Spend any time reading Scripture and you quickly discover God isn’t fooled by external appearances. Unlike mankind, God’s heart doesn’t gravitate toward those who are the most powerful, beautiful, intellectual or influential. Throughout Scripture, God chooses the least-likely candidate—by human estimation—to fulfill most of his major missions. Given the great chasm separating God’s thinking from ours, can we know how to live a life that pleases God?

The wise King Solomon sheds a little light on this dilemma in one of his proverbs.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov. 4:23)

God is never interested in the externals alone. He looks at our heart—the place where our secret thoughts, judgments, and dreams hide. God knows that whatever lurks unseen has the power to grow and shape us. Will the things we hold in the secret places of our heart grow like a cancer? Or will they grow to become a spring from which flow rivers of life?

What does it really mean to watch over your heart? How can we tend the garden that grows there and safeguard it from unwanted pests?

Solomon instructs us that growing in Godly wisdom lies at the root of guarding our heart. In what seems like an attempt to define a word by using that same word in its definition, the wise king writes,

The beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom…prize her and she will exalt you. (Prov. 4:7-8)

This unusual sentence construction underscores an important point. To grow in the kind of wisdom that acts as a guardrail to our heart, we must first desire to grow in wisdom.

A life that pleases God requires deep inner work

And right there we discover the stumbling block many of us encounter. We claim to want to be wise, yet we’re unwilling to do the deep inner work required to actually acquire Godly wisdom and understanding. So, how do we grow in wisdom? By watching over our heart with all diligence and by acquiring wisdom. He uses the words diligent watchfulness and acquisition. These words are not passive. The writer isn’t describing half-hearted attempts at kindness or occasional efforts to think of others when convenient. These words paint a picture of someone who is putting forth significant effort to actively search for wisdom.

This is an appeal to stand sentry over our heart, parsing out what we will allow into our inner sanctum and what we must expel. We will necessarily have to let go of some habits and attitudes if we hope to make space for wisdom to reign in our hearts. We must actively pursue wisdom if we hope to live a life that pleases God.

The work of diligently guarding our heart—expelling the evil we discover lurking there and refusing to cede new ground to the enemy—is not for the faint of heart. Without humility, our heart-probing may lead to increased pride and denial as a self-defense strategy against all we discover. Likewise, without a healthy self-love, our journey inward could result in crippling shame. We can only pursue this difficult work of guarding our heart by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

A life that pleases God is a rewarding life

We read in this same chapter of Proverbs that those who live according to Godly wisdom will be exalted and adorned with a garland of grace and a crown of beauty. The more God’s grace transforms us, the more we reflect his beauty to the world around us.

How do we live a life that pleases God? First, we begin by desiring God’s wisdom to lead and guide us. Next, we acquire Godly wisdom through diligent study of his Word and regular times of prayer—not just to ask things of God, but to listen in the stillness for him to speak to us. Finally, as we grow in Godly wisdom, we must also be willing to take a deep look inside to discern what attitudes, habits, and thought-patterns we need to leave behind.

As we guard our heart, we can be assured the rewards of grace and beauty are not for us alone. They are meant to be a blessing to all who encounter us. From every diligently watched-over heart will flow springs of life to bless and heal the broken world around us. A heart transformed by the wisdom of God is a life that pleases God as it reveals his glory to the wider world.