The Heart of the Issue (Proverbs 4:23)

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it [flow] the springs of life.

Proverbs 4:23

The Bible has a great deal to say about the heart. The heart is declared to be deceitful, wicked, and unknowable (Jeremiah 17:9). The heart is also also said to be the source of our words (Matthew 12:34 and Luke 6:45). But here, Solomon writes that this is part of his father’s advice to him. David, Solomon’s father, was said to be a man after God’s own heart. With a recommendation like that, I am well served to take David’s advice to Solomon.

David tells Solomon to watch over [his] heart with all diligence. The words are a little richer in potential meaning than the English lets on. Looking through the concordance, “watch” is a good translation, but in a more archaic sense of the word. Think watchman more than watch television. It is an active thing; a vigil being stood. The “heart” can encompass more than a mere biomechanical blood pump and more than just the seat of emotions (think of the phrase “with all my heart”). The word encompasses the entire inner person, the will, the heart, the mind, and the understanding. We might better render “heart” as “the essence of who you are.” The last part stunned me a bit. It is derived from a word that carries both the meaning of a sentry post and a prison. The fascinating reality is that a prison keeps people out as much as keeping people in. The idea, given more scope by rummaging up the potential meanings of the words, is that I should wrap the essence of who and what I am in a protective structure — like a prison or guard post — and stand active sentry duty; keep active watch over it. In short, I need to be careful of what I let in. How do I do that? By being careful of what I let in — What do I read? What do I watch? What do I listen to? Who do I spend time talking and discussing ideas with? I have noticed that I struggle less with some temptations when my informational diet consists entirely of Bible and news and I spend my time with people who encourage me to walk closer with my God.

David’s answer, written down by Solomon, to why I should be so careful with my inner self is this: from it [flow] the springs of life. From out of the essence of who and what I am I will live. If I habitually lie then it is a safe bet that I am a liar in the inner man. If I regularly show kindness then it is an equally safe bet that God is working kindness into my character. My life reveals what is in that inner man. A pastor I sat under for some time was fond of saying that the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart. And he is correct. Whatever the issue; whatever the thing is that happens in my life, my response to it will be determined by what is in my inner self; what the essence of who I am is made of. If I have fed in a steady diet of God’s Word and fellowship with others who have built me up in faith and I have set myself to seek God out, then I will likely see a response in keeping with God’s will for me. If I have allowed in a steady diet of filth and muck and spent most of my time with folks who draw me away from obedience to God and not concerned myself with which way I am going, then I will likely see a very carnal response.

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