Guard Your Heart

Since writing the post about love as the boundary, I’ve been thinking more about this issue. One of the most commonly used verses when relationships are discussed is Proverbs 4:23.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (NIV)

I have heard this said for years, but honestly, I don’t think that I ever thought about what it meant. I suppose I assumed that it meant that we should be careful about how we interact with one another. It was usually paired with the verse about our deceitful hearts and sometimes with a verse about being unequally yoked. It was always used with regard to relationships, whether romantic or otherwise (but mostly romantic).

'Fence' photo (c) 2009, Emilian Tiberiu  Toba - license: the other side, Christians are regularly told to love unconditionally. The word agape is tossed around. All-encompassing, unrestricted love. The sort of love that Jesus was to have had for us.

One side that suggests caution, one side that suggest recklessness.

How do we sort that out?

When I look at the surrounding passages in Proverbs, the writer is dispensing wisdom, as a writer of proverbs is wont to do. In verse 21 and 22, he admonishes the receiver of the wisdom to keep that in his heart. Then we see the instruction to guard your heart, followed by things that are relationship killers (deceitful mouth, devious speech, gossip).

I think we might be looking at the word guard with a more militaristic view than is intended. According to Strong’s, guard means “diligence.” Instead, I think we often view it as a fence that we need to set up around our heart to keep it safe.

But safety isn’t a big part of unconditional love. I would suggest that if we learned anything from Jesus’s time on earth, it’s that relationships aren’t safe. It means being sought after by the rejects. It means being touched by the dirty. It means conversations with people who conventional wisdom suggests we should avoid. It means a life characterized by humility and generosity.

This is a reckless, wild kind of life. And when we do things that are reckless and wild, we need to be diligent. The rules get all turned around when we love in the way modeled for us by Jesus, so we must keep our eyes focused on him.

If we give our hearts to him, we can trust him to guard them.


What have you been taught about guarding your heart? Where have you guarded your heart in a way that prevented you from unconditionally loving others?

  • Adrian Waller

    I LOVE the last line. I tend to lean more toward the idea of “love unswervingly; forgive if necessary.” I tend to trust people quickly, and I’m okay with that, because it allows me to love them more fully. 

  • An anonymous friend

    Maybe what you write (about love, and friendships) makes sense if you’re coming from an experience that is close to normal.  I’m glad you’re in that place, and that these are the things that work for you.

    But when you’re in the place where your husband left you for that female ‘friend’, when your kids are hurt and your family is broken, when your spirit is broken, even once he decides all the hurtful things he said to justify that affair aren’t true and he wants to come home, unconditional love just isn’t enough anymore.  Wishing with every ounce of your being that you had instilled those boundaries to save your family the pain and brokenness that it’s in now isn’t enough.

    Trusting God to guard your heart no longer makes sense when you’ve been hurt so badly, that the very thing your cried and prayed about for so many months turns out to be the thing that actually happened. 

    I know it sounds dark and bitter and jaded, but if I could go back a year and put up boundaries, if I could love a little less and protect myself a little more, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

  • Cindy Holman

    Great article.  I agree with you – and I’ve been criticized for embracing and loving too much – and yes – I have been burned and hurt by those who misunderstood and even a pastor who tried to humiliate me calling something between a male friend and me something that it was NOT.  And because of that “scare” – I ended up losing the friend.  But still – the best policy is to love with reckless abandon – go to that place that scares us – ‘unguard’ our hearts, as it were – and just love.

  • ThatGuyKC

    I grew up w/ Proverbs 4:23 as a verse my parents gave me. It was even inscribed on the inside of ring.

    I’d never really thought about the dichotomy between guarding your heart and loving other unconditionally. I admit that I come from a military family background so the tendency to interpret “guard” that way was my first reaction.

    There’s an interesting tension here. I’m not sure the 2 are mutually exclusive, but it’s something to noodle over.

  • Christie

    Great post.  I am a non-Christian, but I to believe that there is much we can learn by the generosity, humility, and acceptance exemplified by Jesus.  I love how you talk about the importance of diligence as means of guarding the heart, rather than putting up fences.  It is important that we throw ourselves into our relationships, but we also need to do so with diligent common sense.  

  • RawFaith

    I grew up in an abusive environment where I learned not to trust people. When I became a believer, the more I got to know Jesus and more about him, I was convinced that people and relationships were his priority and needed to be mine too. These days I tend to go for loving people freely because that’s so worth it even with the occasional painful relationship. I do know that some relationships are dangerous for me though if I feel a pull either away from God or my husband when I move toward relationships with others. Its just like for me I could spend all day in a bar and not be tempted to drink too much, but I really shouldn’t watch much Christian tv because it causes me to be angry and sin. I have a lot of close guy friends… but I’m not attracted to them. Any I am attracted to I try to stay far away from. It’s not worth taking the chance.

  • Greenseasun

    I have been contemplating and praying about this issue for days. I got nothing but the opposite advice from everyone else, so much so I questioned the love God had put in my heart to the point of snuffing it out because I felt like there was something wrong with my thinking. But I couldn’t stop wondering if I was wrong an fooling myself into believing something that I shouldn’t believe. Then it dawn on me to open up my computer and try to google an answer. This was the first thing I read and I knew it was the answer I’d been asking for, and I wept, and wept. That’s how clear and direct your message was for me. 

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  • Lisa Colon DeLay

    Trust. Betrayal. Balancing protecting one’s “feeling mind” while still appropriately extending love, grace, and goodness is such tough sledding.

    One cool insight into this oft quoted verse is how the word translated “heart” would be thought of much differently in ancient times than how we figure it out today.

    The ancients thought of the bowels or the guts as the place of emotions and the seat of passions…this “place” is what we often term “the heart” in America from our modern/post-enlightenment worldview…almost as if it’s this almost little box within us, and not some how in and throughout us, right?

    Back then, the *heart* was considered the control center and the will…similar but not a dead ringer to our modern understandings of what we think of the “mind” doing. So, when you read “heart” in the bible the translation or the word choice is correct, by the meaning is nuanced differently in a way that can make things really interesting, and even more hopeful.

    So, for instance, when Jesus says “out of the abundance of the *heart* the mouth speaks” …he is referring not to a person’s heart/emotions/feeling mind (as we now think of it) but rather to the part of us that includes our will, the things we think and meditate on. See how transformation is closer at hand? (I love that!)

    # # #

    Btw it sounds like you have great conversations with your kids! :)