“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
The divine command given in this verse is to “watch over your heart.” The divine directive is to watch over your heart—“with all diligence.” The divine reason for the directive is that “from it flow the springs of life.” The Hebrew translation of this verse could read, “above all things that have to be guarded, keep or guard your heart.
The priority here is that there are many other important things in life which must be guarded, such as your health, your riches, your property and your family, but before and above everything else, the object of your uppermost observation is the heart. It must be guarded. It is the most precious possession committed to your trust.
What is to be watched over?
In the Bible, the heart is to the life what the head is to the body—it is command central. It is the citadel of man. In this operations center you find the mind (Prov.23:7), the affections, the conscience and the will. The heart stands for the whole inner life of a man which is compared to a city. As a city,
- It has entrance gates—the eye gate and the ear gate receive thoughts and impulses from without.
- It has ways of exit—it exports what it imports, and it sends signals and messages that can be both good and bad.
- It has internal freeways—where information is carried from the mind to the heart, and from the affections to the conscience and the will. Traffic inside can be heavy on some days and light on others, nevertheless, order is key and the danger always exist of a major accident.
- It has warehouses—the memory stores pictures from the past. Some are beauty portraits of memorable lessons. Others are vile and perverted scenes of lust and corruption. Every day, we walk through the gallery—gazing at the some pictures, turn away or ignoring others. Stocking our picture gallery with healthy scene is productive for a sanctified life.
- It has factories—it is in the heart that all sorts of things are produced according to Jesus (Matt.15:18-20). In the heart of a child it is the place where foolishness is bound up great care must be exercised in bringing it out (Prov.22:15)
- It has parks of recreation—place we go to relax and play, thus we have the warning from Paul, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph.5:18)
- It has shrines of worship—if you could open up the curtains which cover every heart, you would find a shrine, a place of worship. As a Christian we must see to it that no idol takes the place of the true God, or no incense of hypocrisy is burned or praise given to another.
- It has graveyards and ghosts—yes, there are dead dreams and loves, which some of us place fresh flowers upon each week. In the graveyard of our hearts there should also be dead sins of the past. And ghosts that haunt us are the memories of the past that come clanging that chains and seeking to enslave us to fear. You know about these ghost don’t you? What ghosts of your past keep popping up seeking to haunt you?
Why is it to be watched over?
Because of what comes out of it—“for from it flows the issues of life.” “For” is the conjunction that connects the command with the reason. The reason the heart is to be guarded is because all the actions of life are determined by the heart’s condition. The heart here is compared with a fountain, and as the fountain is, so is the streams. If the heart is pure, the life will be pure. If the heart is corrupt, then the life will be corrupt. The heart is the spring, the source, the center from which actions are determined. It is a self-acting pump from which all our activities are derived. If the citadel be taken, the whole city must surrender. If the heart is seized, the whole man—affections, desires, motives and the mind will be yielded up and defeated.
The fundamental principle here is that if the heart is taken care of first, and right principles are cultivated and affections set on things above, then the practice of the particulars in life will be sure to follow.
However, is it not enough to know biblical truths or be able to articulate biblical principles—beneath principles lies character, and beneath the character lies life—spiritual life or the absence thereof. Therefore, the prerequisite is not to do this deed or that duty, it is to possess eternal life in the heart (Jn.17:3), out of which will flow the spiritual virtue and power to every nook and cranny of your conduct.
How is it to be done?
John Flavel once said, “The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God, and after conversion to keep it with Him.” [Saints Indeed] “With all diligence,” in other words, it is an active keeping not a passive watching. To “watch over your heart” does not mean simply avoiding the things that can defile it, but the emphasis lies on the active side of guarding it like an army garrison. The idea of “diligence” here carries with it thought of obligation. The watching of the heart is to be so prominent in your mind that an obligation and a conviction lies upon you in keeping it. Because of its precious cargo, the Christian can never be caught sleeping at this post. The consequences are too devastating!
- The heart must be known in order to be effectively kept. Now by this, I am not saying that we can know our heart completely, but we can know the tendencies of our heart, the dispositions, the strengths, the weaknesses and the longing of our heart. If you do not know your weak spots and the sins which so easily entangles you (Heb.12:1-2), be sure of this: Satan does!
- Once you know the general tenor and frame of your heart, the question must come to you, “Can I keep my own heart?” And the answer is, absolutely NOT! The call to watch over our hearts does not imply that we have the ability to do so. So how do we reconcile the command of God with the need we have?
- Remember, its God work, but its man’s agency. He implants the active principle and sustains the exercise, we submit in loyalty and respond obedience. (Phil.2:12; Jude 24)
Conscious faith commits the keeping our ours souls to a faithful Creator. (1 Pet.4:19)
- Watch and pray.
- Cherish a humble and dependant spirit.
- Live in the atmosphere of the Word of God.
- Resist the entry of the world’s pleasures, treasures and values into your life.
How are we to do this practically?
Your Lips (v. 24)—watch falsehood of speech by guarding the ear gate from the company of those who are deceitful (misrepresent what is true) and devious (twisted in thinking). The mouth is the most ready expression of the heart, and we must remember that we are responsible for our words. Our word are like deeds in the sight of God (Matt.12:36), which carry influence and linger in memories long after you have been forgotten.
Your Eyes (v. 25)—watch falsehood of actions by maintaining a singleness of heart and simplicity of aim. The eye is one of the chief gateways of knowledge. Charles Bridges called it, “The directive faculty of the soul.” [Proverbs, pg.54]. Do nothing rashly, but let everything be done with premeditation. Job made a covenant with his eyes (Jb.31:1). Lot’s wife lost her life because she looked back (Gen.19:17, 26). If you want to keep a singleness of heart, you must be guided by a simplicity of aim. (Cf. Matt.5:28-29)
Your Feet (v. 26)—remove obstacles to progress by considering your actions before you take them.
- Your gaze is to be concentrated.
- Your feet are to be fixed straightforward, and not to be deflected onto other paths by adversity or prosperity.
- Beware of mistaking presumption for faith or temptation for divine appointments.
- The man or woman of God must have only one standard (Isa.7:20)
“And your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” (Isa.30:21)