Guard Your Heart

“Here comes that dreamer,” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him . . .” (Genesis 37:19).

Hatred, envy and jealousy reside most comfortably somewhere in the deep caverns of the human heart. Occasionally they will migrate north to the mind and hang out for while in our thoughts, but their natural habitat is the heart.

For many of us, much of the time, they dwell there unnoticed, hibernating until a particular person or event stirs them and we sense their presence as a kind of ache. Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely described envy as ‘sorrow at another’s good.’

It’s been a long while since I parented toddlers – but it seems to me that toddlers don’t hesitate to put their jealousy and envy on full public display. If there’s another kid in the room who has a toy they’d like to have, they’ll simply walk over and take it. When they perceive a lack of fairness, they’ll be loud with their protest.

Somewhere on the road to adulthood, however, we learn to edit ourselves. We wrap our jealousies in a filter that allows us to be gracious and friendly in public while harboring something dark in the heart. What we might fail to realize is that whatever we harbor in the heart will eventually find its way to our behaviors and words.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard our heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” One translation urges us to guard our heart because “everything you do flows from it.” When it comes to family life, what you harbor in your heart will show up in your home. Said another way, what you harbor in the secret places will eventually go public.

From Heart to Hand        

Three times in Genesis 37:1-11 we are told that Joseph’s brothers hated him. The reasons are stated plainly for us: they hated him because Jacob loved more than any of his other sons (37:3), and they hated him for his dreams in which they would all bow down to him (37:8).

Earlier this week a friend observed to me that what Joseph’s brothers were guilty of went far beyond garden-variety jealousy and envy. What they nurtured in their heart and what they did with their hands were nothing but evil. Being in a remote place, distant from their father while tending the flocks, the hatred and jealousy they felt gave rise to a plan to murder the eleventh brother. Reuben, the eldest among them, intervened – but the alternate plan was equally as violent. They sold Joseph like a piece of property, consigning him to a future of slavery.

What we see at first as hatred and jealousy soon becomes violence. How long did this take? The scripture does not tell us. Perhaps years passed between the provoked jealousy of 37:11 to the ambush near Dothan in 37:19.

Maybe the longer we carry and nurse hatred, envy, and jealousy, the more harm they can do when loosed on the world.

Change of Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day, and the heart plays a big part in the way we celebrate this day. Heart shaped candies, heart shaped gifts, expressions from the heart that are tender and affectionate. That’s the idea.

What we see in the story of Joseph reminds us that the love and affection and good will we carry in the heart has some unruly neighbors. Our heart can be crowded, home to things we’re not proud to acknowledge, much less speak of openly.

On Valentine’s Day we give our heart. But perhaps we need to guard our heart as well. Here are two ways to do that.

First, name and own the envy or jealousy or animosity you might feel toward another person. Say it out loud and say it out loud to someone you trust. Naming what’s in the heart sheds light on it and robs it of power. You pull the teeth from the green monster of envy.

Second, make a practice of praying for whoever that person might be. Recognize that God has a story and purpose for their life just as he does for your own. Try a simple prayer like, “God, do your will and accomplish your purposes in ______’s life.”

One last word. The presence of envy or jealousy in our heart serves to drive us to Jesus and the good news (gospel) of what his death accomplished for us. The last thing any of us can change about ourselves is our heart. I can mask what’s in my heart. I can confess what’s in my heart. But truly changing my heart is not something I can do by trying harder to be better.

For that I need something beyond myself, something supernatural. I need God’s grace – and grace is what God freely and gladly gives us as we turn in faith to Jesus. He pours his love into our hearts by the gift of his Spirit (Romans 5:5). And that’s a love worth celebrating.

How will you take steps to guard your heart today?


Sovereign God, you know my heart. You see the dark things I harbor there as well as the good things I desire to be and do. Change my heart be more like yours, filling it with your grace and making me a bearer of that grace to others, I ask in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.

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