Safeguard Your Heart

“More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.”​—PROVERBS 4:23.

1, 2. Why do we need to safeguard our heart?

AN OLD man on a Caribbean island emerged from his shelter after a hurricane. As he viewed the damage around him, he realized that a massive tree that had stood for decades near his front gate was gone. ‘How could that be,’ he wondered, ‘when smaller trees in the vicinity survived?’ A look at the stump of the fallen tree provided the answer. The inside of the seemingly immovable tree had rotted out, and the storm had merely exposed that unseen deterioration.

2 What a tragedy it is when a true worshiper who appears to be firmly rooted in the Christian way of life succumbs to a test of faith. The Bible rightly says that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) This means that without constant vigilance, even the best of hearts can be enticed to do what is bad. Since no imperfect human heart is immune to corruption, we need to take seriously the advice: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart.” (Proverbs 4:23) So how may we safeguard our figurative heart?

Regular Checkups​—A Must

3, 4. (a) What questions might be asked regarding a literal heart? (b) What will help us to examine our figurative heart?

3 If you go to a physician for a physical checkup, he likely will examine your heart. Does your general health, including your heart, suggest that you are getting sufficient nutrients? How is your blood pressure? Is your heartbeat steady and strong? Do you get enough exercise? Is your heart subjected to undue stress?

4 If the literal heart needs regular checkups, what about your figurative heart? Jehovah examines it. (1 Chronicles 29:17) So should we. How? By asking such questions as: Does my heart get sufficient spiritual food through regular personal study and meeting attendance? (Psalm 1:1, 2; Hebrews 10:24, 25) Is Jehovah’s message close to my heart like “a burning fire shut up in my bones,” moving me to share in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work? (Jeremiah 20:9; Matthew 28:19, 20; Romans 1:15, 16) Am I moved to exert myself vigorously, sharing in some feature of the full-time ministry when possible? (Luke 13:24) To what kind of environment am I exposing my figurative heart? Am I seeking association with others whose hearts are unified in true worship? (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33) May we be quick to note any deficiency and take corrective measures at once.

5. What useful purpose can tests of faith serve?

5 Tests of faith often come our way. These provide us with opportunities to note the condition of our heart. To the Israelites who were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses said: “Jehovah your God made you walk these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, to put you to the test so as to know what was in your heart, as to whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) Are we not often surprised at feelings, desires, or reactions that surface when we face unexpected situations or temptations? The trials that Jehovah permits to take place can certainly make us aware of our flaws, giving us an opportunity to make  improvement. (James 1:2-4) May we never fail to reflect prayerfully on our response to trials!

What Do Our Words Reveal?

6. What can the subjects we like to discuss reveal about our heart?

6 How can we determine what we have treasured up in our heart? Jesus said: “A good man brings forth good out of the good treasure of his heart, but a wicked man brings forth what is wicked out of his wicked treasure; for out of the heart’s abundance his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) What we usually talk about is a good indication of what our heart is set on. Do we often talk about material things and secular achievements? Or do our conversations frequently center on spiritual things and theocratic goals? Rather than advertising the mistakes of others, are we lovingly inclined to cover them over? (Proverbs 10:11, 12) Do we tend to talk a great deal about people and the goings-on in their lives but little about principles and ideas? Could this be a signal that we are taking undue interest in other people’s personal affairs?​—1 Peter 4:15.

7. What lesson about safeguarding our heart can we learn from the account of Joseph’s ten brothers?

7 Consider what happened in one large family. Jacob’s ten oldest sons “were not able to speak peacefully” to their younger brother Joseph. Why? They were jealous because he was their father’s favorite son. Later when Joseph was blessed with dreams from God, proving that he had Jehovah’s favor, they found “further reason to hate him.” (Genesis 37:4, 5, 11) Cruelly, they sold their brother into slavery. Then, in an attempt to cover up their wrongdoing, they deceived their father into thinking that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Ten of Joseph’s brothers failed to safeguard their heart on that occasion. If we are quick to be critical of others, could that be an evidence of envy or jealousy in our heart? We need to be vigilant to examine what comes out of our mouth and be quick to root out improper inclinations.

8. What will help us to examine our heart if we succumb to telling a lie?

8 Though “it is impossible for God to lie,” imperfect humans are prone to lie. (Hebrews 6:18) “Every man is a liar,” lamented  the psalmist. (Psalm 116:11) Even the apostle Peter lyingly denied Jesus three times. (Matthew 26:69-75) Clearly, we must be careful to avoid lies, for Jehovah hates “a false tongue.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) If we were ever to succumb to telling a lie, it would be good to analyze the cause. Was it because of fear of man? Was fear of punishment the reason? Perhaps saving face or outright selfishness was at the root of the problem? Whatever the case, how appropriate that we reflect on the matter, humbly admit our shortcoming, and beg Jehovah’s forgiveness, seeking his help in overcoming the weakness! “The older men of the congregation” may be the best ones to provide that help.​—James 5:14.

9. What can our prayers reveal about our heart?

9 In response to young King Solomon’s request for wisdom and knowledge, Jehovah said: “For the reason that this has proved to be close to your heart and you have not asked for wealth, riches and honor . . . , the wisdom and the knowledge are being given you; also wealth and riches and honor I shall give you.” (2 Chronicles 1:11, 12) From what Solomon asked for and did not ask for, Jehovah knew what was close to Solomon’s heart. What do our communications with God reveal about our heart? Do our prayers disclose our thirst for knowledge, wisdom, and discernment? (Proverbs 2:1-6; Matthew 5:3) Are Kingdom interests close to our heart? (Matthew 6:9, 10) If our prayers have become mechanical and perfunctory, this could be an indication of the need to take time to meditate on Jehovah’s deeds. (Psalm 103:2) All Christians ought to be alert to discern what their prayers reveal.

