The “heart” is referenced 79x’s in the ancient book of Proverbs, that’s over twice per chapter. Clearly, this is an important topic. It was the Puritan John Flavel who noted that the “greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.” Perhaps one of the most famous Proverbs is 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” What is the heart? How do we keep it? How do we change it?
Most situations in life are not covered by the normal rules of life. Life requires more than techniques, a cheery outlook, an an appropriate Google search. You can be brilliant and moral and still make a mess of your life. It doesn require that you live long to know that being human can be messy and a bit complicated. We need something that is rarely talked about today: wisdom. So far in our study of the book of Proverbs we have defined wisdom as the skill of living, particularly in the gray areas of life. Wisdom is not the result of a technique or mastering a body of knowledge. Rather, wisdom is the result of a posture of heart that enables you to make right decisions. That posture of heart, per 1:7, is “fear of the Lord.”
4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
The topic of the “heart” is referenced over 79x’s in Proverbs, that’s over 2x/chapter. It was the Puritan John Flavel who noted that the “greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.” So, today, we’re going to ask:
#1 What is the heart?
#2 How do we keep it?
#3 How do we get it to change?
Q: WHAT IS THE HEART?
2:2 [Make] your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding.
2:10 Wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
3:1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.
3:3 Bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
4:4 Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.
4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
6:21 Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck (cf 7:3)
7:25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths…
10:8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
10:8 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
11:20 Those of crooked heart are an abomination of the Lord…
12:20 Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.
12:23 A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly
14:30 A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
14:33 Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding…
15:7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.
15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
15:14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge…
16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
16:5 Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord..
16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps
16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning…
16:23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
17:3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.
18:12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
18:15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
19:3 When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.
19:18 Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.
20:5 The purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.
21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
22:17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge
23:12 Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.
23:17 Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
23:19 Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.
23:26 My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.
26:23 LIke the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart.
26:24 Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart.
27:19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.
28:14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
Today, when we think of the “heart” we tend to think of our emotions or affections. It is common to hear “follow your heart” or “listen to your heart” or “just go with your heart”. What that means is you should do whatever you feel. Many sociologists have traced this back to the Greek understandin of the body (as the seat of emotions) and the soul (as the seat of the intellect). For this reason we talk about the need to choose between the heart and the head.
But, the Bible has a different understanding of the heart. Biblically, the heart is who you really are, source of life, emotions, thinking, convictions, actions (i.e. soul). 27:19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man. It’s important because from it “flows the springs of life.” In other words, the heart is the fountain of life, the source of all our words and actions. Ex. Bunyan: Mind: eye of heart; conscience: judge of the heart; memory: register of the heart; affection; hands/arms of the heart; will: foot of the heart.
This means, importantly, that Christianity is not merely concerned with the intellect (it is!) or emotions (it is!) or will (it is!). Christianity is concerned with the whole person. Christanity is not something you take up. Christianity is something that takes you up – whole person.
Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Jesus
Mk 7:21 “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
What does that mean? Life does not flow from the outside in; it flows from the inside out. What flows out from you?
If your heart is full of…then…will be what flows out.
Now, we do a pretty good job of convincing ourselves that we are good people. We can keep it under control when things are going well (fed, rested, everything goes as planned). But, the real us comes out when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, under appreciated, under pressure, life NOT going well. Q: What do we do when bad things come out of us? We blame others (dad, kids), circumstances, MyersBriggs, DISC, ADD, meds, food.
Q: What are we supposed do we with our heart? We are supposed to “keep w/ all vigilance” = guard, watch over. Did you know you were supposed to guard your heart? Who even thought about their heart this week? You are on security detail for your heart.More than house, car, bank balance, kids, family, health, life. Of all things that we neglect, we must not neglect our heart, but guard it, keep it, watch it with vigilance. Have you been doing that? Making condition of your heart before God greater than any other concern?
Why? Because the trajectory of our heart is not temporal but eternal. Listen to how CS Lewis describes the eternal importance of our character:
“Christianity asserts that we are going to go on forever…Now there are a great many things that wouldn’t be worth bothering about if I was only going to live eighty years or so, but I had better bother about if I am going to go on living forever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are getting worse so gradually that the increase in my lifetime will not be very noticeable but it might be absolute hell in a million years. In fact, if Christianity is true, hell is precisely the correct technical term for it. Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others, but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or to even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on and on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.” – CS Lewis
God is concerned about who we are becoming and how we experience this life and the next. That is, of course, why he came. More on that later.
Q: HOW DO WE “KEEP” THE HEART?
Keeping the heart begins with and continues by being in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Proverbs says it this way, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In other words, proper relationship with God is the beginning of wisdom. To be wise we must be in right relationship with the author of wisdom.
