Guarding the Heart: The Christian’s Sacred Duty

God Almighty has given us a clear commandment concerning the heart, and that is to stand watch, remain vigilant, and guard the heart from intrusion by outside forces. This is not a wish or a request from God. It is a direct order from our Supreme Commander, who lovingly but firmly calls, “My child, do this for Me. Guard your heart with great fervor and diligence! You must be watchful over your heart daily, for your heart is the key to your spiritual life and the intimacy and depth of your relationship with Me.”

Guarding your heart is simply not optional in God’s eyes. If you don’t guard your heart, then your words, actions, attitudes, motives, and life will never reflect the risen Savior and will never shine forth with His glory. Yes, we live in a society where we tend to hold onto so many temporal things, yet so few of us ever take heed of the need and divine requirement to guard our hearts.

If we fail to keep and guard our hearts, then we have failed God, failed in our walk with Him, and failed in the calling He has placed on our lives. The heart is the key to everything in the Christian life, and we can never take a vacation from our duties concerning its health. We can never allow ourselves to become careless, apathetic, or lazy in watching over it.

Do you long to be rich in faith and strong in the Lord? Do you want to be full of His love and compassion, speaking His words with kindness, boldness, and conviction? Do you want to know a deep and intimate bond with your heavenly Father where your fellowship with Him is so alive that you hear His voice, feel His heart, and become His hands, feet and heart to the world? Do you want to see the power of God made manifest in your life, where signs, miracles, and wonders follow your sharing of the gospel? Do you want a life-changing, earth-shaking faith that is a vibrant, energetic, and beautiful representation of the glory and majesty of the Almighty?

It all starts with your heart, for the heart is everything you are. And this heart must be molded and built by God to reflect His glorious image and be the home where He dwells without hindrance or impediment. Your heart must be the control center for the movement of God in your life and the outreach center for the movement of God into the world.

However none of these wonderful things can ever be sustained if your heart is left unguarded. The heart is under vicious attack daily by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV) who wants to cripple, sicken, and twist it, so that it becomes dead to the things of God. You have probably heard the phrase “the battlefield of the mind,” which accurately depicts one phase of spiritual warfare. But the ultimate battle and the relentless goal of the enemy is to crush the heart. Every strategy, method, and device of the devil is designed for this purpose. Once you become a born-again Christian, your heart is thrust into a raging battlefield more intense than Gettysburg, more ferocious than Iwo Jima, and more brutal than Omaha Beach.

Watchmen on the Walls

Do you see why guarding your heart is not an inconsequential task? It is, in fact, the key to victory in every phase of Christian living. This is so clearly seen in Proverbs 4:23, which identifies guarding the heart as the most important thing we can do for God: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). This is our number one priority. We cannot seek Him, love Him, worship Him, and do His will with complete devotion every day unless we first become committed protectors and keepers of our hearts.

The Hebrew word translated in this verse as “keep” is natsar, which means to guard, protect, or maintain out of a sense of responsibility; to watch, preserve, and guard from dangers. The central idea here is holding fast and protecting something entrusted to you. This word also means to observe with great diligence, keeping very close, even to blockade. This Hebrew word was also used to describe a prison guard keeping watch over prisoners or a sentinel at a guard post. It is sometimes translated “watchmen” and “watchers” in the Bible. The root of the word is translated as “watchtower.”

God has entrusted to us a monumental responsibility, and He expects us to carry out this awesome task with the utmost faithfulness. Our hearts are vulnerable to the perils of this world. The heart can be easily broken, turned or hardened, and it must have a diligent overseer who will not cower but hold fast against the enemy’s schemes. We must be watchmen of our hearts, faithful to keep a lookout from the watchtower, day and night, for any approach of the enemy. We are to be attentive security guards, continually watching and evaluating the threat posed by our surroundings and our contact with the world, its images, and its ideals.

We should enthusiastically take this mantle of responsibility upon ourselves for we are obeying God’s command and training our hearts to carry His banner into battle, wholly spending every fiber of our beings for His glory. And we can be triumphant and victorious, rooted in God, and bringing a foretaste of heaven into everything we do and touch. Don’t you think that kind of heart is worth guarding? No wonder the devil expends so much energy targeting our hearts, for a guarded heart lays waste to his schemes and works upon the earth and shatters his kingdom with the glory and power of God. A guarded heart stands like a mighty fortress of God’s grace, goodness, love, and mercy in the midst of the wicked, destructive darkness of this age.

Your heart has a God-given mission, and it must be protected at all costs so that you can make a difference in this world. If you don’t guard your heart with every bit of diligence you can muster, it will eventually wither to God and become hardened to every purpose, every leading, and every whisper coming from the heart of God.

The Branch and Your Heart

The root of this word natsar also has another interesting meaning: “to shine, sparkle, bloom, or sprout.” In its noun form, this word is translated as “branch.” Jesus Christ is referred to as “a righteous Branch” in the Old Testament:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel shall live in safety. This is the name by which he shall be called: The Lord our Righteous Savior. (Jeremiah 23:5–6, NIV)

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne.” (Zechariah 6:12–13a, NIV)

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Isaiah 4:2, NIV)

As we guard our hearts, we allow Christ to bloom and sprout in our hearts. God desires that your heart to be a reflection of Christ, and by protecting the heart, you allow this image to grow and develop from a tiny sprout into a mighty branch. The branch implies that something is living and growing, and the heart is the holy greenhouse where the image of Him can grow and thrive into maturity.

