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Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do. Proverbs 4:23
As soon as Mark finished Bible college, he accepted a position in the music department at a church in the large city where he went to college. Mark was very artistic and creative, which was a plus in his endeavors to attract people to his worship team and praise band. He and his wife, Katie, had three small children, and the couple was filled with enthusiasm for serving God as a family.
After a few years, Mark's music ministry wasn't growing as fast as he hoped, and he became disillusioned. He was offered the opportunity of using his artistic skills to work for a Christian music station, so he left local church ministry and took the Christian radio job. Mark was an instant success, and his on-air talent made the station increasingly successful. But again his interest waned after several years, and Mark began to question his purpose in life and God's trustworthiness.
He arranged his job schedule so he could go back to school and get a counseling degree at a state university. He became immersed in the principles of psychology and the techniques of psychotherapy. These theories left little room for God. People seemed to be helped just by seeing themselves more clearly and making the appropriate behavioral changes. It all made sense to Mark, and Katie was pleased that her husband had finally found something he loved to do.
Gradually the couple edged God from the center of their lives to the periphery. They stopped attending a Bible-teaching church and drifted away from their Christian foundation and friends. The Bible’s authority diminished in their eyes, leading them to believe it was an answer for some people, but not for everyone.
Completing his education, Mark went to work in an established Christian counseling center. He soon became emotionally involved with a woman he was counseling and strayed further from his biblical foundation. He ultimately pulled away from the woman, but he was careless about his relationship to Katie, and they began to drift apart. Eventually they separated and seriously considered divorce. Miraculously Mark and Katie reconciled, and their marriage survived. But today they are content to live a self-absorbed life as Mark helps his clients get in touch with their inner selves – but not with God.
Mark and Katie's story is a sad illustration of what can happen when we fail to heed Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 4:23: "Guard your heart, for it affects everything you do." When you leave your heart unguarded, it is vulnerable to attack. A heart under attack can result in serious damage to your relationship with God and with your spouse. It is vital that you guard not only your own heart but also the heart of your dear one. Guarding love is an important facet of a growing, fruitful marriage.
What's so important about the heart? Solomon said it clearly: "It affects everything you do." Jesus gives us even more insight: "A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say" (Luke 6:45). The heart has everything to do with everything you do – including your marriage.
First, the heart is central to our faith and salvation. Paul wrote, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved" (Romans 10:9-10). We couldn't know God apart from faith, and the heart is the seat of our faith.
Once we have exercised saving faith, we must guard our hearts against doubt and disbelief that would rob us of our first-love relationship with God. That's what happened to Mark and Katie. Don't dilute what God has begun in your life and wants to do in your life by leaving your hearts and faith unguarded. The writer of Hebrews warns us, "Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12).
Second, the heart is central to the fruitfulness of the Bible in our lives. When Jesus explained the parable of the sewer and the soils to his disciples, he said, "The good soil represents honest, good-hearted people who hear God's message, cling to it, and steadily produce a huge harvest" (Luke 8:15). A guarded heart is like a well-tended garden where maximum growth can occur.
When we fail to guard our hearts, we may muddy the effectiveness of God's Word in our lives. In this parable, Jesus explained, "The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don't understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts" (Matthew 13:19). Don't limit what God can do in you and through you, especially in your marriage relationship, by leaving God's word unguarded in your heart.
Third, the heart is central to our high call to love God and people. When asked which of the commandments was greatest, Jesus replied, quoting the Old Testament, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment, a second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37– 39). An unguarded heart is vulnerable to anything and everything that flies in the face of biblical love. Jesus warned, "From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander" (Matthew 15:19).
Loving God and loving others – including our spouses – is an issue of the heart. Paul wrote to Timothy, "The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). Peter instructed believers, "see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your heart" (1 Peter 1:22). If you leave your hearts unguarded as Mark and Katie did, you are in danger of straying from your primary biblical assignment to love God and love each other.
How do you guard your heart? By being super-cautious about what you allow into your heart and mind. Learn to resist and dismiss any thoughts that lure you away from the centrality of faith in Christ, the Word of God, and love. You also guard your heart by monitoring your activities. Don't put yourself in places or situations where you are too weak to resist temptation. And guard your spouse's heart by helping him or her stay far from spiritual and moral compromise. Two healthy hearts make for one exciting and rewarding marriage.
Have you experienced personally the pain and problems resulting from an unguarded heart? Have you allowed doubt or disbelief to weaken your faith in Christ? How did your relationship with God suffer during that time? Have you been careless at times about hiding God’s Word in your heart? What was the result? Have you left your love unguarded, especially your love for your spouse? How did that affect your relationship?
God my Protector, I would feel vulnerable and defenseless except for your promise to be with me and protect me. I praise you for your great power and for your compassion, which motivates you to defend me. But I don't want to take your power for granted. Train me to be watchful over my heart and the heart of my spouse in order to encourage our faith, our growth in your Word, and our love for you and for each other. Nurture a guarding love in me that will be a strong tower against the many threats to our marriage. Use me as an instrument to guard my spouse's heart as well. Amen.
Renew your Love
This week determine one practical strategy to implement for guarding your spouse's heart in the areas of faith, the Word of God, and love. For example, you may decide to pray with your spouse every morning this week before you part for the day. Or you may ask your spouse to sit down with you while you read aloud a portion of the Word each day. Put your plan into action, starting today.