Monday, 26 May 2014

Guard Your Heart

Proverbs is a fantastic book: chock-a-block with great wisdom. One verse that is commonly referred to is Proverbs 4:23:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
It's a brilliant verse. However, it now seems to be reserved solely for when discussing romantic relationships. It's used as a word of caution when giving dating advice, akin to "Be careful you don't get hurt." The image becomes that of locking your heart away until the right guy or girl comes along, in order to protect yourself. I'm not entirely convinced that is what it means and its application certainly extends beyond romance.

Looking at in context, it has far wider applications. The heart metaphor begins a few verses back where it is discussing the importance of taking hold of the speaker's wisdom and utilising it:
My son, pay attention to what I say;
  turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
  keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
  and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
  for everything you do flows from it.
These words speak of the importance of retaining God's wisdom (as given through the writers of Proverbs), using the heart as a metaphor. The heart is to be a treasure trove of God's advice and instructions, and it's this treasure that you are protecting.

So, that's one sorted. Well, not quite. What does it actually mean to guard your heart? And what are you guarding it against?

I sort of see this verse as an ancient precursor to cognitive behaviour therapy. CBT, in a hugely simplistic nutshell, is when you identify negative and detrimental thought patterns and you pick them apart and counter these beliefs with healthier ideas. These thoughts are ones that could lead to anxiety or low self-esteem, such as "The situation will end badly," or "I am worthless". One strategy is by asking yourself, "Where is the evidence in this?" This will then lead you to realise the fallacious nature of the thought and to help you dismiss it. That is obviously easier said than done.

I think guarding your heart is similar. It's identifying thought patterns and feelings that are not helpful and Biblical, and combatting them with those that are. These thoughts may be "I am worthless", "I am better than them", "They don't deserve my help". When you realise that these thoughts do not relate to Biblical truths, then you can counter them what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that you are worthy and precious to God; or that we are called to love one another as ourselves; or that grace is given undeservedly, so our own generosity should be also.

Therefore, it is so important to store up the treasure of God's word and use it actively to combat unhelpful thought. (For more useful advice on this topic, read this post.)

Quick questions
  • What is your interpretation of that verse?
  • What do you do to 'guard your heart'?

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