Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hardened Hearts

Last Sunday, our pastor, Jim Congdon, preached a sermon on Mark 5:21-43, using the two simultaneous stories of healing found there.  He drew a parallel between the woman with the 12-year issue of blood and the 12-year old little girl who was sick and dying--both of whom Jesus healed.  In one instance, the person healed had great faith in Jesus, but was terrified of Him because she was an unclean person and felt unworthy of speaking to Him.  In the other instance, the person had faith even though everyone around him said it was too late for him to receive help from the Lord and that the Lord had failed him.  So in both stories, faith, belief, and trust in the Lord were key.  The main point of Pastor Jim's sermon was for us to remember that in this imperfect world, we are guaranteed times of trial, suffering, hardship, and sorrow.  We will all go through tough times where we are begging God for "healing" in the situation.  There will be times when we feel as though God doesn't hear us, isn't with us, is silent when we are begging for help, and doesn't care about our pain.  There will be times when we feel unworthy to even ask for His help.  We will ALL have moments where our faith is tested and where we have to blindly trust God in the unknowns and struggles we are facing.  He urged us to remember that when we go through a terrible trial or crisis in life, we need to keep our faith and trust in God, maintain a steadfast prayer life, and realize that our hope needs to be fully rooted in our salvation through Christ and spending eternity with Him.  If our hope is only in dreams for our current life, we are destined to be greatly disappointed.

We also have to realize that God WILL deliver us from our trials--but it may not be in the time or way that we want.  God is the Great Deliverer and He delivers people in three main ways--He may deliver us from a trial (where He lifts us up out of the trial and we don't have to go through any struggle at all--this is our preferred method, of course), He may deliver us through a trial (where we have to struggle some or maybe even a lot, but He gets us through it and we come out better and stronger for it in the end), or He delivers us by the trial (this is when our life ends due to a trial, but we then have eternal life with Him in glory forever).  Regardless of how He chooses to do it, God DOES deliver us.  It is up to us to rest in this truth and believe it, or we are bound to a life of great distress and disappointment.  We will also be bound to a life with a hardened heart toward God.

I thought about these things and how if we're honest with ourselves, we essentially all want heaven here on earth.  Deep down there is a part of us that expects and hopes for utter blessing, joy, and for things to go "our way" in this life.  When reality hits, we don't like it.  We are so fully vested in our current life and in what we can see right now, that placing full hope in our future destiny and eternity with Christ is really hard for us at times.   I think we also actually feel some entitlement to having heaven right here on earth, and we don't always have the capacity to fully realize that our current life is just an imperfect blur--a temporary existence.  But the truth of the matter is that we are not living our destined lives and we are not in our lasting, real home here.  All the rough things in life that we have to face now will be nothing but dust one day.  If we know Christ as our personal Savior, we can know that we will have an eternity of the perfect, endlessly joyful life that we all strive so hard for now (and that deep down, we all think we deserve right now).

Besides our issues of entitlement and our lack of fully understanding that this life is NOT all there is, we also fail to handle hardship well because of our hardened hearts toward God.  In the past three weeks of my New Testament reading for church, this issue of having a "hardened heart" has really stood out to me.  In numerous places in my reading, Jesus asks His disciples if their hearts are hardened.  In each instance, He asks them this due to their lack of faith and trust in Him.  In Matthew 17:20, the disciples ask Jesus why they weren't able to drive out a demon and heal a little boy who was possessed.  He simply tells them, "Because you have so little faith."  In Mark 4:40, Jesus has just calmed a storm while He and the disciples are out to sea, and He asks them, "Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?"  In Mark 6:52, Jesus has just fed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and the disciples are yet again, lacking in faith in Him as He walks out on water before them.  It is written that they were afraid and that they, "had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."  In Mark 8:17, Jesus again asks them, "Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?"  In Mark 10:5, Jesus is talking with the Pharisees who are testing him and questioning him about Moses and the law of divorce.  He tells them, "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law."  In Mark 16:14, after his death and resurrection, Jesus again rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, hardened hearts, and refusal to believe that He has risen.  There are many more instances where Jesus shows frustration at the disbelief and hard hearts exhibited by people who have been witness to His power and who should know His character and be resting in their trust of Him.

