“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” Proverbs 4:23 HCSB
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NASB
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 NLT
“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NKJV
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV
While studying this morning I ran across this familiar verse. My context was within studying the armor of God and specifically the breast plate of righteousness. I am currently studying The Armor of God Bible study by Priscilla Shirer and ran across this thought provoking question: “What does Proverbs 4:23 command us to do regarding the heart? Why do you think this is necessary?” This passage is a very familiar scripture and normally I would just give a quick obvious answer based on my gut but today something deep within made me decide to go deeper and not treat this lightly. I began searching it on the Blue Letter Bible site by looking up the chapter and then going to the actual verse and clicking on tools. I started with the word guard. The original word used in the Hebrew was Natsar which means guard; watch over; keep your heart (as in tending a vineyard); preserve; guard from dangers; observe; guard with fidelity; to keep close; watchman. While I found the whole depth of the meaning of natsar interesting, I found one particularly compelling! Keep your heart, as in a vineyard…tending a vineyard; a garden! This word picture began to form in my mind.
Keeping or guarding your heart is much more that just being alert and diligent when we think of it in terms of tending a vineyard. Go with me for a minute if you will and let’s look at the many aspects in tending a plant of any type. This process takes much intentional and frequent care long beyond cultivating the ground and planting the plants. The soil must be monitored often for the water content and for the nutrients. If it is found lacking, we must water and treat the soil in order to keep our plant healthy and thriving. We also need to care for our heart this way both physically through nutrition, exercise and water, and spiritually through healthy feedings of the water of the Word of God and fellowship with other believers.
We must regularly weed our growing area. We need to regularly inspect the ground for any weeds taking root and for any invading insects or predators that will harm our plant and the expected fruit of that plant. If we find any invaders that threaten to damage our plant and the desired results; we must quickly work to make the environment one in which our plant can thrive. By the same token, we also need to be inspecting the environment around our heart. Are there any unhealthy things in that environment that threaten the health of our heart? Is busyness crowding into the spaces we need for our heart to grow strong and healthy? What unhealthy weeds are crowding into our hearts threatening to choke some of the life out or keeping it from flourishing? Are there any signs of root rot or critters damaging our plants (hearts)? If so what measures do we need to take or boundaries do we need to set up to protect the environment to secure the health and well being of our plants or of our heart?
Not only do our plants need to be carefully monitored during the growing season, but we also have to watch both the quality of the plant’s fruit and learn to know exactly when that fruit is at it’s peak. Then it can be harvested at just the right time. For example in the vineyard, they not only monitor the ripeness of the fruit by sight, touch, smell and taste; sweetness, p.h, and acidity levels are checked by using the proper tools. Fruit is picked here and there from clusters all over the vineyard to get an accurate reading of the vineyards readiness. Then when all the levels are just where they need to be the grapes are picked. That’s just the beginning, each cluster is examined removing green fruit, shriveled grapes and moldy grapes in order to get the absolute best grapes. Finally, they can be processed into juice, jelly, wine or readied for the market.
Even still, the work is continually being done between harvest and the next growing season. Plants must be protected from cold, pests, weeds, and predators even in the off season and the grower has to know the proper pruning and feeding times for his/her plants. It takes year-round constant and consistent care to have successful growing seasons and even with that detailed and careful care there are still some uncontrollable weathers possibility and hazards.
I can not help but wonder how many of us truly understand the depth of care needed to tend the vineyard of our heart. After this time looking at the care needed to tend the vineyard or a garden, it has become clear to me that it requires a balance of nourishment; examination; looking out for those who would prey on our heart; pulling out unbecoming weeds within and weeds that crowd out our ability to grow; making wise choices; staying strong in adverse situations; and monitoring our fruit for sweetness, ph and acidity. Priscilla noted in this lesson that the heart is the center of our soul which is made up of our mind (our intellect), will (our ambition), emotions and conscience ( defined as our “moral compass”). With that in mind, I would say that examining each of these areas would be another required step in guarding/tending our hearts. At first glance, most see this verse as mainly an defensive move. Protecting ourselves from external predators, the enemies tactics, pests, weeds, weather, etc. After looking deeply at the facets of the responsibilities of the vinedresser, I have come to see that it incorporates much introspection. Are we providing proper nutrients?, adequate exercise and water? Are we the proper balance of ph, acidity and sweetness? Are we balanced and congruent in our emotions, mind, will and conscience? Perhaps when we are tending to all these things and bringing them into alignment with who we are in Christ and with God’s Word, we will find true peace and contentment in our hearts no matter our circumstances.
Grace and peace to you!