The book of Proverbs is full of wonderful snippets of wisdom, nuggets of basic counsel, important messages of managing one’s life. One of the verses that I’ve come to tether my life to, is Proverbs 4:23 which reads: Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Other translations have “guard your heart” instead of “keep.” The Hebrew word, like most Hebrew words is broad and expansive and rich with meaning and substance. The same word is used when Cain defensively responds to God’s question about Abel, saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In other words, am I responsible for him, the one who must guard him from harm?
The Book of Proverbs is full of wise counsel regarding the heart. Chapter 4: 23 is succinct and to the point. Guard/keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put yourself in a vast and spreading landscape that is arid and dry. Within the borders of this landscape there are many sources of water, but all are putrid, stagnant and deadly. Except one. There is one source of water that sustains life. As there are many who cross the borders, this source of water is beyond the value of gold or anything else. If this source of water is poisoned or it becomes occupied and possessed by someone or something other than yourself then you become indebted to them or it.
Such is the human heart. Your heart. My heart. Each person’s heart. And we are bombarded with threats to our heart constantly. The world is full of snake-oil oinments and we’re promised they’ll heal what ails our hearts. We are offered countless narratives that provide some explanation of life, but so many simply lead people into slavery, into selling their heart, their wellspring of life.
So many people do not only fall prey to the endless and often subtle attacks on their heart, but they also participate in the damage done to their own heart. When the “worthless, stupid, no good, ugly, [fill-in-the-blank criticism]” voices become one’s own inner voice, then guarding one’s heart actually becomes the opposite. We may think we are guarding our heart, but we are shutting it off from what keeps it alive. Our defensiveness often becomes a net that captures us and enslaves us in anger and fear.
There are so many, many hurting and frightened hearts that require incredible healing and care. Proverbs and so many other passages in the Bible offer the only way to guard one’s heart, by letting God guard it, letting God keep it with vigilance. God is the One who creates the heart and knows it intimately. Even we do not fully understand the nature of our own heart—what it needs, how it works—which is why we muck things up so often. We are given a toolbox of ways to care for it, to be a steward of it, to manage it. These tools are given by God and we are trained as technicians. We read the Bible, we pray, we avoid the dangers, we engage with others who are their own heart technicians, we recognize those whose hearts are hurting and we offer support, we step into the web of deceit that captures others in order to make a difference.
In the midst of all our many, many activities and relationships and daily practices and habits and requirements it is easy to forget that a primary task is to guard and keep our heart with all vigilance. It is easy to let our guard down and wander away from the wellspring of life, neglecting this vital gift and exposing it to dangers. We need not build a fortress around the wellspring of life for this would not guard it as it needs to be guarded. Neither should we let it be a doormat for the world or even one other person. The only way I know to truly guard our hearts, the wellspring of life, is to be guided by the One who creates the heart. And if Solomon, who had the responsibility of ruling a nation, knew this, think how much it will help the rest of us.
© Stephen Carl