Sermon series: Guarding Your Heart
Scriptures: Proverbs 4:20-27
Fairweather Mountain is one of the most spectacular mountains North America. Located off the southeast coast of Alaska, the mountain reaches 15,000 feet above sea level. Massive granite walls with deep ravines cut by cascading glaciers create an inspiring view. This view, however, can only be seen about twenty days a year when the weather is fair. The mountain is called Fairweather because you can only see the full glory and beauty of the mountain when the fog clears.
Author, John Eldredge, uses Fairweather Mountain as an illustration to describe how most people live their lives.
"Twenty days a year-that sounds like my life. I think I see what‘s really going on about that often. The rest of the time, it feels like fog ... I'd love to wake up each morning knowing exactly who I am and where God is taking me. Zeroed in on all my relationships, undaunted in my calling. It's awesome when I do see. But for most of us, life is more like driving with a dirty windshield. I can make out the shapes ahead, and I think the light is green…The description of the Christian life shouted in the New Testament compared with the actual experience is embarrassing ... we look a little foolish, like little children who've been held back a grade. (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p.5-6.)
Much of our confusion results from a failure to understand the truth proclaimed in Proverbs 4:23 and other Scriptures that describe the significance of the heart. In this brief passage, the wise king Solomon identified four principles of guarding our heart.
1. Recognize the treasure
Two phrases jump off the page when reading this passage, "above all else" and "wellspring of life." To experience the fullness of our faith and partake of the blessings of God, we must recognize the treasure of the heart. "Above all else" communicates priority, and "wellspring of life" communicates a glorious promise. The text identifies guarding your heart as more important than anything else. To the Christian community that cherishes the doctrine of self-denial as one of the key aspects of following Christ, guarding your heart appears to be a contradiction. We expect to "take up our cross" not take care of our heart. I am convinced that Proverbs 4:23-27 contains another great paradox of kingdom living. Could it be that we can only die to self when we guard our heart?
Jesus declared that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). When describing the kingdom of God, Jesus revealed the things that come out of the heart defile a man (Matt. 15:16-20). He also taught, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). The apostle Paul prayed for the saints that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened" (Eph. 1:18). We find similar instruction in the Old Testament where we are commanded to trust the LORD with all our heart (Pvbs. 3:5) and to hide God's word in our heart (Psalm 119:11). The prophet Samuel revealed that God does not evaluate people by outward appearance, but He looks at the heart (1Sam. 16:7). Perhaps, the most significant verse describing the treasure of the heart is found in Romans 10:9 which says a person may be saved by "believing in your heart" that God raised Jesus from the dead.
The heart is a mysterious spiritual reality that allows us to experience the fullness of life. It includes emotion, but the heart is not limited to emotion. According to Scripture, the heart can be grieved, troubled, broken, pierced, divided, and joyful. Dr. Charles Ryrie defined the heart as "the very core of life." Our heart is the truest expression of who we really are.
2. Prioritize the task
Having identified the biblical mandate for us to recognize the treasure of the heart, we must prioritize the task of guarding our heart. If I asked any church to identify the top Christian disciplines, how do you think guarding your heart would rank? We could expect answers like worship, prayer, Bible study, and evangelism. These answers are correct, and they certainly play a major role in guarding our heart. However, it strikes me as odd that the command to guard our heart rarely, if ever, receives the priority that the Scriptures attach to the heart.
As mentioned previously, we find the instruction to guard our heart unfamiliar because of an abundance of teaching on denying self to follow Christ. Often we make the false assumption that taking care of the heart is a selfish pursuit. Most of us could testify of an experience where someone used the lame excuse of selfishness to justify an ungodly decision.
For example, a man says he is leaving his wife and deserting his children because, "God wants him to be happy." We must understand that guarding your heart is not selfishness or irresponsibility. The unbalanced emphasis on certain aspects of faith has contributed to the neglect of guarding the heart, and we must be careful not to forfeit the treasures of the heart because of selfish abuses.
A second factor that has prevented the saints from making the matters of the heart a priority is the limitation of guarding your heart to purity. Striving for moral purity is an admirable and necessary part of following Christ. We will consider protecting the heart from trash in the next section of the message, but guarding is more than protection; it includes pursuing and providing.
