Text: Proverbs 4:23

Have you noticed the same thing I’ve been observing lately? There are a significant number of people who are sad and indifferent about life. They are the people you see and interact with almost every day, whose lives are characterized by moment-to-moment sadness.

  I hear it in the couples that tell me they made a mistake in getting married. They suggest that things would be a whole lot better if the other spouse would just change.
  I hear it in pastors who complain that parishioners only want to be entertained. They wonder out loud why they ever entered the ministry in the first place.  If only revival would come, they muse, ministry would be more fulfilling.
  I hear it in employees who only get excited when they talk about next week’s vacation, or the number of days remaining until they can retire.

If we were honest, many of us express similar attitudes. Attitudes characterized by confusion, defeat, and lingering sadness. But it’s not the circumstances that are the cause behind how we feel.  It’s the interpretation of those circumstances. And we interpret things the way we do because of the unfortunate condition of our hearts.  

Read Proverbs 4:23 two or three more times if you haven’t already done so. The wisdom writer statesGuard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”  A literal rendering of the verse would sound something like this: "In all your guarding, guard your heart, since life flows out of it.”

Two questions must be answered if we are to get a handle on this universal sense of despair we see all around us. First, what does the Bible mean when it refers to the heart?  In Hebrew, they thought the “heart” was associated with the core of one’s existence. It was the operation center from which a person thought about life. Later on the term was associated with the three primary aspects of personality: thought, emotion, and will. In Greek culture the heart” was almost always a reference to a person’s inner being, especially the way life was interpreted.  So when we talk about the heart, we are referring to the immaterialdecision-making center that influences all that we do.  

However, there is a second question that also needs to be answered. That is, what shapes our hearts and the subsequent ways in which we interpret life?  Lots of things, but let’s consider three forces that attack us and influence what our hearts say to us every day. For instance:

  God’s word teaches us that there is deceptive influence.  Jeremiah 17:9 states that “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?" (JER 17:9 HCSBSince every human being is born into sin, our hearts are corrupt from the very beginning.  Add to this spiritual corruption all the negative and abusive messages so many people take into their hearts from early childhood.  Consequently, the proverbial deck is stacked against them, so that it is only “natural” for them to interpret life from a negative perspective.
  At the same time there is an intimidating influence.  The Apostle Peter describes this antagonist (the devil) as a spiritual being who is bent on robbing us of any possibility of hope (1 Peter 5:8) This “evil one” doesn’t have to use guns or rockets. Instead he places thoughts in our hearts that “tell us” to be fearful, bitter, angry, lustful, and filled with shame. This doesn't mean that we have no control over our lives. But it does mean that we have an enemy that tries to keep us from walking in righteousness and hope.
  And consider the fact there is also an indwelling influence.  Some biblical writers refer to this enemy as the “flesh.” (cf. GAL 5:16-18)  In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus simply referred to an unnamed enemy that influences how we speak and respond in any given situation. It’s not the food we eat, the weather outside, or the unbearable boss at work. Jesus suggests that our hearts are corrupt and need to be cleansed. If they are not, the indwelling enemy of a fallen, fleshly nature will set the direction of our lives

So let’s get back to our anchor text for the week. The wisdom writer is assuming that we are going to guard a lot of things. We will guard our loved ones, our valuable possessions, and a host of others things that we assume we can’t live without. But there is something that we must be sure to keep and protect above everything else: the heart! And since the heart is the starting point for how we think and feel, we MUST be sure to guard our hearts.

My hope and prayer is that over the next several weeks we are going to learn a lot of things about guarding our hearts. But for now, I want to challenge you to consider how you are thinking about your life, and what initial steps you can take to foster positive change

  Are you sad?  It’s not some recent event that is causing you to feel as you do. It’s much deeper. It’s your heart.
  Are you angry? Yes, there may be people who have inflicted you with great harm. But your choice to be angry is a result of what is going on in your heart.
  Are you filled with shame? There may have been events and people that hurt you deeply. But your on going feelings are coming from your heart.

So if our hearts are ever going to change, we need to do something. We need to start by acknowledging that we have a heart problem. After all, knowing the cause behind our dilemmas can be the very first step to finding the cure. So more than anything else you do in life, be sure to guard your heart.

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