Guard Your Heart
Watch any romantic drama or comedy and you are bound to hear it. It’s a phrase that inevitably comes up in conversation between characters. When a woman is torn about whether to pursue a relationship with a man, her friend (or mother) will ask, "What does your heart tell you?"
It seems like an innocent and harmless question. But its implication is significant. Such a question implies that the heart seeks what is right and true. It also reveals that the way culture defines the heart is different than how the Bible defines it.
The Heart of Man
The word "heart" is used in many different ways. We may refer to our physical heart, the one that pumps blood throughout our body and keeps us alive. We draw hearts on cards and give them to those we love on Valentine’s Day. In movies, the word "heart" often refers to how someone feels about something, versus what someone thinks. But the Bible uses the word "heart" differently.
In the Bible, the "heart" is the center of oneself. It is the core of who a person is. It refers to who we are, our identity, the real us. This inner self includes our thoughts, our desires, our feelings, our personality, our motives and intentions, and the choices we make. It is what drives us. “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19).
As God's created beings, made in his image and for his glory, we are called to love God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). But because of the Fall, our hearts are not as they should be. We are born with sinful hearts. Our thoughts, desires, intentions, and choices are not focused on God; rather, we live for ourselves. We pursue our own longings and desires apart from God.
Scripture teaches that we need new hearts in order to know God and obey him, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36: 26-27). This was fulfilled through the work of Christ on our behalf (Ephesians 2). We are made new through what Christ has done and the ministry of the Spirit who labors in our hearts to transform us.
Though our hearts have been cleansed and made new, we still battle against sin. We still live in a sin stained world where temptations abound, where the presence of sin lingers within us, and where the evil one still prowls. All of these forces influence us. Though the war for our heart has been won, skirmishes still remain. We live the rest of our lives fighting against these influences.
What this means is, though we have a new heart, we have to guard it and keep it.
Guard the Heart
In Proverbs 4, we are cautioned, "keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Because the heart is the core of who we are, we have to be vigilant to keep our heart.
What does that mean?
We must be aware of what is going on in our heart. There is no passivity in the Christian life. Every action we take, every word we speak, every goal we pursue, every response we make all comes out of the overflow of our heart (Luke 6:45). This means we must be aware of the contents of our heart. What are our thoughts, desires, and motivations? What are we dwelling on in the quiet moments of our day? What do we long for most of all? Developing such insight is important to guarding our heart.
We must preserve our heart as the sole residence for Christ. Christ is the Lord and Master of our heart. We can't allow anything else to barge in and make our heart its home. We have to do whatever it takes to keep it for Christ. The sinful default of our heart is to seek out other lords and masters to worship rather than God. We look for life in other people, things, circumstances, and experiences rather than in Christ. This means we have to be alert for idols in our heart. Such idols can include success, relationships, money, influence, health, and beauty, and more. We have to ask God to help us root them out and replace them with greater love and affection for Christ.
We must keep our hearts healthy. We take care of our physical heart by proper diet, rest, and exercise. We do the same with our spiritual heart. We must feed it a healthy diet of God's word, wherein we find wisdom for life. God's word gives shape to our thoughts, emotions, desires, and intentions. The Spirit uses God's word to convict our hearts of sin, to draw us to repentance, and to apply the gospel of grace. This involves regular reading, studying, and meditating on his word. It involves participating in worship each Lord's Day where we hear God's word preached and taught. We also keep our hearts healthy by abiding in Christ through prayer and seeking his grace and wisdom in our lives. Prayer reminds us that we are dependent upon him. It helps us yield our hearts to his will and ways. Our hearts are also strengthened when we participate in church community life—through fellowship, discipleship, singing praises together, praying with and for one another, serving each other, and encouraging one another in the gospel.
We must ready ourselves for battle to protect our heart. In this life, we remain at war and we must always be on guard. Not only do we battle sin in our own heart, but there are spiritual forces always at work against us. The healthier our heart, the more alert we will be to such forces. The Bible teaches us what we must do to ready ourselves for such attacks: "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12). Such armor includes the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We must be vigilant and intentional to keep our heart, but there are times when we are weakened by our sin, the world around us, and the spiritual forces at work against us. In those times, we have to remember and trust God's promise to keep us for eternity. Though we are to work hard to guard our hearts, God is ultimately the one who preserves us and keeps us. "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Though we might stumble in our duties, God will not let anyone or anything keep us from him (Romans 8:35-39).
So, should we follow the advice on television and movies to “follow your heart?” Not likely, unless our heart is focused on God as our greatest treasure. Until then, let us keep and guard our heart, always evaluating, testing, preserving, training, and protecting it as the sole residence of Christ our Lord.