The heart of every Christian should be a place where the King of Kings reigns and exercises His authority, directing us to do what is just and right. Our hearts should blossom with the life of the Spirit of God, bearing His glorious fruit and showing the world just how special it is to bear the image of our Creator. The believer’s heart should be the temple of the Lord, where the fire of the presence of God burns brightly and purifies the heart into a fortress of holiness. We are to have the heart of Christ, the mind of Christ, the thoughts of Christ, the zeal of Christ, and the actions of Christ. This mighty Branch will become a tree of righteousness in our hearts that directs and compels us to live according to His righteous standards, pouring out ourselves for the lost, the needy, the poor, and the broken. Then our hearts will sparkle for our King.

God Helps Us Guard Our Hearts

Can you accomplish this sacred duty of guarding and protecting your heart in your own strength, ability, and power? Are you alone in this monumental task of watching over your heart with great diligence day after day? Are you even capable of shielding your heart from all the attacks of the enemy? Of course not, and God doesn’t expect you to fight this battle alone.

You cannot be the watchman of your heart without help from God, for you desperately need His guidance, His wisdom, His instruction, His insight, His promises, and His strength to effectively guard your heart. You are doomed to fail miserably without God Almighty laboring with you to keep your heart holy and pure. This truth is borne out in Scripture as we examine another verse in which the Hebrew word natsar is used:

But God himself took charge of his people, took Jacob on as his personal concern. He found him out in the wilderness, in an empty, windswept wasteland. He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him, guarding (natsar) him as the apple of his eye. He was like an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young. (Deuteronomy 32:9–12, MSG)

You are God’s personal concern, and He takes charge of your care by wrapping His arms tightly around you and guarding you as the apple of His eye. The word “apple” here is the Hebrew word for “pupil,” the dark center of the eye where light enters in. The pupil dilates to control the amount of light that enters the eye, and this light forms an image on the retina so we can see what we are looking at.

The pupil is one of the most vulnerable parts of the human body. If left unguarded, you could easily damage and perhaps lose your precious sight. So God designed the human eye with many safeguards and protections, since even the tiniest particle can cause searing pain. For example, the eye is deeply entrenched in the skull, so that the forehead and cheekbones act as natural barriers. It is also protected by the eyelid and eyelashes. Even your hands are in a position to raise up and protect your eyes from foreign objects.

Likewise, the heart is highly vulnerable to damage from foreign objects. The heart is essential to our spiritual eyesight and must be guarded so it is does not become blinded to the things of God. Indeed, just as the health of the human body can be often be discerned by examining the pupil and its condition, so also the spiritual health of a person can be discerned by examining his or her heart.

It’s interesting to note that this Hebrew word for “pupil” literally means “little man or daughter of the eye.” The pupil acts like a mirror so that you see a tiny image of yourself when you look into eyes of another person. God helps us to guard our hearts so that when He looks into our heart, He will see the image of Himself, a reflection of His love, compassion, and grace. What an amazing and profound truth that God wants to see Himself when He looks at your heart! He wants to see there a masterful reproduction of His nature and characteristics. He wants to see a heart that beats like His, that sees the world through His eyes and loves people as He does.

Watchman in the Vineyard

In Bible times there were watchmen who watched over and guarded the vineyard against animals and thieves. Rev. G. M. Mackie, the author of Bible Manners and Customs, elaborates on this custom:

The vine has always had an important place among the industries of Palestine. … Vineyards are found all over the country, but the most suitable is the hillside, or the gently sloping ground at the foot of a hill. … The vineyard requires a great deal of preparatory work. A wall has to be built around it. … In the case of a large vineyard, a winepress has to be dug and a shelter made for the watchman.[i]

A watchman was appointed over a vineyard or group of vineyards. He stood watch, day and night, to frighten away wild animals and to challenge and report on intruders. He roamed about at night, but in the daytime he was stationed in a conspicuous spot: a booth made of four stout poles fixed into the ground, with a boarding lashed across halfway up, and a covering of oak leaves. Here the guard sat and watched by day. Sometimes a permanent stone structure took the place of the booth to serve as both a watchtower and place of shelter.

In that day—“Sing about a fruitful vineyard. I, the Lord, watch (natsar) over it; I water it continually. I guard (natsar) it day and night so that no one may harm it.” (Isaiah 27:2–3)

God wants your heart to be a fruitful vineyard for Him, and He will help you guard and watch over it night and day so that nothing may harm it. The Hebrew word rendered as “harm” in this verse means “to visit, attend, search out, or pay attention to with a hostile intent for the purpose of bringing harm or evil.” Although the devil prowls about, searching out your heart for the purpose of bringing it harm, your God is there with you, standing as watchman of the vineyard, helping to protect your heart from the enemy’s hostile schemes and fiery darts. He labors with you to prepare, water, prune, dress, and nourish the heart. God does not want your vineyard to be overgrown with thorns and thistles of fear, unbelief, anxieties, bitterness, and strife. If you will heed His voice, He is showing you what to work on in the vineyard so that your heart can be vibrant with the life of the Lord and fruitful for His glory.

In Rees Howells: Intercessor, Norman Grubb writes:

When the divine owner takes possession of a property, He has a twofold objective: intense cultivation and abounding fruitfulness. But if the land is fallow ground, He can only till it acre by acre. We shall see the Owner now at work in his newly-claimed estate.[ii]

When you allow God to ascend to the throne of your heart as the owner of this vineyard, He begins an intense and thorough work on every aspect of the heart to cultivate His fruit in your words, your actions, and your motives. God tills the ground of your heart so it is tender and receptive toward Him and becomes deeply rooted in the love and worship of God. He then plants His seeds and lovingly and diligently manages their growth into a beautiful healthy vine that will bear much fruit. He cultivates the vine with the warm light of His presence, His life-giving words, and the flowing waters of His Spirit so that the vine extends upward, seeking out Almighty God alone. Then truly, your heart is a great treasure worth guarding day and night so that the enemy cannot steal, kill, and destroy this sacred vineyard that God has so lovingly built.

