Preaching about the heart is needful; preaching from the heart is we essential. This message, I hoped, was both needful and essential because I preach about the heart from my heart.
The opening illustration is tough, but so poignant. I found myself hurrying through it just to get through it. If the inertia of empathy ever slowed me to a stop on this one, I would have probably been alone at the altar. Yet, as tough as this illustration is – the reality of a hardhearted person is more difficult.
Each of us have seen people used mightily of God. Later, we see that same person embittered over someone or something and we find it difficult to reconcile the before and after pictures. What causes a person to get a cold, stony heart? That perhaps is a mystery. The real mystery to me regarding a stony heart however is why a person would keep it. Why remain as cold and impenetrable as stone?
The change from a hard to a tender heart is beautiful imagery for salvation.
Thus, this message is suited for all of us.
I. Opening Illustration.
Steele Smith was a seemingly ordinary boy. He looked like other boys his age. However, looks can be deceiving.
His was a body at war with itself. Within his six-year old frame lurked a whole host of diseases, five of which would end in death. Of greatest concern to his large team of doctors was a medical enigma – Steele�s heart was turning to stone.
I first read of Steele’s predicament in 1998. An article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entitled, “The Mystery of the Hardening Heart.” When Steele was one year of age, doctors found a large piece of calcium in the right ventricle of his heart. The hardening had begun. By the age of four, calcium had nearly encased his heart. His tender heart was becoming stone.
The doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin searched the medical textbooks for anything remotely similar to Steele’s case. Rather than presenting the symptoms of a single disease, the calcification of his heart was the result of numerous disease systems and his body’s reactions to therapy.
I lost track of the article until recently. I searched for Steele’s name on line and found that during the Christmas season of 2000, Steele had passed away three days beyond his sixth birthday (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 21, 2000).
Steele’s parents, Mike and Jill were understandably devastated, yet somehow grateful.
-Grateful that “Make a Wish” had paid for a family trip to Disneyland.
-Grateful that their son never complained. Rather he would always say, “I’m fine.”
-Grateful that they got to video a smiling Steele at his 6th birthday party.
Christmas that year was certainly tough. Beneath the tree still remained Steele’s hand-wrapped gifts, tagged with his childish scrawl. One said, “to mom.” Another read, “to dad.” Then, there was that special Scooby-Doo toy that Steele couldn’t resist buying for himself. It read, “from me to me.”
What parent wouldn’t find their heart tremendously moved by this? Yet, I mentioned that his parents were grateful. Not long before their son’s passing, Steele’s parents had talked to him about what faced him. “When it’s time to go, you go. You’ll see Jesus. Run to Him. We’ll be along in time.”
I guess…I guess…I guess that Steele may be the only person who could ever make it to heaven with a hard heart.
Three times…three times… three times the writer of Hebrews says it:
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
SOLVING THE MYSTERY OF A HARD HEART
A. Introduction: Define “heart,” please.
What is this thing called the “heart”? God’s Word has a different view of man’s heart than that of the typical medical school. The heart to the Hebrew mind was not simply the physical organ pumping blood to the extremities; it was the wellspring of a person’s life.
With the heart, a person loves (I Peter 1:22).
With the same heart, a person can hate (Psalm 105:25).
Joy can flood a person’s heart (Ecclesiastes 2:10).
The same heart can be overwhelmed with sorrow (John 16:6).
A heart can grow bitter (Ezekiel 27:3 1).
A heart can grow peaceful (Colossians 3:15).
The heart can know terrifying fear (Amos 2:16).
The same heart can find bracing courage (Genesis 42:28).
Unlike our concept of the physical heart, the Bible also presents the heart with the qualities of the mind – the heart ponders, perceives, believes, knows, imagines, and decides.
The heart of man is simply man himself.
It is the real you. It is the real me.
The person behind the persona.
The character in back of the charisma.
The face behind the fa’ade.
The man behind the mask.
The reality in back of the reputation.
The value behind the validation.
The heart is all these things.
One more thing about the heart.
It can be soft and warm toward God or.
It can be brittle and cold.
This is and has always been the mystery of the heart.
How? Just how does the heart grow hard as stone?
B. Scripture Setting.
The answer is found in a letter to the Hebrews. So much about this book is a mystery in itself. It was written by an unknown author to an unknown people at an unknown time. Yet, within this book, Jesus Christ is plaintively introduced as the ultimate answer to every problem in life.
Compared to the world’s quick fixes, we have something “better.” The writer of Hebrews preaches Jesus. He preaches Jesus to be the better priest, the better sacrifice, the better altar, and the better tabernacle. In island-speak, Jesus Christ is simply, “the mo’ bettah One!” Oh, yes He is!
The writer of Hebrews pinpoints the mystery of a hard heart. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he quotes from the 95th Psalm:
6 O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
Note four things.
First, the audience is Israel. Second, the day of provocation was when Israel demanded water to drink at Meribah, the place of “embitterment” Third, the day of temptation was in the wilderness when Israel grew dissatisfied with God. Fourth, the result of the combined provocation and temptation was the hardening of Israel’s hearts.
C. Speaking Points.
1. God wants our hearts to be tender towards Him.
David had a heart after God’s own heart. His was an obedient heart. A tender heart is one obedient towards God.
David declared God to be His Shepherd. As a shepherd, David observed the way sheep treated their shepherd. David wanted to be one of those sheep that followed its shepherd everywhere. “He leadeth me…” (Psalm 23).
The Son of David said it, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). That�s a tender heart: one that listens and is obedient toward its shepherd.
At the dedication of the Temple, another Son of David urged
I Kings 8:61
Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day
A perfect heart is an obedient heart, one that follows.
Delayed obedience is disobedience.
Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is.
