The Bible and Dating: How To ‘Guard Your Heart’

For more on a Christian perspective of dating, see: With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, and Marriage to the Glory of God by Alex Chediak and I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.

________________________

When you read most Christian dating books, one of the key pieces of counsel they provide is to ‘guard your heart.’ They establish that ‘guarding your heart’ is an essential component of correctly pursuing any dating relationship. The verse that they generally appeal to is Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” However, these generalized calls to ‘guard your heart’ in the midst of dating fall short in three ways:

  1. They tell you to guard your heart, but they don’t tell you how.
  2. They tell you to guard your heart, but they don’t tell you why.
  3. They tell you to guard your heart, but they don’t tell you how long.

How do you Guard Your Heart?

If you are supposed to guard your heart in dating, how do you do it? There is only one other verse in the Bible that uses the phrase ‘guard your heart’, and that verse gives us the answer to the question of how to guard your heart in life in general and in dating in particular.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul tells us that prayer is the pathway to guarding our hearts and minds with the peace of God. Peace comes as a comfort rooted in our trust in God that is expressed in the process of prayer. So, guarding your heart is the result of clear communication.

It begins with prayer to God (as Paul lays out in Philippians 4:6-7) and overflows into communication with the other person. In other words, the key to guarding your heart is to talk to God about the relationship before you talk to the other person about the relationship.

When do hearts become unguarded? First, hearts become unguarded when you move too fast in the relationship–becoming too vulnerable too quickly. You must lay a foundation of friendship before building a house of intimacy. Second, hearts become unguarded when you are not seeking God’s desires for the relationship. Instead of depending on your own understanding and priorities for the relationship, you must seek God’s heart. Third, hearts become unguarded when there is poor communication about the relationship. This can include poor communication with God in prayer or poor communication with the other person in discussion. If you are too afraid to talk to either of them about an aspect of your relationship, then you probably shouldn’t be involved in it.

Why do you Guard Your Heart?

To understand why you should guard your heart, you must understand what Israel would have understood Solomon to be saying in Proverbs 4:23. Most importantly, they did not understand this passage to have anything to do with Americanized dating. While we view the heart as the seat of our emotions and our will, Israel understood the heart to be the center of the whole person–not just the source of emotions and will but also of wisdom and perspective. In essence, the heart referred to who you are as a person.

Solomon rightly realized that what you do flows from who you are. That’s why he instructs Israel to guard the heart (who you are) because the wellspring of life (what you do) flows from it. Therefore, it is essential for you to guard your heart in dating because what you do in a dating relationship flows from who you are in a dating relationship.

Most books on dating treat the idea of guarding your heart as if it merely involves protecting yourself from too much intimacy with someone of the opposite sex. But guarding your heart is so much more than this! It’s a call to protect your character in all that you do. Unless you catch this kind of vision for why you need to guard your heart, it will remain a legalistic, minimalistic endeavor in your life.

How Long do you Guard Your Heart?

Since most Christian dating books put such a premium on guarding your heart, the result is that it often leaves people paralyzed as a relationship develops. Instead of following God’s leadership in how much vulnerability to allow, they seek to set up rigid boundaries on emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy. Let’s be honest–people like rigid boundaries over seeking the Lord because it seems easier; that is, until you realize it doesn’t work.

Am I saying that building boundaries into a relationship in order to guard your heart is wrong? No. What I am saying is that these boundaries should flow from your relationship with God. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 that prayer is the means of guarding your hearts, not boundaries. How you approach your relationship with God is going to directly impact how you approach your relationship in dating.

How long do you guard your heart? It depends on how you define guarding your heart. If we are talking about the type of guarding your heart implied by Christian dating books, then the answer is–guard every aspect of your relationship until God gives you the go ahead to move into deeper intimacy in that area. In other words, it’s a progressive process. But if guarding your heart means protecting who you are so that you can influence what you do, then ‘how long?’ is the wrong question because you should always be protecting your character. In other words, it’s a perpetual process.

Guarding your heart is one of the most important yet least understood facets of Christian dating. It can paralyze you or it can liberate you. Guarding your heart is the key to saving yourself for your future spouse in a way that honors God.

__________________________

For more on a Christian perspective of dating, see: With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, and Marriage to the Glory of God by Alex Chediak and I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.

About these ads

26 thoughts on “The Bible and Dating: How To ‘Guard Your Heart’

  1. Excellent treatment of guarding your heart!

    I had a discussion with one of the guys up here at HGM about this very thing. Surely “Guarding your heart” was not meant in a dating/anti-dating context. It surely has to do with deeper things such as holiness and character development, which both come from closing the distance between us and our King.

