THE BIG PICTURE
There is a very serious heart disease we should all know about.
I call it "the disease of hard-heartedness." There is also a very
painful but effective cure for this disease.
Many times in the Old Testament we read that God accused the
people of Israel of being hard-hearted. In the New Testament,
Jesus would sometimes tell the religious leaders, and even His
own followers, "Your hearts are so hard!" In the Bible "hardhearted"
refers to the unresponsive, stiff, angry, insensitive,
rebellious, and independent attitude ruling our hearts. This attitude
is first directed toward God, but also toward other people.
Jesus told a parable of a farmer who went out and sowed seeds.
You don't have to have a green thumb to know that the object
of sowing seed is to get it into fertile soil so it can take root
and produce fruit. Jesus pointed out that often when a farmer
would throw seed, some would land on hard-packed soil.
That seed was wasted; it would never grow. Jesus went on
to explain what He meant by this agricultural story. Some
people's hearts are impenetrable, hardened, unresponsive,
and callous. The Word of God just bounces off. It doesn't
even take root.
If I were to nominate a biblical character for the "Iron Heart
Award," I would submit the man who was crucified next to
Jesus. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, there was a criminal
being executed on His right and another on His left. One was
a repentant thief. In the last moments of his life, he softened
his heart and said, "Oh Lord, would You remember me?" Jesus
said to him, "Today you'll be with Me in paradise." But the
other thief, who was being crucified for a life of crime and
violence, had a hard heart. He was minutes from death, inches
from the Savior, but his heart was like stone. He was busy
hurling abuse and insults at Jesus.
The repentant thief called over to the hard-hearted thief and
said, "I can't believe it. You are minutes away from death and
inches away from the Savior and you're still hard! Don't you
fear God?" From all indications of Scripture, the "Iron Heart
Award" would have been presented to that unrepentant thief
on his arrival in hell. And that is what will happen ultimately
to those people who spend their whole lives with an attitude
A WIDE ANGLE VIEW
1 If you were a spiritual doctor doing a test for hard-heartedness,
what are some of the symptoms you
would look for in your examination?
A BIBLICAL PORTRAIT
Read Ezekiel 11:17-21; 36:24-28
2 According to Ezekiel, idolatry was a sign of hard-heartedness.
What did idolatry look like in Ezekiel's day?
What does idolatry look like in our day?
3 In these passages, Ezekiel tells of some specific
changes that are going to happen in the lives of God's
people as their hearts are softened. What are some of
In what ways are these same changes needed in our lives
today if we are going to experience transformed hearts?
SHARPENING THE FOCUS
Read Snapshot "A Hard Heart"
A HARD HEART
Hearts get hard when we habitually say no to God. The very first time you say no to God a little layer
forms around your heart. The second time another layer goes around your heart. The third time
another layer forms, and on and on it goes. A person who ends up saying no to God for a lifetime
ends up with a heart encased by steel.
As a person's heart grows hard, two things begin to happen. First, the hardness drives them farther
away from God. There is no openness, no sensitivity to spiritual things, no desire to hear God speak. Hard
hearts finally say, "I have no need for God or the things God has to offer." Second, when a heart grows hard, there is
a lack of sensitivity toward others. Selfishness sets in and generosity is driven away. Other people become
commodities, pawns in the game of life, a means to an end. True love in relationships and care for others is no longer
a possibility for people with hearts lined with steel.
4 Describe a time in your life when you experienced
hard-heartedness toward God. How did this impact
your faith and relationship with Him?
5 During a time you were experiencing a hard heart
toward God, what impact did this have on your relationships
with one of the following people?
A close friend
A colleague at work
A family member
Read Snapshot "A New Heart"
A NEW HEART
God says that if this disease is going to be dealt with, the first step is for the heart to be pierced .
stabbed . pricked. In the book of Acts we read about the Day of Pentecost when Peter received the
Holy Spirit and began to preach with great power (Acts 2:38). At the end of the message we read that
all of the people who heard were "pierced in their hearts." They were stabbed with truth from the Word
of God. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Bible is like a razor-sharp, double-edged sword . it cuts, stabs,
pierces, and sometimes hurts. But it's the only hope for a hard heart.
The toughest truth for us to hear, the one that cuts the deepest, is the one we need to hear the most. The
Bible tells us there is a root cause for hard-heartedness. The Bible calls it "sin." We're born in it. We're conceived
in it. We have a sin nature, and we make sinful choices. We all have this heart disease. Romans 6:23 tells us that it
is a terminal illness. All of us are infected with the disease of hard-heartedness toward God and others and we can't
The good news is that God has a cure. The cure is miraculous. The cure is 100 percent effective. But, the
cure is painful. No getting around it. The only way to get a new heart is to acknowledge your sin (that your heart is
damaged beyond repair) and to let God forgive you and give you a new heart. There are no bypass surgeries, or simple
solutions. It is going to take a heart transplant if we are going to experience change in our lives. It will be
painful, but the new heart you receive will make all the difference in this life and for eternity!
6 If you have acknowledged your heart disease to God
and received a new heart through Jesus Christ, how
has this decision changed your life?
7 If you have not yet asked God for a new heart through
Jesus, what is standing in the way of this decision?
Read Snapshot "A Soft Heart"
A SOFT HEART
Part of having a new heart is having a soft heart toward others. In the New Testament days there was a
man named Saul. Before he got his new heart, he used to intimidate followers of Christ, arrest them,
beat them, and sometimes kill them. He thought he was doing the right thing, but his heart was hard
as stone. But, hard-hearted Saul was pierced with the truth of Christ on the Damascus Road, and he
received a heart transplant.
His responsiveness to God is legendary. His new heart became soft toward God and others. He soon
referred to himself as a bond servant, a slave, and clay in God's hands. He became sensitive and soft toward other men
and women. Old hard-hearted Saul became soft-hearted Paul. He ended up writing many of the books of the New
Testament and his favorite term for other followers of Christ was, "Brothers and Sisters." He also called new
Christians, "My dearly beloved little children." In Philippians 1:7 he simply says, "I have you in my heart." When we
let God move in us, He will give us a soft heart toward others.
8 How have you seen God soften your heart toward
others since you have become a follower of Christ?
9 Who is one person you need to soften your heart
In what ways can your small group members pray for you and
keep you accountable to honor Christ in this relationship?
PUTTING YOURSELF IN THE PICTURE
A Soft and Responsive Heart
When you have a new heart, you have a desire to be submissive
to God. Every morning you need to say, "I give You my
life today, Lord." You can start your day singing, "Have Your
own way, Lord. Have Your own way. You are the potter, I am
the clay." You begin to pray, "Mold me, make me, do whatever
You want with my life, it's Yours." It's a submission issue, a
flexibility issue, a surrender issue. Your life motto becomes:
"Just say the word, Lord." Your soft heart says, "Whatever the
Scriptures teach, that's what I want to do." A responsive heart
is one that always says yes to the Holy Spirit.
Take time in prayer every morning for the coming week and
offer your heart to God. Ask Him to soften your heart and
make you responsive to His will and leading. Commit yourself
to follow His will as He reveals it through Bible study,
through experiences, and through the gentle promptings of
His Holy Spirit.
Praying for Others
Identify someone in your life who still has a hard heart toward
God. Commit yourself to take at least five minutes every day
for the next month to pray for this person's heart to soften
toward God. Pray that they will recognize their own need for
a spiritual "heart transplant" and pray for the Holy Spirit to
begin doing surgery on them, even if it hurts.