While visiting with a friend this morning the conversation turned to the too-common reality of a heart grown hard. My friend and I are people desperate to have hearts soft toward God, tender to his purposes and pleasures and presence. As we were reflecting on this hunger for pliability and proximity to the Father, what came to our minds were three means to a hardened heart. Acknowledging these, we discerned, is helpful for the pursuit of a soul soft toward God.
Weariness. For many of us spiritually hungry men and women the dynamic that hardens our hearts toward those around us, including the Lord, is simple weariness. The pace of life, the lack of meaningful margin, the demands of our existence (vocation, family, leisure, etc.), can erode our ability to rest. I know when my heart has grown cold one of the most common culprits is sheer busyness. I have no margin in which to find solace in the bosom of my Heavenly Father. I have no true space to meditate on the Word of God. I have no chance to really catch a deep breath. Indeed, I feel myself running to keep up with everything that matters in my life. This drains me. It leaves me harried, and then my heart grows hard as a way to protect myself and just . . . simply . . . survive.
Wounds. Yet another culprit contributing to a heart that has grown hard is pain—particularly pain within my soul. Wounds inflicted because of the words or actions of others toward me motivate me to build high walls around my heart. This is largely a defense mechanism, a desperate effort to forego still more pain. Criticism, unmet expectations, misunderstanding, maliciousness—these are just some of those things that bring about deep hurt within my spirit, forcing me into a protective posture. With every sharp verbal barb I can feel my heart grow cold and hard. Over time too much of this robs my heart of life, and, in reality, I become the misery I am eagerly seeking to avoid. Wounds have a way of making the heart hard. Wounds come with the territory which is being a person of influence, a leader, whether in the home or the church or the community. Unfortunately, over many years, my wounds have been deep.
Weight. One more culprit in the effort to harden the heart is the simple weight of many given matters. The responsibility of helping others flourish, helping others navigate through the well-mined waters of life, is a weight the heaviness of which can snuff the very life out of my soul. Wrestling with the pain embedded deeply within another’s spirit, seeing the despair of parents responding to prodigals or the ways in which the evil one has undermined relationships or causes, and so much more, and then leveraging holy influence into these matters, pushing through my own insecurities and vulnerabilities and pains, is exceedingly heavy work. Over time, if not careful, the weight of responsibility–all that is heard and seen and spoken into—can greatly harden what is within. The pressure can easily toughen the heart, if for no other reason so the one bearing responsibility can survive one more day.
Weariness, wounds, and weight. This axis of common pressure takes an otherwise soft heart and toughens it up, making it hard. Too often the motivation is self-preservation in the face of toil and challenge. And, as my friend and I observed, the most constructive way to deal with these things, and keep the heart soft, is to cry out to the Father, pleading with him for an ever-tender posture toward the Holy Spirit. Imploring God to let the soft rain of his eternal love and grace and mercy fall onto our souls is the key to remaining pliable in the face of the pressures. Developing the discipline of crying to the Almighty is ultimately liberating—freeing us from the misery which is the heart of stone. Crying out as an intercessor, a forgiver, an advocate, even for our enemies, ever against The Enemy, and for Kingdom Causes, all the while begging God for a softened soul, is an exercise that ought to be owned by every disciple. We need not forget that our Father treasures responding to such a wail from within our spirits. He never turns a deaf ear our direction.