At first read, I feel like I’m being pitched this proverb by an overprotective mother. It almost comes off a little selfish. As if she wants to protect something that is intended to be given away to others.
In fact, the latter part of the verse actually uses the phrase ‘from it flow the springs of life’ to describe the giving-away-purposed activity of the heart.
For the Hebrews, the heart was representative of a person’s will. It’s expecting us to protect that part of us that determines how we make decisions.
There’s a thing in the world of psychology called ‘decision fatigue.’ It’s basically the idea that as we are forced to make a continued series of challenging decisions, the quality of those decisions tend to begin deteriorating as time passes.
I think it’s an interesting concept to consider in light of the above verse. The writer is hopeful that our heart, or our will, can be something that produces life-giving substance, even though we will inevitably have to face challenging decisions.
But the implication of the verse is that if you don’t keep, or maintain, or protect your heart, then it can become something that actually fails to produce life. So, if we don’t pay attention to how our will is being molded or impacted, it can actually get to a place where we are taking away life that otherwise could have been offered to the world.
Take for example, the prophet Jeremiah, in his own criticism, who tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and that we have trouble understanding why it is the way it is (Jeremiah 17:9). So, it seems by tendency, our heart/will has a way of tricking us to go in a way that wouldn’t produce springs of life at all. But with great intention and vigilance as the writer says, we still can!
As I consider this writer’s advice, my friend Stefanie Nsubuga comes to mind, a teacher at the Academy for G.O.D. In short, her story is that she’s had to overcome a variety of obstacles to become the energetic, passionate, and concerned teacher she is today - people who told her she could never be the kind of person she is today.
In light of challenges, Stefanie has to make a conscious effort to not let her past, or what others say about what is in her heart, affect her efforts to serve the LORD. Through prayer, counsel and discipline, she has guarded her heart in such a way that she is able to bring forth life. She has become a real asset in the classroom and has turned those struggles of her past into a motivation to believe in and guard the hearts of her students so they can be the kind of life-giving springs that she is to them and many others.
So, as it turns out, keeping our heart with vigilance is an unselfish activity. If we make a conscious effort keep our heart pure and sensitive towards the needs of others, we make ourselves available to the LORD to be used in his service.
So if this is advice from an overprotective mother, I think it’s the kind of protection we all need.