My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
Let’s state the main lesson of this passage: Keep your heart with all vigilance. Our first matter of business is to figure out what “heart” means. We moderns often use “heart” to talk about our feelings in contrast with our head which is our rational side.
Isaiah 6:10 – Understand with their hearts – Thinking
John 14:1 – Let not your heart be troubled – Feeling
Proverb 16:1 – The plans of the heart belong to man – Determination
Matthew 5: 28 – Whoever looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart – Imagination
Job 27: 6 – I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go/ my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. – Conscience
Judges 16: 17 – [Samson] told [Delilah] all his heart, and said to her, A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. I my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man. –Assumptions; beliefs; understanding
Concepts that lay close to the biblical “heart” are presuppositions, preoccupations, decisions, delights, attention, will, worldview, character, investments.
So our proverb today is saying: Guard your internals- thinking, emotions, attitudes, preoccupations, posture, assumptions, affections, hatreds, cravings,
And don’t pay just a little attention to this. All vigilance.
The night I got engaged to Tonia, I had the ring out of its container and in my pocket. On the way to pick her up from the airport I stopped by the ATM, then I picked her up, then we drove to a restaurant. Then from there we walked over to the beach. You better believe that with all these travels and destinations I kept checking my pocket over and over. It was always in the back of my mind.
Pay the closest possible attention to what and how you’re deciding. Your opinions and how they were formed. What makes you angry and why. Occasionally, examine your assumptions and patterns of thinking – what do you dismiss out of hand? What are you especially a sucker for? What are you focusing on? What thoughts do you keep returning to? What do you do and think when no one is watching? What do you think about in your spare time?
Protect your thinking, your decision making, your moods. Feed your imagination with care. Pay close attention to your heart, guard it, because the heart is like the reservoir that feeds all the neighborhoods of your life: finances, work, home, friendship, religion, church life, speech…
Because this is a lecture, we shouldn’t suppose these proverbs are placed randomly next to each other. There’s a theme that’s being developed here. My understanding is that vv. 24-27 are developing v. 23; specifically detailing four ways to guard your heart.
How do you guard your heart?
1. Put away from you crooked speech
Of course, this includes dishonesty emanating from you – flattery, shading, manipulation etc.
But also, and I think mainly, jettison crooked speech coming in. Protect your heart by surrounding yourself with straight speech. Or as the Proverbs says, getting crooked speech out of your life, suggesting it will need to be an ongoing discharging.
Crooked speech isn’t limited to dishonesty. Dishonesty is just one strain. The essence of crooked speech is that which doesn’t align with reality.
So other types of crooked speech could be that which is true but over emphasized, like, e.g., if 70% of your discourse – internal and external – is taken up with sports. Sports talk isn’t crooked by itself, but if you’re immersed in it – – that’s not in proportion to what is important. And so a sports saturated discourse can become crooked speech because of all the reality it buries.
On the other hand, crooked speech could include truth that is under emphasized. If you go to someone’s house for the first time and he points and says don’t mind the cat and you look over and see a mountain lion, you’d naturally think he could have said a little more.
Crooked speech could include a lot of words that might not be false, but then completely leaves out important, true things. For instance, if you’re listening to pop or alternative music lyrics 2, 3, 4, 5, hours a day, going to sleep with them in your ears, there’s probably some work to do in guarding your heart with all vigilance. Because the discourse that’s filling your mind contains a lot of me-centered lyrics, emotionally escalated speech, words of frothiness or sadness and/or alienation, words that put a very heavy burden on romantic love – – – and yet hardly anything that would relay to you a vivid sense of God and grace and coming judgment.
And so barreling straight into your brain via high def headphones is this void. God is not there and yet plenty of other things are that seem urgent and deep and beautiful.
So what renders speech crooked or no has to do with the surface message that is being advanced, but also has to do with the proportions, the emphases, what is being obscured.
Guard to your heart by paying close attention to the speech that is coming into your heart. Parents, let me encourage you to take an interest in the messages, the stories your children are consuming. There is so much junk out there…there is also so much great children’s literature.
2. Let your eyes look directly forward
Guard your heart by keeping your eyes trained on what is in front of you. Focusing. Not being preoccupied by too many things, not being engrossed in things far away: faraway places or faraway times. Guard your heart by keeping your concerns narrow, your focus limited, your life small.
There are plenty of ways to dilute your heart with too many things.
