Above All Else, Guard Your Heart!
IN THE beautifully wooded grounds in front of radio station WBBR on Staten Island, New York city, stood a large oak, towering above the surrounding trees and dominating the scene. Its stately massive trunk seemed to be the very symbol of strength. Yet one day, after a particularly severe storm, this giant of the woods lay low. Trees all around it were still standing, but it had been felled, broken in two. Had it been struck by lightning? No. Then what caused its fall when smaller, seemingly weaker trees still stood? Ah, it had a hollow, rotten core. Its heart was bad.
Time and again a similar tragedy is seen in regard to the human body. A man, seemingly in the best of health, suddenly dies from a heart attack. He also had appeared to be strong, but something, too much worry, too much work, or perhaps too much pleasure, self-indulgence, had hollowed out his core, had weakened his heart, and so an overexertion felled him even as the storm felled the oak. Since this tragedy can also happen in a spiritual sense, as we shall presently see, most fitting is the admonition: Above all else, guard your heart!
Jehovah, the wonderfully wise Creator, not only fashioned that marvelous organ, the human heart, which organ contains the strongest muscles found in a man’s body, and which works unceasingly from the cradle to the grave—in fact, was designed to run forever—but He also produced those good qualities and faculties symbolized by the heart. No one understands this figurative heart as well as he does, and it is within his power to harden, strengthen, weaken, or even break it as he pleases by his dealings with his creatures.—Rom. 9:16-18.
Jehovah God made the heart of Pharaoh hard by his manner of dealing with him, and then he broke that tyrant’s heart by slaying his firstborn. By his mighty works for his people Israel during their wilderness journey, God caused the hearts of the people of Canaan to weaken, even as Rahab testified: “As soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt.” (Ex. 7:3; Josh. 2:11) Job complained that God had made his heart weak, soft.—Job 23:16.
In the greater number of cases in the Bible where the term “heart” occurs, it is used in this figurative way, as a symbol of the mind, the disposition, the love and actuating motive of the individual. At the time of the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures the word for heart (lebh) “denoted the seat of all affective and reasoning activity of the mind: the emotions of love and hate, desire, joy, sorrow, courage, loyalty, fear, pride, were thought to reside in the heart, so also did the faculties of memory, imagination and reasoning”. (Albright’s Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, pages 24, 25) And not without good reason, for do not all such mental and emotional activities directly affect the literal heart? Indeed they do!
It is in this sense, as the seat of our affections, the operations of our mind, that the term “heart” is used at Proverbs 4:23 (Ro): “Above all that must be guarded keep thou thy heart, for out of it are the issues of life.” Yes, just as the health, strength and life of the human body depend upon the organ of the heart, so the spiritual health, strength and life of the Christian depend upon the condition of his symbolic or figurative heart.
We are living in the last days of this wicked old system of things, in the critical times hard to deal with, when iniquity is abounding and little faith is found, when the adversary, Satan the Devil, is putting forth an all-out effort to debauch the human race and to destroy all those who are determined to maintain integrity toward Jehovah God. (Matt. 24:9-13; Luke 18:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:12, 17) Now, more than ever before, we must give earnest heed to this admonition to guard our hearts.
Foreseeing this very situation and need, Jesus gave us fitting admonition: “But pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life [which, in fact, are bad for the literal heart], and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and to hold your position before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:34-36, NW) And make no mistake about it, as the days go by faith-testing trials and heart-searching temptations will increase.
Our hearts stand for what we really are on the inside, and which is determined by what we like to think about, or where our love and affections are centered. If we allow our hearts to dwell on the corrupt pleasures of this old world, merely avoiding giving expression to them because of fear of exposure and unfavorable criticism and punishment, we may for a time conceal our real desires or hidden purposes from men; but not from God. His Word says: “Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.” (Ps. 44:21) “I, Jehovah, search the mind [lebh], I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer. 17:10, AS) There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and if our hearts are weak or unclean, sooner or later that fact will be made manifest. We may pass for integrity-keeping Christian ministers for a time, but when the test comes we shall fall.
HOW TO GUARD THE HEART
How can we guard our hearts with all diligence so as to assure for ourselves divine approval and everlasting life in the new world? By carefully watching the things on which we like to dwell, the things upon which we fix our affections, our longings, the things which we like to think out. For instance, a young maiden who has her heart set on marriage will fill her mind with romantic ideas about an ideal “prince charming”; she will visualize just how he looks, how she met him, how he made love to her, and the thrill of the wedding. All this she will think out and with this she will fill her mind, her heart, because that is where her affections lie.