Jesus said something similar, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37, 38) In other words, Jesus is saying that we’ll never lose way if we keep coming to Jesus and drinking in his acceptance, forgiveness, grace.
To understand how to keep our hearts we have to understand a bit of how our hearts work. Martin Luther famously noted that we never break commandments 2-9 without first breaking 1 – “You shall have no other gods before me” Why do we lie, envy, selfish? Because there is something you feel you must have to be happy more important than God himself. We lie because we make human approval, reputation, power more valuable to our hearts than God. Every human heart has decided on something you must have to receive life joyfully. “I know I’ll be happy, significant, worthwhile, value, be approved when __________”
Q: What does this have to do with wisdom? Everything. (Keller, Counterfeit Gods)Because whatever our heart has decided is our ultimate love effects all of our decisions and choices. Whatever we’ve decided we must have to receive life joyfully shapes how we think, see, perceive, act. Remember that wisdom is not a technique, but the result of a type of character that enables you to make right decisions.
If anything but God is main love of your heart – per Proverbs – you will be a fool. Making anything other than God ultimate, actually undermines your ability to get those very things.
Only if God is more important than money/marriage/kids/work will you be in place to make good decisions Letting God be God to you, puts everything in its proper place – marriage, work, kids, money, etc.
Augustine said it this way. Our main problem is that our loves are disordered and the result is: fear, bitter, anxiety, anger, paranoid, pride . The great secret to keeping our heart = identify and dismantle basic idols of our hearts that are more important than God.
Q: How do we identify the idols of our hearts? What are your heart’s true loves?
#1 Imagination: What do u think about, when nothing else to think about? Mind naturally go? Dream?
#2 Finances: “Where ur treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mt6:21. Your money flows towards greatest love
#3 Suffering: How do you respond frustrated hopes? Things that cause explosive anger and deep despair.
#4 Emotions: What are your most uncontrollable emotions? Emotions = dashboard of soul. Check engine!
#5 Success: What’s definition of success? What do you have to have to feel successful, happy, fulfilled?
Q: What does your heart look to? What do you have to have to be happy, secure? The process of keeping our heart is primarily task of watching for things the threaten God being God to us. You might say, “Ok, I’ll go home and do that right now….” but, the Bible says its not so easy to change our hearts.
Q: HOW DO WE CHANGE OUR HEART?
“We are as able to stop the sun in its course, or to make the rivers run backward, as by our own skill and power to rule and order our hearts.” John Flavel
We can’t fix or change our hearts by sheer will power. Saying “stop it” or “be good” or “don’t be dumb” will never work
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Col 3:1-5
Note what Paul does in Col 3:1-5. How do we put idolatry to death? Idolatry is not merely a failure to obey God. Idolatry is setting whole heart on something besides God. So, Paul tells us to “Set mind and heart on things above..” What does that mean? It means to rejoice, rest, relish in what Jesus has done for you – who Jesus is and what he has done.In other words, Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. Only way you’re going to get your heart to get off of one beauty is to find a better one.Only thing that will replace your attraction to idols is to find something more attractive – which can only be God. What we’re really longing for – acceptance, value, worth, approval, etc – can only be found in God in the measure that we’re looking for it. But, here’s the catch – You have trust him. His timing. His ways. His outcome. His process.
Therefore, the process of keeping and guarding our heart is a lifelong process. We don’t arrive. Mature Christians are not people who have arrived. That is not possible in this life. Mature Christians are those who grow in understanding of their own heart and the supremacy of Christ in all things.
This also includes:
- Keeping heart full of God via means of grace (scripture, prayer, serving, community, worship).
- Watching what we see and listen to. Not filling hearts with death.
- Reflecting on gospel. Filling heart w/ love of Christ for sinful men by believing gospel moment by moment.
6 encouragements to keep your heart with all vigilance.
#1 More you understand your heart the more you will see uniqueness of Jesus Christ.Every other religion, worldview, belief system tells you to change your behavior. Christianity offers you a new heart. Eze 36:26 “I will give you a new heart + a new spirit w/in you. I will remove your heart of stone…give you heart of flesh.”
#2 Guard against temptation. As you guard your heart you will learn what tempts your heart and be prepared for it in advance – and you’ll be less susceptible to the lies tempation brings with it. 28:14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
#3 Give you assurance. Pr 3:5-7 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Straight paths do not equal easy paths without obstacles, but it does mean your loves will be rightly ordered – your heart will be set straight.
#4 Get to see God. Mt 5:8 “for the pure in heart see God”
#5 Makes your faith vital, real, necessary, and relational.
#6 Better friend, family, spouse.
Why? Because you’re not making gods out of them. Letting God be God to you, allows you to actually, freely enjoy others.