Pastor Logan Almore
Our key scripture today is found in Proverbs chapter 4 verse 23 which says:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
The word ‘heart’ is mentioned in scripture over 800 times, depending on which translation you’re reading. Over 800 times! It is without a doubt one of the words used the most in the Bible. Which means, we better pay close attention to this word because it must be extremely important.
When you hear about the heart in scripture, it goes far beyond the physical heart. It’s not just talking about the organ that pumps blood throughout your body. King Solomon would have written Proverbs 4:23 in the Hebrew language and he used the word ‘leb’ (pronounced: lave) which means the center of everything, your mind, will, and emotions. Leb: the center of everything; mind, will, emotions
“As water reflects the face,so one’s life reflects the heart.”
The center of everything…your life and the way you live it directly reflects who you are to the core, what’s found in your heart. Proverbs 23:7 says:
“As a he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
-Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV)
This is where the mind aspect comes in…the verse says as the thinkith in his heart…Another example is found in Matthew 9:4. Jesus looks at the teachers of the law who are condemning Him in their thoughts. They hadn’t said anything to him out-loud yet and the Bible says He knew what they were thinking and said to them:
“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?”
Evil thoughts…in your hearts.
Change what’s in your heart and it can transform what’s in your mind.
The heart and mind are not the same, but they are definitely connected. Clean up your heart and it will clean up your mind. Because, remember…a Biblical aspect of heart is your will…so your attitude, character, the decisions and choices that you make, your desires, disciplines, your beliefs…all of these things are connected to the heart. Jesus said in Luke 6:45:
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” -Luke 6:45
Jesus is saying if good is stored up in your heart, goodness will come forth. If evil is stored up in your heart, that’s what will come forth. And it won’t just be in your actions, but also in your words. Belief live in your heart, too. Think about it…Romans 10:9 says:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And then as far as emotions go, I don’t think we have to dig into that too much because we can definitely wrap our minds around that. But I will share one of my favorite scriptures that has brought me comfort during difficult times, which is Psalm 34:18:
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
This one word, leb, that Solomon used for heart in Proverbs 4:23 was used to express far more than an organ…he was talking about the center, the core of who you are, your actions, your words, your emotions, your beliefs…it’s no wonder he said you better GUARD IT ABOVE ALL ELSE! If the enemy is after your character, he’s going to attack your heart! If the enemy is after your attitude, he’s going to attack your heart! If the enemy is after your work unto the Lord, he’s coming after your heart. If the enemy is after your emotions, he’s coming for your heart. And if the enemy is after your faith in God, he’s going to try his best to put DOUBT into your heart!
Maybe that’s why Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…”
Paul tells the church at Ephesus how to fight back against our very real enemy. He says you better suit up in the full armor of God. And he gives them what would have been a very good visual for them back then…the armor of a Roman soldier. And one of the most important pieces of that armor would have been the breastplate because it protects the heart. Through his letter, Paul teaches us today just how important it is when the enemy is attacking us, to protect our hearts. Because…
The physical heart is vital to physical living. But the spiritual heart is vital to spiritual living.
So how do you do that? How do you guard your heart?
Step 1: Upgrade It
The Bible says in Jeremiah 17 verse 9:
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
The Bible never tells us to ‘just follow our hearts’—that’s not scripture. Because our hearts will deceive us. Our hearts can change on us. Our hearts can lead us astray. The heart of man is wicked, we can just look around this world and see that’s true! Ezekiel chapter 36, God says:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
That’s why Jesus said in John 3:3…
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” -John 3:3
At the moment of salvation, when we are ‘born again’, God places a new heart in us, He places His spirit in us. And now we can say…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
-2 Corinthians 5:17
Which is the ONLY way I can guard my heart with step #2…
Step 2. Pursue Righteousness
It’s not our righteousness, it’s GOD’S righteousness that He has given us access to through Jesus Christ. And now we have the ability to pursue a righteous life because of the Holy Spirit. Will we fall short? Of course we will. But a pursuit is an ongoing journey towards being more and more like Jesus each and every day. And here’s one reason why that’s important…
Earlier we read in Ephesians chapter 6 where Paul told us to put on ‘the breastplate (to protect the heart)…of RIGHTEOUSNESS’. Paul was saying you protect your heart through righteous living. Psalm 119 says…
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
We guard our hearts by living according to God’s Word. I love how it says ‘I have stored up your word in my heart’…it shows a whole other level to knowing and understanding the Word of God. It goes beyond only reading it. Storing up the word is saturating yourself in it, memorizing scripture, allowing it to seep into your heart so that it becomes part of who you are! And most importantly…do what it says!
