Have you ever heard of atherosclerosis? It is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, and it can restrict blow flow to vital organs. It’s responsible for cardiovascular disease. It leads to heart attacks, strokes and even death. It’s the number one killer in America. What leads to this disease? Bad cholesterol and plaque build up in arteries. Eventually, there is so much build up in there that significant blockages in the arterial walls occur. This is when real problems start. Unless there are radical changes through surgery and lifestyle habits, a person will die. This tragic disease is avoidable and preventable. There is much literature readily available to address this disease, yet people choose to ignore it.
People–Christians and non-Christians alike–can suffer from a similar spiritual disease. It’s called a hardened heart. It too can lead to tragedy and death. It too is avoidable and preventable. It’s treatable, but it requires spiritual repentance and radical transformation that can only happen with divine intervention. Do you suffer from a hardened heart? Do you even know the warning signs of this disease? Do you take it seriously in your own life? You should because it will affect your life in every way!
I am always amazed when people in third world countries hear the Word of God for the first time and accept Jesus without hesitation. They live in poverty and have seen and maybe even experienced more than what seems their fair share of death and disease. Yet here they are with thankful and open hearts. In contrast, Americans are rich compared to living standards in many parts of the world. We live in the land of plenty. We confuse our wants and our needs. The sad part is, the Gospel is old news for many people. It’s lost its luster in our lives. Most Americans have four or five Bibles readily accessible to them, but they never read any of them. These Bibles sit there on shelves like decorations or statement pieces. We go to church on Sunday and sing memorized songs and hope we sound good when we sing them instead of caring whether our songs are truly an act of worship to God. We hold tight to our pocketbooks even when the pastor mentions the financial state of the church in these tough economic times. We yawn when we hear the same portion of scripture yet again during communion. We stare at our watch wondering when church will let out so we can grab a bite to eat. We ignore countless opportunities to serve in the church when the need is great. We freak out when something bad happens and fill our minds with worry and doubt. We judge our non-Christian coworkers for their poor lifestyle choices. We would rather watch our favorite TV show, text, Twitter or post on Facebook than spend time alone with the Lord. Does any of this describe you? If so, be careful! Your heart may be in danger of hardening.
What are the warning signs of this spiritual disease?
1. A hardened heart fails to perceive spiritual truth. People may sense it with their eyes and ears, but never understand any of it. They become dull, calloused and closed off. They are hurting but cannot be healed (Isaiah 6-9:10). People become darkened, ignorant and separated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). Matthew 13 gives the Parable of the Sower. Hardened earth is no place for a seed to grow. The soil of a man’s heart must be just right for God’s Word to bloom. Verses 19-22 describes a hardened heart: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”
2. A hardened heart lacks compassion for others. How can we show compassion when our hearts are not aligned with God? God calls us to care for our fellow man. 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Matthew 25:37-40 says that when we help others in need, we serve Christ. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Jesus suffered greatly on our behalf, and he calls us to suffer much as Christians and to share in the sufferings of others. If we fail to lack compassion, we are living the opposite of a Christian lifestyle.
3. A hardened heart affects our closest relationships. I have an aunt with a very hardened heart. Her children despise her and won’t speak with her. She doesn’t see her grandkids. She isn’t married. She has sown a lot of hurt and pain among her brothers and sisters in the family because of her vicious words and actions. She has forced people to distance themselves from her. She breaks every bridge she tries to build with others. She can’t keep a relationship alive or hold a job even with kind and caring employers. She lies, cheats and walks over people to get what she wants. Her words can be a bitter poison. And now my grandma, being in a new stage of life of dependency upon others for care, is beginning to realize the patterns in my aunt’s life after years of believing my aunt has always been wronged; the victim of misfortune. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve experienced in life. Divorce is often a result of hardened hearts. Marriage is the most intimate earthly relationship of all. Matthew 19:8: “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” It is sin that causes this separation in marriage and this sin is caused by a separation from God because our hearts have become darkened and corrupted.
4. A hardened heart is given over to evil and wickedness. Our imaginations can run wild a lot of the time, and when we aren’t right with God, we start to live out our thoughts. Genesis 6:5-6: “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 it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” How tragic that God’s heart was grieved because of our sinful nature. It deeply affected our Creator. Romans 1:28-32 says that when people don’t retain the knowledge of God, He gives them over to a reprobate mind. What are our minds like when they are not filled with Christ? Horrible! Just read this passage of scripture for a complete list of sins God says make us worthy of death.
5. A hardened heart doubts and worries instead of having faith. As new Christians, we often have a lot of faith, but over time we have to be careful not to replace this faith with doubt. I encourage you to read Mark 6:45-52 and Matthew 14:15-21. We have two great examples of the this with Jesus’ own disciples in the feeding of the 5,000 and violent storms on the Sea of Galilee. We see the disciples guilty of what we are often guilty of: trusting in the natural instead of the supernatural. It’s strange that even though they witnessed miracles often and walked with Jesus daily, they still had fear, doubt and worry. When we fail to consider how God has blessed us in the past, then our hearts have become hardened. God can and does work miracles. Let us not forget them nor grow accustomed to them so much so that they lose their excitement and ability to bolster our faith.
6. A hardened heart cannot hear God speaking to them. As a Christian, if I ever stopped hearing God and Holy Spirit speak to me all together, I’d be very afraid and on my knees! Let me tell you, I’ve had times where I’ve been close. How can God guide us and direct our paths without the Holy Spirit’s prompting? Hebrews 3:7-15 speaks about being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”
These people, God’s people weren’t allowed to enter His rest. How scary! God takes hard heartedness very seriously. This spiritual disease leads to nothing but bad decisions, poor choices, carnal living, separation from God, closing off of the Holy Spirit’s influence, pain and suffering for ourselves and others, lack of compassion, and ultimately death and destruction. Pharaoh’s heart was already hardened when God sealed in shut forever and then used him as vessel to show just how great and powerful God is to the whole world. Don’t seal your heart shut forever from God. We never know when we will breathe our last breath.
Pray this prayer today: Dear Lord, I thank you that my heart opened up to you and accepted Jesus. Please show me areas of of my life where my heart is already hardened or in danger of being hardened. Please till the soil and make the ground fertile again. Open me to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let your Word implant, grow and produce fruit in my life. Please help me to have a heart that loves you and seeks after you each and every day. Amen.”
Later this week, in Part 2 I will write about how we can have spiritual healing if we suffer from a hardened heart.