“I thought you’d call sooner.”
The voice on the phone was full of criticism and disappointment. I sensed coldness as she continued talking about the stress in her life. I listened, remembering that I’d attempted to call her several times in the recent days, but didn’t get an answer.
Now my friend was icy towards me, even after explaining my attempted phone calls. My heart ached from the relationship fracture.
It seemed that when friendships developed over time, I would eventually move to another area because of my husband’s career in ministry. Friendships were hard to maintain. It took time and effort to invest in relationships, and I was weary from others not being as interested in friendship as I.
I judged relationships weren’t worth it.
My heart grew calloused and cold from several relationship disappointments. I began to withdraw from people to avoid the risk of friendship. If I let people in, I would get hurt. I didn’t like this calloused state of my heart.
I was guarding my heart for the wrong reasons, and it showed in my cynical attitude.
But God wouldn’t let me maintain this wall around my heart, keeping others at arm’s length.
Scripture says, “Above all, guard your heart, for out it comes a wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23
The heart is the center of a person’s thoughts and feelings. If it is not guarded, the heart is open to dangerous attitudes and actions.
The phrase “above all else” is not as a suggestion, but an imperative command meaning “by reason of, the whole of, totality, everything.” It is the priority, to be pursued with diligence.
What is the priority? Guarding your heart. Protecting it from harmful influences, but also guarding it from allowing bitterness and unforgiveness to take hold.
Guard means “to watch, guard, or keep.” The King James Version of Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep your heart.”
When we were in England, we toured several castles. At the center of the castle grounds was a smaller stone tower, usually on a hill, called a “keep.” It was the central fortification for protection and safety. If the castle were under attack, the residents would find safety in the keep, the most protected part of the fortress.
Timothy Keller explained that it is like guarding a fortress. Imagine Jesus himself guarding your heart.
Proverbs 4:23 convicted me. I had allowed bitterness to seep into my heart and I knew this wasn’t what God wanted.
Another verse penetrated my soul.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15
If I allowed my heart to stay bitter, I would miss the grace of God. The bitterness would spew out of my mouth and be evident in my attitude.
I sensed the Lord saying to me, “if you want to be used by Me, you need to forgive.“
Jesus was guarding me from becoming deeply cynical and hurt. I knew I had to go to the Lord to do the hard work of cleansing my heart.
Why should we guard our hearts?
An old adage says, “What is down in the well comes up in the bucket.” If I stayed bitter as a result of someone’s actions toward me, the attitude would come out in my words and actions.
Jesus said in Luke 6:45 (NIV)
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
The mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart.
If the heart contains evil, wicked actions will characterize the person.
If the heart is full of violence, the person’s behavior will follow.
If the heart is full of negativity, the person will have a negative perspective on life.
If the heart is self-centered, the person will think the world revolves around them with entitlement.
Envy and jealousy erode the heart.
You get the idea.
The Bible describes other conditions of the heart.
The Bible warns to avoid a double heart.
“They speak lies to one another;
They speak with flattering lips and a double heart.” Psalm 12:2
Lies are defined as worthless talk. A double heart is divided in two different directions, lacking integrity.
The Bible warns us of having a hard heart.
In the Amplified Bible, Proverbs 28:14 explains it like this:
Blessed and favored by God is the man who fears [sin and its consequence] at all times,
But he who hardens his heart [and is determined to sin] will fall into disaster.
A proud heart and its dangers are stated in in Proverbs 21:4:
Haughty eyes and a proud heart— the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin.
An unbelieving heart turns away from God.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Hebrews 3:12
A cold heart does not show love and kindness.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12-13
How do we guard the heart?
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2
Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). The second half of the prayer tells us to forgive and to pray for protection from the evil one.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:12-13
- Confess sin and harsh attitudes in the heart. An unclean heart can be renewed by the Lord.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23
Turning to Lord for heart cleansing freed me to love again, removing the barrier around my heart. The person or incident no longer had control over my heart.
Now I accept the truth that God created us for community. I’m willing to reach out to others, knowing God will be there, showing me his grace. We need each other.
The heart matters. What is in our hearts matter.
If the heart reflects the fruit of the spirit, love will flow from the person.
Joy will characterize their attitude.
Peace will be in their life.
Patience will grow.
Kindness will be evident.
Goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will show up in their actions and attitudes.
Guarding your heart is an aspect of the Christian life—not just from keeping evil out, but from letting bitterness grow from within.
What steps can you take to guard your heart?