“I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh…” Ezekiel 11:19
Does it look to you like your heart has grown callous, insensitive? Unable to feel? If you have, you’re in good company. On more than one occasion, Jesus asked his loyal disciples, “Do you have such hard hearts?” I don’t know about you, but the disciples aren’t the first people I would have imagined when I picture someone with a hardened heart. These men were devoted. They had left everything to follow Jesus, and yet they struggled with some of the same things we might today…a heart that can sometimes be dull and unresponsive. Spiritually blind and deaf. Lacking spiritual perception and understanding. But what causes our hearts to become hardened?
The Bible talks about a number of things can can lead to a hardened heart. Here’s a few of them:
Forgetting. When we forget how God has come through for us in the past, our hearts begin to harden. This was what happened to the disciples. Jesus said to them, “Do you have such hard hearts? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” In Mark 8:14-21 the disciples had forgotten how Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish. Enough to feed thousands. Yet on this day, the 12 of them were having a hard time trusting Jesus to satisfy their hunger with one loaf of bread. How quickly we forget. I too was guilty of forgetfulness not too long ago. God was asking me to trust in Him to be my Healer. I had been putting my trust in the medical profession and in my own ability to fix my health problems. It wasn’t working. Not only was I still sick, but I was also dealing with fear of the pain that came with my medical problem. That Sunday as I listened to Pastor Jeff Wendt preach on trusting God, I was reminded that God had proven Himself to be my Healer many times. Yet here I was, finding it difficult to trust Him for healing. My forgetfulness was causing spiritual deafness. And blindness. My spiritual perception was dull. I did not have 20/20 spiritual vision. My forgetfulness was playing a part in the hardening of my own heart. I repented for forgetting. I put my hope in God, and when I did, the healing came.
Our hearts can also become hardened when we make a habit of resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We don’t just wake up one morning with a petrified heart. A hardened heart has grown callous. With each decision to resist the conviction and leading of God’s Spirit, the hardening progresses. What begins as “will not” respond to God can, if left unchecked long enough, can turn into “can not” respond to God. The condition of an unresponsive heart is degenerative. It goes from dull to hard to being as hard as flint. Like a diamond that is hard enough to cut rock.
Falling asleep spiritually can also lead to our hearts becoming hardened. Romans 11:6-8 says, “…others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see, and ears that could not hear…” It can be SO tempting to find comfort in going to sleep spiritually. This can look like passivity, choosing not to face things that make us feel overwhelmed or like running away. It may mean numbing ourselves through screens or alcohol or literal sleep. God compels us to be self-controlled and alert. Ready to move out at a moments’ notice. If we choose spiritual sleep we risk our hearts becoming hard.
Prideful attitudes can also contribute to the hardening of our hearts. In Daniel 5, we are told that King Belshazzar’s heart had become hardened, “…his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride.”
Our hearts can also become hardened through unbelief. In Mark 16:14 Jesus rebukes his disciples “for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe…” While it is a normal Christian experience to struggle with unbelief at times, we don’t have to stay there. But more on that later…
Our hearts can also be hardened when we allow unresolved sin to remain in our lives. If we allow unconfessed sin to remain, we open ourselves up to being deceived. This deception causes spiritual blindness and deafness. If this happens, we lose our ability to see God, ourselves or others accurately.
How can a hardened heart be restored?
Our hearts will lose their hardness as we intentionally remember how God has been faithful in the past. When facing trials that test our faith, remembering doesn’t come naturally for most of us. Thankfulness is powerful. It is one way that we choose spiritual clarity. It has a way of putting things back in the right perspective. The ironic thing is, the area where God has been the most faithful can be our most challenging trust area. Often the theme of our testing has to do with our calling in life. The repetitive nature of the trials builds trust in us if we will focus on God’s faithfulness rather than our trials.
Another way that a hardened heart is restored is by yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The root word for “hardness of heart” is “sklérokardia.” This is the picture of a heart that is dry, which causes it to be hard. The oil of the Holy Spirit refreshes and brings moisture to our hearts, restoring sensitivity to our hearts. ( Matt 19:8, Eph 3:16-19)
Our hearts will also soften as we resist the temptation to yield to a slumbering spirit. When life looks too hard and overwhelming, put your hope in God for the strength and courage needed to persevere. Avoid numbing behaviors. Resist the temptation to “go to sleep” spiritually. When you feel weary and tempted to quit, put your trust in God to strengthen you. Pursue restorative rest, i.e., time soaking in the word, prayer. (Romans 11:6-8, Isaiah 31:25, Isaiah 56:9-12) For more information on the spirit of slumber, go to www.walkwhole.com and read posts entitled, “Overcoming the spirit of slumber” and “Are You Feeling Weary or Overwhelmed? Jesus says, “Come to me.”
Another way that a hardened heart is restored is by choosing humility. God will help us when we ask Him to show us when pride is rising up in our hearts. Since we often cannot see pride in ourselves, we need revelation from God to help us overcome it. (Dan 5:20, Ps 139:23)
Our hearts will also soften as we repent of unbelief. If our perceptions of God don’t line up with the truth in God’s word, let’s stop, renounce the lie, and reaffirm our agreement with God’s word. The Bible, not our feelings or perceptions are given the power to tell us what is true and what is false when we do this.
Another way that our hearts are softened is when we “plow up the ground of our hearts.” As we remove any known “thorns” (sin) in our lives, our hearts are restored. Jeremiah 4:3-4 says, “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts...” Circumcision is the picture of “cutting away” sin. We do this when we repent and turn away from any sin that the Holy Spirit may be convicting us of.
Lastly, the softening of our hearts is a work of God. A work that only He can do. This is where prayer comes in. When we ask the Lord to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, He is more than happy to do so. It is His desire that our fellowship with Him would be restored and that we would have clear vision.
As you pursue heart restoration, be patient with yourself. This is a process. There is grace for the journey!
Today if you hear His voice, may you turn your hearts toward Him in obedience and trust,