One of my favorite Proverbs is 4:23; “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” I’m currently on a new studying system where I read and meditate over a chapter of Proverbs in the morning and a chapter of Psalms at night just before I go to bed. And every time I get to chapter four of Proverbs, I know I’m going to read this verse. I know I’m going to feel led to reflect on what it means to guard or keep your heart and how to do so vigilantly. But when I read through chapter four this time, another verse stood out to me; “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure,” (4:26). It stood out to me because it’s clustered with verse 23, which made me think about all the ways that we guard our hearts. Part of guarding our hearts involves disallowing worries and anxieties and doubts to consume and control us. They’re normal things we feel as humans, but they have no business controlling how we live our lives. And yet this verse still says “ponder the path.”
Earlier in the chapter, the author (let’s just assume Solomon), warns against following evil-doers in the things they do; “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil,” (v. 14). This tells me that one’s “path” is what one practices or does. There is the path to righteousness and the path to Sheol; the practice of God’s commandments and the practice of sin. When I packed up my laptop and books before going to Starbucks, I thought about what Solomon was trying to get at with this verse.
There are several things he could be saying in the verse, several interpretations to what Solomon might be getting at. We could look at this verse in a believer/non-believer sort of way where the two paths are believing in God or not believing in God, but I don’t think this is what Solomon meant. It is one thing to believe in God, but it is entirely another to follow. Demons believe in God, but are in constant rebellion against Him. This leads me to believe the second interpretation of the verse: Solomon isn’t advising to evaluate whether or not one believes in God, but rather whether or not one is following God’s footsteps.
I have found this to be a crucial part of following Jesus; knowing where you’re going and what you’re doing. I’ve never read through the entire book of Psalms before and when I read the first chapter, I was struck by the first two verses; “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” This struck me because there are many, many days where God is hardly on my mind. And usually, in those days, I’m not doing well. I’m either living in sin or I’m worried about what might happen tomorrow. And if I go a while without thinking of God or reading Scripture, chances are I’m trying to handle things on my own. One thing I usually do to handle the pain on my own is simply ignore it. I either avoid the tough talks with friends about how things are going or I do something to zone out completely, like watching hours of movies or TV shows.
And even though I may feel like things are under control when I do this, they aren’t. Eventually I feel the worries or the guilt again and if I haven’t dealt with any of it, it is usually worse the second time around. If I still don’t want to deal with it, then a new anxiety arises; I start worrying that I’ll never change, which leads me to believe that there is no one to help me. When I try to handle things on my own, I go crazy. And yet, as Solomon seems to indicate here, if I would just think about what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been going, and deal with it by turning back to God, my heart would be put at ease and “all [my] ways [would] be sure.”
Following Jesus, the path of righteousness, is not easy. Not only does it call us to a completely different style of living; it calls us to be anti-complacent, to constantly keep tabs on where we’re at with God. It beckons us to question the intent of our actions, the purpose behind the things that we do. It calls us to guard our hearts not just physically or emotionally, but intellectually. Because at the end of the day, keeping our hearts in tune with God’s path will produce the “springs of life.” And we can only make sure this happens by “[pondering] the path of [our] feet.”