The Path To Life At Its Best

Bible Book: Proverbs  4 : 20-27
Subject: Life; Christian Living; Victorious Living

Proverbs 4:20 - 27

If you believe the sales pitches hyped in the media, you would think that life at its best is achieved by driving a certain make of car, or by using various and sundry products - but the truth is that none of those things can make for quality of life. To find the true path to life at its best, we must turn to the Word of God.

Much of the book of Proverbs involves Solomon giving advice to his son, but in that father’s words of wisdom timeless principles are set forth which God clearly intends for people of all generations - and that includes you and me. Proverbs 4:20 - 27 contains five powerful truths which are particularly relevant to our lives in this day and time:

20 My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.

21 Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.

22 For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” 23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. 24 Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. 25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. 26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. 27 Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

A key statement in that passage is verse 22: “For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” Through Solomon, the Holy Spirit is showing all of us the path to life at its best. That path has five aspects.

I. Be careful what you THINK

vs 23  “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

The writer of Proverbs is using the term “heart” spiritually, to refer to the inner life  -  which is inclusive of intellect, emotion, and will. So, he is saying to us, “Keep”  -  or, literally, “guard”  -  your inner life.

That phrase, “with all diligence,” denotes emphasis  -  even urgency  -  and he makes clear the reason for that urgency: “...for out of it are the issues of life.” He is saying to us that a person is made or broken by what transpires within the secret chambers of his heart.

In Proverbs 23:7 we read, “ he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

The devil tries constantly to blind us to that reality. He tries to lure us into the fallacious notion that unholy, God - dishonoring thoughts and desires aren’t really so bad so long as we keep them bottled up inside  -  so long as we “keep the lid on.” But Jesus said differently. Jesus said, in Matthew 15:19 - 20, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man....”

It was man’s ungodly thought life that led to the flood. Genesis 6:5 says, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” - and then verse 7: “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth….”

Psychologists tell us that the subconscious is like a vast reservoir, and that nothing we see or hear or think is every totally forgotten, it is simply “stored” in our minds  -  and those so - called “forgotten” things have a way of unexpectedly coming to the forefront  -  often at the most inopportune times.  Every one of us spends a lot of time in our own company, and therefore it’s imperative that we fill our minds with the right kind of thoughts.

The apostle Paul, writing under divine inspiration, gives great advice in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Colossians 3:2: “ Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Gary Hundley very appropriately cited those verses in his article, “How to Live a Clean Life in a Dirty World.”

James Merritt used a football illustration.  He said that every coach knows that whichever team controls the line of scrimmage usually wins the game.  Then he said this: “The mind is the line of scrimmage in your life, and whoever controls the line of scrimmage controls your life.”1

All of us would do well to keep this simple prayer in the forefront of our hearts: “Lord and Savior, good and kind, be the Master of my mind.”

II. Be careful what you SAY

vs 24   “Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.”

All our lives we’ve heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

That’s one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated. Words can break hearts. Words can destroy friendships. Words can split churches. Words can tear marriages apart. Words can alienate family members from one another. Words can cause all kind of chaos and sorrow.

Words can burn like acid. Lady Astor and Winston Churchill carried on a war of words constantly. Once Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your tea.” Church responded, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it!”

The inspired writer was saying, in effect, in verse 24, “Watch your tongue!” Many of us get ourselves in a heap of trouble by not guarding our tongue.

Simon Peter became one of the greatest men of God in all of history, but early in his walk with the Lord he was often guilty of blurting out things without thinking. One commentator said that the only times Peter didn’t have his foot in his mouth was when he was changing feet. I can relate to that!

I sometimes feel the need for a speed bump between my brain and my mouth. Someone has wisely said, “If you want to save face, just keep the lower part shut.”

Proverbs 15:23 “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness therein in a breach in the spirit.”

Jesus went so far as to say in Matthew 12:36 - 37, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

Someone might say, “But I thought that being right with God was a matter of the heart,” and that’s absolutely right, but Jesus said in verse 34 of that chapter, “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” All in all, what you and I say is indicative of what is our heart!

There is some wise advice in Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”  As someone has said, “Silence cannot be misquoted.”

III. Be careful what you SEE

Matthew 6:22 - 23 (ESV) “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

There is a sense in which everything that we willfully look at becomes part of us, so we need to take seriously indeed the inspired penman’s admonition given in verse 25 of today’s Scripture passage: “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.”

There is a lot of inspirational material out there that can encourage us and build us up; but at the same time, there is a lot of filth in the print media and in movies and TV and on the internet that we should avoid like we would avoid like we would a deadly disease. I’m thinking right now of a man in a community where we used to live who was regarded as a fine Christian, respected and even looked up to by many - until one day he was discovered looking at pornography on a computer in the public library. People were devastated and hurt - and his influence was utterly destroyed.

