What Does It Mean 'Above All Else, Guard Your Heart' in Proverbs 4:23?

The Bible warns, "above all else, guard your heart" (Proverbs 4:23). But how do we do that? Here's what we can tell from the passage and other Bible verses.

Updated Oct 27, 2023
What Does It Mean 'Above All Else, Guard Your Heart' in Proverbs 4:23?

Many verses in the Bible refer to guarding our hearts in various ways, but Proverbs 4:23 says the exact words: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

To understand why we need to guard the heart above all else, let’s consider what kind of heart Proverbs is talking about.  In Hebrew, the word heart is Lev, which speaks of the heart as the inner man, the place where decisions are made, our conscience—the soul. The “heart” is our inner being, not just an organ that pumps blood but our soul, our real self. Ir is from our hearts that our deepest thoughts and desires come.

Although the heart is mentioned hundreds of times in Scripture, none refer to the organ. Instead, the Scripture uses the heart as a metaphor for the inner man. What we are on the inside will sooner or later express itself on the outside, in our words and actions. Thus, the heart is like a “wellspring” out of which flows everything in our lives—whether good or evil; if we guard our heart, we will keep ourselves from evil.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 tells us to love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. We may think God wants our time, money, and every drop of energy we have to offer, but above all, He wants our love. Not a half-hearted, only-when-I-need-you kind of love. He desires a love that consumes our hearts, fully influences our behavior and choices, and defines our lives. 

Consider this verse’s context to understand what phrases like “above all else” and “everything you do flows from it” mean when it comes to guarding our hearts. Solomon approaches Proverbs 4 from the perspective of a father giving his sons instruction for life. In the first verse alone, there are three commands: Listen, pay attention, and gain understanding. There is no mistaking his intent. The words he delivers are weighty and worthy of our full attention as we move toward verse 23. 

In verse 5, we’re told to get wisdom and understanding, not to forget or turn away from them. In verses 6-13, the whys that drive the reason we are to get and keep wisdom. Unlike some fathers who tell children to do something simply because they told them to, with no further explanation, Solomon clearly communicates why it is vital to remain on the path of wisdom. His instruction continues in verses 20-22, leading up to verse 23: “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 one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Why You Should Guard Your Heart

We should guard our hearts because it’s there that decisions are made. Our lives, as well as others, are directly impacted by our hearts. Guarding your heart is essential in the context of sin because it helps you protect your innermost self from the deceptive allure of sinful temptations. It involves making choices that align with your moral and spiritual values, avoiding harmful influences, and striving for a pure heart. While it doesn't make you immune to sin, it helps you resist its pull and maintain a strong moral and spiritual foundation.

This is where wisdom plays a vital role. It is our responsibility to be vigilant in guarding our hearts, but it’s impossible to do it alone. James 1:5 says that when we ask God for wisdom, He gives it generously to all without finding fault. His wisdom helps us to stay alert to the enemy’s schemes that desire to lead our hearts astray. If the enemy leads our thinking process astray, our actions will soon follow, ultimately leading our lives astray and possibly others as well. Our hearts are not the only ones at stake. And it’s why we guard our hearts like soldiers fiercely guarding their command center.

10 Ways  to Guard Your Heart

Like a good father, God doesn’t leave us guessing how we can guard our hearts. Here are some of those ways: 

1. Seek out (James 1:5) and retain the wisdom God is giving you (Proverbs 4:5).

2. Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We don’t allow our minds to wander off. Before allowing thoughts to enter our “command center,” we ensure they align with God’s Word and are healthy to our whole being. We’re not responsible for the thoughts that come to mind, but we are responsible for the thoughts we allow to enter the mind.

3. Look straight ahead, and fix your gaze directly before you. Don’t turn to the left or the right. Walk in what you know to be true (Proverbs 4:25).

4. Give careful thought to your ways (Proverbs 4:27).

5. Desire eternal treasure, not temporal, for that is where your heart will also be (Matthew 6:21).

6. Cultivate a grateful heart and tell of God’s wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).

7. Be content. Paul tells us godliness with contentment is great gain, warning us not to be eager for money as it has caused some people to wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-12).

8. Guard your eyes. Have you heard the saying that our eyes are windows to the soul? Consider how many families have been destroyed by pornography alone, or how a glance can quickly become lust, leading to further destruction of families (Psalm 101:3).

9. Guard your ears. Everything we hear, regardless of who is saying it, needs to align with Scripture. When we choose music and podcasts with hope-filled messages, it feeds our souls and helps to guard our hearts against ungodly influences (Proverbs 18:21).

10. Hit stop on the recorder that plays on repeat in your mind. Hurtful words “recorded” in your mind from the past, either by someone else or yourself, can stop today with God’s help. The enemy seeks to destroy your life spiritually and physically, but God longs to heal your every wound and replace them with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

A Prayer to Guard My Heart

Lord, I am helpless without You. Every day, I’m tempted to look and hear things against You, not for You. Give me the strength and determination of a mighty warrior to guard and defend my heart and mind at all costs, protecting what matters—my walk with You, my witness to others, and the joyful preservation of my family and community.

Author and Perfecter of my faith, thank You for the new heart and new spirit You have placed within me. I pray for Your wisdom and discernment in showing me what it means to guard my heart so that every thought, every word spoken, and every action will reflect a cleansed and readied heart. Lord, just as the mountains surround Jerusalem and You surround Your people, I ask that You surround my heart with Your protection and help me guard it above all else. Amen.

Further Reading:

Don't Follow Your Heart

Good Communication Begins With the Heart

The Key to Having a Thankful Heart

Photo Credit: Unsplash/DESIGNECOLOGIST

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

No Rest for the Wicked
Fight the Good Fight
Wait on the Lord
With Contrite Heart and Spirit
Faith Can Move Mountains


Christianity / Life / Bible / What Does It Mean 'Above All Else, Guard Your Heart' in Proverbs 4:23?