Guard Your Heart:
Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Very poetical, but how practical? From this verse in Proverbs 4 (and three others keeping it in context), we have four pieces of advice for guarding our heart by being aware of: the presence of God in your life; what part purity plays; perseverance; and the power of prayer. What holds it together may surprise you.
In this book, you will discover that it is possible to live these principles out, even under the most stressful circumstances. Looking at how David, Daniel, Elijah, and Joseph each guarded his heart, their lives will become surprisingly easy to relate to. These patriarchs come to life as real people, living real lives, with real problems…just like yours.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).
The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Your heart is the essence of who you are. “Here, King Solomon says it is the ‘wellspring of life.’ In other words, it is the source of everything else in your life. Your heart overflows into thoughts, words, and actions.”[i]What is in your heart now is how you are and will be—if the heart is right, so will your actions be.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).
Perhaps Solomon was thinking of his father, David, when he wrote those words in Proverbs, because David was a man who understood this principle and lived it.
David understood that we best guard our heart by welcoming the presence of God into our lives. The world today would have us believe there is no God. There is luck, coincidence, karma—maybe even a higher power or a “benevolent universe”—but there is no belief in a supernatural presence and intervention in our lives.
God says otherwise:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
The treasure Paul is talking about is the presence of Christ in us. Clay jars are fashioned by someone. They can be beautiful, functional, or both. However, clay jars crack; clay jars break. But yet God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to pour His treasure, His very presence and all which that signifies, into us—people who crack under life’s weight; people who are broken.
David Welcomed the Presence of God
David knew the secret of fueling his heart with the presence of God. He became the great leader he was because he intentionally saw God in every area of his life, both good and bad. He recognized God’s kindness to him; he acknowledged God’s goodness; he experienced His grace. David embraced His mercy and respected His sovereignty. David accepted, and even welcomed, God’s personal involvement in his life, even before being anointed as a boy to be Israel’s next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
When Samuel arrived at David’s father’s house looking for God’s next choice of king, seven brothers were all paraded before him, yet none of these young men were chosen:
Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God was looking for—and found—someone whose heart was drawn to Him. Someone who cultivated a relationship with Him of their own accord.
The presence of God permeated David’s life, and it can permeate yours as well, because you are made of the same clay David was. You have the very same treasure in you. You may not know your own potential, but God does. A look at David’s life shows how the presence of God impacts a life—molding, shaping, and transforming every decision, every choice, every action, and every attitude.
David’s life story has some well-known incidents (killing Goliath with his slingshot and a stone, the seduction of Bathsheba), but there are literally dozens of mini dramas that are recorded about his life. If you feel like you’re having a bad day, a bad life, or a “Where is God now?” season, read 1 and 2 Samuel. David had some seriously bad days! And although David led a truly bizarre life, he called it “ordered and secured.” At the end of his life he said, “Truly is not my house so with God? For He has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered in all things, and secured”(2 Samuel 23:5 NASB).
These are not the words of a man whose God is disconnected with his life. These are the words of a man who was thinking back over his life—as a shepherd, as a member of a king’s court, as a fugitive, a warrior, and a king—and saw the presence of God everywhere and at all times. His life is a “How-To Guide” for living in the presence of God.
David Trained Himself to Reflect on God
At the age of about fourteen, David had been anointed to be the next king of Israel, to replace King Saul, yet was then immediately sent back to the sheep, to carry on as before (1 Samuel 16:1-13,18-19). Lest you think this rather picturesque, the life of a shepherd stinks—literally! My husband and I live in Albania, and we come across shepherds from time to time as we’re driving to out-of-the-way villages. What always strikes me is their alone-ness. Also the fact that the only thing they carry is their staff. (Where’s all their stuff? I’ve never seen a shepherd whip a toiletries bag out of one of their deep pockets!)
During the years he was the anointed king yet wasn’t, David could have been impatient and frustrated at the delay, even unsure about his calling, questioning God’s direction for his life, making plans for getting out of there—and maybe he was to some extent. Satan utilizes these times to plant seeds of doubt that pollute the wellspring. But what overrode everything, and what guarded his heart, was his confidence that God was in control, and God was not going to leave him in the wilderness forever. To guard your heart, this is an essential first step—having confidence in the truth that your God is in control.
What we see is that David submitted to what was asked of him, and he carried on as before (watching sheep) yet with a sense of deeper purpose. He started writing; training himself to reflect and consider God, himself, where he fit in God’s plans for Israel; learning the power of trusting God for his personal safety on a daily basis; and waiting on God’s timing for his future. He was searching for God everywhere, writing it down when he found Him, practicing the presence of God in the most humble parts of his boring life with the sheep. (Psalms 8, 18, 19, 23, and 39 are good examples of this.)
Do you have a calling that seems to be at a standstill? Are you barely containing your impatience and frustration, wondering why God isn’t moving faster? Or are you taking advantage of the time given you, to learn, grow, gain more experience, and get to know God better, more intimately?
