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What the Bible Means When it Says “Guard Your Heart” (Proverbs 4:23)

When I was a little girl, my mother always told me, “Guard Your Heart.” Perhaps it was because she was hurt by too many failed relationships along her dating journey, or maybe she genuinely wanted me to be prepared for the relational hardships that life throws at you without a care. Nevertheless, as I grew, I began to question what the Bible means when it says to “Guard your heart above all else, for everything you do, flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Beyond the world of romantic interactions, this phrase began to play a pivotal role in my life. From evaluating who I spent my time with to how I could guard my heart against worldly endeavors, it was not until I realized that this Scripture applied to life as a whole that change in my life began to happen.

In the book of Proverbs 4, Scripture encourages readers to obtain wisdom at all costs. Listing tips and tricks for gaining understanding, knowledge, and insight from the Lord, verse twenty-three summarizes the emphasis of the entire text: If we wish to have a deep possession of Godly ideologies, we must take good care of our hearts, for what we think becomes who we are, and who we are flows from the inner depths of our souls.

Most likely written by King Solomon and other unnamed scholars, the book of Proverbs offers instruction, wisdom, and understanding to those in Israel and still applies to us today.

In Proverbs 4:23 specifically, The Passion Translation describes this set of verses as the Father’s instructions for wise and Godly living. Broken into four sections, Proverbs 4 lists Instructions for Wisdom (vs.1-9), Two Pathways (vs.10-19), Healing Words (vs.20-24), and Watch Where You’re Going (vs.25-27).

Surrounding the context of verse 23, Proverbs 4 tells us to “keep hold of instruction” (vs.13), “be attentive to my words” (vs.20), and “keep them within your heart” (vs.21), for “they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh” (vs.22). Here, we can identify that the overall theme of this chapter is not to merely guard our hearts but guard the Godly words of instruction God’s given us in that place.

By breaking our verse down into word segments, I love how the KJV notes this passage: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23, KJV).

In verse 23, the Hebrew word nāṣar means to “keep, preserve, guard from dangers, and watch.” The phrase “thy heart,” lēḇ, means “inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding, soul, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, determination (of will), conscience.”

Although levav is the most common word for “heart,” the KJV writes this as keeping thy heart with all diligence, including our thoughts, wills, discernment, and affections. If we are to keep watch for danger over our hearts, we can do this by accessing the Word of God we’ve fastened tightly to our souls.

“So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, TPT).

“Above all” literally means “before any other thing.” And that’s how vital keeping watch of what goes in and comes out of our heart is! Before anything else, Christ calls each of us to protect the souls He’s given us from the issues of life.

Although most translations have “the issues of life,” instead of “for from there flows,” the Hebrew word here is yasa, meaning “seasons,” especially springtime. Out of your innermost being, flow the seasons of life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Therefore, it is not our ages or circumstances that shape these seasons but the condition of our hearts.

If our hearts are tender to God and protected by His Word, we can live in a never-ending springtime. A season with blooming growth, an appreciation of beauty, and a time of reflection on the seasons past and the times to come. In the spring, we see April showers but press ahead, looking forward to May flowers. The same principle applies to the “issues of life.”

If this is true, what does it mean for us, and what does “guarding our hearts” look like practically? What does it look like to take this to heart and live this out in our daily lives? What behaviors would it change?

To “guard thy heart with all diligence” comes from the word mišmār, meaning a place of confinement, prison, guard, jail, guard post, watch, observance. If we are to guard our hearts with as much concern as a correctional officer has for their inmates, that’s a pretty serious responsibility. With a military strategy in mind, guarding your heart requires tucking God’s Word in your heart, being clothed with Spiritual Armor, and being on watch for what you allow to come into and go out of your soul.

Tucking God’s Word Into Your Heart:
By memorizing Scripture, meditating on what it says, reading the Bible, praying, and talking to God, I believe that we will successfully create a reservoir to pull from in our souls. The more time we spend in His Word, the better, and no time is ever wasted.

Mark 7:21-23 and Psalm 139:23-24 provide beautiful insights for this cross-reference.

“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23, NIV). Sin exudes from within our hearts, but if we can prevent it from spreading and stop it in the womb, we can avoid sin from convincing and multiplying havoc on our souls. Romans 8:23 reminds us that the wages of sin are death, and we have all been born into this sin. However, through the forgiveness, love, blood, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can protect our hearts and move from a place of sinful nature to a safe space of purity redeemed.

In response to his sinful heart, this is why King David said, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” in Psalm 139 (Psalm 139:23-24). Our hearts are inclined and tempted to sin, but they are not inherently trained to guard, protect, and keep watch for that evil.

Being Clothed With Spiritual Armor:
Because we wage war against the rulers and principalities of the evil world, it is crucial to clothe ourselves with humility, righteousness, and the weapons God’s given us. Ephesians 6:13-18 in the Message states our hardware as the first line of defense:

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out” (Ephesians 6:13-18, MSG). Although we’re often hesitant to pray and use this spiritual armor, Scripture tells us that Godly armor is not a plan B but our most important line of protection.

Being on Watch:
Once we’re spiritually clothed and have hidden the Word (the most potent tool) in our hearts, we’re ready to stand watch. 1 Peter 5:8 of the CEB reminds us, “Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, CEB). Pay attention to what you give consideration and discern the motivations of your heart.

James 1:14 notes, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14, NIV). Daily, hearts are tugged on, while thoughts cross minds, and actions display themselves in behavior.

In his Desiring God article, Guard Your Heart, Don’t Suffocate It, Tyler Kenney makes a unique point about Proverbs 4:23:

“In its context, this verse suggests that keeping—or guarding—your heart means to retain wise words and resist wicked desires. But I’m afraid some people—ahem, me, too often—use it to justify being cowardly or cold instead of loving others, because we think that “guard your heart” means “don’t get hurt.”

At the end of the day, it will be impossible to guard your heart against every heartbreak it may experience or calamity sure to strike, but it is possible to secure it against sin at all costs. To safeguard your heart is not just an outward action but an inward diligence commitment, dedication, and loyalty to living a Godly life.


Agape, Amber