I thought about what causes a hardened heart toward God, and I believe it is rooted in two things--DOUBT and FEAR.  We do not trust, have faith, or believe that God is capable and willing to come to our rescue.  We have more doubt than trust, and therefore, we are afraid things are not going to work out in our favor.  So at the baseline of fear, there is always doubt.  This got me thinking about fear and how Jesus also tells the disciples and many others NOT to fear.  He is quoted saying, "Do not fear," and, "Do not be afraid," too many times to count in the first two gospels alone.  It also got me thinking about what God's Word says about counteracting fear.  1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made in perfect love."  Psalms 34:4 says, "I sought the Lord, and He answered me;  He delivered me from all my fears."  There are many more Scriptures on fear, but these two make it pretty clear--seeking the Lord and loving Him are the best ways to rid yourself of doubts and fears.  1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."  So when our hearts are not full of love, we are susceptible to doubt and fear.  We are not recognizing God and Who He is (that He IS love and that He loves US), and realizing the power He has in our lives.  We are not viewing Him as trustworthy.

I can easily liken this to my relationship with my husband, or to any relationship, for that matter. When I have doubt or fear in my marriage, I am not living out of a heart of trust and love.  Fear is ruling me, and I am not seeking truth and holding fast to faith at this point.  Whenever I don't love anyone fully or perfectly, it is essentially due to either a selfish reason or a "fear" of doing so--perhaps I don't trust them anymore because they've hurt me.  Maybe I doubt their reciprocal love for me.  Therefore, I am not seeking to love them and I have no faith that they are worthy of my love.  My heart is hardened toward them.  This is the same with God.  When we mistrust Him, love is no longer ruling.  Doubt and fear are.  But if we truly LOVE GOD, and understand fully the truth of the love He has for us and the fact that He IS love, we will have only trust for Him--there will be no room for doubt and disbelief.  Thus, fear will be nonexistent in our lives.  Our hearts will be open and in tune to Him and in trusting Him.  We will fully believe that He is trustworthy and we will understand His character.  But that is the key--we have to seek Him and we have to love Him.  When we aren't doing those two things, there is no way we will ever trust or believe Him when we go through the fire of trials in our lives.  Our hearts and our love will be hardened.

So how do we seek Him?  We read His Words.  We tune our hearts to His character and believe the truth of His Word about Who He says He is.  We remember all the things He has brought us through already and the blessings and valuable lessons that came from those hardships.  We remind ourselves that He IS love, and that we are only guaranteed trouble here on earth.  In John 16:33, Jesus tells His beloved disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  We remind ourselves that God IS our deliverer--even when the day comes that He delivers us BY the fire of a trial, and our life here is done, He has still delivered and rescued us.  Our perception of this life has to change.  We can no longer operate out of the thought that we need heaven right here on earth.  We remind ourselves that anything good in this life comes straight from God, and it is only a foretaste of the glory that we will one day have with Him in our permanent, perfect home.   We can relish our current blessings and scoff at our hardships knowing that they are temporary.  In doing all these things, our hardened hearts will soften, and we will gain more and more trust in the One Who created us to love Him.  That is our life's purpose--to have an open, loving heart toward the Author of our lives, to seek Him and His truths, and to trust patiently in the deliverance He will give--regardless of how and when He chooses to do it.

As my beloved neighbor and friend, Martha, is currently struggling with losing her life after a lengthy battle with cancer, I know she is trusting in her Lord for deliverance.  She and I have had many amazing talks about God and His faithfulness.  Though my stomach has ached with sickness each time I have driven past her home this past week, knowing she will never return to live there, my heart rejoices knowing that in reality, she is heading to her real home.  She is about to live fearlessly, in perfect health, and in utter joy for all eternity with God her Father.  How can my stomach ache when I know this to be the truth?!  Though my human mind hates cancer and death, doesn't want to accept that she is leaving me, and doesn't fully comprehend the purpose of my beloved friend's battle, my heart is focused on the Lord and knowing He is trustworthy to take my friend into His arms soon as His beloved daughter.  I refuse to be angry and doubtful about God when I know that our purpose for living here is to learn to love Him through our trials, to seek to know Him better and bring glory to Him before entering into His Kingdom, and to lead others to the truth of Him.  Heaven is our real destiny and home--and we are all homeward bound.

Romans 8:18-25, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."