“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23)
The book of Proverbs has much to say about the heart—not the all-important organ of the body that is the hub of its circulatory system, but the inner essence of a man or woman that decides which details of knowledge their mind has acquired will become a part of themselves. To know something is true, and then to “take it to heart,” are two very different things. Together they provide both zeal and knowledge, the combination of which should determine conviction.
The heart has been called “the citadel of man,” which is appropriate when you consider that a citadel is a fortress within a city that serves to both protect and preside over it. When the Bible says, “out of it are the issues of life,” I see two meanings for the word “issue” that you and I are familiar with. Not only the Biblical truth that whatever is in the heart will finally issue forth out of the mouth (Matt.12:34); but also the idea that those issues of life that are of greatest consequence, and that require definite decisions, are most often heart decisions. It’s been said that if you can get a man to think your way, you’ve won the man. But I would contend that unless you have persuaded his heart as well as his head, you still only have a spectator, not a true participator. To quote the Puritan writer, Charles Bridges:
“If the citadel be taken, the whole town must surrender.
If the heart be seized, the whole man—affections, desires,
motives, pursuits—all will be yielded up.”
This is why Solomon advises us to keep our hearts with “all diligence.” It’s too important to leave to chance or whim. Love is too important to fall into and out of; zeal is too essential to waste on nonessentials; compassion is too consuming to shower on those who are unworthy; and allegiance is too demanding to give to anyone except God. An undisciplined, unguarded heart will bring much harm and hurt to itself and to others. On the other hand, a great, tender, but guarded heart is capable of the most gratifying love, while inspiring it in others. Just as the word “hate” should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, so should the word “love” be reserved only for those people and causes that reflect the principles of Scripture.
The heart that is right will show itself (eventually) by what the mouth says (v.24), where the eyes look (v.25), and where the feet go (v.26). The touching, but naive saying, “Follow your heart,” is unnecessary; you will. Who and what you love tell who and what you are. Whatever things in life you treasure, says our Lord, are what you will set your heart upon. So it’s vital that your heart, not just your head, be grounded in Spiritual truth. That’s why Solomon told his son in verse twenty-one to keep his words “in the midst of [his] heart.”
You’ve heard someone characterized as having his or her “heart in the right place.” How about you and me? Do our hearts rest within the confines of the will of God, or are they wandering aimlessly, open to those people and things that would steal our love for God and things holy?
We should guard our hearts as we would guard our very lives, because that’s exactly what it is. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”