    There are so many goofy ideas about dating out there.

    “You will find a wife as soon as you stop looking for one…” — does it make sense to find something you’re not looking for? “I can’t find my keys but I’m not looking…”

    Also – one of my favorites: “God will give you a wife as soon as you are soley satisfied in Him.” — I find it difficult to believe that ALL the married brothers actually arrived at this lofty ideal of purity in heart.

    Phillip – these dating posts are great and right inline with things I’ve been thinking through on my own.

    -nick

    • Thank you so much for writing this article. I did a google search today for “guarding your heart” to gain more clarity about dating and relationships from a Christian perspective. For so long I’ve had questions about dating and guarding your heart that went unanswered. I thought that once I was born again the answers to my questions would be easier to find; however, I’ve found the process to be more difficult. Maybe I read into things too deeply and make them more complicated than what they actually are, which is why I love this article. Finally – a simple answer! I’ve struggled with wondering “how long” and definitely “how” for so long and today I finally have a clear answer. I pray that I receive the answers to my other questions with as much clarity and simplicity as I’ve received this one.

      • Hope you find everything you were looking for about guarding your heart and the perils of daiting: I hope this helps as well. “I have heard countless stories where young men and women were the model child and didn’t provide any problems for their parents until adolescents arrived and lustful relationships developed before they were mature in their emotions. Certainly the youth wouldn’t call this lust; they would say it is romance. We need to place the affections of emotional bonding within the scripturally defined areas. Any affection toward the opposite sex that extends beyond family, friendship, and outside the boundary of a covenant relationship of courtship, should be considered lust and avoided. The emotions can begin to control the youth until often it becomes the most dominant relationship within the family. There are many fallacies with romance in one’s youth that often don’t get talked about.
        Some of the harmful effects of premarital relationships are; it leads one to focus on their singleness and self, along with directing one’s attention toward the fun and excitement within the present culture. All of those emotions and experiences that should be reserved for your future spouse or used bit by bit and piece by piece until less are provided as a gift on the marriage altar. A youth can’t keep cashing checks of pleasure within relationships without using up a reservoir of emotions that were stored for a future time. Every person is given a specific amount and when it is used the vault is emptied. The worse part of this experience is the emotions are locked into a person and often associated with difficulty and pain, which has a play back mode. These play back happen when emotions are triggered with events that provide a stimulus from our memory and can be played over and over again. It can be a song played, a smell of colon or perfume, or frustrations when your future mate does not have those same strengths. These events only serve to provide a foot-hold for Satan with building a fortress within the mind. There are many adults who if are honest with themselves will bear this topic to be true. God desires more from our youth and desires for us to have purity in our relationships. It is rare for two youth to be able to spend any amount of time alone together without one becoming affectionate toward the other.
        The foundation of Courtship provides for a structure to be built around a future mindset and pursuing the opposite sex is with the desire for a meaningful life-long relationship. I desire to be married not because this person makes me feel good, but here is a person that I can build a legacy with and affect future generations. So what does a single person need to focus on if they desire to be prepared for marriage? Since marriage requires stewardship and a desire to serve others, the focus needs to be away from one’s self.” Blessings: Glen

  2. I agree with Nick, this series has been very helpful. But do you really think that “you must lay a foundation of friendship before building a house of intimacy.” I mean, I understand what you are saying here, but I’m still not sure if this statement can be biblically supported. But then again, I am most certainly not the expert here, as you and I both know. ;)

  3. Trav, when I advocate for establishing friendship before building intimacy, I am not saying that this is the two step biblical process to pursuing a God honoring dating relationship, Instead, what I am doing is advocating for people to not make the common mistake in Americanized Christian dating–skipping stages. The tendency of many is to want to skip straight from the introduction stage to the intimacy stage in an effort to discern if this one is ‘The One’. What I am saying is that it is significantly more difficult to discern if they are ‘The One’ if you have not experienced them at a friendship level prior to the pursuit of intimacy. The key is to keep special things special,

  4. Pingback: Linking Up (9/6)-- Stepping in Faith

  5. “Guarding your heart is one of the most important yet least understood facets of Christian dating. It can paralyze you or it can liberate you. Guarding your heart is the key to saving yourself for your future spouse in a way that honors God. “

    Amen, brother.

