By: Abby Watson
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Ah, the favorite verse of every American youth pastor teaching a series on dating. “Guard your heart,” has become somewhat of a caricature in Christian culture. There are those who live and die by this verse while there are others who see humor in taking this verse out of context and now only quote it to mock it. Our friend walks past a Magic Mike movie in the store and we tease her, “guard your heart!” It’s a catchphrase of the Christian culture, taken seriously or not.
But this verse, like Jesus himself, is somewhere in the middle of two extremes, come to meet us in the reality of our existence. Simply, this verse calls out the fact that we are affected by what is going on around us, that humans are responders. God tells us something about the outside of us (“guard” shows that there is something to guard against), and he tells us something about ourselves, that we are responders to our circumstances and our hearts are central to that response.
Adam was the very first responder. This original romantic, saw Eve and just freaking rejoiced. I imagine he was happy about his animal friends (how cool would it be to see everything in the garden), but God said it was not good for Adam to be alone. So when Adam sees Eve he says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” speaking man’s first recorded words. A wonderful response to something wonderful outside of him. Fast- forward to The Fall: Adam and Eve believe there is more to be gained going outside of God than going through God, and they miss the big picture. The evening after this first sin, God comes to the garden seeking time and fellowship with his creation, but they run. This time, Adam and Eve respond shamefully to a wonderful circumstance outside of them.
This side of heaven, in a fallen world touched by sin, our circumstances and our responses are mixed. The things outside of us are both beautiful and broken (sunrises and infant death occur in the same breath) and our responses can be just as beautiful and broken. Knowing this, God tenderly warns us in Proverbs about both. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” God is our Defender from the very beginning. But he’s not just here in the Old Testament; his heart for us bleeds into the New Testament.
I love how Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in chapter nine. Jesus has begun his healing and teaching, but hasn’t yet sent out his twelve disciples. Matthew says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Matthew then describes what’s going on in Jesus’ heart: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Again, God tells us about our outsides (harassed) and insides (helpless), the fallen nature without and within, and His readiness to meet us in all places of brokenness.
If we could guard our hearts on our own, the admonition to guard our hearts would have been enough. But it is not enough- so God graciously sends us a Better Guard. In John chapter 10, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Here, Jesus tells us he must die for our world and for our responses. In his death, Jesus satisfies the demands of our brokenness, he forgives those responses of ours that are sick; addiction, selfishness, those habits we just can’t kick. But he not only dies, he lives! He lays down his life “only to take it up again,” and in this there is healing.
In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we not only have a renewed ability to guard our hearts, we have a Shepherd, a Safeguard, a Shield with us at all times and in every moment. He has BECOME our guard. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (he himself is our peace.) Are you getting this? HE GUARDS. And suddenly all those good, biblical practices we were doing before, like practicing a daily quiet time, praying over conversations, or “testing everything that is said,” come into alignment. Jesus does what we cannot do and transforms these old acts of righteousness into beautiful responses to God.
And that’s the beauty offered to us in a redeemed quiet time. The Good Shepherd guards.
When I understand my time with the Lord in this way, it becomes a haven and a retreat. I can bring my fallen responses, my disgusting circumstances and trade them for holiness. I don’t clean up, but am cleaned. I receive truth from God’s Spirit and God’s Word, and these invite me to respond beautifully. And when I don’t view my quiet time in this way? When I filter my prayers into false happy reports of how great my life is going (thanks God for this terrible circumstance! I love how poor and dependent I am on the generosity of others!) or try to read the Bible in the “correct” way (I better finish this chapter in full or I won’t be able to guard my heart well later!), I am still beloved by God. My mixed responses are totally covered and redeemed. “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
We are simultaneously the freest creatures on this earth and the most guarded, sheltered, and loved. Give up the relentless battle to guard your own heart, and worship our good Guard, the Good Shepherd.
Abby is a 20-something believer with a penchant for black coffee, Meg Ryan rom-coms, and overthinking. In a world that offers chains and calls them freedom, she is passionate about sharing the ways that Jesus offers life and life more abundantly. She loves putting that passion in action through the local church, in the non-profit world, and of course, as a Wholehearted Writer!