Listen: Chris Witts’ Morning Devotion.
I like the story of the tall oak tree standing in the forest. One year, hundreds of acorns fell from it, and baby oak trees grew up around its base.
One little oak tree stood out from all the rest—he was stronger and sturdier. The parent oak tree praised and encouraged the little oak tree, and it moved its own branches so extra rain would fall on it, and extra sunshine could warm its growing roots. One day a woodsman came and carefully dug around its roots and moved it into a clear, warm space where it could grow even stronger and taller. So, this little oak tree grew up admired, praised, encouraged, watered and with lots of sunshine. It was a fine specimen—the best in the forest.
One day, a tiny termite wandered along and saw this beautiful young tree, and decided to make its home at the base of the tree. Other termites came along as well, making their home in the heart of the tree. They multiplied and became a large colony, but on the outside you’d never have known they were there. The oak tree continued to grow tall and healthy and strong. The rain kept coming and watering it, the sun kept shining on it, and men and other oak trees kept admiring it. But at the base, in the very heart of the oak tree, something rotten was beginning to happen—one tiny termite nibble after another.
Then came the winds. Not a hurricane or a cyclone—just a wind. The other trees in the forest bent and creaked and groaned—but the famous oak tree fell. Why? Not because it wasn’t lush and leafy, but because the termites, hidden away, had eaten its heart out.
Guard Your Heart
You know, there’s a verse in the Bible that brings this story alive: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23). Another version says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life.” I like the New King James Version which says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Here is God speaking to us about the important values of life—how we should live, what our attitude to life should be. We use the word ‘heart’ because it best describes the place that is the source of everything we are. I’m not talking about the physical heart, although we need to care for that as well.
If your heart’s alright, you’ll do, you’ll do
If your heart’s alright, you’ll do
But if your heart’s not alright
Then no matter what you do, you won’t do
It’s the ‘wellspring’, or source of everything that comes from us. Just as a polluted well pours out water that causes sickness, disease and even death, so can our lives do the same if the wellspring is polluted. God is saying to you and me “protect yourself and keep it safe in every way possible”. After all, we have a choice to make in life, don’t we? It refers to the inner man, what is connected to the source of life. For what comes out of the inner man shapes, directs and governs what we are, who we are, and most importantly what is going to happen to us. So it’s no wonder God tells us to protect our hearts.
But what is it you should protect your inner life from? In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus gave some very clear teaching. Read Mark 7:15-23. Jesus was telling us to guard against evil thoughts, evil deeds, deceit, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. We are under attack from Satan, and he will do his best to corrupt your thought life. But how can I be sure the issues of life that spring out of the heart are the issues that will honour God in my life?
Here’s some help: Read Colossians 3:5-11.
So the answer is to put on the new person, who is renewed according to the image of God. Put on the new lifestyle, the God lifestyle. Things life love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness—from Galatians 5:22.
God’s Word also says, “Don’t be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). We cannot fool God. He knows all about us, what we do and what we think. It’s true he is concerned with what we do, but he is also just as concerned about why we do what we do. We often try and read people’s motives and we don’t always get it right. God is able to perfectly read our hearts and knows exactly why we do what we do. He rewards us not only on what we have done, but also on why we have done it. God is concerned about our ‘heart’ motives.
It’s true to say thousands of words and images pass through our minds every day. The words we speak and the words we hear from others—the TV images, the billboards, the magazines and newspapers we read. We can’t always choose what we hear and see, but we always do have a choice about what we do with it.
As a Christian, I have a responsibility to let God’s Word and his Holy Spirit help me to assess all the words and images which come to me, and to discard the bad and retain the good. Read Philipians 4:4-9.
So, it’s a great verse to think about. Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”