What Do Our Actions Say?

10, 11. (a) Where do adultery and fornication originate? (b) What will help us not to ‘commit adultery in the heart’?

10 It has been said that actions speak louder than words. Our actions certainly speak volumes about what we are on the inside. For example, in matters of morality, safeguarding the heart involves more than simply avoiding an act of fornication or adultery. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) How can we avoid committing adultery even in our heart?

11 The faithful patriarch Job set an example for married Christian men and women. Job undoubtedly had ordinary dealings with younger women and even kindly helped them if they needed assistance. But the thought of having a romantic interest in them was out of the question for this man of integrity. Why? Because he had made a firm resolve not to gaze lustfully at women. “A covenant I have concluded with my eyes,” he said. “So how could I show myself attentive to a virgin?” (Job 31:1) May we make a similar covenant with our eyes and safeguard our heart.

12. How would you apply Luke 16:10 as to safeguarding your heart?

12 “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much,” declared the Son of God, “and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10) Yes, we need to examine our conduct in seemingly small matters of everyday life, even those taking place in the privacy of our home. (Psalm 101:2) While sitting in our house, watching television, or connected to the Internet, do we take care to comply with the Scriptural admonition: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming”? (Ephesians 5:3, 4) And what about the violence that may be available on television or in video  games? “Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one,” said the psalmist, “and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.”​—Psalm 11:5.

13. What caution is warranted when reflecting on what comes out of our heart?

13 “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate,” warned Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 17:9) This treachery of the heart may manifest itself when we make excuses for our errors, minimize shortcomings, rationalize away serious personality flaws, or exaggerate accomplishments. A desperate heart is also capable of taking on a two-sided posture​—smooth lips saying one thing, actions saying another. (Psalm 12:2; Proverbs 23:7) How vital that we be honest as we examine what comes out of the heart!

Is Our Eye Simple?

14, 15. (a) What is a “simple” eye? (b) How does keeping the eye simple help us to safeguard the heart?

14 “The lamp of the body is the eye,” said Jesus. He added: “If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright.” (Matthew 6:22) The eye that is simple is focused on a single goal, or purpose, not being distracted or sidetracked from it. Indeed, our eye should be focused on “seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) What can happen to our figurative heart if our eye is not kept simple?

15 Consider the matter of earning a living. Providing for the needs of our family is a Christian requirement. (1 Timothy 5:8) But what if we are tempted by a desire to have the latest, the best, and the most sought after in the way of food, clothing, shelter, and other things? Could that not really enslave the heart and the mind, making us halfhearted in our worship? (Psalm 119:113; Romans 16:18) Why should we become so absorbed in caring for physical needs that our life revolves solely around family, business, and material things? Remember the inspired advice: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, 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.”​—Luke 21:34, 35.

16. What advice did Jesus give concerning the eye, and why?

 16 The eye is an important channel of communication to the mind and the heart. What it focuses on can strongly influence our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Using illustrative language, Jesus referred to the power of visual temptation and said: “If, now, that right eye of yours is making you stumble, tear it out and throw it away from you. For it is more beneficial to you for one of your members to be lost to you than for your whole body to be pitched into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:29) The eye must be restrained from concentrating on improper sights. For example, it must not be allowed to dwell on material that is designed to excite or arouse illicit passions and desires.

17. How does applying Colossians 3:5 help us to safeguard the heart?

17 Sight, of course, is not our only sense of communication with the outside world. Other senses, such as touching and hearing, play their part, and we need to take precautionary measures with the corresponding body members as well. The apostle Paul admonished: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”​—Colossians 3:5.

18. What measures should we take concerning improper thoughts?

18 An improper desire can originate in the recesses of our mind. Dwelling upon such usually intensifies the wrong desire, influencing the heart. “Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14, 15) Many admit that this is the way that self-abuse often takes place. How important that we keep filling our mind with spiritual concerns! (Philippians 4:8) And if an improper thought does come to the mind, we should strive to dismiss it.

‘Serve Jehovah With a Complete Heart’

19, 20. How may we succeed in serving Jehovah with a complete heart?

19 In his old age, King David told his son: “Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul; for all hearts Jehovah is searching, and every inclination of the thoughts he is discerning.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) Solomon himself prayed for “an obedient heart.” (1 Kings 3:9) Yet, he faced the challenge of maintaining such a heart throughout his life.

20 If we are to succeed in that regard, we need not only to acquire a heart that is agreeable to Jehovah but also to safeguard it. To accomplish this, we must keep the reminders of God’s Word close to our heart​—‘in the midst of it.’ (Proverbs 4:20-22) We should also make a practice of examining our heart, prayerfully reflecting on what our words and actions reveal. Of what value is such reflection unless we earnestly seek Jehovah’s help to correct any weakness that we detect? And how vital that we keep a close watch over what we take in through our senses! In doing this, we have the assurance that “the peace of God that excels all thought will guard [our] hearts and [our] mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) Yes, let us be determined to safeguard our heart more than all else that is to be guarded and to serve Jehovah with a complete heart.

Do You Recall?

• Why is it important to safeguard the heart?

• How does analyzing what we say help us to safeguard our heart?

• Why should we keep our eye “simple”?

[Study Questions]

[Pictures on page 23]

What do we usually talk about in the field service, at the meetings, and at home?

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The eye that is simple is not distracted