Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

As the armies of Saruman marched against Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful The Lord of the Rings, the citizens of Rohan make their stand in the Hornburg, a fortress of last defense at the mouth of Helm’s Deep. The Hornburg was the heart of Rohan’s defense, so that if the Hornburg fell, Rohan would be finished. Similarly, the heart of a man might be compared to that fortress of last defense. The heart is the battleground of your soul, which is why the Proverbs warn us to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). If the heart ultimately falls in the spiritual battle, a man is finished. He will become “like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28).

Proverbs 4:23 uses two different Hebrew words that might both be translated “to keep,” so that one might even translate this verse “keep your heart with all keeping.” The first word has to do with “keeping watch,” while the second has the sense of “keeping guard.” Given this emphasis on “keeping,” it goes without saying that we ignore this scriptural warning to our own peril. But what does it mean to “keep our hearts,” and what practical steps might we take to actually go about it? There are basically three things involved in keeping our hearts; we might call them surveilling our hearts, maintaining our hearts, and defending our hearts.

Surveillance is an absolutely necessary component in the work of keeping our hearts. To do surveillance is to keep a close watch on something—think of the police on a stakeout or a sentry watching on a city wall. Simply being aware and paying close attention to our hearts is of first importance. The word translated “keep” in this verse has the sense of “keeping watch over.” If we are to keep our hearts, we must do that first work of spiritual surveillance, so that we know our hearts. When we think of surveillance in an ancient city, we probably think first of a lookout or sentry standing guard, ready to sound an alarm. And that is an absolutely necessary part of our surveillance. We must be on the lookout for the schemes of our enemy “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan” or “ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11). Yet we must recognize that when it comes to surveillance, we must not only look outward. We must also look inward. We must be aware of the places where the fortress of our heart may be weak and vulnerable to attack. That is why the work of keeping our hearts must involve not only spiritual surveillance but also the constant work of spiritual maintenance.

If we do not keep our hearts by keeping up with the condition of the castle and maintaining its defenses, we run the risk of being unprepared for the enemy’s advance.

If you’ve ever owned a car or a home, you know that deferred maintenance often leads to much more serious and expensive repairs. Doing ordinary, regular, and required maintenance can extend the life of a car or a house for many years. So it is with keeping our hearts. If in our work of surveillance we find that our hearts are growing cold or calloused, we need to make sure that we are doing the necessary upkeep to maintain the spiritual condition of the castle. Fortunately, the Lord has given us a way to ensure that our hearts are maintained. We call these things the ordinary means of grace, which include attending to the reading and preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. As we surveil our own hearts, can we report that we are attending to these most important spiritual disciplines in the public and private exercises of worship? It is through the preaching of the gospel that God fortifies our faith against our enemies without and within. It is through the sensible signs of the sacraments that our hearts are strengthened in the assurance of Christ’s love. It is in prayer that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand in the evil day. If we do not keep our hearts by keeping up with the condition of the castle and maintaining its defenses, we run the risk of being unprepared for the enemy’s advance.

The final aspect of keeping our heart is the actual work of protecting it and defending it from the attempted onslaught of the enemy. This is where we make our “stand,” as Paul says in Ephesians 6:14. It is what Peter calls our “resistance” when he writes: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9, emphasis added). This is where we employ “all vigilance” in the keeping of our hearts. Having done the work of surveillance so that we are aware not only of the schemes of the evil one but also of our own vulnerabilities, and having done that work of spiritual maintenance so that our heart’s defenses are well stocked and not crumbling—“having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13)—by the Spirit we stand, we resist, we fight to keep our heart.

John Flavel once wrote, “The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.” The work of keeping our heart is not an easy work, but it is an attainable work, and we can be assured that it is an attainable work because God has promised that it is a work that He Himself is working in us by His Spirit. If we stand firm, it is because we stand firm in the Lord (Phil. 4:1), knowing that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Peace outside the Church

Why Hymnals?

Keep Reading Peace

From the January 2023 Issue
Jan 2023 Issue