Guarding the Heart

I want to share with you a teaching that has become what is, perhaps, the single most important principle influencing my spiritual growth, parenting, and discipleship. It is found in Proverbs 4:20-27 (something we read in late July).


Proverbs 4 admonishes us to make guarding of our hearts the most important thing we do, because the heart determines the course of our lives (NLT). Did you catch that? The contents of your heart will determine where you go, what you desire and even what you do. 


Do you want to change your giving habits? Then change what’s in your heart. 

Do you want to change your life-long pattern of thinking? Then change what’s in your heart. 

Do you want to change what comes out off your mouth? Then, you guessed it, change your heart.


Trying to alter actions, thoughts or words without changing the heart is like trying to hide a termite nest by covering it with more wood—the change will not last.  The only way to change the contents of the heart is to place a guard at the door.


The purpose of any guard is to protect a person or area by limiting access to that person or area. The heart needs a guard to stand at the door and filter what is allowed in. Yes, you heard me correctly. Your heart has doors. It has a couple of windows, too. Proverbs 4:20-27 identifies parts of the body and how they relate to the heart:


  • “My child, be attentive to my words, incline your ear to my sayings” (ear).
  • “Do not let them escape from your sight.  Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you” (eyes). 
  • “Put away from you crooked speech and put devious talk far from you” (the tongue). 
  • “Keep straight paths for your feet…Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (the feet).

The ears, what we hear. The eyes, what we see. The tongue, what we say. And the feet, where we go or what we do. These four things give us insight into how we can guard the heart. The eyes and the ears are the doorways to the heart, allowing things to enter and take up residence. The tongue and the feet are the windows to the heart. If you want to see what is in a person’s heart, just listen to what they say and observe what they do or where they go. Eyes, ears, tongue and feet; these four things are deeply interconnected.

The mouth requests what the heart desires and the feet take the eyes and the ears to the places where they will see and hear more of what the heart wants. This is why change is so difficult. Once the desire resides in the heart, the heart directs the mouth and the feet to go and get more of it. The more our hearts have been exposed to those things that do not reflect God’s purpose in our lives, the more we want them and the stronger the temptation to pursue them is. 

Back before clean water came to us from a faucet, people had to rely on a ground-based water source. If the water from the source became contaminated downstream,  you could still survive. But if that source itself ever became contaminated, you could be finished. Above all else, people sought to protect that water-source because their lives depended on it. 

As we grow up and get older, our water supplies (our hearts) naturally pick up a little cultural “pollution” as we are exposed to and dabble in things that are outside of God’s will for our lives. When this happens, we rest in Christ’s grace and we do our best to make sure that the pollution (whatever it is) enters downstream from the water source and is not given the chance to enter the source itself and create home in the heart. 

So, what happens when the well-spring is already contaminated, the feet are already walking, the tongue is already asking and the eyes and ears are already absorbing?  At that point, it will require some determined work to clean things up and restore a healthy source. It is a work that the Holy Spirit does while in partnership with us, and it involves filling the heart with grace and truth over time, but this is a conversation for another article.

In this life, we will never be completely free from the influence of sin. Even so, while traces of that poison will remain in our water supply, it no longer needs to dominate the taste of our water.  While learning to guard the heart early in life is important, it is never too late to start.

Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the springs of life.  I don’t know what contaminants may have entered your well-spring over the years—anger, rage, malice, slander, envy, coveting, pride, materialism, or any of what AW Tozer called "the hyphenated sins of the self-life" (self-reliance, self-protection, self-centeredness, etc). No matter what has entered I want you to know that God’s grace is big enough to cover it and God’s power is strong enough to clean it up. He wants you to know His healing power. He wants you to know what it is to live from a healthy well-spring and it all begins by choosing to place a guard at the door.

That guard could be your daily Bible reading, your prayer life, your spiritual partnership with your spouse or friend, the cadence of regular Grow Group meetings, or meetings with a support group or trained counselor. Effective “guards” are different for each of us, but they all require us to choose one to post.

Rather than fill this page with more of my words, I encourage you to return to Proverbs 4:20-27. Read it slowly a couple of times and think about each command and description. Ask the Lord about where you may be turning to, the right or the left, and what you may be allowing through the doors of your eyes and ears and see what He has to say.

On the road with you,


P.S. for Parents and Grandparents:

Training your children and grandchildren how to post and maintain their own guards on their own hearts is one of the best gifts you can give them. Share what you have found helpful with others or ask your friends what they do. I encourage you to be willing to initiate this important conversation with others and see how the Lord leads.