Who to Be, Above All Else, Before You Marry

Suppose you’re at the airport and you have a piece of luggage containing something priceless and irreplaceable. Suppose also that you must step away from that bag for a short period of time. Imagine that you have two choices available to you:

1) You can ask your timid, ten-year-old niece to keep an eye on the item

2) You can ask the purple-heart veteran in your family to guard it.

Who would make a better guard? The one who’d been one, years on end, in a professional or even life or death capacity? Or the one who’s guarding credentials were limited to capture the flag?

An Unguarded Heart

Have you ever stopped to reflect on why guarding our hearts is a Scriptural command, not just a suggestion? Are you guarding your heart at the level of a proven veteran? Or a distracted youngster? Wherever you are on your journey as a single woman, I want to speak frankly with you for a moment about guarding your heart. There are heaps of resources available on this topic, and some of them I highly recommend. But I am writing as someone who failed to guard my own heart both before my marriage and as it was beginning. Tragically, I have been separated from my husband for just over a year now, and if I could, I would spare you the tremendous pain and turmoil I have walked through. How? I want to exhort you to be, above all else, through and through, a vigilant heart-guarder. In this post, I want to touch on the importance of guarding our hearts. In a forthcoming post, I will discuss how to guard your heart as you’re entering a deepening relationship with someone you may marry.

Guarding My Heart

As believers, we are commanded in Scripture to guard our hearts. (See 1 John 5:21 for starters, which shows us there is an inextricable link between being unguarded and idolatry.) But I don’t just want to state the Scriptural commands. If we turn to Proverbs 4:23, we will find not only the instruction to guard our hearts, but also a compelling reason for why we should do so. Here are a handful of translations (emphasis added), to help convey the serious nature of heart-guarding:

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (HCSB)

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (NASB)

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)

In a New Testament parallel, Jesus plainly shows us in Luke 6:43-45 that the things that come out of our heart are the things that are already in our heart. More precisely, what comes out in our words and actions, comes from what we have treasured up in our hearts.[1] Moreover, the things in our heart are there because we treasure them. As broken sinful people, we are prone to storing up evil and putting a good label on it. We can easily deceive ourselves and call our actions and their motivations either acceptable or even ideal without consulting the Lord and His Word to see where we really stand according to His holy standard. This is the human epidemic of sin that Jeremiah speaks of in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

And herein lies our problem. We know we need to guard our hearts because they determine, in large part, our lives. We know they are prone to the sin sickness of self-deception. We cannot trust them. So how can we even hope to guard them? We’re not the only ones to ask. The Psalmist asks the Lord in Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” Thankfully the answer is provided in the very same verse. “By guarding it according to your word.”

Wisdom for Single Days

When I was single, I didn’t stop to contemplate whether or not God’s instruction on guarding my heart applied to more than sexual purity. When I entered my marriage, there were several ways I had been very lazy about guarding my heart and it has cost me dearly. I was much like the foolish builder who would not listen to the Lord and His wisdom found in Luke 6:46-49. What I did was try to turn the role of guarding my heart over to the man I wanted to marry. It seemed hard to me, all of a sudden. I was afraid of remaining unmarried my whole life and I was afraid of having to live the rest of my life “by myself.” I was afraid of having to make countless difficult decisions “on my own.” Do you see the lies I’d begun to believe in catering to those fears? God had promised to be with me always! But I wanted some good, hard working, smart, trustworthy, tangible, (and yes, handsome) Christian man, to turn a lot of that hard stuff over to. God had given me responsibilities that only I could fulfill, in His power, and I wanted to relinquish them. In short, I made an idol in my mind and set it up as priest and king in my heart until God graciously saw fit to take it down. Had I been vigilantly guarding my heart I would have been aware of and able to bring these things to the Lord before carrying them recklessly into my marriage. But instead, I charged ahead. I wasn’t willfully charging ahead of the Lord, but I bear culpability in my ignorance, nonetheless.

Wisdom for Courtship Days

If you had asked me in my courtship days if I was looking for a priest, king, and savior outside of Christ Jesus, I would have adamantly said no. But in effect, that’s what I was doing. God gave husbands, pastors, etc. roles and responsibilities. Godly and righteous men fulfill those God-given responsibilities with wisdom, care, and grace. But they are powerless to keep our hearts free from idols. They can teach us about doing it. They can intercede for us in prayer and ask God, in His power, to help us do it. But they cannot do it for us. That is a job that God has assigned to you and me. That is a way -being ever on guard- God has lovingly instructed us to be in the perpetual present tense, at least until Christ’s return. What is more, we cannot guard our hearts without Christ’s abiding grace in our lives. There are no bootstraps to pull ourselves up by in the Christian life. I pray that as your ultimate shield and defender, God will help you diligently guard your heart for His glory today!

[1] I recommend watching Paul David Tripp use a water bottle to demonstrate this principle in this seven minute video clip.