The author of Psalm 101:3 wisely said, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless….”

There is good advice in the following verses: Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Psalm 121:1 - 2: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

As we regularly and faithfully read the Word of God, and daily look to him in prayer, this will serve as a deterrent, to keep us from looking on the wrong things.

IV. Be careful how you ACT

verse 26  “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”

Solomon is saying to his son and to all people of all generations, “Before you take action, hold up long enough to ponder the alternatives and the probable consequences.”

In the early 1900’s, before the time of electronic signals and automatic gates at railroad crossings, there was an alarming number of accidents at those crossings, many of those mishaps resulting in death. Dr. William E. Hull told of a contest that was held in 1912, with an award of $3,500 being offered to whoever could come up with the best warning slogan to be used at those crossings. In today’s world that $3,500 would probably be equivalent to over half a million. The winner of the contest was Ralph R. Upton, who submitted the now famous words, “Stop! Look! Listen!” Each of those words was worth over a thousand dollars to Mr. Upton, but they were worth infinitely more to those travelers who were alerted on the brink of disaster.

I believe, as Dr. Hull did, that those three simple words could well serve as a moral and spiritual alert for each of us as we face the intersections of life - that is, as we approach life’s big decisions - such important decisions as to where to live, whether or not to invest our time, energy, influence, and resources in certain proposed activities.

Many years ago Ralph Carmichael wrote a musical entitled “Tell It Like It Is.” At one point in the musical are these words:

Answers are not easy comin’

Even to a full - time mind.

Part - time searchin’ easy goin’

Make the answers hard to find.

Truth is like a sphere shaped object,

More than just one simple side.

Wait till all the fact assemble,

Ponder some and then decide.

There is wisdom in pausing at life’s intersections and pondering whether or not to go forward. Indeed, many a person has - in certain situations - later been extremely thankful that he stopped short of what he was about to do. One lady gave such a testimony in these lines:

There was a lad when I was young,

I worshipped in such wise.

His name was honey on my tongue,

His smile my paradise.

So night on night I prayed and cried,

To win him for my dear.

Thank heaven, God was occupied

With something else that year.

So, don’t act in haste; stop, look, listen, and ask God for guidance.

V. Be careful how you FOCUS

vs 27  “Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil.”

An old-timer walked to town one day to join his buddies on the courthouse lawn, where they were whittling and talking. The old-timer’s dog, Ace, was panting heavily, his tongue hanging out, as if he were on his last leg. One of the man’s buddies said, “How come ol’ Ace is so tuckered out? It ain’t that far from your place to town.” The old-timer said, “Oh, it wasn’t the trip to town that wore him out, it was all of them side trips.”

Well, the devil tries constantly to distract you and me from our main path and lure us off into “side trips” which lead to spiritual weakness and sin. Thus, we need to be sure to keep our focus where it belongs - and the writer of Hebrews 12:1 - 4 made clear where that focus needs to be:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Every person’s first need is to look to Jesus for salvation. The Bible says in 1 Kings 8:46, “for there is no man that sinners not,” and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death” - but, praise the Lord, that verse goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Acts 20:21 names the two conditions for receiving that wonderful, life - changing gift: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Then, following conversion, as we fellowship with the Lord day by day through reading his Word, prayer, worship, service, and witnessing, we are able by his grace to gain an ever - increasing degree of victory over the temptations that assail us.

Years ago, on a foreign mission field, a native was walking along clutching tightly in his hand a hideous idol, the idol his family worshipped. As he walked along, he noticed a crowd gathered, and out of curiosity he walked up close. There was singing, and it was beautiful singing - unlike anything he had ever heard.  He paused to listen. Then a man began to speak.  He told about a man called Jesus, who was more than a man - he was God. As the native listened, without being aware of it his grip on the idol loosened - and as he became enthralled with the message about Jesus, without even being conscious of it he let go of the hideous idol, and it dropped to the ground with a soft thud.

That, in the last analysis, is the way to defeat Satan, put sin away, and experience life at its best.

I love that familiar chorus:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into his wonderful face,

and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

Obviously it is necessary in life to give time and attention to various and sundry responsibilities - but in the midst of it all, we need to be sure that our focus is on Jesus.

So there they are, clearly set forth in the inspired, infallible Word of the living God - the five components of the path to life at its best: be careful what you think; be careful what you say; be careful what you see; be careful how you act; and be careful how you focus!


1  from a sermon by James Merritt, “Mind Games”