Do not allow yourself to become lazy or slothful in this great duty of guarding your heart, or it can in little more than a season turn into a wasteland of dry, hardened soil overgrown with weeds, thorns, briers, and dead vines. God is calling to you, “Come and watch with me! Let’s watch and pray over the vineyard of your heart so that it remains fruitful, and so that the enemy does not breach its walls and lay waste to it.” Does this remind you of an invitation and command from our Savior almost 2,000 years ago in a garden where the enemy was lurking?

A Sleeping Heart Is Unguarded

After supper, on the night before his execution, Jesus went with His disciples to a garden where He sometimes prayed.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come.” (Matthew 26:36–45, NIV)

Even today, our Lord calls to us with the urgent command to watch and pray with Him in the task of guarding our hearts. But so many have fallen asleep at their post. Three times in this passage Jesus commanded his disciples to keep watch with Him, yet they could not even do so for one hour.

The Greek word translated here as “watch” means “to be keenly alert in a constant state of readiness for trouble or danger; it is an intense, unremitting watchfulness; a mental alertness; the condition of the mind opposite to sleep.” The Greek gives us a picture of a man awakening himself from sleep or slumber and refraining from sleep so he can be alert and watchful. This word was used in Greek literature to describe a man crossing a raging river while stepping on slippery stones—he must be keenly alert and pay strict attention to exactly where he’s stepping or he will fall into the water and be swept away.

The Greek word for “watch” is here used in the present imperative, meaning this is a command of our Lord that we are to continually and habitually follow. It calls for a long-term commitment, a way of life. This is no mere suggestion of possible devotion; this is a commandment of the Lord that is absolutely vital to our spiritual life.

“Watch and pray,” He says. Watchfulness and prayer are like two sentinels who must maintain constant and vigilant guard over the entrance to the heart. You cannot guard your heart without maintaining a constant state of vigilance alongside the Lord. The enemy is at the gate, and you must stand guard with a watchful eye, an alert ear, and much prayer. If you fail to do so, breaches begin to form in the walls surrounding the vineyard of your heart, giving the enemy access. The devil wants to devour you and destroy your heart so that it does not reflect to the world the beauty and glory of God. This is why you must be on the lookout at all times, under every circumstance. Time and time again, the Lord calls your name and asks, “Will you watch with me?” Will you heed His call or continue to slumber?

God has given His people His Word, His power, and His Spirit so that we keep watch and prevail over the enemy. Yet the church has fallen asleep at the most desperate hour when everything is at stake. Christianity needs to wake up now! We are at war, and we can no longer afford to nod off while on duty.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

Christian, do you not know your heart has a personal enemy that is bent on its destruction? He is always looking for the unguarded and slumbering heart so he can pounce on it and viciously consume it. The devil lives and rages in hostile opposition to everything that might honor Jesus Christ, and this is why you must remain alert and vigilant. For who can guard his heart against a lion when he is asleep?

The Greek word that gives us “devour” in 1 Peter 5:8 means to drink down and swallow up completely, to gulp down entirely, and to cause something to pass from the mouth into the stomach. This same word is used in the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—to describe the great fish that swallowed up Jonah. It was also used of the Egyptian army that was swallowed up by the Red Sea after Israel made safe passage through the waves when parted by the mighty hand of God. The word paints a picture of complete and sudden destruction.

The Devil wants to completely swallow up your heart like the great fish gulped down Jonah. Satan wants to overwhelm your heart with engulfing waves of fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness so that it is swallowed up and rendered useless for God’s kingdom. Or perhaps he is trying to consume your heart with the thoughts, imaginations, philosophies, culture, and idols of this age.

Paul calls the devil “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The word “age” here is aionos in the Greek and is enlightening as to Satan’s ways of devouring the heart. Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament elaborates on its meaning:

[This word] comes presently to signify all which exists in the world under conditions of time … the course and current of this world’s affairs … All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral, atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again to inevitably exhale.[iii]

The devil is the god of the course and current of this world’s affairs as well as the ideas, fashions, opinions, and passions of the culture. He molds and twists a humanistic atmosphere designed to swallow and devour the heart. And people breathe in this atmosphere like they breathe in air, not realizing they are inhaling a demonic toxin that will corrupt, suffocate, harden, and utterly destroy the heart.

John MacArthur, in his sermon “Fundamental Attitudes for Spiritual Maturity,” says:

[The devil is] always active and he’s always looking for an opportunity to overwhelm us. His aim is to sow discord, to break fellowship, to accuse God to men, to accuse men to God, to accuse men to each other, to undermine confidence, to silence confession, to get us to stop serving God. He’s always after us. He is called in John’s Gospel three times “the prince of this world.” He commands the human system. So as he is moving around, seeking whom he may devour, it is not that you have to come into contact with him individually to fall prey, because he orchestrates a whole realm of demon beings and he orchestrates and controls the whole world’s system. And so from his seat as prince of the world, he orchestrates an environment which in and of itself can devour us.[iv]

The devil is orchestrating a cultural environment at every level of society to blind the heart from the glory, grace, and wonder of God. His schemes overwhelm the heart with pressures, bondage, and oppression. Just look around you. This is an atmosphere where God is not wanted, and its lusts and momentary pleasures of self-gratification are absolutely fatal to the human heart and the purposes God has wonderfully planned for each of us.

