“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” NIV
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” NASB
Woe is me, Proverbs 4:23.
You have been the object of much frustration and confusion. You have clouded my vision and muddied my thoughts for some time now. What do you mean?
The Hebrew of the word “heart” means “the feelings, the will, the intellect, centre” (biblehub.com). “Above all else” or “with all diligence” gives the heart status among what is to be watched. The Pulpit commentary gives this understanding, “keep thy heart more than any other keeping” (biblehub.com).
C.S. Lewis said, “What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.” The philosophy I bring to the Proverb shapes the way I understand guarding my heart. This then means I have to pay attention to the philosophies structuring my thoughts and creating the lens through which I see and perceive things. Notice the Hebrew of the word “heart” included the intellect and the feelings and the will. Phillip Bethancourt, in his article “What does ‘guard your heart’ really mean in dating,” includes how the Israelites would have understood Solomon’s message in this verse. He says…
“While we understand the heart as the seat of our emotions and will, Israel understood the heart to be the center of the whole person- not just the source of emotions and will but also of wisdom and perspective. In essence, the heart referred to who you are as a person. Solomon rightly realized that what you do flows from who you are.”
“It’s (guarding your heart) is a call to protect your character in all that you do.”
My heart, then, harbors more than just feelings. It harbors the essence of who I am, my character interwoven in the thumbprint of humanity.
I have mentioned this book once before, so if you haven’t noticed, it is one of my favorites; I highly recommend reading it. Please, please, please read it. Anyway, there is a fascinating conversation in The Alchemist between Santiago and the Alchemist as they are crossing the desert on the way to the Egyptian pyramids in pursuit of Santiago’s treasure. They discuss listening to one’s heart. Santiago mentions that his heart has been both quiet and keeping him up at night thinking about Fatima, the woman he loves. He tells the Alchemist it seems agitated and emotional. The Alchemist replies that Santiago should continue to listen because he may lose all communication with it if he stops. Santiago questions whether he should listen to his heart even if it is “treasonous.”
“If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes and will know how to deal with them” (129).
Listening to his heart, Santiago tells the Alchemist that it is afraid of suffering.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity” (130).
Santiago learns to listen to his heart and accept it for all the emotions and perspectives, all of who he is as Santiago. This also means he becomes very familiar with his humanity and acknowledges the light and dark inside of him. Our hearts can become treasonous to us because for the most part, we fancy we are moral and good people. Thus, we want to believe that if something is from our heart, it is true and good. We fall into pretending the dark doesn’t exist or doesn’t affect the philosophies we bring to our experiences, shaping how we perceive things. I think this is why the Alchemist tells Santiago to continue listening to his heart, however confusing or agonizing it may be because losing touch with the ways of the heart means losing touch with the roots of who you are as an individual and human being. We cannot escape our humanity, and by no means it is easy acknowledging all that man is.
18“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Matthew 15:17-18 NASB
It is interesting to consider keeping the heart or guarding it diligently when all of the ugliness above is said to come from it. Why should we ever guard and protect something so seemingly evil? Because it is not just evil. As creatures, we bear the thumbprint of our Creator. And if I believe my Creator is good and righteous, I have to trust I have immense capacity for good and righteousness, not just evil. Listening to my heart allows me to be aware of and real with myself about the ugliness but not leave it there. Santiago listens when his heart says it is afraid of suffering. He doesn’t dismiss it or pretend. I would argue Jesus does something quite similar when He is praying in the garden before His death. He asks that this cup pass from Him. It would seem His human heart is fearful of the events about to unfold, though He knows they are part of the fulfillment of His purpose. He then says, “not My will, but Your will be done.” I think this gives an amazing view of understanding one’s heart and being aware of its capacity at a level I know I am very far off from. In my broken perspective, its like Jesus saying to His heart, “I feel you heart, I know you are fearful and do not want what is coming. However, I also know you know the Father’s good will and believe in it fully. I know you want His will to be done as well.” How do we get here though? It seems quite plain to me from this passage in Scripture. Prayer.
In the same article mentioned previously, Phillip Bethancourt links the idea of guarding one’s heart in the Proverbs verse with the following in the book of Philippians. Let it be noted that the authors of these books are not the same and the time periods and circumstances in which they are written are very different. However, the same sentiment of guarding the heart appears.
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I need prayer to know my heart better. I need quiet time with the Lord to be real about the evil I find in it and to understand the structures that create the philosophies I bring to my experiences. I do not need to know why. I often like to and can ask why; the Lord is gracious in possibly giving me glimpses, but I cannot fully understand His peace as He bestows it on me. Sometimes I don’t even want it because the last thing it feels like is peace. I have to tell my heart to abide in His peace over and over, to let it be, so I can be romanced and love the Lord more and more deeply. Getting me to the garden where I can say, “this is what my heart is saying Lord, but Thy will be done.”
“Young people, you must pray, for your passions are strong, and your wisdom is little.”
C. H. Spurgeon
So guarding my heart looks like this. Through prayer, being sound in and reminded of who I am and indifferently giving all of myself just up until, and only stopping just before, the point of conformity, not protecting my character or trading my soul. This is a terrifying discernment, leaving my heart subtly bridled if gone beyond and incessantly thirsty if left short, so I must listen to my heart and be aware of the good and evil inside of me. Even still, it is inevitable both will at one point become a reality and be painful as they do. I hope to, more often than not, fall into the former. The torture of “what if” and “what might have been had you given a little more” leaves the mouth ever so unbearably parched.
I hear you, Proverbs 4:23.