If we, as Christian ministers, witnesses for Jehovah, have our hearts set upon the vindication of Jehovah’s name, the blessings of the new world, and the present expansion of the true worship, then we will be filling our minds with the pure, beautiful and life-giving truths of God’s Word and with plans regarding making those truths known to others. (Phil. 4:8) We will be studying and giving attention to these things, storing them up in our minds and letting them be our meditation and guide. So, rather than turning and looking yearningly at the selfish things of Satan’s system of things, let us obey God by looking straight ahead to the new world, keeping our eyes fixed on God’s kingdom. By not looking to the right or to the left, but by going straight forward with a firm determination, we shall keep our feet from evil and in the way that leads to everlasting life.—Prov. 4:20-27.
The psalmist David appreciated this fact, and therefore he said regarding God’s laws, precepts, testimonies, commandments and ordinances: “By them is thy servant warned: in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.”—Ps. 19:11-14, AS.
Since to have the meditation of our heart acceptable in God’s sight means filling it with the truths of his Word, we must study. Study the Bible itself and also study those helps God has provided for us to help us understand his Word. And we must study not only in private, but also with others, with the members of our immediate families and with our brothers in the Christian congregation as opportunity affords. And further, we must fix our minds on what we are reading, must concentrate on the subject matter, otherwise it will make no impression upon our minds; and how can we meditate or ponder over something that has not been impressed upon our memories?
SPEAKING FROM THE HEART’S ABUNDANCE
If we fill our hearts with the good things concerning Jehovah God and his kingdom they will also be found on our lips, for out of the heart’s abundance the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45) Thus in another way our hearts hold the issues of life, for while “with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness” it is “with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation”.—Rom. 10:10, NW.
In view of the importance of our public declaration, let us not be content with a mere routine activity, putting in time as it were, but let us be anxious to do it in a manner that will do the most good, wisely, persuasively: “He who pays heed to the word will prosper; and happy is he who trusts in the LORD! The wise man is counted intelligent; and sweetness of speech adds persuasiveness to his teaching. Wisdom is a fountain of life to him who has it; but folly brings chastisement to fools. The mind of the wise man imparts intelligence to his speech, and adds persuasiveness to the teaching of his lips.”—Prov. 16:20-23, AT.
Appreciating the seriousness of our responsibilities we will also try to make the best plans and arrangements regarding our course as witnesses for Jehovah. And after we have done our part, having taken full consideration of God’s written Word, we will look to Jehovah God for direction and guidance. If our plans run in full accord with the Bible as we understand it, then we may confidently expect that the Lord will lead us in the way we planned with divine approval. “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but Jehovah directeth his steps.” (Prov. 16:9, AS) How does Jehovah do this? By means of his spirit or active force, which is stronger than we ourselves and also is unerring.
BE STRONG OF HEART!
Watching our hearts will help us to lead pure lives, will equip and motivate us to make known the good news of God’s kingdom, and to do so in the most persuasive manner. Further, it will also make our hearts strong, and strong hearts Christians must have, for does not Paul warn that “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted”? (2 Tim. 3:12, NW) All the indications point toward increased persecution, and only by having strong hearts shall we be able to stand. By taking note of the examples of fearless and faithful devotion to God as contained in his Word, by making his promises to help us in every time of need our own, we will gain strength to endure and to be submissive to whatever he may permit. His Word stored up within us will keep us from rebelliously sinning against God when we are under pressure or inducement from the world and its rulers. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living. Wait for Jehovah: be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for Jehovah.”—Ps. 27:13, 14, AS; Ps 119:143, 144, 153, 157, 161.
Let us strengthen our hearts by training in fortitude now. Let us not fear the reproach of man but boldly confess the name of Jehovah at every opportunity, at one’s place of secular employment, in business dealings, in the field service, on the street corners and from house to house. Such training will prepare us for the fiery trials that lie ahead. And let us ever be on the alert so as not to compromise in any respect.—Phil. 1:27-29.
Today all the world looks toward the future with fear and apprehension, dreading the imminence of a third world war, fearful of the disaster that atomic bombs will wreak on modern civilization. We may not fear their fear, for if we, who have taken the name of Jehovah, should quail, who else could be strong? Besides, how can we tell others to be strong if we are not strong ourselves? Remember our commission is: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you.”—Isa. 35:3, 4, AS.
Statistics show that diseases of the physical heart are the No. 1 killer of modern civilization. Let us take care that we do not lose out on everlasting life in the new world because of weak or bad symbolic hearts. To have strong, sound hearts we must keep our minds informed on God’s Word and its promises. We must keep our hearts filled with the knowledge of Jehovah’s mighty deeds, his faithful dealing with his people in times past and now, and his purposes by his kingdom. Let us ever bear in mind the great issue of universal sovereignty, knowing that by staying true and keeping integrity to Jehovah we shall have a part in vindicating his name. Let us keep our mental affection, our love, fixed upon him and his glorious theocratic government by Christ Jesus. Let us bear testimony to what we know is true, and that without the fear of the reproach of man. Pursuing such a wise course we shall be stronghearted, for “a wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength”. (Prov. 24:5) And once again: “Above all that must be guarded keep thou thy heart, for out of it are the issues of life.”—Prov. 4:23, Ro.