    So when can we start calling you Dr. Phil? …. hehe

  6. I think about this topic often, as I am in a relationship at the moment and am try to consistently be concious about honoring God in my relationship with this man…can you talk more about boudaries and gurading your heart..i mean if you are wanting to get to know someone and are possibly believing this person could be the one you may spend the rest of you life with, is it okay to let him into your heart and vice versa. i am constant prayer about this, that Our Father will show me where to draw the line and where I can let go…but I am curious as to where you think that is. And is it differnent for everyone or is there distinct guidance in the Word about this ? Thanks for your thoughts…Just found the blog this evening…enjoying it very much !

  7. I can see the importance of this.

    I was seeing a girl before I moved away. I have had few relationships, all because people said I seemed too scared of the lady. The day before I moved away, I had a great kissing encounter with her. Then I moved. Over that summer, we talked on the phone a lot and e-mailed a lot, but I did not feel we had a friendship. I tried hard, real hard, but it wasn’t happening. However, she kept assuring me she would always be there for me. She kept asking me to share more of my life. So I shared my joyws, my hurts, my doubts, and the things about the most distressing parts of my life. She kept demanding that we needed to be a couple, but I didn’t understand how to bridge the 600 mile distance. Within a few weeks, her E-mails and calls became less frequent, always assuring me that we would stay friends and in touch. I will admit that I freaked and may have called her too much. Eventually, she stopped returning calls, letters, gifts, or postcards altogether. 6 months later, I was in the area, and saw her with an engagement ring on her finger.

    I should have known. I should have guarded my heart.

  8. What an excellent response. I’m a second half of life dater, and it just really seems to be a challenge, because we all bring so many life experiences along with us. It seems to get more and more difficult to find someone you can relate to, AND have some level of attraction to. So when I find someone, I tend to jump right in…all the time knowing, I need to guard my heart…but wondering what in the world does that mean. Interestingly, I got that answer a few years ago with Phil. And I’ve used it in one relationship since then…but lapsed into old habits. So today after facing an “anxiety” attack (isn’t it interesting how the verse starts with be ANXIOUS about nothing) I just decided to google the question how to guard ones heart. What an excellent answer. Thanks so much. Every Christian single out there should get a chance to read this.

    Gary

  9. Ah, just found your blog after doing a “guard your heart” search…and loved it! You’re right, no one ever really addresses the how-to.

    I was just mulling the scenario of where I find myself…single, mid thirty’s (ouch, that hurts to say!) and STILL waiting on God. I have to say, I sometimes battle true, full-on disappointment in Him and the looong season of singleness!! I’ve never been one to “date for sport” and thought the waiting/purity/delighting in Him was gonna have some positive effect in the timing process…I was CLEARLY wrong on that one! ha!

    Another observation, I’m recently aware of the ever-so-delicate balance in having an attitude of Expectancy/surely God’s gonna come thru on this any day now and an expectancy that creates an unspoken expectation/pressure (like a bad day in sales)! :/ Know what I mean? Not pretty!
    Anyhoo, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thanks for the great advice!

  10. Pingback: “I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man, but it sure felt nice when he was holdin my hand.” « Chelsie Brooke:

  11. Wow. I was googling for the verse to share with a friend and stumbled upon this blog entry. It’s nice to know I had some things right (like the importance of prayer as the first step, and proceeding as God leads) and I’ve also learnt a thing or two. Thanks for writing this. Will definitely share this with my youths when the opportunity arises!

  12. Pingback: “I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man, but it sure felt nice when he was holdin’ my hand.” | It's time we get to wakin' up.

  13. Awesome post!!! :) Can I ask for a permission to repost this on my blog? Of course, yours are the credit. :) Can I?? :)

  14. This is an accurate view of what guarding heart means. It’s not just really about avoiding sexual immorality, that’s too shallow to what Solomon means of guarding one’s heart, rather it is protecting your character and your position in Christ. What we do mirrors who we really are.

  15. This has to be by far the best explanation of what it means to really guard your heart. My mom has been telling me since I can remember to “guard my heart” but never actually showed me how so I learned the hard way and experienced a lot of crash and burn relationships.

    Just recently getting out of yet another relationship and ran into this article THANK GOD and I am going to apply it to my life starting NOW.

    Thank you,
    Christina

  16. The phrase “guard your heart” in Proverbs has nothing to do with dating. If you actually read Proverbs 4, the context is staying on the path of righteousness and avoiding wickedness. It’s sad how people take one verse of the Bible, twist it out of context just to fit their own ideas. I’m not saying that your ideas are unbiblical, but I am saying that this is not what this Proverbs 4:23 does not and should not be used to support your idea.

  17. Pingback: The End of Courtship? | Fill Up

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s