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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Guard your Heart

Just follow your heart’.

What does that mean? It’s a phrase often used.

Steve Jobs – architect of the Apple revolution - said in his 2005 speech at Stanford university: ‘And most important, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition’.

Steve Jobs understood that the heart of a human being is the place in a human soul where human desires, human impulses and human affections and intuitions spring from.

And, his advice along with so many others is, follow the leading and directing of your own heart.

Trust your heart. Listen to your heart. Follow your heart.

The underlying truth in all those statements is that there is a real thing called the human heart.

A real place where desires are produced.

The bible uses the word ‘heart’ extensively, and by the word, means the same thing as Steve Jobs meant.

Therefore, we need to start this morning with a definition, because the main point of this passage in Proverbs is, ‘Above all else, guard your heart’.

Here’s the definition: ‘The heart’ is the term the bible uses to describe the place in the human soul where human impulses (we might say desires or affections) spring from.

Desires for evil and desires for good.

Psalm 73:7 says – From their callous hearts comes iniquity.


Psalm 15:2 says – The one who does what is righteous, speaks the truth from their heart.

No wonder then that Solomon exhorts people in his proverbs, to guard their hearts and then he says, ‘because everything a person does flows from their heart’.

From this proverb, we learn two vital things:

First, the heart is easily influenced.

God is telling us to ring-fence our hearts because they are susceptible to influences of all kinds.

So, his word to everybody is, put a giant security fence up around your heart so that only select things can get in there.

And secondly, God is telling us that our hearts are highly influential.

From them flows everything we do!

Just think of how many things you do in a day – they all flow out of your heart.

In fact, we might say that our wills don’t attend to the slightest thing without our heart’s desires directing them.

The human heart is therefore both, highly susceptible to influence and highly influential.

And, in these 7 verses, Solomon is calling us not only to recognise these truths, but to consider how best to protect the heart, and what the results will be whether or not we guard it well.

In this proverb, Wisdom is speaking to us, encouraging and exhorting us to do certain things that are always designed to produce life.

Wisdom’s design if you like, is to prolong life; to move a person from spiritual death to spiritual life.

Verse 22: [the words of Wisdom] are life to those who find them.

That doesn’t mean they are magic –

just read them and they produce life.

It means that by reading them and doing what they say, they produce life in a person.

Jesus said, ‘Therefore if anyone hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice he is like a foolish man who built his house on sand’. Matt 7:26

It’s not surprising then that the Apostle Paul described Jesus as not only the power of God, but the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).

There’s a very significant link between the personification of wisdom that Solomon uses here in the proverbs, and the person of Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

(Col 2:3).

So, Wisdom is exhorting us children to listen carefully to words that, if followed, will be spiritual life to our whole bodies and spiritual health to our Christian lives, because they will in some way guard our hearts.

That’s what I think verses 20 to 22 are all about.

If we want a description of how to build the security fence of the heart, we get it here in the first two verses.

Just like a security fence is a weaving together of strong wires so that it can’t be penetrated by thieves and robbers, so the wise words of God need to be weaved together tightly around our hearts.

And, just like a security fence rises to a height where it cannot be scaled by an unwanted intruder, so the wise words of God are laid down on top of one another until they rise to become a high fence.

And, if you like your security fences really tough, then, just as a security fence is topped out with razor wire so that anybody with destructive intensions gets cut up as they try to come over the top, so the wise words of God sit on top of the fence and are like sharp double edged swords that penetrate, even to dividing soul and spirit (Heb 4:12).

Now notice, that Solomon knows how God has made our bodies and he knows how its gates work.

The body has three main in-gates: the eyes, the ears and the mouth, but for the intake of knowledge, it’s the eyes and the ears that are the chief gates.

By those gates, the body takes in words and pictures inputting them into the mind.

The mind’s appreciation of those words and pictures affects the desires that the heart produces. So, what we put into those gates will shape the heart’s responses.

That is why Solomon turns our attention to basic things – parts of our body – because they are the portals to the heart. They are highly significant and highly influential.

Verse 20 & 21, ‘Turn your ear to my words’…‘don’t let them out of your sight’.

Solomon knows that our ears will be turned to thousands of audio stimuli every hour. Thousands of words and sounds.

Solomon knows that our eyes will gaze on thousands of visual stimuli every hour of every day.

And his injunction to us is,

mainly turn away from those

and mainly turn your eyes and ears to God’s word.

This is precisely how we ‘keep [the word] in our heart’. We persistently use our ears and eyes to take in the Word of God.

And when I say persistently, I mean more persistently than you would commit your ears or your eyes to anything else.

And, I do think we can say ‘more persistently’ rather than ‘as persistently’ with confidence, for this one reason:

nothing else that we put in through our eyes and ears has the promise of life like God’s Words do.

These words of wisdom promise life.

So, what I mean by ‘more persistently’ is, devoting a greater share of the hours our eyes and ears are alert, to the Word, than to anything else our leisure time might afford us.

In fact, I would argue that one of the key applications of the new testament command to redeem the time (Eph 5:16), is to figure out how to use time that might seem unfruitful, to place into the ears or the eyes the Word of God.

To that end, the ears are very useful. We need almost our whole concentration when we use our eyes, but the ears are very good multitasking gates.

For example, I can wash up and listen to bible saturated online ministry very effectively.

