The wisdom of the Bible is unmatched as a source of refuge and inner strength. A verse in Proverbs states a very significant key to a healthy life. “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary says, “Heart is a word that Proverbs uses to describe the entire internal life of a person. It is an internal reflection of the person.” The heart of a person is the core inner self. The Hebrew word used in the text is a combination of inclination, disposition, determination, courage, will, intention, attention, consideration, and reason. The heart determines and reflects values, attitudes, and motivations. Who we are as a person (identity) is determined by our heart.
Our physical heart pumps our blood to the parts of the body needing to function from the life the blood carries. So too our soul-heart carries the contents of our inner self to the whole being. If we eat proper foods and our systems are functioning properly, the blood does it job of nourishing towards health. If the blood becomes tainted or systems aren’t properly working, our body suffers. But if the heart is bad, everything falls apart. A bad heart gives us no chance for good health (physically, mentally, or spiritually speaking). More on this can be explored in materials by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Timothy Jennings, eg. book entitled “The God-Shaped Heart).
Jesus focuses much of his teaching on the heart. To follow Jesus, we must examine, and respond to him, with our heart. He uses the illustration of fruit (thoughts, affections, and behaviors) growing on a tree. “You’ll never find choice fruit hanging on a bad, unhealthy tree. And rotten fruit doesn’t hang on a good, healthy tree. Every tree will be revealed by the quality of fruit that it produces. Figs or grapes will never be picked off thorn trees. People are known in this same way. Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit. But out of the evil hidden in their hearts, evil ones will produce what is evil. For the overflow of what has been stored in your heart will be seen by your fruit and will be heard in your words” (Luke 6:43-46; TPT).
Now that we see the significance of our heart (inner person), let’s look at the wisdom of “guarding” spoken of in the Proverbs. Although defense may be the primary way we see the word “guard,” we can consider offensive connotations as well. Pollutants make water undrinkable and poisons the blood stream which can shut down our bodily organs. So too our heart can be poisoned by things like pornography, other addictive things, and people with bad behavior, attitudes, or ideals. Guarding against bad influencers of our body, mind, soul, and spirit goes a long way to keeping us on track for wholeness as a person.
Guarding our heart also involves an offensive strategy. If a glass is half full of contaminated water, guarding against contamination will not make it more drinkable. We must go on the offense to rid the glass of the bad water and begin replacing it with pure water. So too our hearts must be intentionally drained of the bad influencers already present, and filled with good influencers. Another picture of how this works is the refinement process for precious metals. Purifying requires intentionally applying heat to burn away the impurities so the good qualities shine brighter.
Psychiatrist Daniel Amen describes our Automatic Negative Thoughts as ANTS. Amen’s articles and books describe how this acronym came to him after finding an ant infested kitchen in his home. The infestation was like the brains of his anxiety and depression ridden patients who had one negative thought after another stealing their happiness and contentment in life. Getting rid of ANTS means we must be actively resistant to complaining, blaming, justifying, making false assumptions, drawing inaccurate conclusions, forming harmful opinions, and allowing bitter, condemning judgments to take root in our hearts.
The Bible tells us, “Therefore, rid yourselves() of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander() of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,() so that by it you may grow up() in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1-2). The best source of “pure spiritual milk” is the Bible. The more we influence our hearts with God’s Word, the less worldly influences have a chance to take hold. The Bible (as our “sword”) is the best offensive weapon we have against the enemy of our soul.
One more reference important to mention is this, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:6-7). Peace that only God can give, not human understanding, is the most secure way of guarding our hearts and minds. Asking God for his peace, and placing our complete trust in his willingness and ability to grant his Peace (through salvation and sanctification in Jesus), is the most sure path to peace.
Now, activating this truth requires applying it. Here are some questions to answer for help to begin (or continue) your path to greater peace. What is Proverbs 4:23 speaking to me in specific situations of my life? What are the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) that need to be exterminated in my life? What needs to happen to guarantee that consuming more “pure spiritual milk” becomes a reality? Where might my demands to understand be getting in the way of trusting God? In what ways might I be more prone to trying to find peace on my own, rather than asking God for peace?
Blessings of peace!