Stronghold 6: Proverbs 4:23 (Guard Your Heart).
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
This is a stronghold for protecting your heart. It’s a verse for your heart to camp out in. Our hearts need protecting. There’s a lot of danger out there in this broken world, not danger that will harm you physically – that’s a whole other matter – but danger that will enter into your heart and damage it from the inside. Pride. Envy. Greed. Bitterness. Fear. Loneliness. The list goes on. There’s a lot of things that could come into your heart and corrupt it.
So our hearts need to be guarded. Why? That linking word ‘for’ tells us: because ‘everything you do flows from it’. All our efforts and activities, all our emotions and hopes and dreams and aspirations, all our connections, relationships, responsibilities and projects come from our heart. If our heart’s not in it, we don’t do any of that stuff. You could be going through the motions, but you can’t really do anything effectively if your heart’s not in it. All your energy and effectiveness flows from your heart.
So there’s a lot at stake here. If we let our hearts become proud, we put ourselves at variance with God. If we let our hearts become envious, we’ll no longer work well in team. If we let our hearts become bitter, we lose our life-force and our ability to trust others. If we let our hearts become fearful, we’ll hang back from all the things we could achieve and miss out on so many opportunities. If we let our hearts become cold, we can no longer be warm to others.
We must keep our hearts healthy. Why do we spend so much time thinking and worrying about and monitoring our physical health and pay so little attention to our heart health? If may take time, but the slow build-up of these corrupting attitudes will cripple our hearts in a way that’s far more harmful than ever a major external injury. Our hearts could become ugly, diseased, hardened, cut off from others. We need to regularly inspect our hearts and see if any of this crap is inside. If it is, get rid of it! Do something about it! It’s so much easier to rinse off a little stain than to perform complete heart surgery on an organ gone wholly bad.
How do we guard our hearts? Verse 23 doesn’t tell us, and neither does verse 24. Paying attention to all the good advice in the rest of this chapter, and the whole book of Proverbs for that matter, is a good start. But really we need to read the whole Bible. The answers are scattered throughout it. We need to hang around with Godly people who can keep watch over us in ways we can’t do for ourselves. We need to give generously of our time, treasure and talents, so that we don’t become selfish, acquisitive, inward-focused people. We need to spend regular time with God. We need to allow God to change our perspective on things so that we stop seeing slights where there are none and to be gracious with people who have genuinely wronged us.
Above all else, we need to believe in Jesus, trust Him, and keep our eyes fixed on Him. When we do, Jesus promises to give us ‘a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). That’s the mark of a healthy heart. Unrestricted flow. Capacity made limitless by being plugged into an inexhaustible divine supply.
Now unlike other strongholds this one is not about hiding behind walls. In fact, that’s the very opposite of what this verse encourages, the worst thing you could do. Very often we respond to setbacks and hurts by retreating into our shells or putting up defences of one kind or another. We build walls around our hearts, thinking that will protect us from getting hurt again. But we couldn’t be more wrong. All that does is shut us down and cut us off. No this stronghold is about reminding us to dare to come out from behind our fortifications and be open and loving with other people. We guard our hearts by keeping them open. How can anything flow from our hearts if we’ve build a ruddy great wall around it? That will block the flow until either it dries up in spiritual death or drowns us in lost potential and might-have-beens.
Of course it’s scary to come out, to leave ourselves open. Vulnerability is something usually avoided, but it’s vital to a healthy heart. It takes enormous courage. You will still get hurt, no way to stop that. But at least if your heart is open the hurts can heal; but a fortified heart under siege will just keep getting battered with no hope of relief. This stronghold is about being strong enough to come out and leave a different kind of stronghold, a human-powered, self-destructive one.
And one last thing. See how this verse starts with ‘Above all else’? Guess what that means? This is more important than anything else. Keeping your heart healthy is vital to everything else you do or hope to do. Everything else gets built on the foundation of a healthy heart, not the other way around. Put your heart last and everything else will suffer. Above all else we need hearts like Jesus. We need a heart for Jesus. We need hearts right with Jesus. A healthy heart means accepting God’s righteousness every day, and then giving it away freely in love for others.
So come to this stronghold daily, read this verse often. Let it remind you to regularly do a spiritual heart check-up, and let it embolden you to break the walls down and come out to live wholeheartedly for God.