Your first responsibility as a parent is not to your children.
While this may sound a bit strange, it is true. Your most important job as a parent is to guard your own heart. It is your heart that directs everything you do as a parent. If your heart is not centered on living for the honor of God then your parenting will miss the mark.
As you know, being a parent is a huge responsibility. The last thing you want to do is to lead your children with a heart that is not protected by the wisdom of God. The good news is that Proverbs provides you with the loving direction you need to guard your heart so that you can protect and care for your children.
You are probably familiar with Proverbs 4:23 where Solomon says above all else guard your heart. This passage is important, but it needs to be read in light of the verses that surround it to fully grasp its full meaning. So, let’s take a look at Proverbs 4:20-27. Read these words as if Solomon were speaking directly to you.
Solomon begins with an urgent plea to pay attention to what he is teaching. He speaks with direct knowledge of the wreckage that sin causes. He was raised in the middle of jealousy, bitterness, resentment, anger, rape, murder and betrayal! Not a pleasant upbringing! It is this experience that accounts for his urgent warning:
“My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.”
Next Solomon says don’t let these words escape from your life, keep them in your heart. He repeats the words of Moses in Deuteronomy when he says these words are your life:
“Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man’s whole body.”
Through Solomon the Holy Spirit is out to get your attention! These words of instructions not to be missed.
Now comes the verse you are familiar with:
“Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.”
The Hebrew here is strong. It means to stand guard, be vigilant! Another translation says, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from your it.” In other words, if your heart is not well-guarded everything you do as a parent will be off-target.
Next, the Holy Spirt directs Solomon to tell you specifically how to guard your heart. He drives home that the heart directly impacts all that your body does. Solomon speaks about your mouth, your eyes, your feet.
He begins by saying to keep perverse speech from your mouth. This is important:
“Put away perversity from your mouth;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.”
The warning here is to keep speech which is not consistent with guarding your heart far away from your mouth and from your mind. Words that are sarcastic, filled with frustration and hints of anger, qualify as perverse, corrupt speech. This kind of language will undermine all of your best intentions as a parent. An unguarded heart results in an unguarded mouth and hurting children.
Solomon next turns to the eyes. Fathers, this means you and your eyes!
“Let your eyes look straight ahead,
fix your gaze directly before you.”
Wow! This hits home. Dads, how many places are there for your eyes to wander in this culture? Do you steal a look at temptations that dishonor your wife? Do you view the soft porn of swimsuit calendars? Or maybe you are caught in the soul-devouring web of internet porn. It is through your eyes that the dark light of sin enters and ravages your heart. Pornography and lust will devastate your parenting and make your heart an easy target for the enemy of your soul. Don’t fight this alone, get help to protect your heart! The spiritual health of you, your marriage and your children depends on it.
Pornography and lust will devastate your parenting and make your heart an easy target for the enemy of your soul.
Finally, Solomon speaks about your feet. No, he is not suggesting you buy new shoes. But he telling you to guard the path that you take, the place where your feet will walk:
“Make level paths for your feet
take only ways that are firm.
Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.”
There are people, places and things where your feet should not take you. Don’t deceive yourself by asking the deadly question, “what’s wrong with that?” Have the courage to ask, “What is right with that?” Guarding your heart means to avoid the places and activities that offer a break from honoring God. A guys’ or girls’ night out can easily turn into a time of self-indulgence where your heart is open to attack. Watch carefully where your feet take you.
You see, everything we have talked about has to do with your heart and your love for God. I know that you want your children to speak words that are pleasing to God. You want their eyes to avoid the scenes of lust and sexual sin that define our modern culture. You want your children to keep their feet from wandering to wrong associations that may scar them for the rest of their lives.
If you want these good things for children, guard your heart, for everything that you do flows from it!