"Soften Your Heart"
Why is it that we can be so stubborn with the people we love the most? That’s a question many of us are confronted with around the Christmas season when the pressures of the holiday start to work on us and our relationships. It doesn’t take long before we realize we need to deal with that stubbornness; otherwise it will surely rob us of our joy.
That’s actually one of the major themes in Hebrews, in particular the stubbornness we at times are prone to show to God. Most of us would argue that our commitment to God is steadfast and secure. But does God see it that way? Does God have any assurances that our faith will never falter? Can God count on us to be the people He needs us to be as He goes about the task of redeeming the world?
This section of Hebrews broaches for the first time the topic of apostasy, or “lack of faith.” Most people define apostasy as one’s loss of salvation, but that’s not what the term really means. Apostasy is about our relationship with Jesus and the stubbornness we sometimes show with respect to following His lead.
There is great enthusiasm in any relationship—a business relationship, a social relationship, a personal relationship—in the beginning; but if steps are not taken to deepen that relationship, the enthusiasm will never last. It won’t weather the “down moments” of life, and people will one day wake up and come to the realization that the relationship is over. What once was vibrant has become lifeless. What once was passionate has become petrified.
Petrification is an interesting topic. Researchers don’t completely understand how the process works, but they have determined three conditions that must exist in order for wood to be changed into stone. First, oxygen has to be cut off from the wood. As long as the wood has a source of oxygen, it will live and grow. But cut off the oxygen and you also cut off the potential for growth. Second, minerals from a nearby source of water must be deposited into the fluid-filled openings in the wood, which exist to preserve its tissues. Third, everything must happen over a long period of time. In other words, the process of petrification is a slow one, sometimes taking millions of years!
Faith becomes stony in the same way. First, the Holy Spirit gets cut off in our lives, not so much because the Spirit abandoned us but because we stopped welcoming the Spirit’s presence. When that happens, unspiritual influences fill those places the Spirit once occupied, compromising our conviction and diluting our zeal. In time, the things of God don’t matter as much to us anymore. They don’t carry as much significance because we’ve allowed other things to take their place. We finally come to a place where we only listen to our hearts, hard and stony as they are, and can no longer hear and heed the merciful, life-giving heart of God.
This passage in Hebrews breaks down those consequences in vivid fashion in verses 16–18. “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed?” (NIV).
The writer is saying it’s time to wake up! God hasn’t just written a note to warn us of our stubborn ways. He loves us more than that. God has given us a Word that became flesh. God has given us His Son, who suffered and died and was raised to God’s right hand so that we might enter God’s promised rest through faith in Him. Furthermore, the writer tells us to encourage one another in this respect. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13 NIV).
It really is all about relationships in the end, is it not? It’s about both our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and our relationship with one another. In isolation, we are likely to give in to the subtle temptations that press upon us in the course of our everyday lives. But if we come together for mutual encouragement, then the Spirit will flow among us, our devotion will be kept warm and glowing, and our hope will be less likely to flicker and petrify. If you want your faith to be vibrant and influential, you need other believers in your life to encourage you, and they need you as well.
Hebrews 3:7-19 (NIV):
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.