Monday, April 13, 2015

The Importance of Guarding Our Heart

Almost every day we hear something about heart disease, whether on a news report, a TV commercial, or a post on the Internet. And to an extent, that’s justified. We cringe at the sound of “cancer,” but heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women of most ethnicities in the United States. The overriding message is we need to learn how to guard our hearts from a variety of dangers.

I know this firsthand, since both of my parents died of heart disease, and I’m a survivor. More than eight years ago I underwent open-heart surgery, and since then – for the most part – I’ve been diligent to take care of my heart. This has included regular, rigorous exercise; trying to eat properly (again, for the most part!), and taking medications as prescribed. But what concerns me even more is a different form of “heart disease” we tend to overlook.

The determination to "guard your
heart" must be intentional.
Proverbs 4:23 admonishes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In this instance, the passage is not referring to an organ, the cardiac muscle that keeps blood pulsing through our veins and arteries. It’s addressing our minds – the origin of our desires and motives.

The word wellspring is not a term we hear every day. One definition is “a continuous, seemingly inexhaustible source or supply of something.” So in this instance, when the Proverbs passage talks about the heart, it’s about protecting the source of what we think, how we feel, the attitudes we hold, and ultimately, who we are and how we act.

How do we go about guarding this “wellspring”? Well, it depends. Sometimes a change in environment is in order. As my friend, Jim Lange, noted recently in his own blog, environmental factors can affect our hearts positively or negatively. In some instances a change of place is needed – going to a different location to clear your head, to get your “heart” right again. This is why vacations can provide wonderful, restorative therapy.

But sometimes changing the physical environment isn’t an option. It’s our “natural habitat,” where we live and work, the people with whom we interact, along with the information available to us on a daily basis. For this reason it’s important to sort out what we allow to fill our minds, just as a programmer would monitor and control software being used in a computer.

As Jim noted, sometimes it’s toxic people – those that are perpetually negative, whose conversations are anything but uplifting and edifying. If we want to remain in a healthy, positive state of mind, more than a small dose of such individuals can be very detrimental.

Years ago I was an avid reader of horror novels, books in which elements of the occult were described in detail. After my pastor gave a sermon on what the Bible teaches about occult practices, I asked him whether my enjoyment of fiction on that topic was out of line. He gave an excellent response: “You’ve got to decide that. But consider this – when you read those books, are they pointing you toward God, or away from Him?”

Guarding our hearts doesn’t just mean avoiding negative “programming” for our minds. In today’s workplace, where men and women often work together intensely on demanding projects, married people must be cognizant of the threat of romantic entanglements and take preventive measures. Extramarital affairs, according to the experts, most commonly result not from spontaneous “one-night stands” but from relationships that slowly drift from working relationships into friendships and then emotional attachments, long before physical intimacy occurs.

So guarding our hearts in the workplace requires setting up appropriate boundaries well in advance of possible temptations. As King Solomon write, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). Minor, seemingly harmless words, gestures and actions can lead to major consequences.

Just as proper exercise, nutrition and medication work in positive ways to ensure heart health, we also can take steps to promote the well-being of our mental and emotional “heart.” As King David wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).

The apostle Paul added, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

In approaching the challenge of “guarding our hearts,” being proactive is far better than being reactive, once the harm has already been done. 

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