God softens our hearts
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Ezekiel 36:26
Devotional text: Hebrews 4:12
It has been said that the feelings within your heart determine what your life will be like. Basically, this is talking about your character and what it is inside you that causes you to think and act the way you do.
Using the terms found in the Bible, the question of character comes from whether you have a heart of stone, otherwise known as a hard heart, or if you have a heart full of God’s love, otherwise known as a soft heart.
Some of the attributes of a hard heart include: an inability to be loving toward others, disagreeing with any advice given as being bad advice, finding it difficult to have pleasant feelings such as love and happiness, lacking in trust in other people, inability to speak about feelings or having a lack of feelings and is never happy in someone else’s success but only in finding their own success.
As we look at these various attributes, it becomes clear that a hard-hearted person is cut off from the world of friendships and caring for others. The hard heart makes the person self-focused. It becomes like a protective shell that keeps others out, as it becomes fearful of rejection and hurt.
In our Old Testament scripture today, we find the prophet Ezekiel speaking to the exiled people of Jerusalem living in Babylon. In chapter 36:26, near the end of this book, Ezekiel speaks to the people on behalf of God to encourage them in their captivity: “And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit will I put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Like the Jeremiah, who prophesied to the exiles from Jerusalem, Ezekiel was used by God inside Babylon. He spoke to them of turning from the worship of idols and hardening their hearts toward their God. His words were of restoration for God’s people, as he spoke of God softening their hearts from that of hard stone to that of soft flesh, as they prepared to return to Israel.
Other Old Testament scriptures tell us more about the softening of the heart. In Psalm 51:10, we read the plea to God for a clean heart: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Psalm 73:26 says: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
From Proverbs 3:5, we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
And, from Hosea 10:12, we are told to “plant seeds of righteousness and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.”
In all these Old Testament scriptures, we find the same theme for fixing a hard heart, that is in seeking God.
So often, we get stuck in trying to do all things on our own, with our own understanding. While that is not necessarily bad, it is when we start acting like mini gods who know everything and forget that we are part of a community made by God to interact with one another, to respect one another and work together as friends, that our hearts start taking on the characteristic of hard-heartedness. It is when we start ignoring others. It is when we stop listening to those who love and care for us. It is when we turn our backs on those who wish to help us. It is when we lose our trust. This is the cycle of the hardened heart.
The answer is restore all those things that have been tossed aside by ego and selfishness caused by fear and past rejection. It is God who wishes to restore our hearts to the softness that leads to new life.
Words of hope can be found in the New Testament.
In John 14:1, Jesus tells us, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
As we come to seek the Lord and choose to believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” we also find that (Romans 5:5) “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
As believers in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit within us, who has poured out God’s love upon us, a love that works in our hearts to soften past hurts, failures, fears and bitterness.
Not only that, but this same love of God gives us peace within ourselves. As Philippians 4:7 puts it: “And the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”
It takes a step of trust to begin a new life in Christ, that works in our very beings to help us become the best people that we can be. It doesn’t happen all at once, although sometimes it does. More often, it takes time to learn about the choice we have made by being with other Christians, by reading our Bibles, by praying and trusting in the One God who has welcomed us into his loving arms.
God softens a hard heart with love. God does this for us because God knows us completely.
As written in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of the spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Attitudes displaying that of a soft heart are found in 1 Peter 3:8-9, where the Apostle tells believers they should have unity of mind with one another, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, a humble mind and not to repay evil for evil but bless one another.
Other scriptures, including 1 Timothy 6:17-19, advise us to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to serve. Ephesians 4:31-32 continue along these same lines by telling us to put away all bitterness, anger and slander.
In all these scriptures, we find that it is God who can help us to have a soft heart.
God is someone we do not need to fear because God loves us unconditionally. God wants to soften the hardness within us so we can experience more fully a life of grace, of mercy, of joy.