Why Is It Essential That We Guard Our Hearts?
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).
Keep, watch, guard your heart . . . with all diligence, with all vigilance, above all else. No matter the Biblical translation, this is strong language indicating that the warning and instruction to “guard your heart” is essential. And if something is essential, it’s necessary for life.
Some of the most secure and heavily guarded facilities and locations on Earth are places like Fort Knox, Area 51, The Mormon Church’s Secret Vaults, the New York Federal Reserve, and the Vatican Secret Archives. We guard plans, secrets, treasures, riches, resources, valuables, weapons, world leaders, criminals, borders, documents and records. We are vigilant about protecting and securing things, ideas, and people that are irreplaceable, valuable, invaluable, fragile, dangerous, wanted, and hated.
Yet, our own hearts we leave unprotected. Our hopes, dreams, emotions, and affections – the very epicenter of who we are – are left wide open to any and all influences. Think about it: we flip the pages, click the links, skim, listen, create, pay, post, share, retweet, and like with little to no filtering. We aren’t guarding our hearts. The walls are down, the security is minimal, the vulnerability is great even though the Word of God says, “above all else…” guard your heart. “For everything you do flows from it,” and “for out of it springs the issues of life.”
Guard It with the Breastplate of Righteousness
A study of Ephesians chapter 6 will show that the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14) is the piece of spiritual armor that we can put on to protect our heart. A physical enemy would aim for your physical, vital organs. But our spiritual enemy, Satan, aims for our spiritual core – our soul.
“Your soul,” as author and speaker Priscilla Shirer put it in “The Armor of God,” “is what makes you a unique individual. It’s your personality, your distinctive internal nature, and it is composed of four important factors: mind (your thoughts), will (your ambitions), emotion (your feelings), conscience (your moral compass). When Scripture speaks of your heart, it’s referring to the intersection of these four internal characteristics. The heart is the centerpiece of the soul.”
Righteousness Is Right Thinking and Right Living
It is righteousness that will protect your heart from damage, disease, and destruction. Righteousness is right thinking and right living. Know what is right and do it. That is precisely why God gave us His Word.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
We need the Word of God to teach us, to rebuke us, to correct us, and to train us in righteousness! How else will we know what is right and what is wrong? By guessing? By feeling? That’s like playing darts blindfolded. You’ll be a lot more successful if you take the blindfold off and aim for the bullseye. God does not leave us confused about what is right and what is wrong.
Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is to filter all your thoughts, words, and deeds through the standard of God’s righteousness. And it starts with your thoughts. I don’t know who said it first but the following saying is absolutely true:
“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Satan Loves an Unprotected Heart
The enemy of God would love to destroy and devour us (John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8) or, at the very least, wreak havoc in our hearts. If he can access and influence your unguarded feelings and emotions, he will. And if he does, he is well on his way to causing destruction.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Think about it: if we don’t guard our hearts, Satan has the opportunity to tempt us to engage in heart attitudes that are the opposite of righteous. Instead of loving, we are selfish and hateful; instead of joyful, we battle depression; rather than being satisfied with God, we are greedy and covetous; instead of peaceful, we tend toward anger, wrath, rage and anxiety. The opposite of right is wrong.
All Satan has to do is tamper with your feelings and emotions. He doesn’t have to tempt you with sin, but if he can get you to a point of discontentment or disappointment with your current circumstances (job, health, spouse, family, body image, etc.), those feelings can easily morph into anger, envy, jealousy, fantasizing about a different life… and then snap! The mouse is caught in the trap. Your heart is in the hands of the wrong master.
Practical Advice for Guarding Your Heart
To guard your heart is to keep it in check, to make healthy (right) decisions for it. For our physical hearts, we eat right, exercise, and get regular checkups at the doctor. Our spiritual hearts need even more care and protection. Practicing righteousness (ie. applying the breastplate) does not just require thinking rightly and doing the right things; it also requires that we put a stop to wrong thinking and wrong behavior. You can’t be pure if you’re putting impurities into your mind (movies, books, music, etc.). You can’t be content if you’re spending time focusing on people who have the life you want (social media). You have to install a mental filter, taking captive every thought and aligning it with the standard of the Word of God.
“…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
It doesn’t help to start doing aerobic exercise 45 minutes daily if you’re still going to eat an entire bag of chips and container of ice cream every single day. Putting on and putting off need to go together. Imagine Satan coming at you with a drawn bow and flaming arrow. Now imagine yourself complete with the breastplate of righteousness. Combat Satan with right thinking and right living. Cast off anything that could present a weak spot in your protective armor.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Identify Your Treasure
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Is there an EKG (electrocardiogram) for your spiritual heart? In a way, there is. Pray and ask God to help you identify your treasures. The things and people that you treasure (love, cherish, hold tightly, grant first place in your heart) have your heart. Do you treasure God and the things He treasures? Do you treasure His righteousness? If so, your heart is likely in a safe and protected place. If not, your heart is vulnerable and in danger of being influenced by unrighteousness.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33).
Perhaps the things you treasure make evident that you are not even in a relationship with Jesus Christ. You don’t yet have faith in Him. You haven’t given Him your heart. If this is the case, above all else, you need Him and His righteousness!
“…I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-10).
What if You’re Already Caught in a Sinful Trap and Can’t Get Out?
1. Confess that you need help. Admit it to yourself, God, and a trusted brother or sister in Christ. Confess your sin to God and to someone who cares for you spiritually. Once a godly friend knows, he or she can help point you back to Christ.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).
2. Commune with other believers. Christian community is an atmosphere of life and light. Unrighteousness thrives in the dark but is exposed when we come into the light. That doesn’t feel good, but it’s spiritually lifesaving! Take advantage of Christian community. Seek help from the family of God.
Can an insect caught in a spider’s web get itself out? No. The more the insect struggles, the more “stuck” it becomes. This is very like us. When we fail at guarding our hearts, we can end up trapped in patterns and habits of unrighteous thinking and unrighteous living. The more we struggle in own strength, the more trapped we become. We need help. We need God, the Word of God, and the body of Christ! Help is available and to not take advantage of it is like refusing a life preserver when you’re drowning.
If God tells us to guard our hearts, above all else, He will help us! Go to Him and ask for His help. It’s far too important not to.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Paweł Czerwiński
Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.