Middle Tennessee — It’s part of one of those states in the midst of experiencing a mass influx of people moving in from other parts of the country. Bumper stickers show up occasionally that say things like, “We’re Full — Please Don’t Move Here.” Not surprisingly, like us, most of our new friends are imports from somewhere else, and meeting a bonafide “born and raised” Tennessean is a rarity. That reality has resulted in a boom for the construction industry, and major projects of one kind or another are going on all around us. Watching them go through different stages as they move toward completion is fascinating and has become a newfound source of “entertainment” for my wife and me.
A Captivating Process ~
For the past several days, for instance, two of the longest concrete driveways we’ve seen anywhere in the area are being installed a few hundred yards from our house and it’s been hard to stay away from the windows. The houses being built are on top of a steep hill and the driveway for one of them had to make four turns to accommodate the slope. Re-shaping the landscape took several kinds of excavation equipment working every day for weeks. Watching that process unfold reminded us of the many ways spiritual principles find themselves displayed in our day-to-day lives. Some of those principles were obvious, but one that I hadn’t anticipated captivated my attention when the concrete trucks finally showed up.
A huge pumper truck was brought in and stationed at the top of the hill to begin the process of transferring the material from the concrete trucks and then pump it down to the roadbed below. It was a warm, sunny day, which meant that the concrete would begin to set up pretty quickly and begin to be more and more resistant and harder to work with. It was a race against time, and losing that battle would have some very costly consequences.
A Concrete Capacity ~
As the men struggled to stay ahead of the very nature of the concrete, I couldn’t help thinking of God’s recurrent struggles with us. Sometimes we forget that God is a builder, too. He has a unique construction project of His own. People are His building material. In spite of occasional snide remarks about the contents of my head, people aren’t concrete, but we do share at least one quality in common. We have a dangerous hardening capacity that can make us difficult, and sometimes impossible, to work with.
The tendency to harden — to become selfish, obstinate, demanding, and increasingly resistant to God’s directives — has always been problematic. But at times, it became such a widespread, firmly established pattern of behavior that it led to cataclysmic consequences for an entire nation. The devastating impact of that hardening process was not ignored by Israel’s leadership in Nehemiah’s day. In a passionate prayer of confession and repentance, they clearly identified the root cause of the judgments their people had suffered:
But they and our fathers acted proudly, hardened their necks, and did not heed Your commandments. They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage… (Nehemiah 9:16–17a NKJV)
Different Time, Same Problem ~
Some might question whether, all these thousands of years later, an issue from Israel’s ancient history would have any relevance to us. The disquieting truth and the lesson to be learned are that the hardening tendency demonstrated by God’s people historically continues to infect us as well. We’re subject to the same temptations that led to the moral corruption and arrogant disregard for God and His Word that eventually provoked His painful response. After His gracious warnings and repeated calls for repentance were ignored or openly rejected, He removed His protective hand and allowed cruel enemies to descend and wreak havoc on His people. To think He would not do that again is both naive and foolish. If we persist in replicating the rebellious attitudes and behaviors displayed by God’s people back then, we can be assured it will invoke a similar response from God in our day as well.
Hardening continued to be an issue worthy of God’s attention as the New Testament era began. The writer of Hebrews addressed it with a somber warning and an admonition to the followers of Jesus, that we desperately need to take seriously today. He said,
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. …Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12–13; 15b NKJV)
Make no mistake. This warning is issued to “brethren,” not those who have never come to saving faith in Jesus. Obviously, those who don’t have a personal relationship with the “living God” couldn’t be in danger of leaving the One they never came to in the first place. Unbelievers may be instrumental in initiating or exacerbating the hardening process, but the objective is to influence weak believers to adopt their pernicious ideas. The evil heart of unbelief may not look so evil on the surface, and the unbelief may seem like simple uncertainty regarding some Scriptural concept or principle. But when things like Biblical ignorance and spiritual apathy are blended with inordinate passions and the fraudulent claims of the world’s value system, simple doubts can toggle over to unbelief, and the consequences can be disastrous.
Stages and Symptoms ~
The hardening God warns us about is not immediate. It’s a process that goes through stages with different characteristics. There are many symptoms that emerge during that transition. Here are just a few recognizable ones:
- Decreased time in personal prayer and reading the Word of God
- Sporadic and lackadaisical approach to church involvement and making “feel-good” music and messages a higher priority than Biblical exposition.
- Excessive involvement in unhealthy social media and increased tendency to accommodate and accept sin under the guise of entertainment.
- Choosing to spend more time with “moderates” and unbelievers than Biblical conservatives.
- Seeing God as more of an impediment to personal pleasure than a provider of it, and more of an adversary than an advocate.
- Supporting people whose policies oppose God’s design for relationships and social order, and who condemn Biblical Christianity as outdated, judgmental, burdensome, prejudicial, biased, and oppressive.
It may sound like a cliché, but hardening doesn’t happen because God moves away from us. The departure is on our side of the relationship, not His. A heart so easily drawn to evil is conditioned to move that way by constant exposure to the deceitfulness of sin. Just as the unseasonably hot sunlight caused the concrete to harden faster, so the constant stream of anti-Christian propaganda spewed from every media outlet in the country speeds up the spiritual hardening of our people. Those concrete workers didn’t have many options in their fight against hardening, but God has given us a way to push back against the process.
Understandable Urgency ~
Because a believer’s departure from closeness with God is almost always gradual, the symptoms may not be noticeable for a while. God made it clear that we are not to wait until the condition becomes obvious before we engage them. Enticements to sin are thrown at us every day, and defensive exhortations to resist its deceptive allure should be just as available. It’s understandable, then, that God admonished us to exhort one another daily. We never know when a personal word of encouragement, a hug, or sharing coffee and some honest conversation about God’s Word might just be the thing that not only slows the drift of someone’s heart, but totally changes the direction in which it was moving. And there’s another incredibly valuable benefit . . . Exhorting others to stay close to God is a powerful deterrent to our own tendency to drift away.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
“After ignoring or openly rejecting God’s gracious warnings & repeated calls for repentance, He removed His protective hand & allowed cruel enemies to descend & wreak havoc on His people. To think He would not do that again is both naive & foolish.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“When things like Biblical ignorance and spiritual apathy are blended with inordinate passions and the fraudulent claims of the world’s value system, simple doubts can toggle over to unbelief, and the consequences can be disastrous.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Hardening doesn’t happen because God moves away from us. The departure is on our side of the relationship, not His. A heart so easily drawn to evil is conditioned to move that way by constant exposure to the deceitfulness of sin. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“The constant stream of anti-Christian propaganda spewed from every media outlet in the country speeds up the spiritual hardening of our people. God has given us a way to push back against the process of hardening our hearts.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“A personal word of encouragement, a hug, or sharing coffee and some honest conversation about God’s Word might be the thing needed not only to slow the drift of someone’s heart, but to totally change the direction in which it was moving.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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