This is why we will never be able to successfully and consistently guard the heart unless we become men and women set apart from the world and devoted to prayer. We can stop the lion in his tracks if we choose to carefully protect our hearts as a sacred treasure and pray with mighty boldness and confidence in the faithfulness and goodness of our heavenly Father.

Prayer Guards the Heart

E.M. Bounds, in his classic The Necessity of Prayer, wrote of the importance of prayer to the effectiveness of the armor of God:

Note carefully that the Christian’s armor will avail him nothing, unless prayer be added. This is the pivot, the connecting link of the armor of God. This holds it together, and renders it effective. … It is all important and absolutely essential to victory, that prayer should so impregnate the life that every breath will be a petition, every sigh a supplication. The Christian soldier must needs be always fighting. He should, of sheer necessity, be always praying.

The Christian soldier is compelled to constant picket duty. He must always be on his guard. He is faced by a foe who never sleeps, who is always alert. … Watchfulness is a cardinal principle with Christ’s warrior, “watch and pray” forever sounding in his ears. He cannot dare to sleep at his post. Such a lapse brings him not only under the displeasure of the Captain of his salvation, but exposes him to added danger. Watchfulness, therefore, imperatively constitutes the duty of the soldier of the Lord …

The inseparable companions and safeguards of prayer are vigilance, watchfulness, and a mounted guard … When will Christians more thoroughly learn the twofold lesson, that they are called to a great warfare, and that in order to get the victory they must give themselves to unsleeping watchfulness and prayer? [v]

Prayer is a mighty catalyst for the purification and godly transformation of the heart. It’s an invitation to God to become intimately involved in every detail of your life. Prayer awakens your heart to the voice of God and helps to direct you in the paths and ways of God. As Christians, we have so underestimated the explosive power of prayer. Eric Ludy, pastor of the Church at Ellerslie in Colorado, has said, “Prayer is nuclear power, world renovating in its epic strength. When used according to the pattern of Scripture, prayer alters history, alters the natural world, and alters the human soul … Prayer is the catalyst behind everything godly taking place in the earth.”[vi]

I’m not referring here to a ten-second prayer said before you eat, or the weak, distracted, half-hearted prayer you mutter under your breath while running out the door or falling into a deep sleep. I’m talking about prayer delivered with guts, audacity, humility, and confidence. This is a wrestling prayer, the kind that requires focus, determination, passion, tenacity, and persistence. This is prayer born of an unwavering trust in God at all times and in all circumstances. This is prayer that conveys an intense and relentless love and passion for God. This is the prayer of a warrior, one that shakes the kingdom of darkness to its core and brings to pass the will of God upon the earth. There can be no anxiety, fear, timidity, or doubt in this prayer. You are in the field, your position is under attack, and you are in contact with the Lord of hosts—clear communication and unwavering faith in your Commander is critical if you are to push the enemy back.

The Greek word translated “pray” in Matthew 26:36–45 means speaking out with desire, worship, and devotion in a direct manner, conscious that you are talking face to face with God. This is prayer with a specific purpose delivered in complete trust and faith that God will answer, and indicates the warmth, depth, and passion of an intimate, face-to-face conversation. This is communion so close that God and you are gazing at each other’s faces and listening intently to each other’s whisper. There may be weeping, groaning, joy, suffering, laughter, and adoration. Yet always this prayer is spoken with deep respect and thankfulness toward God.

This is the true nature of the mighty prayer that revolutionizes the human heart and safeguards it from the roaring lion. We will never be able to effectively carry out the command of God to guard our hearts above all else unless we make this type of prayer a habit and way of life. We must spend significant, passionate time in communion with God if we are to become useful vessels in His holy mission of rescuing and restoring the hearts of others through us.

Did you know that the day that even before God breathed life into Adam in the book of Genesis, He designed people to be praying human beings? The human heart was formed by God to be immersed in prayer as a way of life. Since man took his first breath, we were to live and breathe this relationship. It’s as vital to our spiritual life as physically breathing is to our physical life. We cannot have healthy hearts, and we cannot guard our hearts from the enemy unless prayer is an integral part of our everyday lives.

Leonard Ravenhill, in his book Why Revival Tarries, says that victorious living can only come through “sustained watches in the prayer chamber.” He quotes the venerated John Chrysostom, early church father, concerning the supernatural power of prayer:

The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of a thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-sufficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.[vii]

Ravenhill goes on to say, “The prayer closet is not merely a place to hand the Lord a list of urgent requests. Does prayer change things? Yes, but prayer changes men.”[viii]

Prayer is the great catalyst for the transformation of the human heart, in both the person praying and the person prayed for. But as Eric Ludy said, “True prayer demands more of our lives than most are willing to give, and therefore few ever taste of its power and delights.”[ix] Prayer will change every nook and cranny of the human heart, altering its course, composition, and temperature. And yet the prophet pleaded to God, saying of his people, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (Isaiah 64:7). It’s amazing to me still that the hearts of God’s chosen people could be devoured to the extent that not a single one was calling on God’s name and wanting to take a hold of Him, even after all the magnificent things He had done for them.

The word translated “lay hold” in the Hebrew means “to fasten upon, to seize, to be strengthened to do extraordinary deeds.” There is a confidence, boldness, and bravery to this word, and it is used in the Scriptures to describe the mighty acts of David, Joshua, and Samson. There is no fear, doubt, or surrender in this word, but rather, courage, perseverance, audacity, and fortitude. We must arise and fasten ourselves to the Father in prayer and seize upon His unlimited strength and power. Prayer not only guards the heart, but from prayer we are energized to charge into battle and rescue the broken, the crushed, the forgotten, the maimed, the hurt, and the hopeless of heart for Almighty God.

