Everything that comprises our life as persons–our thoughts, attitudes, feelings, our impulses and desires, our speech and actions–all spring from the heart. In short, our heart is the director of our life.
Proverbs 4:23 . . . is one of the most significant texts of Scripture for understanding life: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” In other versions of this verse the heart is said to be the place from which “everything you do flows” (NIV); the “source of all life” (NEB); “where life starts” (MSG). Literally, the Hebrew text says: “Above all guarding, keep watch over your heart. For out of it are the issues of life” (emphasis added).
Identifying the heart as the sour of “the issues of life” is not simply saying the heart is the fountain or primal source of life. It also says that the heart controls the course of life. The same Hebrew word for “issues” is used in other places to describe the boundaries of a territory. It delineates the point where the boundary begins and the course the boundary follows from there–in other words, it begins here and goes from here to there and to there and so forth.
What God tells us in Proverbs 4:23, then, is our life not only has “its fountain in the heart, but also the direction which it takes is determined by the heart.” In other words, our heart is not only the spring from which our life flows, it also directs the stream of our life in all of its bends and turns (note the plural “issues”) as it continues to flow. In sum, the heart is the spring and director of all our living.
The heart’s control of our life is a constant theme of Scripture. “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left,” declared the preacher of Ecclesiastes (10:2). Our obedience or disobedience toward God is determined by the condition of our heart: “If your heart turns away and you will not obey” (Deut. 30:17). The people of Jeremiah’s day rebelled in apostasy because they “walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart” (Jer. 11:8; cf. 7:24; 24:16; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17). The lie of Ananias and Sapphira was spawned in their heart as Peter’s question indicates: “Why is it that you have conceived [lit. set, placed] this deed in your heart” (Acts 5:4).
No one taught that the heart is the source of life more plainly than Jesus. In response to those who were accusing him of casting out demons by the power of the Devil, he said “How can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matt. 12:34-35).
The implications of his teaching are clear: good words and good behavior do not spring from mere resolutions–“I will be good”–but from our being. Evil things come from evil persons. Good things come from good persons. What defines a person’s character and the activities of his life is the content of the storehouse of his heart where he has treasured up either evil or good.
As Jesus’ words attest, our speech is the primary way that we reveal who we are, and that revelation can sometimes be surprising. . . . As F. Dale Brunner points out . . . “Speech . . . is the overflow of our being; it is the main way that we express what we ‘are’; it is the major fruit of our personhood; speech is the self ex-pressed out (‘pressed out’).
We try, though not always successfully, to intercept the heart’s expression, tweaking it with what is more appropriate for a good appearance and reputation. But even these modifications stem from our mixed heart. We seek to hide what is in our heart, and to some extent are able to succeed in not exposing all of its contents. But as we’ve already seen, the issues of life flow out of the heart. In one form or another, the contents of our heart inevitably make their presence known in the experiences of our life.
The heart, therefore, has rightly been described as “the mission control center” of human life. Our thoughts, motives, the words that we speak, our feelings and attitudes, and all of our actions originate from our heart. In the words of Herman Ridderbos, “Man is led and governed ultimately from one point–the heart.” For this reason, God calls us through the teacher of Proverbs: “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Prov. 23:26). To give our heart to God is to give him control over all of our lives.
Robert Saucy, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation, 42-45.