The book of Proverbs is a collection of wise insights into life. Prov. 4:23 has a deep insight:
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Everything?! If that’s true then this is deserving our attention.
This Scripture points to the heart as being the deepest part of us, deeper than thought, separate from mind. It’s the spirit of a person that directs the thoughts, which the body then carries out in response. And it is our heart that we must guard – because it literally directs everything else. Modern brain research is verifying this.
- The heart is hard to discern.
Jeremiah’s famous observation about the heart (Jer. 17:9) tells us that we may not be aware of what our heart is actually feeling:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
If the heart is deeper than thoughts, then how do we guard something that we cannot even be aware of?
The very next verse tell us who does understand it:
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
- The heart is sick
The problem is that our spirit (or heart) without Christ is “dead.” This is a metaphor that describes our natural heart as unable to give life. It is sick, dysfunctional and unable to heal itself. We can try with self-help techniques, but we find ourselves not doing what we intellectually know we should do. There is a “law” (or persistent direction) of corruption and death deep within that needs transformation.
Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Without an insight beyond our own reasoning we keep messing up, even if our intentions are good.
- The heart needs transformation
The transformation we need is a re-making of the innermost being. It means giving up trying to make ourselves, and instead accepting of a new way of thinking. A new view from God, a revelation. This is a gift from outside ourselves, beyond our reasoning. A paradigm shift.
Jesus described this new way as so radical it’s like starting life all over again (John 3) – beginning our new life like an infant, learning to speak a new language, to walk and act in new ways.
Another word for this change is the Greek word Metanoia. It literally means a change of thinking. It’s often translated “repent” but this is not so much about regret, guilt or shame; it implies making a decision to turn around, to face a new direction.
Proverb’s admonition to “guard your heart” is a crucial understanding of human transformation. The heart sets the affections and directs the mind. When the heart wants something, it directs the mind to find it; it instructs the mind to ignore contradicting information – the heart effectively filters the data.
This is why, when a person experiences a shift of desire and affection, they will do what others see as illogical.
It’s because the heart wants it.
But we are often not aware of what our deepest wants are. We just have a “gut feel” about something. This is an emotive judgment that is supra-rational. Logical arguments won’t suffice to convince a heart set in a different direction. It takes a revelation in the spirit, a light in the innermost being.
So Christian repentance is inviting the Spirit to examine our hearts and transform our thinking by his revelation. It’s becoming “poor in spirit,” admitting that our heart is bankrupt, unable to fix itself. Only when we come to this do we find life in the new kingdom. (Interesting that this is step 1 in Alcoholics Anonymous.)
The Spirit brings light into our innermost being, transforming our mind. We drink in the Word, and it washes away the old thinking, ushering in a new way of life. The Apostle Paul writes with joy in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”