We humans guard many things. We lock our doors to guard our family and possessions. We put our money in our wallets, purses, banks, safes, or mattresses. We have password-protected accounts. We put fences around our property. We wear clothing to protect our bodies (and our privacy). We put bandages on wounds. We place our infants and children in car seats. The list goes on.
We’re people who guard what we have. And I believe that’s a good, smart thing to do. After all, God has called us to steward the gifts He has given us.
Yet, when it comes to the absolute most important thing we are to guard, we fail. The very thing from which all things flow, we hang out there like a piñata for others to beat and mistreat.
Proverbs 4:23 states: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Many people live their lives with an unguarded heart. In an attempt to love fully, we oftentimes trust too quickly and put our hearts in very vulnerable places with people we hardly know or people who are underserving of our trust. We lay our hearts on the line and they are continually trampled over.
We as believers seem to have an incomplete understanding of what it means to guard our hearts. While it’s true that part of guarding our hearts involves staying away from temptations or ungodly influences, there’s much more to it.
To give you a clearer picture, I will give you an example from my own life of what it looks like when you fail to guard your heart.
Several years ago, I had a different understanding of love. I thought that loving others meant that you say yes all the time, give in to the demands of others, and never have any needs or feelings of your own. (for more on this read I Thought I Knew What Love Was and Loving Better With Boundaries). Then God showed me what was going on in my heart through this kind of “loving”. What I saw was pretty ugly. It was resentment.
I was supposed to be loving others, but instead I resented them. Why? Because my actions were not rooted in overflowing love; they were rooted in fear of man. That’s right—I was more concerned with how others viewed me than with the condition of my heart. Because I allowed the needs and desires of others to control my decisions, I felt like I was being taken advantage of.
So, what did I do? Did I pray that God would magically take away my resentment? Did I continue to shove down my feelings and just muster up the ability to act “loving”? No.
When God showed me the awful sin in my heart, my natural response was repentance and surrender: “God, I’m sorry. This is my doing. I can’t fix myself. I need your help.” And God met me. Forgiveness was also a big part of my healing. In order to break free of my resentment, I needed to forgive the people I felt had taken advantage of me.
It would have been nice if it were just a quick fix, but in my experience, these things rarely are instant turn-arounds. Instead, God takes us on these journeys of finding the root cause of our sin or harmful behaviors and then teaching us what steps to take to live a healthier life.
In my case, this meant learning to have boundaries. What a fence is for our yard, boundaries are for our hearts. Boundaries define what is under our authority (our lives, our bodies, our hearts, our possessions, our decisions, our actions, our attitudes, etc.) and they separate those things from what is not under our authority.
A big part of my resentment was the result of feeling as though other people were my responsibility. This is especially hard with family members. Even more so when certain family members are controlling and manipulative. It’s one thing to love and act kindly towards someone, but it’s a whole different story when you begin feeling responsible for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of another person.
What this unnecessary burden does is cause you to say “yes” when you really mean “no”. You feel obligated to include certain people all the time. If they call you, you have to answer. If they knock, you have to let them in. This would be manageable if it were only happening once in a while, but when it becomes an all day, every day occurrence, the resentment builds up quickly.
Because I was allowing myself to be controlled by the needs and desires of others, I felt completely out of control of my life. I was not stewarding the essentials that God had entrusted to me because I was so overwhelmed with a burden that was not mine to carry (for more on stewardship, read Back to Basics: What God is Teaching Me about Stewardship and It’s Not Selfish: Why Personal Stewardship is One of the Most Loving Things You Can Do For Others).
When I learned more about boundaries—taking control of what God had given me authority over and not taking on responsibility that was no meant for me—God began healing my heart. Suddenly, I’m no longer feeling resentful towards others. Rather, I feel a sense of love and compassion. He was teaching me to guard my heart!
Guarding our hearts is more than staying away from sin and temptations. Guarding our hearts includes allowing God to uncover the buried sin and underlying motives. He heals the brokenness and then He teaches us how to keep our hearts soft towards others.
It’s as if we believe we only have two choices—be loving and say yes all the time or harden our hearts so that no one can hurt us. But what if there was a better way than vacillating between these extremes?
What if we can have love and compassion for others and guard our hearts with appropriate boundaries? Many would believe it to be impossible to have boundaries and compassion, but research shows that the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried people¹. (for more on this, read Empathy & Boundaries: How to Keep Your Cool in Difficult Situations).
My challenge for you is to become more aware of your heart’s condition. Ask Holy Spirit, “Have I been guarding my heart properly?” and listen. Does your heart trust you to protect it or has it become distrustful because you continually ignore it, make decisions against how Holy Spirit is guiding you, or put it in harm’s way over and over again?
As believers, we MUST listen to Holy Spirit’s guiding above anything else. Stop making decisions based solely on how you feel. Stop making decisions based on how others will view you. Stop allowing the needs and desires of others to dictate your actions. Continually seek the Father’s heart.
There’s a reason we are told to guard our hearts. From our hearts come either the good or the bad we have cultivated in them (Luke 6:45). It is also through our open hearts that we learn to hear from God and trust Him. Let’s take care of this treasure that God has given us.
What exactly does guarding your heart look like?
-Having the wisdom and discernment to decide what influences us
-Allowing God to fill us so that we’re not attempting to get our needs met in unhealthy ways
-Seeking God first
-Having appropriate boundaries
-Saying no when something doesn’t feel right
-Cultivating healthy relationships
-Receiving from safe, healthy people
-Not allowing unsafe or unhealthy people to have a place of influence in your life
-Removing your needs from unsafe or unhealthy people and getting your needs met by God and safe, healthy people
-Checking your heart often, including being honest about your feelings and motives
-Finding safe people you can open up to and be brutally honest with
-Confessing your sins
-Being honest about what’s in your heart with yourself, with God, and with trustworthy friends
-Taking responsibility for your actions and attitudes. Not blaming others.
-Not downplaying areas in which you’ve been hurt. Recognize how others hurt you, take it to God, forgive them, and find healing.
-Getting in nature
-Asking God those tough questions. Then listening.
-Assuming the best of others, while maintaining boundaries built on the trust they have earned
-Speaking kindly of others
-Praying for and blessing your enemies
I appreciate your feedback! Does this resonate with you? What are other practical ways we can guard our hearts? Please comment below!
For more on boundaries, I recommend the following:
The “Boundaries” series by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
“Keep Your Love On” by Danny Silk
“The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown
“Rising Strong” by Brene Brown
¹Brene Brown discussing her research on the connection between compassion and boundaries: