“Safeguard Your Heart”
JEHOVAH told the prophet Samuel: “Not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Also focusing attention on the figurative heart, the psalmist David sang: “You [Jehovah] have examined my heart, you have made inspection by night, you have refined me; you will discover that I have not schemed.”—Psalm 17:3.
Yes, Jehovah looks into the heart to determine what we truly are. (Proverbs 17:3) For good reason, then, King Solomon of ancient Israel counsels: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) How may we safeguard our figurative heart? Proverbs chapter 4 gives us the answer to that question.
Listen to the Discipline of a Father
The 4th chapter of Proverbs begins with the words: “Listen, O sons, to the discipline of a father and pay attention, so as to know understanding. For good instruction is what I certainly shall give to you. My law do not leave.”—Proverbs 4:1, 2.
The counsel to youths is that they listen to the sound instruction of their godly parents, particularly to that of a father. He has the Scriptural responsibility to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of his family. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; 1 Timothy 5:8) Without such guidance, how much more difficult it is for a young person to reach maturity! Should not a child, therefore, respectfully accept the discipline of his father?
What, though, of a youth who has no father to instruct him? Eleven-year-old Jason, for example, became fatherless at the age of four.a When a Christian elder asked him what was the most troubling aspect of his life, Jason quickly replied: “I miss having a father. Sometimes it really gets me down.” Yet, comforting advice is available for youths lacking parental direction. Jason and others like him can seek and receive fatherly advice from the elders and other mature ones in the Christian congregation.—James 1:27.
Reminiscing about his own education, Solomon continues: “I proved to be a real son to my father, tender and the only one before my mother.” (Proverbs 4:3) The king evidently remembered his upbringing with fondness. Being “a real son” who took fatherly advice to heart, young Solomon must have had a warm and close relationship with his father, David. Moreover, Solomon was “the only one,” or dearly beloved. How important it is for a child to grow up in a home where the atmosphere is warm and lines of communication with the parents are open!
Acquire Wisdom and Understanding
Remembering his father’s loving advice, Solomon relates: “He would instruct me and say to me: ‘May your heart keep fast hold of my words. Keep my commandments and continue living. Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding. Do not forget, and do not turn aside from the sayings of my mouth. Do not leave it [wisdom], and it will keep you. Love it, and it will safeguard you. Wisdom is the prime thing. Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding.’”—Proverbs 4:4-7.
Why is wisdom “the prime thing”? Wisdom means putting knowledge and understanding to work in a way that brings forth good results. Knowledge—acquaintance or familiarity with facts gained by observation and experience or by reading and study—is fundamental to wisdom. But if we do not have the ability to put it to good use, our knowledge would be of little value. We must not only regularly read the Bible and the Bible-based publications provided by “the faithful and discreet slave” but also endeavor to apply what we learn from them.—Matthew 24:45.
Acquiring understanding is also essential. Without it, could we really see how facts relate to one another and get the complete picture of a matter under consideration? If we lacked understanding, how could we perceive the whys and wherefores of things and gain insight and discernment? Yes, to be able to put two and two together and come up with the right conclusion, we need understanding.—Daniel 9:22, 23.
Solomon continues to relate his father’s words, saying: “Highly esteem it [wisdom], and it will exalt you. It will glorify you because you embrace it. To your head it will give a wreath of charm; a crown of beauty it will bestow upon you.” (Proverbs 4:8, 9) Godly wisdom protects the one who embraces it. Moreover, it brings him honor and beautifies him. By all means, then, let us acquire wisdom.
“Take Hold on Discipline”
Echoing the instruction of his father, the king of Israel next says: “Hear, my son, and accept my sayings. Then for you the years of life will become many. I will instruct you even in the way of wisdom; I will cause you to tread in the tracks of uprightness. When you walk, your pace will not be cramped; and if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.”—Proverbs 4:10-13.
As a real son to his father, Solomon must have appreciated the value of loving discipline that instructs and corrects. Without balanced discipline, how could we expect to progress to spiritual maturity or hope to improve the quality of our life? If we do not learn from our mistakes or if we fail to correct wrong ideas, our spiritual advancement will indeed be negligible. Reasonable discipline leads to godly conduct and thus helps us to “tread in the tracks of uprightness.”
Another type of discipline also results in making ‘the years of our life become many.’ How? Well, Jesus Christ said: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10) Would not disciplining ourselves in little things make it easier for us to do the same in big things, upon which our very lives may depend? For example, training the eye not to ‘keep on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her’ would make it unlikely that we would succumb to immorality. (Matthew 5:28) Naturally, this principle applies to both men and women. If we discipline our minds to ‘bring every thought into captivity,’ there is little danger that we will grossly transgress in word or action.—2 Corinthians 10:5.
