As men regularly facing challenges, confusion, and pressure on numerous levels in life these days, we may well feel like gladiators battling numerous foes single-handedly. This is why the focus of our spring series of blog posts is, “In the Arena.”

We want to show up, do well, provide for and defend those who are counting on us. And at the same time, we ourselves are weary, hesitant to engage and don’t always know how to lead effectively.

Last week I asked one man, an effective businessman in the medical field, what he feels when he pictures himself as a man entering an arena that will require spiritual leadership on his part. Without hesitation, he responded, “Ill-equipped. About to be slaughtered.” That pretty well sums it up. He thinks he’s alone, but he’s not. We all are men “In the Arena.”

Our theme verses in the next few posts are I Cor. 16:13, 14, the most concise statement in all of Scripture of God’s calling to men:

“Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith,

be men of courage, be strong.

Do everything in love.”

In just 2 sentences, 19 words, we have God’s charge and guidance for us in what lies ahead.

This week we look at the phrase, “Be on Your Guard.” Those words always make me think of the word “vigilant.” I picture a sentry in the military standing watch, patrolling the perimeter of an installation at home or an outpost in a foreign battleground.  The sentry is on guard, the first line of defense for those who count on him.

We are called to be like him. Pay attention. Be vigilant. Men, in these challenging days of battle in an arena, we must be on our guard against many threats. We could make a list of them…but we won’t; we don’t need to; we know what they are.

In meditating on the thought of being on our guard, I must refer us to another one of the most shockingly succinct commands in all of Scripture. It’s Prov. 4:23:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

This Proverb is telling us that if we choose to guard only one thing in our lives, this is it. Your heart. First on the list, guard your heart; it’s where everything else begins.

The Bible refers to the heart in many ways: among them, as a source of purity, joy and inspiration. In all of these images, the point is the heart is the core of who we are as God’s creation. The author of this Proverb is stating in very clear terms what he sees as being one of the highest priority messages he could possibly give his readers. In summary I believe we can take away 3 lessons for us:

  1. Our heart is the source of our Purity. We need to guard it from Lust. It’s clear from the verses surrounding v. 23 that we are being urged not to sin,

“Put away perversity from your mouth…

Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.”

The great majority of us men struggle on some level with thought life, lust, pornography, and for many, with promiscuity. I Cor. 6:18 urges us:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body,

but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.”

Men, this is the sin that targets ourselves. All other sins primarily harm others; this is the one that primarily harms us.

Many of us know the ease with which a tempting thought, or a double-take glance can distract us. The easy and expansive availability of pornography is simply a click or two away.

And sadly, we don’t even need to search for temptation. It comes tracking after us online, in side-bar ads or our junk folder. We may think it’s not that big of a deal, but it can kill us. It goes inward, and it harms the heart. We have to be like a sentry, we have to be vigilant!

Men, let’s draw lines in the places we are vulnerable. We need to decide we are:

  • Drawing a line on some behavior or habit that causes us to sin
  • Drawing a line on some setting that invites trouble
  • Drawing a line on isolation, committing to inviting a friend who walks alongside us in our pursuit of purity.

Guarding our heart means we realize it is the source of our Purity. We need to guard it from Lust.

2. Our heart is the source of Joy. We need to guard it from Anger. Anger is so common in men it’s almost assumed that to be male is to be grumpy, distant, hostile or bitter.

Anger is another attitude that primarily harms ourselves. Author Neal Anderson says: “Bitterness is the acid that eats its own container.”Author Anne Lamott writes: “Staying angry at someone is like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die.”

But anger masks what really lies deeper in our hearts. Those who study the field of psychology tell us that anger is a secondary emotion. The great majority of the time for men, the underlying emotion of anger is…fear.

And for almost all angry men, the fear is…loss of respect.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of ineffectiveness
  • Fear of defeat
  • Fear of insignificance

The common thread in our anger is a fear of loss of respect. It keeps us angry and passive at the same time; it even keeps us from entering the arena. Our Enemy, Satan, is thrilled with this arrangement. He wants you and me on the outside, sitting on the sidelines.

Men, we must lean on the true source of significance and self-respect in our lives that never fails: what God thinks of us, and what God did for us.

  • What God thinks of us: Ps. 139: 13, 14: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
  • What God did for us: Ro. 8:32: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

God is the limitless source, and the foundation, of the significance and self-respect we all long for. He is the eternal source that never fails.

Our heart is the source of Joy. We need to guard it from Anger.

3. Our heart is the source of our Inspiration. We need to guard it from Depletion.

This means we must draw healthy boundaries around demands, people and circumstances that deplete, or empty, us. What influences are depleting or draining you as you’re in the arena?

  • Assaults on your time from work expectations? For the health of our hearts, can take an honest look at the hours we invest in our work, and dial back the pressure gauge, where we have the freedom to do so?
  • Assaults from relationships that are more destructive and depleting than life-giving? Of course, we must handle all relationships carefully, but some folks in our lives are gainers, others are drainers. We need to spend time with gainers and draw boundaries against the drainers.
  • Assaults on your spirits from the non-stop, 24/7/30 cycle of bad news, and demeaning rhetoric on social media? I now use Facebook primarily for 2 reasons: to stay in touch with family and longtime friends, and to post messages for Peregrine, The Journey and the Men Matter blog. I decided to no longer mindlessly toss my line and troll in the social media cesspool that masquerades as “community.”

Here again, we get the point. Proverbs 4:23 is telling us, stop killing your hearts! We must be vigilant to guard our heart by drawing boundaries against those influences and relationships that deplete us.

Instead of factors that drain us, we should actively pursue those activities, places and people that are joyfully life-giving:

  • An evening walk around the neighborhood
  • A weekend entry into creation: water, mountains, or a forest that fills your heart
  • Making regular room in our schedule for music, art, reading, or sports

Surround yourself with like-minded men who believe in you, build you up, and encourage you. They say, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” What do our friendships say about us? Do they fill us or deplete us?

I Cor. 16:13, 14 tells us to be on our guard. Be vigilant like a sentry. Prov. 4:23 takes this charge from God even deeper, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

There are at least 3 lessons we can take away from this passage:

  • Our heart is the source of our Purity. We need to guard it from Lust.
  • Our heart is the source of Joy. We need to guard it from Anger.
  • Our heart is the source of our Inspiration. We need to guard it from Depletion.

Remember men, as we stand “In the Arena,” be on your guard, and above all else, guard your heart. Your heart is where everything else begins.