I was reading Proverbs 4:23 this week and it’s a verse we know well, “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The KJV says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
I looked up the Hebrew word for “with all diligence” and was completely intrigued by what I read. The word is mishmar which means: “Place of confinement, prison, guard, jail, guard post, or act of guarding.” I was curious what a prison has to do with my heart, so I started rolling this idea over in my mind. A prison, a guard, my heart. I pictured someone walking into a prison to visit a prisoner. What would happen? They would have to go through the GUARD. No one is allowed to simply walk into the prison and visit the prisoners. There is a time limit on how much time they can spend with prisoners. They are not allowed to freely roam the prison, but are required to stay in a specific space. This verse is telling me my heart should be in a “prison.” It is to be confined and I am to guard it well. I am the GUARD, and I get to allow what gets in to visit my heart as well as determine how long it can stay there and if it’s allowed to roam around and alter my actions while it is visiting.
I’m a visualizer, so I pictured my heart in a beautiful glass box with gold bars. It is well protected, confined, NOTHING can get to it unless I allow it. So, what am I allowing in? Before, I didn’t realize HOW MUCH I should be protecting this heart of mine, so I would allow negative, unrighteous thoughts, among other things, to come into my heart whenever they wanted. They could come in, make themselves at home, stay as long as they’d like, feel free to roam around, and those same thoughts were causing chaos and damage. NOW I know that I get to tell those thoughts, “Nope, you’re not getting in today.” I can take them captive and make them obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) I HAVE to be a guard for what goes into my heart. Keep out the bad, keep up the good. I should take seriously my responsibility to keep my heart from being defiled or blemished.
The verses following this verse give us more instruction in the keeping of our hearts.
Our Words. Proverbs 4:24: “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” The more we focus on putting pure and lovely thoughts, attitudes, and words from God into our hearts, the less perverse and corrupt words will come out. The things we say reflect who we are. If we allow half-truths, flippant words, and grumbles a place at all, they may well become deep rooted habits of thought. I have told my kids that I like to pretend there is a little guard standing beside my mouth to help me, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my HEART be drawn to what is evil…” Psalm 141:3-4 I have to pray every day, some days every hour, for God to set a guard before the door of my lips so that I may not offend with my tongue. Our tongues can give life to our children and spouses, or they can destroy them. It can uplift them, help them when they fail or have accidents, or it can crush their spirits. I’ve allowed words to come flying out of my mouth that cut. And then I cry about it. I have a choice as to what words I use with them, every time I have a choice. As I told my kids a few days ago after two of them kept arguing, “This is your home. This is the place where you get to practice and learn how to treat each other and how to be treated. You get to practice failing here, in a safe place. You get to learn how to try again. You get to be taught what hurts, what’s unkind. How to comfort others. How to put others first. You get to let God show you what he wants of you.” As I was saying these things I was so convicted. I knew I was failing too at times and instead of teaching and correcting, I was using words that hurt their spirits. That was a hindrance, and not a help. I’m so thankful for a God who is full of grace and mercy and I know that I too am learning and being corrected by a Father who loves me. Sometimes we have to re-train our minds to what words we want to start using. We have to practice a calm reply over and over until it becomes a HABIT. I said the phrase “It was just an accident” every time my kids spilled something so that my response to them was habit, and no longer annoyance. It started out as just words, but soon my attitude followed. Let us put pure words into our hearts, not allowing negative, complaining, critical words to roam around in there. Let the Word of God make a home in our hearts.
Our Eyes. Proverbs 4:25: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” To quote Matthew Henry, “We must make a covenant with our eyes. Let them look straight ahead. Let the eye be fixed and not wandering; let it not wander aimlessly after everything that presents itself, for then it will be diverted from good and ensnared by evil. Do not look aside for any selfish purpose.” We must fix our eyes on Christ and not look to the things that pull us away from that. There are so many things that are vying for our eyes attention-temptation, comparison, social media, wants, the applause of men-don’t let your eyes be fixed to those things. “Unbridled lust for material things can cloud one’s spiritual sight; obsession with earthly things obscures one’s sunny view of God.” (The Moody Bible Commentary) And let us not compare what we are doing to anyone else. How we parent, how we spend our family time, what activities we allow for our children-all of these things are to be decided upon as a family with God as the head and asking his guidance. Not one single other person needs to influence our decisions. One time Jesus was telling Peter how he would die. When he was finished, Peter saw the disciple whom Jesus loved and wanted to know, “What about him?” He was asking, well, how is he going to die? Is he going to suffer too? Peter wanted to know-HE WANTED TO COMPARE. Jesus frankly said to him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, WHAT IS THAT TO YOU? YOU must follow ME.” John 21:22 Jesus is saying, it shouldn’t matter one bit what I’m going to do in his life, YOU are to focus on what I’m telling you to do with yours. He’s telling Peter, “Follow me and stop worrying about anyone else!” We all need to just follow Him and stop worrying about what he’s asking other parents to do.
Our Feet. Proverbs 4:26: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” I read a long time ago that we must “put the Word of God in one scale, and what you have done, or are about to do, in the other, and see how they agree.” We need level paths. Smooth paths. Remove obstacles out of your way that make you stumble and fall. Walking on a curvy, obstacle-filled path in darkness, with potholes and tree branches smacking you in the face will prove much harder to navigate than a smooth, straight, well-lit path. The curvy path will take more time and energy. It will be hard to see where you are going. But we don’t have to walk on that path. We can choose a straight path: when we read God’s Word and do what it says. When we are obedient to Him and what the Spirit is asking of us. When we guard our hearts. Fill our minds with God, his ways, and his word so that our words, eyes, and feet reflect that. And we don’t have to walk in the dark; his Word is a light on our path. When we walk this path, we can show our children how to walk this path as well.
Our Focus. Proverbs 4:27: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” God has called each of us to a purpose. Do not let the pressures and influences of this world allow you to veer off course. Stay the course. It’s a marathon, and you are working out your salvation all along the way. Some stretches will be hard, but even when it’s hard, don’t veer. Keep your eyes fixed on the hope and the glory of Christ. Don’t be lead astray morally or mentally. Proverbs 5:23 says, “He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” We must have self-discipline for ourselves and be willing to discipline our children so that they are not lead astray by their own great folly. If one is not taught, corrected, or disciplined then he will suffer morally or mentally. His sin will lead to folly and ultimately to death. Be alert and aware of where you are prone to swerve off the path God has for you, and on to the path of sin, and pray for God to help you discipline your children where they need it to keep them from veering off his path onto a life on the path of folly. Just like a marathon runner, the runner must go through a rigorous training process. They do not just show up on race day and run 26 miles. No way. They train. And they train hard. They are consistent. They are self disciplined. We must train our children. We must train hard. We must be consistent and self disciplined. I often wonder if I’m doing it “right.” Or how I’m supposed to do this parenting thing anyway. But what always helps is fixing my eyes on Jesus. He has given us this season. He tells us, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12. He already has MY race marked out for me. He knows exactly what I need to run this race. He tells me to run it with perseverance! The definition of perseverance: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. He tells me to run it fixing my eyes on HIM. Not on the world, not on other moms, not on what everyone else is doing, but on what His Word says.
“My son, if your HEART is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.” Prov 22:15-16
My prayer for myself and my children is from Proverbs 22: 17,19,26: Lord, I pray that my children’s HEARTS will not envy sinners, but will always be zealous for the fear of you. That they will be wise and keep their HEARTS on the right path. I pray that will give you their HEARTS and let their eyes keep to your ways. In Jesus Name, Amen