I can drive a car and listen to the bible being read, very engagingly.

I can clean the bathroom and listen to bible saturated hymns of praise with God-given efficiency.

The ears afford that kind of time redeeming scope.

The eyes, on the other hand, require more devoted time. But the resources available to us, by which God’s words of wisdom might be read, mean that we do not have to work hard to access the wisdom of God with our eyes either.

So, yes, I do believe in ‘more persistently’ turning our ears and eyes to the word than anything else we might do with the time we have available to us, and most of all because our spiritual lives depend on it.

But, beware, you can spend hours listening and reading, but very few of the words take root in the heart.

For the words to take root – what Solomon calls ‘keeping them within the heart’ – requires deeper thoughtful contemplation.

That is to say, it requires meditation and likely memorisation too.

The psalmist says: ‘My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises’.


I remember, Lord, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them’ (Ps 119:148 and 52).

So, the body has these two in-gates – the eyes and the ears, and what goes in by them significantly influences the heart.

Mostly put average, low grade material in by them and the heart will produce average, low grade desires for God.

Put the priceless, precious, pearls of God’s wisdom in – mainly – and the heart’s affections will follow suit.

That daily, persistent intake of God’s Word gets weaved; gets built up and gets topped out into a security mesh fence for the heart.

Quite apart from my own failure to use my ears and my eyes well, just being at work for 40 hours of every week, is enough to mean that heart-corrupting sounds and sights are my daily reality.

Just going to the shops, or listening to the radio or walking down the street, or googling an innocent search item, means a bombardment of the ears and the eyes with heart influences.

That’s when a spiritual security fence for the heart is so essential - it filters out the rubbish.

But to work effectively it has to be weaved tight, built high and topped out with razor wire and repaired and upgraded every day thereafter.

Thanks, be to God for his powerful word of wisdom – it is the means by which we guard our hearts.

But the heart is not only easily influenced, but is highly influential, and I want to spend our last minutes seeing how that works in verses 24 to 27.

Affections are so persuasive that what we think of as our will independently acting, is in actual fact directed by our affections.

Out of the heart flows everything we do!

The apostle James says, ‘each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin’.

In James’ conception, the heart produces the desire and the desire produces the sin.

In the context of proverbs 4, the heart is enticed first and then the mouth speaks unreasonableness – perversity.

The lips talk corruption.

The feet tread crooked and devious paths (Prov 2:15). The whole body leaves the straight way and follows dark ways instead (Prov 2:13).

But the one who has attended to the heart by paying attention to the wisdom of God, produces desires that concord with good speech and righteous lips and wayfinding eyes, and thoughtful minds, and steadfast wills and feet that avoid evil.

Think in terms of the three major spheres of output from human life: attitude, actions and speech, and I think they are all represented in these final four verses.

Verse 24, exhorts us to careful thoughtfulness.

The Apostle Paul says to the Romans, ‘May God…give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that…you may glorify God’ (Rom 15:5-6).

That’s the sort of attitude of mind we must be looking for – the one Jesus had - because it glorifies God.

And, Solomon is telling us, we get it by feeding our hearts with the wisdom of God’s Word.

Verses 25 & 27 are about actions – keep your foot from evil.

The apostle John encourages his readers to, ‘love with...actions in truth(1 John 3:18).

And, Solomon is telling us that keeping the Word of God in our hearts is how we act in truth.

And, verse 24 is all about speech – a mouth free from perversity and lips free from corrupt talk.

The Apostle Paul commands the believers at Ephesus not to allow any ‘foolish talk or course joking…but rather thanksgiving (Eph 5:4).

And, Solomon is telling us that by guarding our hearts with God’s Word we can fulfil that commandment too.

The reality is, that navigating life with all of its speech, actions and attitudes in a way that honours the holiness of God is totally impossible.

Jesus is God’s answer for that insurmountable problem. In Jesus was a heart of pure gold.

His heart was always perfectly ring-fenced with the wisdom of God.

We know that because he was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin, Hebrews tells us (4:15).

Satan tested him in the wilderness but his attitude, speech and actions were perfectly righteous and honourable to God.

He went to the cross in that condition – a lamb without blemish.

And there on that cross he bought, not only forgiveness for the sins produced by our sinful hearts, but a new heart inclination.

Perhaps you find no desires in your heart for God’s honour and his glory.

That’s what it is to be an unbeliever.

Know this, that if you want those new inclinations, only Jesus can supply them.

You must go the cross pleading for a new heart to serve him.

The moment you believe and those heart inclinations are supplied, then starts a life-long battle to guard your heart with the Word of God so that the attitudes, actions and speech of your life testify to the reality of God in it.

So, what about Steve Jobs?

Should we follow our hearts as he recommends?

That depends on the condition of the heart.

Is it a heart well-guarded with the security fence of the Word of Wisdom, or is it a heart fed with rubbish, where anything can get in and take root?

Holy living comes from the heart that is saturated with the wisdom of God.

The psalmist can say about his own heart that it instructs him (Ps 16:7), but Jeremiah says about the hearts of Israel that they are deceitful above all things (17:9).

Perhaps, the most reliable thing we can do, is not to follow our hearts so much as to direct them, for the ‘word of God…judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Heb 4:12).

The word of God is the divine measure and brings our hearts into line.

In short, His words are our life and our health.

May the Lord bless his word to our very hearts. Amen.


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