Healing the Breach

This guarding nature of prayer is also brought to light in the Hebrew word mishmar, which is translated as “guard” in Proverbs 4:23. This word means to keep diligent watch over a prisoner; the condition of being guarded, watched, and controlled. This word is also used in the book of Nehemiah concerning the rebuilding of the wall and gates of Jerusalem in the midst of fierce opposition from the enemy.

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard (mishmar) day and night to meet this threat. (Nehemiah 4:6–9, NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had destroyed the wall of Jerusalem that surrounded the city when he conquered Judah. One hundred and forty years later, the wall still lay in utter ruin, and it was heavy on Nehemiah’s heart to go to Jerusalem and rebuild it. G. M. Mackie, in Bible Manners and Customs, explains the importance of the wall to a city in Bible times:

Thick high walls and fortified gates do not pose much of a deterrent to modern armies, but in the biblical era they were very effective, even against large, well-equipped armies … The wall came to be a symbol of protection. Throughout most of the Old Testament a thick, high wall around a city made it almost impossible to conquer.[x]

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Persia, and even though he obtained permission from the king to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall, he was to face incredible opposition. Nehemiah and his men were ridiculed, insulted, laughed at, threatened, and attacked. Many of the people of Judah caved into the pressure, saying that their strength was giving out and that the enemy would kill them before the wall could be completed. But Nehemiah stood steadfast.

He encouraged the people not to be afraid, reminding them of how great and awesome the Lord is and charging them to fight in His strength for their families and homes. He knew that God was the strength, the foundation, the protection, and the power behind this audacious work. Nehemiah was a man of prayer, and met the relentless assault of the enemy by watching and praying day and night, and God heard his prayers. Nehemiah 4:13 says that God frustrated the plot of the enemies to stop the work. Miraculously, the walls and gates of Jerusalem were rebuilt in just fifty-two days.

Prayer helps to build a spiritual wall of protection around the heart to guard it from infiltration by the enemy. But prayer also helps to repair the broken walls around the heart and make them strong again. Most Christians today have massive breaches in the walls surrounding their hearts, and this allows the devil nearly unfettered access to wreak havoc and misery in their lives. As Christians, we cannot be content with broken-down walls that leave us vulnerable to attack.

Prayer is the catalyst to mend and repair these breaches in the walls so the heart can become a mighty fortress for our God. Prayer frustrates the plans of the enemy to capture the heart and gives us the power and strength to stand against all the insults, threats, and assaults of the devil. Prayer aids in the recovery of our hearts from a condition of breakdown and ruin by bringing restoration, order, security, and peace. Prayer enables God to do His miraculous work in our hearts in order to accomplish His good will and extraordinary purposes. Prayer allows God to take His rightful position as the keeper and protector of our hearts.

Guarding the Sacred Romance

The Hebrew word mishmar comes from the root shamar, and this word’s very first usage in the Bible sheds some additional light on guarding the heart:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep (shamar) it. (Genesis 2:15, KJV)

Notice first of all that God took Adam. This is a beautiful statement of a precious possession and protection of someone so valued that God took Him into the closest and innermost chambers of His heart. The Hebrew word rendered here as “took” means to grasp and seize, to take hold of, to take possession of, and to carry away. This verse describes the first time Adam and His magnificent God looked at each other face-to-face, the first encounter when their hearts touched as Father and child. What a breathtaking moment that must have been! O, how God loves His children! He grasped hold of Adam, lovingly took possession of Him, and drew Him close to His bosom and embraced Him.

This is the ultimate love story, the sacred romance that is beyond anything else seen or experienced in the heavens and the earth. Think about how special the moment is when a mother gives birth to her first child and the parents first hold the precious baby in their arms, staring at their offspring with great love. Yet the encounter described between Adam and God was at a much deeper and more intimate level, a thousand times more intense and passionate, as the heart’s desire of the Creator stood before Him. God snatched Adam into His presence with joyful anticipation of their fellowship. God revealed to Adam His heart, His character, His love, and His goodness and bestowed upon him a part of Himself: His glorious image. God took Adam so they could begin a relationship on a heart-to-heart basis forged with a deep bond of love. God desired above all else to have Adam’s heart.

God next put Adam in the Garden of Eden, this awesome paradise that He had planted and prepared for His child. The Hebrew word for “put” means to rest, to settle down and remain; to pause and to quiet. It was used in the Old Testament to describe God’s Spirit resting on a person, God’s blessings resting on a person or house, and the dedication of something before the presence of the Lord. Adam was placed in the garden so his heart could rest in the presence of God. It was a place where his heart was to be stilled with awesome wonder and adoration as he began to know His magnificent God. The heart was to rest in everything that God is and overflow with His peace, His joy, His presence, His strength, His wisdom, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His majesty. Here, their intimate relationship was to grow, flourish, and become firmly established. The garden was to be the sacred place where the heart makes its home in God.

The real beauty of this verse and its truths about guarding the heart reach their apex in the meaning of the words “dress” and “keep.” Richard Howe, in his article “Rethinking Adam in the Garden,” says that according to Hebrew grammar and word usage, the words “dress” and “keep” in Genesis 2:15 do not refer Adam’s responsibility to the Garden of Eden, but rather, to Adam’s relationship with God and his responsibility to love, worship, and obey Him. [xi]

The Hebrew word for “dress” is abad and is primarily translated as “serve” in the Old Testament. This word is used to describe both the serving and worship of God and the serving of false gods or idols. The Greek equivalent to this word in the Septuagint is kollao, which comes from the word for glue, and literally means to glue, cement, fasten together, cleave and cling to. In the modern vernacular, it means to “stick like glue” to someone. It is to attach oneself firmly to something and not let go. It is to be steadfastly united with strong affection and desire, to be so close and cohesively joined that nothing could loosen or break this bond of love. It represents the highest form of commitment and devotion that overflows into praise, worship and service.

