We’ve all heard of hardening of the arteries. It’s when fat builds up on the inside walls of the arteries and hardens, restricting the flow of blood and oxygen. Spiritual hardening of the heart works in the same way. Anger or hurt builds up until there is little space for the Holy Spirit to flow through. Then our minds become narrow and our hearts become hard.
What hardens our Hearts? The Bible lists four ways our hearts can become hardened.
- Stubborn and Unyielding—The Egyptian Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he wouldn’t let Israel go, no matter what plagues God rained down on him. His stubbornness desecrated his country, and killed its citizens. If we pretend we don’t hear God, He won’t force us–he’ll just stop talking.
- Unsympathetic or a lack of mercy – The Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus for healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Their total lack of concern for their countryman grieved Jesus. When we’re jaded to another’s pain, we run the risk of becoming hard hearted.
- Unbelief –When the disciples seemed to forget Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand, and when they didn’t believe their friends had seen the risen Christ, Jesus called them hardhearted. We don’t want to be naive, but we need to believe God’s word, even if what it says is uncomfortable to hear.
- Pride – After interpreting the writing on the wall, Daniel told King Belshazzar that his father’s downfall was due to pride hardening his heart. Pride gives us a nice feeling for a few minutes, but it leads to a whole lot of hurt. When we think too highly of ourselves, we exhibit the result of a hard heart, and run the risk of having everything taken away.
The hardening process doesn’t happen overnight; it’s developed slowly, layer by layer. A hard heart many times is a defense mechanism – a way to keep ourselves from hurt. Our hearts get jaded or hardened every time we decide to close up. If we’ve been lied to we may choose not to believe anything unless we see it for ourselves. If we’ve been rejected, we may never let anyone get close enough to hurt us again. Maybe to see another’s pain hurts us too much, so we decide not to look. Or maybe we’re extra talented, and we overlook other’s accomplishments.
How can we change?
We have to consciously soften our hearts. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. It takes prayer and work. Here are some steps we can take to soften our hearts.
- Don’t take offense. We have a choice how we take things. We can always find the negative…. or not. Our choice.
- When the thought comes to mind, “I’m not going to let them get by with that!” stop. Ask God how he wants you to react.
- Don’t rehearse what you should have said. This is really hard, but it just reinforces the negative feeling you have, and you’re more likely to take it out on someone else.
- Acknowledge that sometimes people lie, but not everyone does. If there is a question, ask God what He thinks and keep your heart open. He’ll tell you what to believe.
- Don’t assume that another’s pain is justified, that they brought it on themselves. Even if they have, mercy trumps judgment. Think of the times we’ve made mistakes and try to give that person the benefit of the doubt.
- Remember we aren’t the only ones with talent, and let others have their time to shine. It doesn’t diminish us, there’s room for everyone.
You have feelings, God knows that. You don’t have to be perfect, just let Him know you’re willing to open up. God knows you’ve been hurt, and He doesn’t want you to be hurt again, but sometimes we nurse it. And when we do, another layer forms making it harder for Him to get through to us. If we continue, layer upon layer builds until we are hard, bitter and miserable.
A soft heart isn’t a doormat, it’s freedom.