Many years ago, while pastoring in a small town in Pennsylvania, I remember a winter so cold the frost line went down to four feet. One consequence of this was a backhoe couldn’t penetrate the ground to dig a grave. We had funeral services for people that winter but had to wait for the spring thaw to actually bury the people. Frozen ground can be awfully hard. Sometimes our hearts can become frozen and hard like that ground. Nothing can penetrate it until heat is able to bring about a thaw and soften that heart.
What hardens a heart?
People are different, and some personalities are more sensitive and tenderhearted by nature. However, all of us are born with open, trusting and innocent hearts. We have an innate desire to please our parents and believe what they tell us. We want to belong somewhere and experience love in a safe environment. Being young we are more naïve and easier to take advantage of. It isn’t long before someone hurts us, lies to us, or uses and abuses us. A common way to protect ourselves from being hurt or disappointed again is to build an emotional wall around our heart and harden it. We only allow people to come so close to us, or we convince ourselves that we don’t need or can’t trust others.
Another way our hearts become hard is through de-sensitizing it. As we expose ourselves more and more to something wrong or evil, it gradually bothers us less and less. It is the “frog in the kettle” syndrome; we harden by degrees. God explains this principle in Romans 1 in regard to humanity’s hardness toward him. Because we didn’t want to retain in our minds the knowledge of God, He gave us over to a reprobate (not good for anything) mind. We exchanged the truth about God for a lie. We worshipped the creature more than the Creator. In other words we became our own god. This results in a hard heart that will move in a downward spiral of hardness and perversion. This is at the root of man’s inhumanity to man.
What are the consequences of a hard heart?
One consequence is what has already been mentioned — not treating others in a kind and loving way. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. It is amazing how mean spirited people can be arguing about things on social media, even Christians. We have lost the ability to disagree agreeably. We attack the person rather than their position and engage in name calling and attempts at personal destruction. This type of attitude usually results in a perpetual negative cycle toward another and ruins relationships.
Another major problem with a hard heart is it distances us from God. We are not able to hear his voice. The Holy Spirit is not able to speak and give direction to our life through God’s Word. We get angry with God for not answering or showing us what to do. The reality is God doesn’t waste his breath speaking to a closed heart.
Scripture warns us to not harden our hearts like Israel did in the wilderness. The result then was a whole generation wandered around for 40 years with their life going nowhere. Every life has potential and is designed for eternal significance. However, that potential is only reached when the heart is tender toward and listens to God. A life is such a sad thing to waste because of a hard heart.
What softens a heart?
Hearts are softened by the same thing that thaws frozen ground — heat. God is able to get our attention and thaw out our hearts. The problem is we may not like how he goes about it. God’s first choice is to speak to us from his word and have us respond in obedience. However, the problem with a hard heart is it is unwilling to hear. For seed to take root in the ground and eventually bear fruit the ground must first be plowed and broken up. This is usually done after winter and the spring thaw. For the soil of our heart, God uses the heat and warmth of other people and circumstances to thaw the hard heart. This often is interpreted by us as something bad or negative. Rather than getting angry at God or discouraged, perhaps we should consider that God may just be trying to soften our heart.
Like Pharaoh of old some people never thaw. These are usually the people others don’t like to be around. They are angry, negative, critical, cynical and just plain miserable people. Is that the kind of person you want to be seen as? You can win arguments and intimidate others, but you will be a more lonely person. Oh, but I forgot you don’t like people anyway.
Most people usually get around to trying to figure out the meaning of life. A pretty important question to answer if you don’t want to waste yours. Some figure it out but most never do. The Bible gives us the answer — love God and love others. To enjoy life requires a close and healthy relationship with God and others. You can’t do this with a hard heart. This spring why not allow God to thaw out your frozen ground.
Dr. John Hawkins, Sr. runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach along with his son John Jr. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.