“Heart” is a huge word in Proverbs—it is used 75 times in 31 chapters! The heart is at the center of who and what we are. It is where we process life—where attitudes are formed and actions are determined. It is the command post of our being. According to Proverbs, our life is a reflection of our hearts (27:19). This is in harmony with Jesus’ teaching. In Luke 6:45 He said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
In essence, we become what we allow into our hearts. Since it is much easier to stop something from entering your heart than to get it out once it has put down roots we are told, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23).
How do we do this?
To begin with, we have to learn how to trust God. We come across this instruction in 3:5-6, where we are told to:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
As children trust their parents, we learn to trust our Father above everyone else and in everything. This is a tall order that isn’t accomplished overnight but comes as the result of a lifetime of learning how to lean into His will.
A significant aspect of leaning into God, is practicing discernment. We live in a culture that does not practice discernment. It tells us to “live your own truth” and “you do you.” While that might be good advice in certain peripheral matters (like choosing a restaurant or a paint color for your bedroom), it is terrible and destructive counsel in the major matters of life. Ask yourself this, do you want someone managing your finances, overseeing your health care, or guiding you in any significant way who is just “living their own truth?” If we’re honest, we’ll admit we want them to follow some kind of accepted standard rather than being at the mercy of their impulses.
That’s what discernment is about. It’s not being held hostage by our impulses, emotions, peer pressure, or anything else. It’s thinking things through to make sure they are good, right, and true. In other words, is it God approved? “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; for the ears of the wise seek it out” (18:15). The Hebrew writer will speak of those who “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). All that glitters is not gold and discernment recognizes that and protects the heart from things that are destructive.
Proverbs also speaks of a pure heart. “One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend” (22:11). A pure heart isn’t a perfect heart. The person being spoken doesn’t love perfection (they won’t find that), but purity. When purity is present, there is a focus, a singleness to their love—it isn’t compromised. See what Jesus had to say about this is Matthew 6:22-24, 33, and 22:34-37.
Purity protects the heart because it closes it off to all that is outside and counter to it. It brings a central, unifying purpose to life. It is like a person who takes on a task and won’t quit until they are finished. The pure heart has taken up the task of loving God and others and won’t be diverted from it.
Trust, discernment, and purity are all singled out in Proverbs as work of the heart that is following God. The writer has more to say about the heart, but these three qualities offer important direction for our lives.