I recently read this verse from the Book of Proverbs, and it has left a lasting and penetrating mark on me: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
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Above All Else
What captured my attention first were the words Above all else. My imagination journeyed into consideration about the seemingly absolute quality of those words.
Those words wanted to make a broad and full sweep across the details of my daily life. The list of people, activities, personal engagements, responsibilities, and all the other items that fill my weekly calendar are somehow made more simple while being greatly challenged by these three words: Above all else.
Of course, I have been led into a meditation on what (or, better, who) is primary in my life. Who is Above all else? I am reminded of the Scripture account concerning Martha and Mary as told in Luke 10:38-42.
Jesus enters the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to Him; it is the picture of the student absorbing the Master’s teaching. Martha is distracted by the preparations associated with hospitality, and she expresses some consternation that Mary is not helping her.
Certainly, this is not a story about the virtue of passivity as opposed to activity. Rather, it is about a centered and focused heart, as opposed to a distracted and worried heart.
A life focused on Christ as the primary and only concern of the heart is a life absorbed and shaped by Life itself. Jesus is living water:
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. – John 7:37
Jesus is the bread who came down from heaven; He is true food and true drink. It is worth spending time meditating on the riches found in John 6. In addition, there are some other rich passages from the Bible that remind us that God is our all.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
- As you examine your life, what is above all else?
- Is it Christ reigning supreme over your heart, or someone or something else?
Guard Your Heart
The word “guard” conjures up images of big men or women who are security guards in front of banks, or software that protects our computers from viruses. I have a cousin in Silicon Valley who makes robots that protect public places, like parking lots and malls!
As you can see, these images imply a sense of keeping danger away, setting up a protective wall or barrier, rejecting what is not wanted because it is dangerous. Certainly, the word “guard” can have these meanings.
However, I want to suggest a more subtle and, I believe, a more Biblical viewpoint. We need to remember that what is being guarded is the heart. So, guarding the heart is not so much about hardening the heart so that it becomes impenetrable to danger. Rather, the question is: To whom or to what is my heart vulnerable?
In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we read: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
The word “peace” has a much fuller meaning than simply lack of violence. Like the Hebrew Shalom, it means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, and harmony.
The heart that is guarded is not the heart that is poised in isolation, living in a fearful and narrow world. Rather, it is a heart that has become Christ’s heart because it has been transformed; it has undergone a new birth; it has taken up a new life in the Kingdom.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but 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
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – 1 Peter 1:3
- Is your heart more like a fearful child, squatting in a darkened dungeon, praying not to be hurt?
- Or is your heart open and vulnerable to the work of Christ because only through Him are you truly protected?
What is this heart that is being guarded? The Bible has a rich and deep notion of the human heart. In the NIV version of the Bible, the word “heart” appears 791 times. It’s important!
The term “heart” generally refers to the inner person and his spiritual life in all its dimensions. Just as we think of the human heart as centrally important to physical life, the heart (in the Biblical sense) is vital for spiritual life.
If the heart is in bad shape, we contract a disease, but if the heart of the inner person is in the Lord, then it is spiritually healthy. The heart is the battleground between a God-centered life and world-centered life.
We all worship someone or something, and the heart discloses to whom or to what we bend our knee. This is why the heart must be guarded: Everything you do flows from it.
Just as the Lord tells the people through the prophet Jeremiah to choose between the way of life and death (Jeremiah 21:8), so too the heart has essentially two ways before it.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. – Luke 6:45
He answered, Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself. – Luke 10:27
The process of Christian sanctification is basically a process of the ongoing spiritual work of making our hearts vulnerable to the Holy Spirit so that it truly becomes a fit temple for our LORD Jesus Christ. Out of this holy sanctuary will come to a life lived for His glory.
Call to Action
What are some practices and attitudes that, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, assist you in shaping your heart to live well with the King? The following questions will serve you as you think through what it means to live well with Him.
- How devoted are you to a biblical “program for life” as a Christian disciple? Read Matthew 5.
- Describe your prayer life to a friend. Read Matthew 6:6, 6:9, 26:41; Romans 8:26, 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:16.
- Ask a friend to give you feedback on how you use your tongue. See James 3.
- Are you regularly confessing your sins to God, and others when appropriate? See James 5:16.
- Describe to a close friend your daily reading of God’s Word. See Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 8:5-6.
- Reflect on the practical ways in which you serve others: family, friends, church, neighborhood, especially the poor and vulnerable. Read Mark 10:45.
- And above all else, how is your heart?