Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
The heart is the command center of the Christian life. If you want to thrive spiritually, you must guard your heart diligently. Imagine if you planted a beautiful garden but failed to maintain it over time. Instead of watering the plants regularly, you just left them to survive on their own. After a few days, the plants will begin to wither and die off. Similarly, if we neglect to care for our own spiritual garden, we will become weary, weeds will grow, and our spiritual vibrancy will be dim at best. In Proverbs 4:23, we see the intimate connection between guarding our heart and having a spiritually vibrant life.
1) The Solemn Charge:
Look at the command in verse 23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance.” In other words, if you want to have a thriving Christian life, you must guard your heart carefully. You must examine its ways closely. You must protect your heart from every approaching or possible dangers.
Christian, you are called to be a watchman over your own heart and soul. A watchman climbs a tower and scans the area for any approaching enemies. If an enemy is spotted, the sirens will go off, and the camp will be sent into battle. What if the watchman is a sleepy watchman? A lazy watchman? Well, the enemy will attack suddenly and unexpectantly. The wise watchman is continuously looking out for danger. Is that you Christian? Do you understand that you are living in the midst of a spiritual battle and you must keep a close watch over your own heart? Do you know that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)?
It was John Flavel who said, “the greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God, and after conversion to keep it with him.” Is it your regular practice to keep your heart close to God? Do you make time for frequent and daily meetings with God in his word and prayer? Do you partake of the regular ordinary means of grace that God has given you to grow in godliness? Charles Bridges said that “the heart is the seat of our dearest treasure.” What treasure is your heart clinging to? Is it Christ? Is it his word?
If we want to guard our heart from danger, then we must first know our heart and become familiar with it. This means that part of our spiritual disciplines involves spiritual watchfulness. We want to become our own spiritual heart specialist. In the study of your own heart, you want to become familiar with your weaknesses and temptations. Why? Because the enemy knows them very well. He often shoots his flaming darts to those areas. Are you weak in the area of lust? Envy? Anger? Covetousness? The goal is to grasp the root of your sin and apply the gospel to it.
We all know the great hymn Before the Throne of God Above. I want you to pay attention to the attacks of the enemy and the application of gospel truth by the believer. The hymn goes like this:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
The enemy may come to you this week and say, ‘Ah, are you really a Christian? You fell into the same sin again! How could you have done that! You are condemned! Do you really think you are saved?” When Satan tempts you to despair and tells you of the guilt within, where do you look? Christian, you look to Christ! Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin! We preach the gospel to ourselves! Since the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free. I know that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Christian, the command for us is to carefully watch our lives. We must take heed lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Whatever it may be, know what tempts you, and cut it off. Our Lord Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).
2) The Saving Lesson:
In our text, Proverbs 4:23 goes on to give us the reason as to why we are to diligently guard our heart. It says, “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” We are to guard our heart because it is the vital organ of the soul. If our physical heart is sick, our whole body will be sick also.
Similarly, if our spiritual heart is sick, our whole Christian life will be affected. Our Savior made it clear in Matthew 12:34 that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” It is not what comes into us that pollutes us. Some may say, well, it is the media that is causing us to sin. It is the environment of our educational systems. However, Scripture says, the root of our sin is found within our own hearts. John Calvin often said that our hearts are idol factories. If it is left unchecked daily, it will breed various idols and choke up our spiritual life.
3) The Only Solution:
What must we do then? We have seen the command to guard and watch our hearts diligently from all dangers. We have seen the reason because our spiritual life is at stake. How do we guard our hearts diligently? First, we must take heed to the charge given in Matthew 26:41. Our Lord Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We must watch and pray. You must become familiar with the patterns of your own heart. When are you most likely to be tempted? When do you often face temptation? Is it after a stressful workday? Is it when you feel lonely and unloved? Is it when you are jealous of others? Target these sinful patterns. Watch out for them. Guard yourself against it. Pray earnestly for God to strengthen you in those moments. Christian, always be alert and have your guard up. Your enemy seeks to devour you daily. Watch and pray.
Secondly, feed your soul daily with the life-giving word. Charles Bridges exhorted his hearers to always “live daily in the atmosphere of God’s word.” Your physical heart needs oxygen to function. By breathing in air, your heart gains the necessary oxygen needed to function. Likewise, if our spiritual hearts are to thrive, we must take daily breath in the spiritual oxygen that is found in the very word of God. Are you making daily time to do that? Your heart needs it to live! We have seen three things: the solemn charge, the saving reason, and the only solution. Brothers and sisters, “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).