“Whosoever strives to withdraw from obedience, withdraws from Grace.”
-Thomas a Kempis
We, as Christians, should all strive to have a perfect heart one obedient towards God.
Do you remember the cry of the Shulamite in Solomon�s Song? The Son of David knocks at her door and she cries, “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2).
Although you are physically weary, be certain that your heart is tuned to God’s voice.
While going through a storm, listen for the still small voice. He still walks on water.
Like blind Bartimaeus, you may be walking by only by faith, but keep listening.
You may be walking through a trial. Oh, God – let our hearts be listening for you!
That’s what God wants – a heart tender, pliable, and obedient to Him.
2. We can harden our hearts.
It’s not age that hardens our heart toward God.
It’s not the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
It’s not the vicissitudes or the ebb and floe of life.
No! No, it’s not any or all of these.
It’s as Pogo, the comic strip character once said, “we have met the enemy – and they are us.” We are the ones who allow our hearts to grow hard.
Six times do we read of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Seven times do we read of Pharaoh hardening his own heart. More times than not, we are the ones who harden our hearts. God painfully watches as we do so.
The writer of Hebrews wasn’t describing a herd of heathen or a passel of pagans. He described people who had been delivered from Egyptian bondage. He spoke of people who had followed a miracle-working, way-making God out of Egypt; skipped through the waters of the Red Sea; and eaten angel’s food each day of their lives. He spoke of people who felt the coolness of God’s cloud by day and its warmth by night. He spoke of people who on more than one occasion had seen the fiery presence of God on a mountain and on a tabernacle. Yet, these people had hardened their hearts.
And the writer of Hebrews in effect says, “Watch out. You’re no different.” Each of us must be careful, because our hearts can begin to grow hard.
Our hearts grow hard when we forget God�s goodness. When we stop looking around and saying, “Wow! What a glorious life!” The enemy paints a drab coat of gray on every blessing and we begin to take it all for granted. And a heart that takes things for granted soon turns to granite!
Our hearts grow hard when we compare ourselves with others. The children of Israel remembered Egypt and thought, “they have it better than we do.”
Then, of course, our hearts grow hard when we continuously disobey God. Like Christ’s parable of the father telling two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son immediately refused, but later obeyed. The second son immediately accepted, but later disobeyed. The first son proved better than his promise. The second son promised better than he proved.
Jesus asked His disciples which of the two sons did the will of his father. They responded the first and rightfully so. Yet, even the first was reluctant and initially disobedient. Far better to do God’s will cheerfully from the heart. Delayed obedience leads to hardness of heart.
I suppose I shouldn’t say this, yet I feel so compelled. I’m compelled to remind you of those who delayed to do God’s will only to find later that it was too late.
We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still,
in mystery our soul abides.
-Matthew Arnold, Morality.
Our hearts grow hard and cold when we get wrapped up in our selves.
Nabal, the man whose name meant “fool,” found this out. He wouldn’t help David or his mighty men in their need. He turned a deaf ear to their cries for assistance. The Bible says “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone” (I Samuel 25:37). Fools are those who get wrapped up in their own pleasures.
Do you remember Achan? He took what God had cursed in Jericho and hid it in the floor of his tent. A little ill-gotten gain, a heart hard to the consequences, and he and his family were stoned (Joshua 7:24-26).
Nabal became as stone.
Achan was stoned with stones.
In short order, hearts of stone became headstones.
3. Listening to God’s voice softens our hearts.
Today, if you will hear his voice.
The cure for a hard heart is hearing and obeying God.
Hear Him say, “Father, forgive….”
Forgive their selfish ways.
Forgive their ungrateful spirits.
Forgive their envious eyes.
Forgive their stiff necks and hard hearts.
A calcified heart is only melted by the crucified life.
It�s an old Indian legend. In America of yesteryear, a tribe of cannibals lived close to the Great Lakes. Other tribes believed the cannibals to have hearts of stone. For, who else could feast upon the flesh of a brother? Only those with hard hearts.
The story describes a day when a beautiful Indian maiden came to the bank of a river. Across the river, a young cannibalistic brave watched her. She grew frightened and returned to the village. Each day, the cannibal came to watch this young lady draw water from the stream. Slowly her fear began to dissipate and she grew accustomed to him being there and eventually she began to feel safe in his presence.
Her heart had gone from fear to faith. Yet, what of his heart? She prayed to the Great Spirit that the brave’s heart of stone would be cast out and replaced with a heart of flesh and blood. It happened. They fell in love and were married.
Just a legend, I’m sure. But, I was reminded of it a while hack when a man found a perfectly shaped stone heart along the banks of the same river where this tribe supposedly lived.
Who ever heard of such a thing? Exchanging a heart of stone for a heart of flesh!
Oh. . .I forgot to mention what the mystery of the hard heart really is – the mystery is simply this.
III. Close: And the mystery of the hard heart is…
Why would anyone be content with a heart of stone when it can be exchanged for a heart of flesh?
26 A new heart also will give you, and a new spirit will put with in you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Yes, the mystery is why be bitter when you can be better?
Why hate when you can love?
Why hold on to grudges when you can hold on to others?
In one of the early songs of Christian artist, Wayne Watson, he tells the story of an old man on a street corner. Years before the old man had hawked tickets to his carnival until his life changed. Jesus came into his life. His way of telling was actually selling –
“New lives for old. Warm hearts for cold. Have I got a deal for you today. C’mon, step right this way.
Get your new lives for old.”
Steele could make it into heaven with a hard heart. We can’t – why would we want to? Solve the mystery of the hard heart for yourself. Get your new life for old; warm heart for cold.
Excerpted from: “Preaching For A New Millennium” “The Bones Go Too”
By Ken Gurley