Fear the Lord your God, serve (abad) him only and take your oaths in his name. (Deuteronomy 6:13, NIV)

Serve (abad) the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2, ESV)

They served (abad) their idols, which became a snare to them. (Psalm 106:36, HCSB)

Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve (abad) him with all your heart and all your soul. (Joshua 22:5, ESV)

The word “keep” in Genesis 2:15 is translated from the Hebrew word shamar, which means to exercise great care to watch over, to preserve, and to guard. Examples of shamar translated as “keep” in the Bible include Deuteronomy 5:29, Deuteronomy 8:2, 1 Kings 8:48, and Proverbs 4:4. Here it conveys an attitude of attentive care and protectiveness, realizing the preciousness and sacred honor of God’s words and exercising great care so that they are not broken in your heart or fall to the ground. The commandments, words, and precepts of God are such priceless treasure that they must be preserved, guarded, and kept in the heart at all cost.

All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep (shamar) His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of His creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, AMP)

Adam’s primary responsibility in the Garden of Eden was to pursue, love, cherish, treasure, and serve God with every fiber of His being. Adam was to be always focused on God, cleaving, fastening, and clinging to his heavenly Father with passion and zeal. God created the heart of Adam with a fierce hunger to know and experience everything about Him, and to this day, the heart of a person will never be satisfied, never be fulfilled, and never be content unless it finds its home in God.

In this truth lies the fundamental way in which we are to guard our hearts, and that is by fiercely guarding our relationship with God. We guard and protect our hearts by intensely holding onto God in love and growing in intimacy with Him. This is the key to the condition of the heart, and it’s the key to protecting our hearts from the attacks of the enemy. Our hearts must stick and cling to God like superglue. We must devote ourselves to knowing Him, loving Him, honoring Him, and serving Him. Then God will dwell in our hearts and build us up to stand firm like a rock in the midst of uncertainty and fearful times.

This fundamental key to guarding the heart is really a twofold process. We must first guard and protect our relationship with God, and secondly guard the heart from setting any idol on its throne. Idolatry at its most basic level is a failure to guard and protect the heart. Idolatry will weaken and take the heart out quicker than anything on earth. It’s the number one cause of all spiritual heart disease. Idolatry means we have turned our hearts away from God and looked instead to something else for satisfaction, enjoyment, and fulfillment.

You must choose the object of your devotion and commit to whom or what you are going to serve. This is the critical decision in life we all must make, and your choice will determine whether your heart stands strong for God or gets devoured by the enemy. The heart cannot serve two masters. Your heart must declare its allegiance and proclaim its god. Are you going to love, cherish, and serve, the one true God or a false idol? The enemy has a host of idols that he is continually pressuring us to sell out to. The temptation is great, the lure is fascinating, and it takes great diligence and spiritual awareness to guard the heart from idols.

Later we will spend a whole chapter of this book delving into the idols of the heart because this topic is so critical in understanding the condition of our hearts.

Keeping the Word of God Alive in Your Heart

The second way to guard your heart is to keep the priceless words of God, as revealed in the Bible, alive and abiding in your heart with relentless obedience, steadfast love, and breathtaking reverence. The Word of God represents His thoughts, His truth, and His character, and it has the ability to shape and mold the heart into a mighty reflection of God Almighty that can withstand the storms of life and the insanity of the world’s evil.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might sin against you. (Psalm 119:9–11, ESV)

My son, pay close attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep (shamar) them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. (Proverbs 4:20–22, NIV)

You must faithfully immerse yourself in the words of the Lord every day and allow them to become a part of you. The words of God are to be at the center of your thoughts, meditations, motives, desires, and deeds. You must not let His words fade or depart from your heart. Do not harden your heart to His voice. God’s words must become the living and breathing essence and functioning fuel of the heart that defines your purposes, direction, and growth.

The words of the Lord are just as important to the spiritual condition and health of your heart as physical food is important to the health and condition of your body. Remember the words of Jesus, that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV). The heart cannot be spiritually alive and in tune with God without depending on His Word as its source of food and nutrition. An inadequate spiritual diet will lead to spiritual malnutrition and weakness against the onslaught of the wicked one.

E.W. Bullinger, in How to Enjoy the Bible, says:

A low condition of spiritual health is produced by improper feeding or neglect of the necessary food which is the Word of God; and the end is a resort to all the many modern fashions and novel methods and widely advertised nostrums in the Religious world in the attempt to remedy the inevitable results. The Root of all the evils which abound in the spiritual sphere at the present day lies in the fact that the Word and the words of God are not fed upon, digested, and assimilated, as they ought to be.[xii]

We digest and assimilate the Word of God as we think, meditate on, confess, and believe it. This prevents the heart from becoming hardened by man-made rules and religious regulations or seduced by the fascination of culture as controlled by the evil one. The Word of God acts as a giant buffer and shield for our heart against the devil, the flesh, and the world. It fights off idolatry, diseased ways of thinking, and wrong motives and desires.

