“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.” ~ Proverbs 4:23
If we are going to live at the intersection of life and wisdom, then we need to understand the heart because it’s the core of who we really are. In the Bible, the heart is used as a metaphor to describe our emotions, our intellect, our will, our desires, and even our brokenness. And so we diligently guard and watch over our heart because it determines the character, direction, and trajectory of our lives.
Peter Marshall, the U.S. Senate Chaplain from 1946-48, told a story about a man called the Keeper of the Spring.
The Keeper of the Spring was a quiet hermit who lived in the forest high above a mountain village. The old man had been hired many years ago by the town council to clean away the debris from the springs of water up in the mountains that fed the town below. He faithfully patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt that would contaminate the fresh flow of water. In the town below, swans floated on crystal clear water. Farm lands were naturally irrigated. The clear spring water was an attraction for tourists.
Years passed, and one evening at their annual budget meeting the town council looked at the salary for the keeper of the spring. The keeper of the purse said, “Who is this old man? Why do we keep him on year after year? This is a tight year, financially. He isn’t necessary during times like this.” So by a unanimous vote they dispensed with the services of the Keeper of the Spring.
For several weeks nothing changed and nobody noticed the difference. By early autumn when the trees began to shed their leaves and the twigs came down in abundance, the pools became cluttered and clogged. The water in the village began to have a yellowish-brown tint. A slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks. A foul odor developed. The swans left, and so did the tourists.
So the town council called a special meeting. With embarrassment they realized their mistake. Someone needed to keep things cleaned out so the water could be pure and clean. They hired back the man they thought they didn’t need and soon the waters cleaned up, the wheels of the mills were running again, and the swans returned.
If the heart truly is the wellspring and source of life, how to do we guard it? Here are 3 Keys to Guarding Your Heart:
1. Watch the input. When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Trash in, trash out.” There’s a truth to this. We never want to be legalists or moralists, but we do want to be realists. And the reality is that the things we watch and listen to affect us. As a father, I’m sensitive to the things Jacob is exposed to. But I often don’t have the same sensitivity for my own heart. I’m won’t give you a list of do’s and don’ts. This is where you need to use wisdom, judgment and discernment. And we don’t judge people in places God hasn’t clearly spoken. Your list might be different from other peoples’ list. But watch the input as you guard your heart.
2. Monitor the outflow. Last summer, I started having some chest pains. Obviously I was a little worried. So I went to the doctor. They plugged me into all kinds of machines to make sure that I didn’t have anything going on with my heart. We discovered that the main culprit was intense acid reflux (apparently I shouldn’t “input” so much habanero salsa!). Because I was monitoring the outflow of my physical heart, I noticed something was wrong. We need to do the same thing with our spiritual heart. What’s coming out of your heart? If you’re struggling with anger, you need to hit the pause button and take the time to figure out why. Anger is always a “secondary” emotion. If you’re struggling with contentment, you need to create some space and process and pray through this. We need to trace it back to the source… back to the spring. If your struggling with anxiety, take the time to figure out what’s going on in your life that’s causing the response of anxiety. Go to the source. Monitor the outflow of your heart.
3. Keep short accounts. When something is wrong with the outflow, we need to quickly go after it. We need to keep short accounts with God and with each other. It’s a sign that we’re growing in wisdom when the time between blowing it and confession and repentance moves from days to hours. Confession is saying you’re sorry to God and to others if you’ve sinned against them. And repentance is making the necessary changes to not do it again.
Watch the input. Monitor the outflow. And then keep short accounts.