“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Guard your heart. It seems to be a popular phrase among the Christian community, although mentioned only once in the book of Proverbs.
Then, as a twist, we are told to “harden not our hearts” in the book of Hebrews. What does this even mean? What is actually expected of us? To what extent must we guard our hearts?
I admit, it can be easiest to harden our hearts. Over time, we train ourselves to numb the feelings of vulnerability or weakness. In a world that has felt hurt and fears it, we would rather convince our peers that we are strong and unbreakable. In fact, it’s even encouraged to behave this way.
Yet what does the Lord ask of us? How does He wish us to guard our hearts? How does he expect us to be both prudent and vulnerable?
What Does it Mean?
“Guarding your heart,” as cliche as it sounds, simply means remaining faithful to what is asked of us as Christians. Our lives look different than those around us who are nonreligious or not practicing Christians. We have specific guidelines and convictions to follow. Society’s expectations are far different than God’s expectations and it’s important to remain mindful of these societal differences.
Now this is not to say that we are conscious of our actions, and then avoid or ignore the call to obedience. It’s an intentional “yes” to God’s will for our lives. It’s an intentional “no” to sin and worldly desires that come from it. It’s putting our relationship with the Lord first above all other preoccupations.
What is Expected of Us?
In our daily lives, it can be easy to want to fit in with those around us: what to wear, what to say, how to behave, how to love, how to treat others. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, are we following the Lord’s will through our words and actions?
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8-9: “My friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honorable. Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and actions. Then the God who gives us peace will be with you.”
As a New Year’s resolution, I decided to follow more closely what the Bible asked of me, taking those extra steps to live an intentional Christian lifestyle. Paul’s message to the Philippians gave me pause.
- What lies do I believe about myself or the world around me, and how is that affecting my relationship with God?
- What sins or bad habits in my life are weighing me down from a higher moral conduct?
- What behaviors or habits do I know to be right, and yet avoid or ignore?
- Am I selfishly trying to find physical or emotional fulfillment through my relationships?
By ignoring, avoiding, or neglecting what God asks of me, I am leaving my heart open and vulnerable to hurt, disappointment, and sin. More often than not, we are guarding our hearts from our own demons and downfalls. The hurt comes from the sin and shame we harbor inside, not always from those around us.
At the beginning of February, I gave up social media for 30 days. Unfortunately, I had grown angry and bitter from what I was seeing in the news and on my news feed. Although it was hard to read, and I was clearly suffering from it, I became addicted to reading all the negative content.
Instead of finding time for prayer, I was spending my time scrolling. I filled my heart with lies that everyone was against me, and no one supported my convictions. I allowed myself to stay angry and judgmental, rather than loving those that share different opinions. I knew I should stop scrolling and participating in the conversation, but I did not stop the behavior. I selfishly put my social media time above God and those I care about.
In these moments, I was no longer guarding my heart. I was leaving myself victim to compromising behavior. Then through my vulnerability and array of emotion, I did just what Paul asked me not to do: I hardened my heart. I became just another average, jaded member of society when I was called to be so much more (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Putting it into Practice
Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Jesus.”
As we intentionally begin guarding our hearts, we must remember the motives behind our actions. If we truly love our Lord as we say we do, we must obey Him. He has asked that keep our heart open to the Lord’s will, while guarding it from all other things that do not come from Him.
As we continue to study the Bible, praying for the Lord’s healing grace, and remaining intentional to the instructions found in the Gospels and Paul’s letters, obedience becomes easier. Yet, at the same time, do not sit complacent and accepting of mediocrity. The path to a holy or righteous life is uncomfortable and asks a lot of us, but we can do anything with the strength of Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:13).
Reflect on your habits and behaviors. Have you allowed your heart to sit vulnerable to unhealthy desire, hurt, or sin? Are you holding a grudge or fixating on a certain behavior, knowing it is not right and still not shaking it? Are you putting your desires and plans above that of the Lord’s? Have you hardened your heart, growing numb to deep emotions?
More often than not, we are guarding our hearts from our own demons and downfalls. Allow the Lord to move your heart. Trust that He won’t lead you astray.