Meditating on the Word of God is the exercise the heart needs to keep it healthy for God and immune to the attacks of the enemy. Indeed, the words of God will be an absolute delight and joy to those who feed upon it, and their hearts will be aligned with the will of God, the purposes of God, and the work of God:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

Etching the Word of God on Your Heart

You are called by all the grace and magnificence of God Almighty to be His child, and it is imperative that you make you hearts a mighty citadel of His words if you are to walk in the light and glory of that calling. But you will fail to guard your heart if you fail to pursue and hold fast to His words as He commands you:

And these words which I am commanding you this day shall be [first] in your [own] minds and hearts; [then] You shall whet and sharpen them so as to make them penetrate, and teach and impress them diligently upon the [minds and] hearts of your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, AMP)

The Hebrew word that gives us “whet,” “sharpen,” “penetrate,” “teach,” and “impress” in this verse is shanan, and it means to inoculate, pierce through, and impress upon the heart like words cut into a stone tablet. We must write the Word of God on the tablets of our hearts, piercing the heart and inoculating it against spiritual disease and idolatrous viruses. His words are to be engrafted and impressed on the heart through diligent study, prayerful reflection, and focused meditation.

In modern medicine, people are inoculated with a vaccine to protect them from sickness and disease and boost the immune system. Our word “inoculate” comes from two Latin roots: “in,” meaning “within,” and “oculus,” meaning “an eye.” It literally means “to put an eye within,” thus to monitor and watch against harm. The Word of God acts as the eye within the heart, monitoring and protecting the heart from the deadly spiritual diseases of fear, idolatry, anxiety, lust, hardheartedness, bitterness, and depression.

Can you see why the words of God are so important to guarding your heart? The Word of God acts as a great spiritual vaccine, and “eye within” that constantly watches for harmful viruses and contaminants trying to invade the heart and sap your spiritual health and strength.

The Word of God is the impartation of the living God to men and women, infusing the human heart with the active life and vitality of the Creator of heaven and earth.

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, AMP)

The Word of God is alive! It’s more alive and vibrant than any idea, philosophy, or religious thought ever conceived in the mind of humanity, for it is the very life of God Almighty. The Word of God breathes, speaks, encourages, warns, stirs, pleads, conquers, moves, and communes with the human heart like no other book ever written. The Word of God brings pulsating vigor of limitless quality to the heart and awakens it to the call and holy purpose of God’s voice.

Hebrews 4:12 also tells us that the Word of God is full of power! His Word is an unstoppable force more powerful than a million nuclear bombs. The Word of God is always working, always producing, always transforming, and always active, bringing the glory and might of God into every circumstance, problem, or relationship when it is believed. The Word of God is the great energizer of the human heart, giving it strength and protection against the suggestions, words, and ideas of the wicked one.

In 1812, German geologist Friedrich Mohs devised a scale of mineral hardness based on the ability of mineral to scratch another. The scale ranks minerals on a scale from one to ten, with ten representing the hardest substances. On the lower end of the scale we find talc, which doesn’t make much of an impression on other minerals. On the higher end of the scale we find diamonds, among the hardest substances known to man. But God’s Word is far sharper and more penetrating than any diamond! The Word of God can penetrate into the deepest core of a person’s being and cut away the cancerous growths of fear, depression, sin, and selfishness. With the mighty double-edged sword of His Word, the Great Surgeon can cut away every bondage and oppression and root out every form of darkness from the heart. The Word of God can further protect the heart by pruning away what is fruitless and dead, thus allowing the heart to heal and grow in the love, grace, and light of God.

Enter the Judge

The Word of God is the ultimate judge of our spiritual condition, according to Hebrews 4:12. God’s Word discerns the heart’s temperature, whether it is on fire for the Lord or waxing cold in the icy waters of the world. This yet another reason the Word of God is so important as protection for the heart, because it is the perfect judge of every motive, intent, belief and thought. The Word pronounces its verdict as to which thoughts and motives are unworthy of God or born of the flesh and must be cast out of the heart to maintain its purity.

In Hebrews 4:12, the Greek word translated “judging” (AMP) or “discerning” (ESV) is kritikos, and this is the only time this word is used in the New Testament. It means to divide, to separate, to discern, and to sift out and analyze evidence. Only the Word of God is capable of exposing our true attitudes, plans, purposes, desires, and motives, and only the Word of God can penetrate into the deepest recesses of the heart and shed pure light upon its true condition. It reveals where the heart is weak, diseased, contaminated, and in need of purifying and strengthening. It shines a spotlight on fear and unbelief so we can identify it and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, eradicate it from the heart.

According to Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament:

There can be no escape from the penetrating, searching application of the word of God. … Is it not true that people are made to see their real character under the exhibition of the truth of God? … Men then are made to look upon their motives as they had never done before, and to see in their hearts feelings whose existence they would not have suspected if it had not been for the exhibition of the truth. The exhibition of the truth is like pouring down the beams of the sun at midnight on a dark world.[xiii]

Psalm 119:105 (ESV) reads, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The Word of God is pure and bright, and its revealing light is like a blazing sun exposing every area of darkness in the heart. This brilliant light enables us to walk the paths that God has set for each of us and gives us spiritual insight to see where we are going, for we cannot guard our hearts if we are blinded by the darkness. If we will only immerse ourselves in the Word, determined to remain in its unerring light, we will not turn from the path of God to explore the dark alleys of the world.

The Word of God has the glory, power, and life of God pulsating in every single word. These words will not only protect the heart but also heal and transform it. Jeremiah 23:29 says, “‘Is not my word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” The Word of God is a mighty flame that will burn up the refuse and chaff that is clogging our hearts. Like silver that is purified by fire, the Word of God will cleanse our hearts of all impurities, setting the heart on the holy course of its divine destiny.

