Proverbs 4:23-27

As parents, students and school officials gave advice at our son’s graduation, I listened for keys to godly success. There’s a lot to remember when you’re moving into a larger world with bigger opportunities. The grad in all of us needs to know there are certainties. How do we pursue success with integrity? In Proverbs 4:23 the Bible answers, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The word “heart” illustrates the source of life and the place where life is renewed.

In the verses following, God inspired Solomon to write the recipe for success with integrity. Envision your heart, your inner person, as your personal sanctuary. You’ve invited Jesus Christ the Son of God to take his rightful place as Lord, and there are gates you must guard leading into the sanctuary.

First, guard the lip gate. Proverbs 4:24 says, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” The Pharisees confronted Jesus when his disciples failed to wash their hands before they ate. Jesus told them what goes into a person isn’t what dirties the heart. He said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:10-11) Guard the Lip Gate. Sometimes I don’t guard my lip gate as well as I would like, but I’ve learned to be successful in life I must guard it well. We’re rewarded with wholeness when we hold back harsh or unwholesome words at the gate. James 3:6 says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” When we guard our lip gate, we protect our hearts.

Second, guard the eye gate. Proverbs 4:25 says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” The point isn’t that we shouldn’t look around when walking! This proverb unveils the spiritual principle of single-minded direction. If we’re curious about trying paths other than God’s will, or we need new trends to sustain interest in God’s will, we fail to get to know Him intimately. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton illustrated what happens when we don’t guard our hearts. Linsky and Heifetz write, “Look at him as just another middle-aged guy with a lot of power in a large and important organization. Let’s try to understand him, and his situation at the time . . . : a man who hurt himself irreparably and almost took himself down because he was unable to manage his own hungers.” (Leadership on the Line, page 177) When we guard the eye gate, we protect our hearts.

Third, guard the foot gate. Proverbs 4:26-27 say, “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” The direction we set in life conditions our development. To make level paths for our feet we remove distractions from God’s will. For example, we might encounter barriers of personal laziness, cynicism, doubt, fear, or resentment that trip us. We’re responsible to set those barriers aside by surrender to God’s leadership.

Take only ways that are firm. If a decision has clear boundaries in God’s word, obey the boundaries. If Scripture isn’t direct about the issue, take it up with a few godly friends who can help determine God’s will according to his word. Just as it’s tempting buy an item because its well marketed, it’s easy to chase job opportunities, a higher profile or an appealing promotion. These might be good things, but are they clearly on God’s path for us? Martin Luther King, Jr. was enticed by opponents of the Vietnam War into pouring energy into the anti-war movement. But the task of achieving racial equality in southern and northern American States was still enormous. The movement, according to Linsky and Heifetz, bogged down and he was unable to devote enough energy to moving equal rights forward. (Leadership on the Line, page 38)

Don’t swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. Guarding the foot gate requires disciplined personal intake of God’s word, trusting his promises when we’re tempted by other priorities. To achieve godly success we need to guard our hearts diligently by guarding the lip gate, the eye gate and the foot gate. Why do we sometimes struggle to guard these gates?

The Apostle Paul who wrote,“For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am. Who will free me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:22-25)

He discovered the ultimate key to guarding the gates. We can’t live successfully without God’s deliverance and power. He wrote in Galatians 5:24-25, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Living an effective Christian life is living the crucified, Spirit lead life. That’s a life completely surrendered to God. Walk with Him. Pay attention to Him and guard your heart.

It’s said Edison, who invented the electric light bulb, failed many times en route to the discovery. One night he announced to his wife that he’d just finished the ten thousandth experiment. “Did it work?” she asked. “Nope,” he answered. “Aren’t you discouraged?” she asked. “Discouraged? We now know ten thousand ways that won’t work!” The good news is God’s Spirit empowers us to pay attention to his wisdom and to guard our hearts with diligence. Previous failures to guard the gates have no power to prevent us from a successful future with integrity. Pay attention to God’s Word and guard your heart.

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