(this transcript has been lightly edited for readability)
Well, one of the dominant themes in Proverbs is the centrality of the heart. You cannot read the Proverbs without concluding that your body only goes where your heart has already gone; your mouth only goes where your heart has already gone; your eyes only go where your heart has already gone. And so, we need this emphasis in Proverbs. It probably reaches its early crescendo in Proverbs 4, where the father says to his son, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” We could put it in modern language, “Son, if you do anything. guard your heart because life comes out of your heart.”
Now, we have to unpack what this word means. ‘Heart,’ if we take all the ways the Bible talks about this word, the Bible describes the heart as the control center of your personhood; it's the center of your thoughts, it’s the center of your desires, it’s the center of your emotions, it’s the center of your purposes and your motivations. And so, the father is saying, “This is what drives you, this is what controls you, this is what shapes your living. You have got to be concerned about your heart.” And the Proverbs would tell us the way to guard your heart is to have a Godward heart, to surrender your heart to the will and the way, the presence and the glory, of this God who looms so large in Proverbs.
Proverbs is a case study in what the heart does. You have all these different postures of the heart that are discussed in Proverbs: The foolish heart, the wise heart, the joyful heart, the grieving heart, the evil heart, the righteous heart, the tranquil heart, the understanding heart, the foolish heart, the just heart, the cheerful heart, the arrogant heart, the greedy heart, the angry heart, and the list just goes on and on.
The Proverbs helps you to realize that what's hot and happening in you is your heart; that what controls your heart has you. Your life always lives under the control of the heart. That means lasting change, in any person's life, always starts with your heart. Proverbs would say the heart is a problem, and Proverbs would remind me that my greatest problem in all of my life doesn't exist outside of me; it's not those less-than-perfect people and all those less-than-perfect places in my life. My greatest problem is inside of me. It's the thoughts and motives and idols of my own heart. It's the tendency for me to put myself in the center when God must be in the center.
Well, this means that we can all find comfort in the bright golden promise of the New Covenant. What’s that promise? “I will give them (Can you finish it?) a new heart.” (Ezek. 36:26) You see, if in the grace of Jesus, there isn't renewal of my heart, rescue of my heart, that grace isn’t grace.
You don't need so much reformation in your behavior because your behavior only changes in a lasting way if your heart first changes. So, you read the Proverbs and it's your heart, your heart, your heart, your heart, your heart, your heart. So that, you and I would pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalms 51:10-12) My prayer is that your study of the Proverbs would lead you to pray that prayer. “Oh, Lord, won't you create in me a clean heart,” Because, if there is not a hope of a clean heart, there is no hope for me!