My life in Albania now is very different from the nineteen years I spent in England. There, I was employed, productive, active, involved; here it’s harder because I’m still learning the language, which limits what I can do. Now in my 50s I seem to be starting over, and it’s easy to feel like I’m not “doing” anything. But rather than stressing over not being “productive,” I am learning to see this season as a time to experience His presence in a deeper way and learning (rather slowly, I admit) to follow David’s example of training myself to reflect and consider God and where He’s working in my life, learning the power of trusting God, and waiting on God’s timing in fulfilling what He’s called me to do here.
My challenge is to become a woman
who intentionally sees God in every area of my life, unproductive as it may seem, to recognize God’s kindness and
goodness, to practice seeing (and
acknowledging) His personal involvement in my life. It is not at a standstill
by any means from God’s perspective.
[i] Michael Hyatt, “Three Reasons Why You Must Guard Your Heart,” Michael Hyatt, accessed April 22, 2014, http://michaelhyatt.com/three-reasons-why-you-must-guard-your-heart.html#more-10227.
David Trained Himself to Submit to God
A few years after David was anointed, he was called to King Saul’s court, and it was here that God began teaching him how to deal with people, starting with King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23). However, as David got more involved in palace life, Saul steadily grew more and more jealous. David experienced God’s personal protection as Saul attempted to kill him on three separate occasions. David made a friend, Jonathan, who would have a lasting influence on him. I wonder if he thought, “Wahoo! This is it, I’m in. Just a matter of time now!” as he went from accomplishment to accomplishment and his popularity grew:
Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well…. As they danced, they sang:“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David….Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him…. When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days….Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there” (1 Samuel 18:5-19:2).
And so things didn’t go according to David’s plan. He ended up on the run, hiding, and not at all on the course he expected. It would be tempting to see these years of hiding in caves and being constantly on the run as more wasted time. Not just wasted, but downright lonely, desperate, and depressing. Even worse than being a shepherd in the first place!
However, once again we see David submitting, giving up his need to manipulate events, and in fact, he went a step further: he actively sought the Lord for decisions, deliberately involving God in his everyday life. Time after time we read “David inquired of the Lord”before every move he made, no matter how small it seemed:
- On the run from King Saul and his army, David didn’t know where to turn, so he went to the priest, and “Ahimelek inquired of the Lord for him” as to where he should go and hide (1 Samuel 22:10, emphasis added).
- Whilst in hiding, the Philistines (Israel’s sworn enemy) were looting the farmers’ crops. “He inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ The Lord answered him, ‘Go’” (1 Samuel 23:2, emphasis added).
- When his men objected out of fear, “Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him”(1 Samuel 23:4, emphasis added). Sometimes one needs confirmation!
- One day David and his men came back from a raid and discovered their camp had been attacked and destroyed by fire, and their wives and children had been taken captive. “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God…. And David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?’ ‘Pursue them,’ he answered” (1 Samuel 30:6-8, emphasis added).
- Sometimes it got boring, waiting with nothing to do but watch the desert dry. David’s army of men would get restless, and it was tempting to do something to alleviate the monotony of the days. It wouldn’t be that big a deal to do something to keep the men occupied, but rather than make the decision himself, “In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. ‘Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?’ he asked. The Lord said, ‘Go up.’ David asked, ‘Where shall I go?’ ‘To Hebron,’ the Lord answered” (2 Samuel 2:1, emphasis added).
- A second time the Philistines came looking for David, who they heard had been anointed king but was in hiding. We’re told they came in full force to look for him, and spread out in the valley where he had his stronghold. To me it seems like David could have decided this one himself—the enemy was spread out before him, he was trapped, of course he had to fight. But by now David had learned that no move should be made without drawing God into the decision process. “So David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?’ The Lord answered him, ‘Go’” (2 Samuel 5:19, emphasis added). And, in fact, God didn’t just tell him to go, He actually spelled out a battle plan for the attack!
- “So David inquired of the Lord, and he answered” (2 Samuel 5:23, emphasis added).
And so on. There’s a definite pattern here. David was intentionally and consistently bringing God into every decision. He did not go out in his own strength or in his own wisdom. Nothing was too trivial to ask. In doing this, God was able to develop and teach David the next step to spiritual maturity: seek the Lord in all decisions. This is an essential discipline to develop in the process of guarding your heart. And as it is with any discipline, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Sometimes, however, we ask for guidance, but when we don’t get what we’re asking for within the time frame we find acceptable, we take matters into our own hands. Last summer I visited with a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years. As we caught up on our lives, she said this in relation to her being forty-three and still single: “God isn’t moving. I’ve given Him His chance—He’s had years to give me a husband. If He doesn’t care about me, why should I care about Him? I’m going to find someone myself, and if he’s not a believer, so what?” My friend was tired of hearing “wait,” and she didn’t want to hear a “no.”
When we genuinely seek the Lord’s leading, instead of giving lip service and then proceeding to make our own decisions, we open up channels whereby the Holy Spirit can work; we make ourselves available to Him and allow Him to do what He wants by maintaining a teachable spirit. Because David submitted to God’s leading in his life, God was able to teach him the leadership skills he would need as a king: knowledge of men and the power of good governing.