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Guard Your Wellspring: Proverbs 4

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Proverbs, chapter 4.

Proverbs is a book of wisdom; think about it like a letter written by a father and a mother to their children, and to generations they’ll never get to meet; telling them what’s actually important in life, and how to live it right. Wisdom is calling out in the streets, they write, but it’s hard to hear over the noise of everything going on in the world. There’s so much being said—it’s hard to know what’s good and nourishing.

I started out in this series making a contrast, drawing a line between wisdom and information. We have so much information today—and so little wisdom. Information is being able to recite a Bible verse about the way God loves the world; wisdom is loving the way he loves, seeing people the way he does. I also tried to contrast, draw a line, between wisdom and immediacy. Immediacy is believing that if something is trending or relevant, if it’s been popular for the past generation or so, it’s also important or valuable; immediacy is believing that we today know more than our ancestors did about the world and life.

We have all the information we can stand in the world today, more blog posts and podcasts than people. And the world is happy to tell you everything popular and trending and therefore, from the world’s perspective, important and true. But can we hear wisdom above the noise? Can we step out of our own perspectives, for just a moment, and notice the way we see the world? Are we willing to look at our world, and the ways in which we live our lives, and recognize that not all progress has been toward a good end?

Not all change has been change for the better. Not every movement has taken us closer to our home; not every revolution has brought freedom. And if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we all desperately long to be free.

Today, our ancestors are speaking to those things which are at the core of a life well-lived. I’m going to ask you to assess what’s at the core of your life, whether your heart is like a spring of water able to sustain you, or whether it is dry. Proverbs, chapter four, and we’re going to start in verse 20. [Proverbs 4:20-27] This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance.” In the NIV, this proverb was one I heard constantly growing up: “guard your heart.” There was a Christian bookstore in my town named springs of life. When I was sixteen, (the one and only time) I was in a band with two friends of mine, we sang worship songs at the springs of life bookstore in Collierville, TN. They paid us in coffee. That’s a true story. This was mercifully before the internet, so there are no recordings or pictures of any kind, praise the Lord, so, Phil, don’t even try.

Guard your heart, my youth minister would tell me, especially when I started dating and experienced those first tastes of heart-song and heartbreak. Looking back now, I think he was misusing the verse, but to a good effect. I think he meant something along the lines of when Solomon writes elsewhere, “do not arouse or awaken love before it pleases.” I wish I’d understood and listened to him—I tried to love far too early in life, and failed miserably; that advice would have saved me and others a lot of pain. So, good advice, just the wrong passage. Guard your heart, here in this passage, means something a bit different. It’s good advice, too, and we should heed it today. Guard your heart. Easy to say, harder to follow.

Verse 23: “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow springs of life.” Everyone in Jerusalem, and most people in Israel, would have immediately understood the analogy he’s making. The city of Jerusalem was built around a spring. It’s called the Gihon Spring, and from ancient times, the people of the city had built a channel to carry the water to the pool of Siloam, which was the main water supply for the whole city.

If you remember way back in Isaiah 7, around this time last year, we saw king Ahaz do exactly what Solomon is talking about here. There were armies marching on Jerusalem, and where does Isaiah find the king of Jerusalem, himself? At the Gihon Spring, checking the fortifications around it, because he knew exactly what Solomon is saying in our passage this morning: if you lose your wellspring, or if the enemy is allowed to poison it, if your water is cut off, the whole city perishes. If you lose your wellspring, you may not be dead yet, but you’ve lost life itself.

Every morning, the whole city of Jerusalem would go out to the pool of Siloam and get their water for the day. It’s the same pool Jesus uses to give sight to the blind man so many years later—a subtle message that Christ, himself, is living water. Later kings of Jerusalem built a thousand-foot stone structure over the spring to guard it from the source to the pool, to keep anything from disrupting or stopping the waters.

For thousands of years, every king, every ruler understood guarding the Gihon Spring as one of the most important, most vital tasks in ruling Jerusalem. So in our passage this morning, Solomon writes, “Guard your heart. It’s your wellspring.” Your heart is your own personal spring of water. It is the thing out of which your life flows. Life is best when you are living near it. You’ll need to return to it each morning to draw from it. Don’t let the enemy poison it. If you ever lose it, you may not be dead yet, but you’ve lost life itself.

Nowadays, when we hear the word heart, we think emotions. Valentine’s day, heart emojis, Insta likes, that sort of thing, so we misunderstand what Solomon means here. Ancient people understood the human soul to be made up of three parts—the head, which was given primarily to reason, the base, your gut, which was given to appetite, raw desire, and thirdly, your chest, or heart, which was meant to hold your head and your base emotions in balance. So when Solomon uses the word heart, he means the balanced center of your deepest thoughts and desires—your worldview and your deepest desires, together.

Today, I think the closest word to what Solomon means is mind, like when we tell people, “You’ve been on my mind.” We mean both that we are thinking about the person, and that we care deeply for them. Or we could also understand the word heart, in this passage, like we would use the word core, when we say things like “the core of my identity,” or “he shook me to my core.” Or how we use the world soul, when we talk about feeling things in our soul. And when we say things like, “I’m sorry, that’s not me,” we’re thinking of our hearts in the old sense. That phrase shows we believe in a part of ourselves which is deeper, more defining of us, than even our words and actions.