True, discipline is usually difficult to accept and may seem restrictive. (Hebrews 12:11) Yet, the wise king assures us that if we take hold on discipline, our path will be conducive to our making progress. Just as proper training permits a runner to move ahead at optimum speed without falling or injuring himself, taking hold of discipline allows us to continue on the road to life at a steady pace without stumbling. Of course, we must be careful about the path we choose.
Shun “the Path of the Wicked Ones”
With a sense of urgency, Solomon warns: “Into the path of the wicked ones do not enter, and do not walk straight on into the way of the bad ones. Shun it, do not pass along by it; turn aside from it, and pass along. For they do not sleep unless they do badness, and their sleep has been snatched away unless they cause someone to stumble. For they have fed themselves with the bread of wickedness, and the wine of acts of violence is what they drink.”—Proverbs 4:14-17.
The wicked ones, whose ways Solomon wants us to shun, sustain themselves on their vile deeds. Doing what is bad is like food and drink to them. They are unable to sleep unless they engage in acts of violence. Their very personality is corrupt! Can we really safeguard our hearts while keeping company with them? How foolish to “walk straight on into the way of the bad ones” by exposing ourselves to the violence featured in much of the entertainment in today’s world! Striving to be tenderly compassionate simply is not compatible with taking in desensitizing doses of scenes of badness on the television screen or in motion pictures.
Stay in the Light
Still using the analogy of a path, Solomon declares: “But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” (Proverbs 4:18) Undertaking a study of the Bible and trying to apply what it says in life can be likened to starting out on a journey in the early morning darkness. As the blackness of the night sky lightens to dark blue, we can hardly see anything. But as the dawn gradually breaks, we slowly distinguish more and more of our surroundings. Finally, the sun shines brightly, and we see everything in clear detail. Yes, the truth gradually becomes clearer to us as we persist in studying the Scriptures patiently and diligently. Supplying the heart with spiritual nourishment is essential if we are to safeguard it against false reasoning.
The meaning or significance of Bible prophecies also unfolds progressively. Prophecies become clear to us as Jehovah’s holy spirit sheds light upon them and as they are fulfilled by world events or in the experiences of God’s people. Rather than impatiently resorting to speculations about their fulfillment, we need to wait for ‘the light to become lighter and lighter.’
What about those who reject God’s guidance by refusing to walk in the light? “The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom,” says Solomon. “They have not known at what they keep stumbling.” (Proverbs 4:19) The wicked are like a man who stumbles in the dark without knowing what stumbled him. Even when the ungodly seem to prosper because of their unrighteousness, their apparent success is only temporary. Concerning such ones, the psalmist sang: “Surely on slippery ground is where you place them. You [Jehovah] have made them fall to ruins.”—Psalm 73:18.
The king of Israel goes on to say: “My son, to my words do pay attention. To my sayings incline your ear. May they not get away from your eyes. Keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those finding them and health to all their flesh. More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.”—Proverbs 4:20-23.
Solomon’s own example testifies to the value of the counsel to safeguard the heart. True, he “proved to be a real son” to his father in his youth and remained faithful to Jehovah well into his adulthood. Yet, the Bible relates: “It came about in the time of Solomon’s growing old that his [foreign] wives themselves had inclined his heart to follow other gods; and his heart did not prove to be complete with Jehovah his God like the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 11:4) Without constant vigilance, even the best of hearts can be enticed to do what is bad. (Jeremiah 17:9) We must keep the reminders in God’s Word close to our heart—‘in the midst of it.’ This includes the guidance provided in the 4th chapter of Proverbs.
Examine the Condition of Your Heart
Are we successfully safeguarding our figurative heart? How can we know the condition of the inner person? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” said Jesus Christ. (Matthew 12:34) He also stated: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19, 20) Yes, our words and actions speak volumes about what we are at heart.
Fittingly, Solomon admonishes us: “Remove from yourself the crookedness of speech; and the deviousness of lips put far away from yourself. As for your eyes, straight ahead they should look, yes, your own beaming eyes should gaze straight in front of you. Smooth out the course of your foot, and may all your own ways be firmly established. Do not incline to the right hand or to the left. Remove your foot from what is bad.”—Proverbs 4:24-27.
In view of Solomon’s admonition, we need to examine our speech and our actions. If we are to safeguard the heart and please God, crooked speech and deviousness must be avoided. (Proverbs 3:32) Therefore, we should prayerfully reflect on what our words and deeds reveal about us. Then let us seek Jehovah’s help in order to correct any weakness we detect.—Psalm 139:23, 24.
Above all, may ‘our eyes look straight ahead.’ Let us keep them fixed on the goal of rendering whole-souled service to our heavenly Father. (Colossians 3:23) As you personally pursue such an upright course, may Jehovah grant you success in “all your own ways,” and may he bless you richly for heeding the inspired counsel to “safeguard your heart.”
a Not his real name.
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Do you avoid entertainment featuring violence?
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Benefit from the advice of experienced ones
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Discipline does not slow your pace
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Be persistent in your study of the Bible