So I almost fell off the treadmill at my gym. Again.
This time I blame General Hospital. Well, honestly, I don’t know what soap opera it was.
But as I was running on the treadmill, I looked up, and on one of the flat screens above me a soap opera was playing. The actors were engaged in a particularly heated exchange that was apparently spiraling out of control.
Still running (but curious), I started to read the closed captions to figure out what was happening. But without realizing it I started drifting to the right, and my foot caught the (stationary) right side of the treadmill.
Miraculously, I was able to recover, only after looking like a complete idiot. Then I (of course) tried to pretend like nothing had happened.
But it was obvious what happened: the soap opera caught my attention (or, more accurately, I gave it my attention), and it became more important and more real (so to speak) to me than . . . running on a treadmill.
But simply because it became more real to me, that didn’t actually make it more real–a fact I would have learned most painfully, had I not come to my senses at the last moment.
This silly story highlights how we humans are regularly evaluating, sifting, and selecting aspects of the world around us and prioritizing them: we assign greater importance and value to this than to that (or to her than to him), and we accordingly give our attention primarily to this and not to that.
We do this all the time. Even while running on treadmills (well, at least, I do).
This very human faculty of evaluating, prioritizing, and focusing our attention has a name in the Bible: it’s (most often) called the “heart.”
The heart evaluates and prioritizes. These priorities reveal our (relative) desires and fears: we come to desire object X more than object Y; we fear person A more than person B. Thus, object X (or person A) becomes the focus of our attention.
And as we learned in the previous post, in the Bible the “heart” can also refer to a person’s deepest affections–that is, to our strongest desires and fears. That is, our hearts reveal what we desire, fear, trust, hope in, rely on the most.
And in this vein we discussed the advice of King Solomon:
“Above all else, guard your heart.”
Solomon is saying: “Think carefully about what/whom you will fear, desire, trust, etc., the most.”
He is calling us to be very careful about what we make most important and most real to us, because if we choose the wrong thing and focus on it (recall the soap opera), it could lead to a nasty (not to mention, embarrassing) fall.
Okay, but just how does a person do this? How are we to “guard our hearts”?
1. Seek God’s help with all your heart.
The ability to guard our hearts is really the ability to rightly prioritize our desires, fears, etc., so that what is most important and most real to me is what is in fact most real. And that ability to rightly prioritize has a name.
It’s called wisdom.
And Solomon gives us the first step to getting wisdom–and, thus, to guarding our hearts: ask God for it. Indeed, cry out to him for it. We are to seek God’s help with all our hearts. Solomon writes:
“If you cry out for insight and call aloud for understanding, if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden gold, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” – Proverbs 2.3-5
If we “cry out” and “call aloud” and “look/search for” wisdom, what will happen?
We will understand “the fear of the LORD.” That is, God will help us prioritize our “fears”: rather than give greatest weight to–i.e., fearing–others’ opinions and actions (or our own), we will give most weight to God’s: His opinions will define us, and his actions will be decisive for us.
And whereas others’ opinions and actions are passing, God’s are permanent. That is, they are most real. Others’ opinions and actions are like the soap opera; God’s opinions and actions are like the treadmill.
How will all this come about? Because we have regularly, fervently asked him. We have cried out to him for a wisdom that guards our heart.
Encouragingly, James, the brother of Jesus, tells us what God cares about most–and least–when we ask for wisdom: understandably, God cares most about our faith (we’ve got to want wisdom and believe that He can give it); but, amazingly, God cares least about our faults. Listen to this incredibly encouraging exhortation from James:
“If any or you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all, without finding fault, and it will be given you. But when you ask, ask in faith, without any wavering.”
So what’s the first step to guarding your heart?
Seek God’s help with all your heart–asking in faith, regardless of your faults.
We’ll look at further steps in our next couple posts. But first a final autobiographical reflection about this first step.
I have many regrets in my life. When I look at my life, I think of how much I have been given and how little I have to show for it. I have often compared myself to Jacob: I’m the jerk who gets all the blessings.
So I’ve made a lot of foolish decisions that have hurt others a lot.
But having said that, when I was about 4 or 5 years old, my mom was reading the Bible to me, and she read me the story of how King Solomon asks God for wisdom. I will never forget what happened next. My mom paused and said to me, “Bruce, that’s what you need to do: every day ask God for wisdom, and he will give it to you.”
And, for the most part, I have done that all my life. And for all my sins and failures, I can honestly say that God has truly answered (and continues to answer) my request for wisdom.
And, wow, has wisdom guarded my heart in so many situations and circumstances. How wisdom has brought life, blessing, joy, and peace. How it has enabled me to commune closely with God. And now as a husband, father, and pastor God has in turn used that wisdom to help others guard their hearts as well.
So take Solomon’s advice: guard your heart. Be careful about what you fear, desire, and trust in the most. How? First, by seeking God’s help–by asking Him for wisdom with passionate faith regardless of your past faults–so that you learn to fear Him first, such that His opinions and actions are definitive and decisive for you.
So that He is more real to you than anyone or anything else.
Because He is most real. He is Reality, the One who Is, who Was, and who is to Come, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.