So Solomon says, guard your heart, guard those deep thoughts shaping the way you see the world. Guard those deep emotions which drive your family relationships, your closest friendships, and your work in the world. That’s your wellspring. Don’t let the enemy poison it. If you lose that, you may not be dead yet, but you’ve lost life itself.

As I was thinking through this sermon, and what Solomon is really trying to say here, I kept coming back over and over again to another passage, similar to this one. 1 Corinthians 13. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

And Christ, himself, asks, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The idea is, there are some things meant to be at the core of your life, and if you don’t keep them there, if you forget them, nothing else you’ve done matters. There are some things meant to be at the core of your life, and if you don’t keep them there, if you forget them, nothing else you’ve done matters.

I think we know this on a deep level. This is the question we ask ourselves in our honest moments, or when we’re scared. No matter who we are or how much we’ve done. In hospitals and wars; in our relationships with parents and children; in those moments in life when we finally break down and admit we can’t keep going the way we’ve gone, this is the question our souls ask—am I living right; do I have love, still; do I have people, still; am I seeing the world the way it is; in a thousand different ways we ask ourselves, is my heart, at least, in tact?

As I was thinking through these things which, if lost, are devastating—I’ll call them necessary things, necessary, things you have to have or you thirst—as I was thinking through these necessary things, I thought of raising children. There are a thousand tasks when you’re raising a child. A lifetime’s worth of things you have to do for them. Feed them, change them, bring them to school. I sat down to eat after cooking dinner for the family at the end of a long day Thursday, and as soon as I sat down, Noah sneezed, and he has a cold, so snot just pours out of his nose. It was so gross. Babies are so gross. He puts his hands up, covered in slime, and looks at me like, “this is you, right? You can help with this? This is your area of expertise?”

But with all of the tasks surrounding raising children, the heart of it is this: you have to be there, you have to be mindful of them, and you have to love them. You can buy your children the world, and raise them in the best neighborhood, and when they grow up they’ll remember none of it, and all they’ll be asking themselves is whether or not you were there, mindful of them, and whether or not you loved them. You can do everything else, but if you lose that, if that gets poisoned, you’re lost.

As I was thinking of necessary things, I thought of my ministry here at this church, how many tasks are associated with pastoring. Driving people around, working out IDs and meals and Bible studies. Fundraising, plotting renovations. Preaching each week, and making sure the service is ordered. But the heart of it is this: you need me to be mindful of God, to love him, and to be present with him; then to communicate that to you. I can do everything else, but if I lose that, if that gets poisoned, I’m lost.

Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow springs of life. There are some things meant to be at the core of your life—love, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, himself, family—and if you don’t keep them there, if you forget them, nothing else you’ve done matters. Let me ask you this morning—is your heart in tact, or is it broken?

In the next chapter, Proverbs 5, Solomon imagines a person’s cistern broken, and his water flowing into the streets, where his water is walked through and mixed with the dirt and refuse of the city. We all walked through the French Quarter this morning, we can imagine this.

Is your heart in tact? I’m not asking if you read your Bible this morning or if you’ve had a drink yet this morning; I’m asking if your heart is in tact. Or does it run dry?

You have to guard what’s at the core. Your heart. Do you know what’s in your heart, who you are? Are you in awe of God? Are you wise enough to know what’s the right way forward? Do you have love for God and for your neighbor? Do you love and care for your family? Is something getting in the way of those core things—and by that, I mean “what would you give in exchange for your soul?” We trade our souls, our hearts, for all kinds of things—none of them are worth it.

My other question just briefly this morning is this, is your heart in balance? Remember the ancients considered the heart to be your intellect and your deepest desires in balance. Is your heart in balance? I know for myself, it’s easy to let my mind drive me. I do things that make sense, and I never stop to consider my desires. Only with intentional effort do I consider the emotions of the people around me.

I know others who are slaves to their desires, or slaves to their emotion. Everything they feel has to drive their actions, and they never stop to think is this wise. Is what I’m doing, the path I’m taking, is it right-headed. Does what I think is the Lord’s leading accord with Scripture, or with the advice of the wise people in my life. Is you heart in balance?

I’ll close with this. Whenever we’re teaching out of the law or the wisdom books, it can feel like a heavy weight, because we have transgressed the law, and we have not lived with wisdom. Maybe you are the person this morning whose water is in the streets. You’re thinking about those things and people which are central, core to your life, in your heart, and you realize you’ve leftover for them unguarded; they’re poisoned or broken, you’re left dry this morning, and to you I want to speak a word of grace and hope.

Jesus, in his teachings, several times refers to himself as living water. He is able to be a wellspring for those who are thirsty and repair what is broken. He tells a woman—as she draws water from a wellspring; a woman whose life and heart were fairly broken—he speaks a word of hope, he says: “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

So this morning, if your spring is cracked and broken, if your water is in the streets, I know a place where you can be made clean. I know a way hope can well up in you again, a person who is inviting you to come share his cup this morning, and restore your heart. In him you are forgiven; you are welcomed; you are loved. Pray with me.