Keeping a Soft Heart in a Hard World
We live in a hard world…and we encounter it everyday.
We’ve all attended the school of hard knocks, lived between a rock and hard place, and discovered that there are no hard and fast rules. We meet people who are as hard as nails, drive a hard bargain, and are a hard act to follow. We encounter circumstances that are hard to swallow, and know people who have fallen on hard times. We’re hard pressed, hard up, play hard to get, and need hard cash. Along the way, we run into hard voices, faces, attitudes…and hearts. Out of sheer self-protection, our tendency is to become hard ourselves: we take a hard line, develop hard feelings, and in the process become hard-hearted. Of course, we know without being told that this is not what the Lord wants for us. So, let’s take a long, hard look at what the Bible has to say about hard-heartedness.
Probably the best-known hard-hearted person in scripture is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. I’ve often heard people talk about how difficult it is to understand why “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Did God only love the Israelites? That doesn’t sound like the God I know.” But if you read the entire passage (Exodus 4:21-14:8), you’ll find that the entire process began with Pharaoh hardening his own heart time and time again. This teaches us a very sobering lesson: we can harden our hearts so often that the Lord simply gives us over to our own choices.
Matthew 19:8 tells us that hard-heartedness is the spirit behind divorce…or any separation for that matter. Divorce in marriage; divorce between ethnicities; divorce between friends; divorce between nations. But Jesus came to break down the wall of separation and “make both one.” (Eph. 2:14) While we divide ourselves from others through hard-heartedness, God’s desire is to unite people, and bring healing to every relationship.
Hard-heartedness is also the spirit and attitude behind lack of belief (Mark 16:14); lack of understanding (Mark 6:52); rebellion (Heb. 3:8); deceitfulness (Heb. 3:13); and unwillingness to give (Deut. 15:7).
No wonder the Lord calls us to a more responsive way of life! But how can we foster that openness? How can we have a soft heart in a hard world?
First—break up fallow ground. (Hosea 10:12) If we compare hard hearts to hard ground, sometimes we just need to be honest about the hardness of hearts that we allow, and intentionally begin to break up those places and deal with them. Where have you fostered unforgiveness? Or anger? Where have you offended someone else? The first step to keeping our hearts soft, is digging up hardness.
Digging things up isn’t enough…the Lord also calls us to repentance. Romans 2:4, 5 tells us that “the goodness of God leads us to repentance,” but when we have a hard and unrepentant heart, we treasure up judgment for ourselves. God doesn’t just lead us to repentance that leads to salvation...He wants to lead us to repentance every day. As you dig in your heart, and the Lord brings things to light, make sure that you not only restore relationship, but that you repent before the Lord. After all, all sin, no matter who it involves, is ultimately against God. (Ps. 51:4)
Second—Be with the Body. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “exhort one another daily…lest any of you be hardened.” We hear the voice of the Lord through one another. Are you meeting with the congregation? Are there believers in your life to whom you are accountable? Are you accepting the exhortation of others or trying to justify and explain away your own behavior? We are given to each other as safeguards…and the Lord speaks through us to one another.
Finally, begin to give. Deuteronomy 15:7 warns us of the affects of hardening our hearts to the need of others around us. Where do you see need? Do you volunteer in your church or community? Do you give in tithes and offerings? Giving will always keep us softened in compassion, as it opens our hearts to the world around us.
During a particularly hard time in my life, I asked the Lord how I could make sure that I didn’t allow the difficulty to turn my heart hard and bitter. His instruction: “Remember My kindnesses.” It was a simple reminder to me that He is always there…even in the school of hard knocks. Even between a rock and a hard place. If I start focusing on THE Rock (1 Cor. 10:4) who supports me, instead of the rocks in my shoes, my heart will stay soft…even in a hard world.
And so will yours.