”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
James says when we are only Christians who hear the Word of God, but then walk away unchanged by it…we are DECEIVING ourselves. He says we are called to DO WHAT IT SAYS. Pursue righteousness by storing up the Word of God in your heart, until it to overflows into your life. Righteousness is so much more than just knowledge. The Pharisees had plenty of knowledge, but they were far from righteous. Because the knowledge didn’t transform their heart and overflow in their lives. Pursing righteousness is a life long journey, which goes hand in hand with the third step to guarding your heart, which is to…
Step 3. Maintain It
One translation of the Hebrew word Solomon used for ‘guard’ in Proverbs 4:23 is maintain, and I love that because it shows that guarding or protecting your heart is not isolated events, it’s an ongoing mission to maintain it. His father, King David understood this because He cried out to the Lord with one of my favorite prayers. He said:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
I think David myst have really understood the importance of the heart and passed that wisdom on to his son Solomon, because here’s David again in Psalm 139:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
And finally, David says this prayer in Psalm 19:14:
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Meditation of my heart…this goes back to the connection of this Hebrew word for heart being so connected to the mind. David is saying, I pray that the things that my heart dwells on are pleasing to you, God.
Maintain your heart with prayer. The ongoing, daily conversation with the Lord asking him to search you, asking him to renew you, asking him to strengthen you. Casting your cares on Him, thanking Him, brining your needs to Him. That’s how we maintain our hearts. Look at Philippians 4:6-7:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is telling us when we do these things in prayer, the peace that can only come from the Lord will guard our hearts. This shows me that there are some aspects of guarding our hearts that only WE can do, but there are also some aspects of guarding our hearts that only GOD can do. We decide what has access to our hearts. We cannot control certain things, but we can decide what we grant access to…what is allowed to enter our hearts. God will give the peace, but we have to go to Him in prayer. Another way we maintain our hearts is by following this advice that Paul gives us in the very next verse of Philippians chapter 4:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
-Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
The NIV says ‘think about such things’…things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy…think about those things! Because What the mind thinks on, the heart will eventually meditate on. Maintain your thoughts before they take root in your heart!
So we’ve covered the importance of our hearts and that’s why we must, above all else, guard our hearts. And we guard our hearts by first, upgrading it. By receiving salvation and allowing God to turn our heart of stone into a new heart. A new creation. Where we can pursue His righteousness by learning and following God’s Word. Then maintaining our hearts with prayer, with meditating on the things of God. But this question is where I want to spend the remainder of our time together this morning. Because I believe everything we have covered so far is important, but here’s the struggle that I believe many of us are facing:
What happens when guarding your heart turns into barricading it?
What happens when guarding your heart by pursuing righteousness and maintaining it through the Word of God and prayer turns into barricading your heart in the name of protecting it?
We call it protection, but really it’s isolation.
Sometimes we’re physically present, but emotionally, sometimes mentally…we’re isolated.
If we aren’t careful when we are faced with these things, our hearts can become hardened. There are many times in the Bible where it says ‘harden not your hearts’ or when a hardened heart is used to describe an unbeliever, but did you know that followers of Jesus can struggle with a hardened heart as well? Take a look at what Jesus says to His DISCIPLES in Mark 8:17-19. They had ALREADY seen Jesus perform a miracle by feeding thousands with 5 loaves of bread. But then in this story, Jesus is trying to give them advice and it goes right over their heads. They’re like…’he’s saying this because we didn’t bring more bread with us’ and the Bible says…
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
Remember, Jesus is talking to His followers here and He asks them…’Are your hearts hardened?’ As followers of Jesus we are not immune to pain. We are not spared from trouble. We are not without doubts and questions. We wrestle with sin. So we, too, have the ability to harden our hearts.
Here are some signs that you may have barricaded your heart:
-You have trouble seeing how God is working.
-You struggle to understand what God is doing.
-You aren’t hearing the voice of God like you have before.
-You don’t easily remember how He has been faithful in the past.
And look out for these habits…Are you easily angered? Do you shut down emotionally? Do you constantly bring up the past in a negative light? Is your tone harsh and are you short with people? Is it hard for you to laugh or smile? Are you critical? Do you have trouble getting close to other people? Do you steer clear of vulnerability? Are you a people pleaser? Do you lack empathy or compassion for other people?
Fear is the cement that holds this barricade together.
Here’s what a barricade is—it’s a defense mechanism.
How do you destroy the barricade—Praise.
“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”
“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.
You aren’t strong enough to break down this barricade in your own strength. You aren’t powerful enough to cause these walls to fall down on your own. You aren’t mighty enough to open yourself back up after you’ve been hurt…but I know someone who is! And our praise calls upon Him to act like only He can act…to move like only He can move…To protect us when we are vulnerable like only He can protect us. Jericho had the walls around it because if it didn’t, it would be vulnerable to the enemy. It was dangerous to be vulnerable. They needed the walls for protection. And that’s what we think we need as well. But guess what? We don’t need walls to protect us…we have Jesus to do that!
“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.”
“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
“The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
Our job is to guard our hearts, but the rest is not our problem—it’s God’s!