Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
We all know that our heart is that vital organ in the centre of our chest which pumps life-giving blood throughout our body 24 hours a day for as long as we live. It is considered the most important organ in the body, even above the brain, because we can still be alive even with a damaged brain, but as soon as our heart ceases beating, it’s all over. But we also use the word ‘heart’ in a different way and the many references to our heart in the Bible all refer to this second meaning.
The Websters Dictionary defines the heart as: ‘the emotional or moral nature as distinguished from the intellectual nature or ones innermost character, feelings or inclinations.’ Given those definitions, we can understand why the Bible talks about our heart a lot. There are references to our heart being corrupted resulting in jealousies, hatred and all manner of sins flowing from the core of who we are. Jesus also said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” So the heart is a big deal and that’s why the writer of Proverbs 4 exhorts us to guard our heart, or some translations say we are to ‘watch over’ our heart. Why? Because pretty much everything we do and who we become is determined by our heart.
So how do we guard our heart? How do we make sure our heart is pure? How do we avoid the corruption which can so easily grip our fallen human heart? Well there are many things we can do to make sure our heart remains strong and focussed on our calling in Christ, but I want to suggest there is one thing which has to be at the top of the list and that’s prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 we are exhorted to, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Pray without ceasing. In other words, we are to view prayer, as our ongoing, primary occupation. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; what your family situation; what activities fill your days and nights . . we are to pray without ceasing. That means prayer is meant to saturate, permeate, undergird, give context to absolutely everything in our lives.
Now we all have to confess that most days we really don’t know what we’re doing with prayer – it’s a mystery and there isn’t an honest believer on the planet who would say they are happy with their prayer life. We struggle to pray sometimes and to pray without ceasing seems like a goal we will never achieve. Well God knows that and that’s why the Bible actually says that we don’t know how to pray as we ought. The Bible actually agrees with us and says we don’t really know what we’re doing with prayer. But the Bible also says in Romans chapter 8:26 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Then a few verses later it says that Jesus intercedes for us. (v.34). Can you see this in your mind’s eye? This is amazing. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us … Jesus is interceding for us … and right in the middle of those two verses, is this statement, “… in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (v.28)
I wonder why all things work together for good? It’s because we have the Holy Spirit on one side and the Son of God on the other side and they’re both pleading our case before the Father. We may not know what we are doing, but the Holy Spirit who lives in us knows exactly what He’s doing.
Many people pray enough to ease their conscience but not enough to change any circumstances; not enough to actually make a difference. But prayer is the full time responsibility of the believer. It’s not just that time in the morning, when you get on your knees and you’ve got your Bible open, those times are wonderful, but it’s more than that. It’s the fact that I’ll drive down the road, I’ll see a car go buy, that reminds me of a friend I went to school with, so just take that as a sign to pray for that person. It’s just automatic reminder.
Perhaps at another time while I am driving I will remember a conflict, or a difficult conversation I had that was very challenging for me. As soon as it comes to mind, I can talk to God and say, “Lord, help me to lay down my right to be offended by that and I pray now for my friend, that you would touch his life and bless him in everything he does.” Now it may take a while for prayer to become instinctive and constant, but it can happen, but only if we first decide it needs to happen. We must first of all affirm that regardless of what we do in this earthly kingdom, our full time occupation in the Kingdom of heaven is interacting with God.
I believe God wants the earth to be filled with the fruitfulness of our answered prayers. In other words, you and I were designed to meet with the Creator of all; the Life-giver; to meet with Him and to make petitions, to make decrees and to make proclamations. As a result of that interaction with God, we see the course of history changed. We see the answers of God sprinkled all over our life and the world around us. We see the fruitfulness that God so earnest desires to bring into our lives.
God’s not going to give you insights for prayer just to increase your knowledge. The insights for prayer He give are to make you more fruitful. God’s not going to give us insights for prayer so that we can write a book about prayer. He wants to make us fruitful so that the Earth would be filled with the fruitfulness of the answers to prayer.
Prayer is an engagement with a Person and the more we engage with that Person the more we start to think like Him and act like Him and pursue the things which are important to Him. That’s how you guard your heart. That’s how you keep watch over your heart.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” He could have just as easily gone on to say, “… and blessed are those who see God, for they shall be pure in heart.” Purity of heart is a gift from God – we can’t become pure in heart – we can only receive the gift of purity in Christ and it’s as we walk in that reality, our heart continues to be pure and the best way to walk in that reality is to pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for us.