This same verse says the Word of God is like a hammer that will shatter the shell of a hardened heart into a million pieces, allowing the heart to be tender, kind, and loving in the service of others for God. The Word is like a jackhammer that breaks up the concrete that may have formed around the heart because of past rejection, abuse, hurt, and disillusionment.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might sin against you. (Psalm 119:9–11, ESV)

You must seek God with your whole heart and never wander from the rock-solid, God-empowered shelter of His commandments. Never let your attention drift away from the Word of God, for you cannot guard your heart when you have strayed beyond the protective walls of God’s truth.

Incline Your Heart: Stretching Toward God

Have you ever seen a movie where someone is in mortal danger and she is stretching out her hand, as far as her muscles will allow her to reach the hand of a friend who is trying to save her from deathly peril?

Psalm 119:112 (ESV) reads, “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.” The Hebrew word rendered here as “incline” is natah, and it means to stretch out or extend toward someone or something. This enlightening word provides us another key on how we can guard our hearts. We must stretch our hearts, reaching out to God with every ounce of energy, desire, and devotion so we can seize and grab a hold of Him. It’s like the Olympic runner who stretches forth his body with every bit of strength at the finish line.

This stretch toward God is a stretch of faith, trust, and confidence in His faithfulness and character and the promises in His Word. We stretch toward God by devoting time with Him in prayer, meditation, study, and worship, by challenge ourselves to go deeper on every level in our relationship with Him. We stretch toward God by pursing Him with reckless abandon, allowing ourselves to be consumed with Him, and aching to experience Him fully as our living, joyful reality.

Workout routines often employ a stretching exercise in which a person stretches his arms as high as he can above his head and then bends over and stretches his hands down as far as they can go. This stretching builds flexibility, agility, and growth of certain muscles, making them better able to handle the stresses they will face in the workout and in daily life. Stretching reduces muscle tension, increases range of motion, promotes circulation of the blood, and enhances muscle coordination and energy levels. Stretching also protects a muscle from injury by keeping it flexible, warmed up, and loose for the pressure and stress of the exercise that is to come. Stretching enlarges the boundaries of a muscle so that it can do far beyond what we thought possible. When a muscle is not stretched and exercised, it becomes weak, brittle, and inflexible and begins to atrophy.

When you stretch your heart toward God, you are building spiritual flexibility, strength, agility, and growth in your walk with God and developing a godly defense against the hardening and weakening of your heart in its devotion to the Lord. When you stretch toward God, you’re not only expanding the capacity of the heart to overcome the stresses you are bombarded with daily, but you’re actually expelling fear, worry, and anxiety from the heart and replacing them with the joy of the Lord. Stretching toward God enables you to run farther and with greater endurance than you ever thought possible, breaking through the barriers of unbelief and enlarging your heart’s capacity to do the will of God. It allows the Spirit of God and the power of His Word to circulate and flow through your heart like a mighty river, purifying and igniting your heart with a flame of passion to do your utmost for the Highest.

God is calling you to stretch out your heart toward Him, even if your circumstances seem impossible. God is challenging you to expand the boundaries of your heart and push your faith and trust in Him into the realm of the impossible, the improbable, the extraordinary, and the astonishing. Take joy in knowing that the same Hebrew word natah is also used to describe God’s stretching His hand and heart toward you so that He can snatch you into His arms to lovingly hold and protect you. God is stretching His mighty hand toward you! Turn, stretch, and extend your heart toward Him with all of your strength and devotion!


In the next section, we will look more closely at three main portals, or entryways, to the heart—the eyes, the ears, and the thoughts—all of which must be diligently guarded. These are the doorways to the heart, and if we don’t watch over them and take care to monitor them, then the heart will be shaped and molded into the pattern of this world and not to the glory of God. God warns us what will happen if we neglect this vital duty:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12, NASB)

What a tragedy to allow our hearts to fall away from the living God and let evil and unbelief take root there! This falling away can be very subtle at first, so that you don’t even realize your heart is turning away from Him. This is why guarding the heart is a full-time occupation. The enemy is crouching at the gates of your heart, always looking for an opportunity to infiltrate, to corrupt, and ultimately to destroy.

You must not allow unbelief even a temporary visitor pass to your heart, for it will not want to leave until it has defiled the entire heart. Unbelief is always an affair of the heart, and it separates the heart from the beauty and faithfulness of God and it hardens the heart against His voice. Unbelief causes the heart to distance itself from God and turn its allegiance elsewhere.

Christian, guard your heart! Do not delay. Do not slumber. Do not let your heart become a battlefield casualty. The fulfillment of your calling depends on it. Christian, guard your heart!

[i] Reverend George M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1898).

[ii] Norman Grubb, Rees Howell: Intercessor (Great Britain: Lutherwood Press, 1952), 560, 561 Kindle.

[iii] Richard Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1953), 216, 217.

[iv] John MacArthur, Fundamental Attitudes of Spiritual Maturity, Sermon: February 25, 1990.

[v] E.M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds (Redford: Wilder Publications, LLC 2014), 6641, 6681, Kindle.

[vi] Eric and Leslie Ludy, Wrestling Prayer: A Passionate Communion with God (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 27, 28.

[vii] Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1959), 141.

[viii] Ibid.,142.

[ix] Eric and Leslie Ludy, Wrestling Prayer: A Passionate Communion with God (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 122.

[x] G. M. Mackie, Bible Customs and Manners (New York: Fleming H, Revell Company, 1898).

[xi] Richard G. Howe, “Rethinking Adam in the Garden,” Outline presented on website:

[xii] E.W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons LTD, reprinted 1970), xiii.

[xiii] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications 1962), 1255.

Excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life

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1 Response to Guarding the Heart: The Christian’s Sacred Duty

  1. Isabelita Curtiss says:

    So often I ask my Lord to help me guard my heart and He leads me where I find strength and comfort in the Words of God.

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