it difficult to show forth the glory (i.e. the true representation) of Christ in and through our lives.
Jesus has obviously dealt with our sin problem—once and for all. Let’s be clear on that. Our righteousness is a free gift of grace imputed to us through the exercise of our faith in His atoning work on the cross. However, a war continues to rage between the Spirit and the flesh as described in detail by Paul in Romans 7.
While meditating on this passage in Proverbs 4, it occurred to me that Solomon, in his wisdom, provided some clues as to how we should guard our heart. These clues are found in verses 24-27:
Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
I have summarized the above passage in the below list of bullet points, each worthy of its own sermon series; but given what attention spans are these days, I share my observations simply to assist in jump-starting your own meditation:
As you consider these things, let the weight of this father’s admonishment to a son rest on your soul, and make it your own meditation:
Above all else . . .
guard your heart . . .
for everything—and everything means everything—you do flows from it.