A Readers Digest article offered an amusing analysis of some of the dieting trends affecting our culture. The Japanese eat little fat and suffer fewer heart problems than Americans or the British. The French eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the U.S. or Britain. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and have a lower risk of heart problems than their western neighbors. What can we conclude from these facts? You can eat whatever you want, but speaking English will kill you!
Guarding your heart is more about feeding your soul than avoiding sin. When our heart is strong, we are able to resist the temptations that cause many saints to stumble. The book of Proverbs identifies some things to avoid, but it also contains numerous instructions to pursue wisdom, grace, discipline, and life.
3. Minimize the trash
Guarding your heart includes seeking God, but we cannot ignore the instruction to minimize the trash from our lives. The verses that follow the command to guard our heart describe putting away perverse speech, looking straight ahead, and choosing good paths. These verses are similar to the New Testament challenge contained in Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith." Both of these passages reveal the need to remove some things from our lives so that we can run the race of faith. The sinister trap of legalism ensnares those who make removal the goal of faith instead of removing sin for the purpose of going forward in faith.
Some trash is easy to identify. Moral corruption, perverse behavior, and evil acts that harm others stand in bold opposition to God's will for your life. Other trash is more difficult to discern and to remove. A lack of faith, unwillingness to forgive, materialism, pride, and false belief systems can stop the flow of the "wellsprings of life" just like the easily identified sins. Trash, big or small, is still trash. We should embrace the challenge that the apostle Paul gave Timothy to purify himself so that he would be a "special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim. 2:24).
4. Energize with truth
A fourth strategy for guarding your heart is to energize with truth. Note the instruction "pay attention and listen closely" (Pr. 4:20). This emphasis to give careful attention to divine truth is followed by the promise of life and health. We need truth. Jesus said the truth would set us free. Solomon exhorts his son to discern and hold the instruction close to his heart.
We live in a world that is often opposed to truth. Our culture promotes tolerance over truth, but the wise king reminds us that there is a difference between right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil. Level paths that have a solid foundation lead to success, but evil and unstable choices will lead to destruction.
We must also appreciate the difference between facts and truth. It is not enough just to know facts about the faith. Facts provide information, but truth produces transformation. Through application of "keeping the truth in your heart," we advance in the journey of faith instead of swerving off course. Most individuals who would identify themselves as Christians know the facts of faith. They know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They know about prayer. They know about witnessing. But, precious few pray to know the Lord and the power of the resurrection in an effort to share Christ more effectively.
Too many believers treat knowing Christ as a simple fact instead of a transforming truth. Consider the difference between the following definitions of a kiss. A clinical definition is "The pressing of two mandibles together resulting in the exchange of saliva." Now listen to the definition of a kiss in the song by Faith Hill entitled This Kiss (note: I played the CD of the song at this point in the message. It was an effective, creative, and fun illustration.) The chorus of the song says, "It's the way you love me, It's a feeling like this, It's centrifugal motion, It's perpetual bliss, It's that pivotal moment, It's (ah) impossible, This kiss, this kiss ... unstoppable, this kiss, this kiss."
Guarding your heart involves energizing your life with the transforming truth of God's love and His Word. Never treat the Scripture as a collection of facts. Pay attention and listen closely because God's Word is alive. It is sharper than a two edged sword. The prophet Jeremiah described God's Word as a fire that burns in a man's soul and a hammer that shatters a rock to pieces.
Guarding your heart is critical to experiencing all that God desires for your life. When we Recognize the Treasure, Prioritize the Task, Minimize the Trash, and Energize with Truth, we place ourselves in a position to receive the blessings of God.
Nuclear submarines consist of some of the most amazing technology on the planet. These incredible military vessels can stay underwater for ninety days, but every ninety days the submarine must resurface to maintain proper alignment with the North Star. While underwater, the submarine's navigational system is affected by the earth's magnetic forces. Because these submarines carry missiles of mass destruction, they must pay close attention to keeping the navigational equipment aligned to the true reference point of the North Star (Chip Ingram, I Am With You Always, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002, p.217).
The nuclear submarine provides an excellent picture of our heart. Just as the submarine may have enough physical provisions like food, water, or fuel to survive, it cannot perform at its highest level or complete its mission without maintaining proper alignment with the true reference point. Your heart is the navigational equipment of your life. It must stay aligned with God. By guarding your heart, you stay locked on to God's will and the "wellsprings of life."