By Kyle Idleman
The Bible says everything you do flows from your heart. That’s why our attempts to change our behavior don’t bring any lasting change.
Think of it this way: Imagine you’re taking a hike and you come upon this creek in the woods that’s heavily polluted. You see trash all along the banks and floating down the river. You decide, “I’m going to do something about this,” so you start cleaning up the trash as quickly as you can.
You spend a few hours and can see you made a difference. There is some trash left, so you decide to come back the next day to finish your work. The next morning you return and find there’s as much trash as when you started the day before. You put another few hours into cleaning. The next day you come back, and there’s just as much trash as when you first saw it. You clean to the point of exhaustion.
The next day you show up … and there’s just as much trash. You decide it’s time to walk upstream and see where the trash is coming from. You hike a couple miles and find, to your surprise, that this creek runs right through a garbage dump. You realize that you can continue to clean the trash downstream, and might make some temporary progress, but if you don’t address where the trash is coming from, you’ll continually be back in the same situation.
The Bible says that this is what the heart is for us. “Trash” might show up in our lives. We don’t understand where it came from. We decide to get rid of it, maybe work hard at it, but then we realize we’re back where we started. Why? Because the trash is flowing from your heart. That’s why the Bible says in Proverbs 4:23:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. -Proverbs 4:23
So, HOW do we guard our hearts? If you’re a pastor or church leader, how do you teach your people to guard their hearts? Well, there are a lot of ways. Let’s look at a few that Solomon mentions in that same chapter in Proverbs.
Through your ears.
“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.” - Proverbs 4:20-22
If you go through the book of Proverbs you’ll read again and again Solomon writing, “Listen, listen, listen.” Why the repetition? Because your ears are a pathway to your heart. What you hear flows into your heart, which flows out into your life.
There’s a tendency to think we don’t need to worry about the music or comedians or gossip or joking at the office. We think, “I’m not the one doing it” But the Bible would say that something is being done to us, because our ears are a gateway to our hearts.
Through your eyes.
“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” - Proverbs 4:25
Again, we think we can watch this movie, look at this on the internet, read this book, because, well, “I’m just looking.” But what we look at flows in, fills our heart, and eventually flows out. The trash will make its way downstream. If we really want our behavior to change, we’ll defend what comes into our hearts through our eyes.
Through your mind
“Then he taught me, and he said to me, ‘Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them.’” - Proverbs 4:4-5
Solomon is saying when you get the right wisdom, the right thinking, stay focused on it. That’s why the Bible says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.”
The challenge for us is that we’re constantly Googling, or flipping through the channels, or on social media, and we’re inundated with stuff that does not qualify as noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable or excellent. We need to be careful and intentional in not allowing too much that is negative, that is not pure, that does not reflect the kind of life we want to live, into our minds.
I know the tendency is to put our attention on behavior modification. It certainly is the easier option, but it doesn’t work. We can try to clean up our act, but the trash will keep flowing out of our hearts. That’s why, if we truly want to see change in our lives, above all else we need to guard our hearts.