So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11
As it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders. It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah. More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness. So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.
Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word. Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more. Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.
Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer. When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between repairing the hems of the choir robes and making sure there is toilet paper in the women’s restroom, we miss the mark as spiritual leaders. When our public prayers reveal just how little time we have spent in private prayer, we set an example of a heart hardened to prayer. Jesus said his church would be a house of prayer…what type of house are you and your leadership building?
Hardening our hearts to Christ in our brother. Finding Christ in our people…ALL our people…may be the most critical difference between good leaders and great leaders. When we respond to criticism by saying to ourselves, “God is not gong to speak to me through THAT ignorant person…” our heart grows a little colder. When we refuse to hear a brother because of some sin in his life or because his choices are not like ours or because he votes differently than we vote or watches a different news outlet than we do…we harden our hearts not only to that brother, but to Christ in that brother…and in doing so, we forsake the single most significant “help” God has for us as leaders: His Spirit living in His people.
Do you see, then, that (especially for leaders who live in the accountability of the lime light) a hardening heart does not necessarily begin with a sense of rebellion nor outright rejection of God. Rather, it more often begins with these much less obvious moments of shrunken faith or heightened sense of self. Unfortunately, there are many roads that lead to the hardening of the heart…many dangerous paths from which to choose. They just don’t seem all that dangerous in the beginning.
God has a “groove” of His perfect will for His church and for its shepherds…a “rest” for the weary leader. But it is not there for the hard-hearted. It is for the humble leader whose heart remains pliable and moldable and whose faith is strong. It is for the leader who trusts entirely in the Lord and in His Word and in prayer and in God’s people. As leaders, we can choose whether or not that rest is ours. Do not harden your heart. Enter into the rest that is yours.