Proverbs 26: 17 – Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own/ is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
There’s something to a cause. You’ll have an opportunity to shine, to contribute, maybe even be a hero. But this proverb recommends that you walk right on by a fight that doesn’t really concern you. If you don’t, you might end up getting scratched and bit… maybe even needing a rabies shot.
At work people come up to you and want to complain about the boss. Play dumb.
In Peter’s first letter to the churches in Turkey, he spends a lot of time talking about suffering, assuring them that the hardship they’re experiencing is to be expected in following Christ. And the suffering is productive, and because it’s productive, you shouldn’t think there’s something wrong with suffering.
But he includes this caveat, in 1 Peter 4:15 – “But let none of you suffer as a…meddler.”Don’t bring pain upon yourself because you’re nosy and restless. There ain’t nuthin’ good to say about that kind of hardship. You hear something shocking about a school board in TN, and you want to weigh in. No, mind your own business, and thus guard your heart.
Let your gaze be straight before you. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: 2 Thessalonians 3:11 “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” If your gaze is straight before you, what you’ll see is a lot of work. Focus on your work. Work is good for your heart – good for your attitude, good for your sense of proportion. Not focusing on your work and instead letting your attention bleed out into news and daydreaming and entertaining little insecurities and fears – all of this is bad for you. Keep you gaze in front of you.
Ecclesiastes 7: 10: ‘Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”/ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.’ Instead of looking straight in front of you, you could wallow in the past – wistfully reflect on your childhood, romantically wish to live in another era. Curse the fact that you or your children have to live in this time.
Much rather to be like old Mordechai who told his young cousin Esther that she was born for such a time as this. You’re alive now: you’re appointed the blessing and cursing of the internet. God has designated you to wrestle with inflation, wokeism, self-absorbed romanticism, and entertainment mania… God appointed you and your children to these battles. Enjoy!
Proverbs 23: 1-3 When you sit down to eat with a ruler/ observe carefully whatis before you,and put a knife to your throat/ if you are given to appetite.Do not desire his delicacies/ for they are deceptive food.
You go on vacation and get a whiff of another lifestyle and you make it your aim to live that way all the time. You watch a movie and see some guy who is ripped and is well read and makes a lot of money…and that becomes your goal. You are in danger of – almost without your noticing – being dragged into certain pursuits that are dumb, unrealistic, unnecessary.
We can escape what’s right in front of us by setting our minds on what is far away, avoiding work, living in the past, living in a fantasy world…and making our lives too big.
We can get to the point in our lives when we have money to expand, expand, expand. All of these factors work against let your gaze be straight in front of you. What’s in front of you is your homely local church: but be careful so that your gaze has settled beyond the church. There’s something about having to think about workdays, bringing the casserole over, all that little stuff protects your heart.
3. Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure.
Your Bible might have a marginal note by “ponder” – another translation of that word could be “make level.” “Smooth out the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure.” But these two translation options aren’t so far apart: Consider the path you’re on and make it as walkable as possible.
Guard your heart by living an examined life. Make your life as easy as possible. And you do that by getting the stress out of the way.
All your coveting is wearing you down. Trying to impress your siblings or your high school friends or people you barely know – why? Thinking that you’ll be able to keep up with all the knowledge that’s out there – you’re getting tired for no reason. Worried about the future, when, as Jesus said, there’s plenty today to exhaust all your worries. Why are you so concerned with what people think about you? The fear of man brings a snare.
Please turn to Hebrews 12
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
In this paragraph the writer echoes our proverb: ponder the path of your feet then all your ways will be sure. He says to the church under pressure: make things easy on yourself. Don’t walk around wounded; make repairs. Get the stress out. He rattles off a few common sources of stress:
14 Strive for peace with everyone,
Being at enmity is stressful. So don’t write people off. Don’t gossip. Don’t form alignments. Pray for everyone. Welcome one another, but not to arguments. Don’t burn bridges. Why would you carry around the burden of truculence, surliness?
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Don’t carry around grudges. Love overlooks a hundred sins. Why continue this frostiness? Why would you carry around the burden of resentment, a black heart, unforgiveness, taking yourself so seriously?
Sometimes you know that someone is doing something to hurt you, to score, to put you in a bad light, to put them in a good light and you in a bad light. To bypass you. To demonstrate that they’re better person than you.
