Over the past few weeks I have notice a pattern, that left unchecked, will impose devastating limitations to reaching my full potential. It is a pattern everyone can easily fall into. It seems to happen without even us even realizing it. When it is pointed out in our lives, we often come up with excuses, rather then dealing with the root issue.
The pattern I am noticing to, is allowing our hearts to become calloused and hard.
We don’t do this intentionally. But slowly, over time we allow irritants to rub against our heart and soul rather than deal with them immediately. This can happen in a variety of different ways. Sometimes we choose to carry offense or harbor disappointment, rather resolve these issues in a healthy way. It can happen when an unkind work is spoken to us and we don’t address it. It can begin to occur when we experience rejection or find ourself frozen in fear. For some of us, God has allowed hardship and difficulty in our lives and we haven’t come to terms with it yet, burying our frustration or anger deep inside. Perhaps it began when we heard a tough teaching from a pastor at church and we subsequently permitted a seed of doubt or bitterness to nestle into our hearts.
The Bible tells us we should not be surprised when we face challenging situations. Jesus warned us, “In this world your will have tribulation” (John 16:33). However, rather then understanding this and choosing to process each difficult situation, we often absorb them and bury them far beneath the surface. Each of these situations, if left unresolved can lead us into the very thing Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:19. He warned that we can “become callous” and by holding on to these things rather then dealing with them directly. We hope no one will notice and slowly build up callouses on our hearts until we begin to lose the ability to feel things the way God intended for us.
Take 30 seconds right now and check your heart… have you allowed any callouses to form?
When we lose our ability to feel, we also lose the ability to understand and interpret the reality of our lives. We begin to lose the ability to know and respond to the tender promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and unintentionally become responsive only to our own limited understanding of the world. If we are asked about these hurts, we slough it off and claim that they don’t affect us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unresolved offense, hurt, suspicion and doubt do not go away without intentionally dealing with them.
While the emotional ramifications of allowing our hearts to become hardened is devastating, this post is not about our feelings… exploring that angle of this issue is a topic for another post. Today, I would like to deal with the impact developing hardness in our hearts has on our ability to know and understand the world around us.
26 times in the scripture we read about people whose hearts were hardened. For a few of these people we read that it was God who hardened their heart. However many other times we read that people allowed their own heart to be hardened. But here is the crazy part… every time we read in scripture of a person’s heart becoming hard, we discover that they lost the ability to understand the reality of their situation. Consider this list of examples:
The Impact of Hardened Hearts:
- Pharaoh – Exodus 7-14: 15 times we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He consequently failed to see what should have been obvious and he guided his nation into devastating series of disasters. All this happened because he lost the ability to know and understand what was happening right in front of his eyes.
- King of Sihon – Deuteronomy 3:20: The Israelites, wandering in the desert, sent a request to peacefully pass through Heshbon to King Sihon. However, his heart was hardened and he failed to respond. Instead of allowing the Israelites to pass, he engaged in war. In the end there were no survivors left and Israel took complete possession of the land.
- Philistine Leaders – 1 Samuel 6:6: This is a fascinating story of when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant. They immediately faced rampant plagues and diseases. The leaders summoned their pagan priests to advise them. These priests identified that their leaders lack of understanding was the same as the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. Even pagan priests understood the dangers of hardened hearts
- King Zedikiah – 2 Chronicles 36:13: This 21 year old king ruled in Jerusalem for 11 years. However, he rejected the words and knowledge of the prophets and previous kings. We read that he “stiffened his neck and hardened his heart” and the wrath of God unleashed on him and the people.
- King Nebuchadnezzar – Daniel 5:20: The great Babylonian King who had experienced the wisdom, blessing and guidance of God through Daniel, became proud and hardened his heart. Scripture tells us he lost his mind, became insane for many years and lived like a beast in the fields.
- Pharisees – Matthew 19:18 & Mark 10:5: Jesus is responded to the unbelieving and caustic religious leaders by explaining how God allowed for divorce in certain situation, to address the brokenness that results when people allow hardened hearts to break relationships. He used this moment to indirectly accuse the Pharisees of hardening their own hearts, and therefore being unable to understand God’s word.
- Religious Leaders – Mark 3:5: Jesus identified that their hardened hearts had driven them to habitual and legalistic misapplication of the law. Again, the hardened hearts caused these men to be unable to understand what God intended.
- The Disciples – Mark 6:42: In this passage Jesus addressed the terror in his disciples after they watched him walk on the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. He rebuked them for allowing their hardened hearts to prevent them from understanding what he was teaching.
- The Disciples – Mark 8:17: Two chapters after the previous passage, the disciples still had not allowed their hearts to soften. Jesus rebukes them again for failing to understand his teachings.
- The Disciples – Mark 16:14: Jesus rebuked the disciples a third time for allowing hardened hearts to prevent them from believing. This was one of the last things Jesus said to them before his ascension.
- Unbelieving Crowd – John 12:40: In this passage, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 regarding a group of people who refused to believe. His reference to the prophet linked the hardness of their hearts, to a generational pattern that prevented them from truly knowing God.
- The Church – Ephesians 4:18-19: In this passage, Paul exhorted the Ephesian church, challenging them to walk according to the teachings of Christ and not like the Gentiles. He explicitly says that those who do not follow Jesus way, “have become callous and have given themselves up…”
Every person whose heart became hard, lost the ability to know and understand their reality the world around them. The pattern is clear! Allowing our hearts to be hardened… even a little bit, prevents us from fully understanding our situation. The ramifications of this can be devastating. So what can we do to avoid having the calloused hearts Paul warns us about in Ephesians 4? There is actually only one solution, and it is shared by Paul in the very next verse. “The truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24).
We can choose to bury and ignore the challenges of life, ultimately allowing them to create callouses on our hearts that limit our ability to know and understand the world around us and prevent his from hearing the voice of God in our lives. Or we can choose to take soften our hearts by following the guidances and timeless wisdom of Paul. The choice is ours.
The 30 Second Heart Check – Ask yourself these three questions:
- Put Off Old Self – Is there anything in my heart I need to reject?
- Renew Our Mind – Is there anything in my mind I need replace?
- Put on New Self – Is there anything in my life I need to resume?
My prayer for us, is that we would have the courage to routinely do a 30 Second Heart Check. If we take time to regularly identify and face the little irritations that have the potential to develop into callouses we will ensure our hearts remain soft.
Soft hearts, in the hand of an Almighty God can be used to know, understand and accomplish incredible things.