And you can turn that around in your head all day. You can have all these imaginary arguments with them. Or you could shrug it off. You could pray – God, bring me to a thought that allows me to see this in the context of the big picture, to shrug it off, to see the good in what the evil they’re working, to let me laugh. Ecclesiastes 7: 21,22
16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Ok, here’s a big unnecessary stress: sexual immorality. Answer this question: how has pornography affected your life? Think back over your years: how has illicit sexual lust brought strain? The answer always is: it’s brought sadness and isolation and confusion and enervation and lack of confidence before people and even in the reality of the Presence of God.
Why would you keep trading moments of exciting fire for the prolonged state of burned-out landscape and the trouble of having to rebuild.
So ponder your paths: what factors are in play that bring about sexual immorality? Meandering on the web, one thing leading to the next? Too much sitting around? Too much sugar? Music you imbibe setting you up? Are you watching scenes on TV that you actually can’t tolerate? Or, alternatively, is sex too important, too serious or sacred? Have you bought into the idea that sex is a religion?
Or is it perhaps just as much what you’re not doing: not exercising. Not reading good books. Not reading the Good Book. Need more Vitamin D. Need to weightlift.
Point being: examine your life. Figure out the stresses in your life, then think yourself back from them, and figure out what needs to change. Do whatever it takes.
4. Do not swerve to the right or to the left/ keep your foot from evil.
Guard your heart by hyping up consistency. Once on the right path, don’t swerve to the right or to the left.
You could make all the right moves in guarding your heart: caring about true messages coming into your life; focusing on what’s in front of you; eliminating unnecessary stress – – but what does it matter if you don’t keep the good practices going?
Many of us suffer from the malady of FTP: Failure to Perpetuate. And yet the proverbs are clear: even when you attain the right path you’ll constantly be crossing other paths that will take you down, down, down. Away, away, away from the good path you were on.
Guard your heart by not being impressed by fits and starts of excellence: perhaps you come up with a stellar schedule, in which you wake up at 4:30 and start reading the bible, then you exercise for 2 hours, then…
Having a good plan doesn’t mean anything. Having a good day, a good week – not worth writing home about it. But consistency over the months, over the seasons. Around truth, weeding out crookedness, staying focused, following through on eliminating stress over time – now that’s something! Hallelujah!
Guarding your heart will be contested. In the bigger picture, pursuing wisdom will be contested. The world, the flesh, and the Devil will conspire against you. You need to expect complications, hurdles. You need to have a plan for feelings of sluggishness, for when you mess up. Get ready for temptation!
That temptation, as our proverb avers, will come from the right and the left. In other words, there won’t be one kind of temptation; even, the temptations will be from opposite sides.
You will be tempted to become proud of your putting away crooked speech. You eschew the constant headphone and start to look down on all those Air-pod people.
Alternatively, in a weak moment you’ll think of your stance of critique toward music as smacking very much of fundamentalism, luddite, pedantic coin-clipping souls who are overly careful, timid – and you’ll want to chuck the whole idea of vigilance about music.
Perhaps you fall under the onslaught of crooked speech called wokeness and start to think about everything – including Christianity – in terms of skin color or gender or equality. Our church needs to be diverse. Why are men and women not doing the same things, etc etc.
Or from the other side, you start to evaluate everyone not according to skin color or gender but according to their position on wokeness. If someone appears “woke,” you’re ready to write him off, erase nuance and throw him into a category, be angry at him – just what you’ve accused the others of doing.
Brothers and sisters, consistency. Figure out how to be consistent.
· Keep the word of God in front of you.
· Keep gathering with the church.
· Keep confessing your sins and making things right with people before the Lord’s Supper
· Keep moving, even if they’re just small actions.
Guard your heart above all, and then four big exercises by which that’s done. If only there were one theme that tied them all together! Well, I think we got it. Our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In guarding your heart, we’ve just mentioned principles and methods to be brought to bear, but the one big thing is to believe in Jesus Christ. None of what was said has lasting value apart from trusting our Lord Jesus.
In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. His stories and teaching and commands and His gospel are [capitol t] Truth…Truth that digested will show up crookedness and become the root of [small t] truth.
All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus Christ. He’s big enough to orient yourself…a true North Star. Keeping your focus trained on Him won’t cancel everything else but will put everything else in their good place.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light: carefully setting Him before you is the way out of unnecessary stress and into a place of grace, productive trouble, and more grace.
And an entire lifetime given over to learning from Him, never turning to the right or left from Him, is a life like a light growing ever brighter that will lead you safely into the everlasting.