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Overcoming hardness of the heart

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52 NKJV).

When I read this verse in my Bible, the fact that it had been removed from the context of its corresponding story (the passage relating the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish ends with verse 44) attracted my attention. I asked myself this question, “Why was the disciples’ heart hardened?”.

With this question still on my mind, my eyes were then drawn to the title given to Mark 7:14-23: Judging Human Heart. Here Jesus was teaching the multitudes "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man” (NKJV).

Hardening the Heart

The Greek word poroo means 'to harden', 'to become hard as rock' and, in the figurative sense, 'to become insensitive'. This word is also used for the calluses which form on the hands of manual labourers and the stalactites which form in caves. With time, the epidermis creates a very hard outer layer and likewise, a thick layer limestone covers the ceiling of caves. In the same way, the heart of man can harden and become insensitive.

In fact, throughout our lives we will grow up in a more or less good and constructive environment, with its failures, blunders and disappointments. As a result we construct defence mechanisms in our hearts to protect us from aggression, to avoid problems, and meet our own needs. Some of these mechanisms may be helpful, but many are detrimental to our lives, particularly our spiritual lives.

The Consequences of this Hardening

When the disciples were far from the crowds, they asked Jesus the meaning of the parable he had just told them. Actually, they took for a parable what was really a true saying, which is why He replied, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Mark 7:18-19 NKJV)

Another time, when they had forgotten to bring bread, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?” (Mark 8:17-18 NIV)

Therefore, from these verses we see that a hardened heart destroys our capacity for reasoning and diminishes our understanding of things and events. It prevents us from hearing God clearly, remembering His kindness, and seeing distinctly in the spiritual realm. Hardness of heart protects us until our conversion, but afterwards becomes a real hindrance to the plan of God in our lives. It can even completely keep us from reaching a higher stage in God’s design for our personal and spiritual lives.

The Process (mechanism) of Hardening

Have you ever asked yourself why, after having repented of the sins we have committed, that is, those caused by our actions and our words, and after having prayed over our spiritual heritage and sought to eliminate every sin in our life, we still have spiritual problems? In fact, we always look at our actions--what we have done or not done, but we seldom think about who we are, that is, our inner being, for whom God is more concerned.

We will broach a sensitive topic here because, at first glance some of these ways of functioning do not appear to be sinful, but simply coping strategies which we have learned and especially in which we see ourselves as a victim. Viewing it differently, Jesus says to His disciples: “for from within, out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts (evil deliberations, opinions, or arguments):

  • porneia : fornication, vice, impure thoughts,

  • klope : theft, larceny, fraud, deception,

  • phonos : murder, homicide, slaughter (Matt. 5:21-22),

  • moicheia : adultery, unfaithfulness (Matt. 5:28),

  • pleonexia : covetousness or avarice, ambition, taking advantage, superciliousness, greediness,

  • poneria : evil purposes and desires, spite, malice, perversity, vice, baseness, wickedness, cowardice, iniquity,

  • dolos : deceit, shrewdness, trickery, craftiness, lying,

  • aselgeia : impudence, licentiousness, libertinage, insolence, coarseness, shamelessness, unbridled lust, unruliness,

  • opthalmos poneros : avarice, envy, cupidity (transliteration of a Hebraic image of the love of money),

  • blasphemia : blasphemy, impious speech, slander, malicious gossiping, false accusations, insult, highly offensive, injurious speech, abusive speech,

  • huperephania : pride, arrogance, haughtiness, contempt,

  • aphrosune : foolishness, unconcern, stupidity, recklessness, thoughtlessness, self-centeredness, insanity, folly (Mark 7:21-22 amplified literal translation).

Committing only one of these acts is enough for God to consider us as a sinner. Indeed, the apostle James states that whatever comes out of our mouth (our language, as found in James 3:5-12) will reveal the state of our heart: it is soiled by what is found in it. For example, the absence of rejoicing when others experience good things reveals that there is sin which has closed our mouth (Ps 107:42). Jesus says that it is our own interior dialogue that makes us unclean. Even if our thoughts are the consequence of what others have said or done, it is still the bad fruit of our own heart. Hence, it is not others that make our heart evil, but rather our own choices which result from our inner thought-life.

Our Revealer and Defender

We have to consider the invaluable help that Jesus promised us: “And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement” (John 16:8 NASB) When we do not see clearly in our life, let us sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to convince us of our hidden sins.

Original sin, inherited from our fathers has been forgiven, but those which we have ourselves committed (often without being aware!) remain, those which have caused us shame and which remain in our secret inner being. Only our spirit knows these things that are buried in the depths of our subconscious, which however, affect our lives in various ways. But we will need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to reveal to our conscious understanding that which is lodged in the depths of our heart.

Do Not Awaken Love Too Early

It is not those who surround us who will convince us of sin, but quite to the contrary, they will only serve to harden our position. The act of repentance is an act of love toward God. However, there is also a time for it to be revealed: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 3:5 NKJV) Let the Holy Spirit convict us of our sin and of the need for forgiveness at the cross!

Our process of being liberated will go through a time of intimacy with God where we can ask Him to forgive these hidden sins (ungodly strategies), commit ourselves to relinquish the use of them in our life, and to ask the Lord to lift every curse which could have brought these sins on us or our family. Then will come a time of reconciliation with those who had unconsciously caused us to sin in our heart. In general, this would include our spouse, our children and our parents. This is more than a “Reformation” in our life, it is a “Revolution” of our heart when evil is eradicated at its source!

The Fruit of Deliverance

Our suffering has produced a pearl, but it stays enclosed in the alabaster box, the shell that we formed around it like a callous on our hand. It has therefore no chance to shine in the world and it is of no use to the Master. But if “thou prepare thy heart and stretch out thy hands toward him, if thou put far away the iniquity which is in thy hand, and let not wrong dwell in thy tents; surely then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot, and thou shalt be steadfast and shalt not fear” (Job 11:13 DBY).

Jesus wants to release the beautiful pearls which we are! If you have prayed and cut all the hereditary ties possible or conceivable, and nothing has changed in your life, it’s because you are a beautiful pearl still enclosed in its mother-of-pearl shell (the hardened heart). Our happiness does not depend on others, but on our choices and our decisions, “Now acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; you will remove iniquity far from your tents. Then you will lay your gold in the dust, and the [gold] of Ophir among the stones of the brooks. Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver; for then you will have your delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you, and you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you; so light will shine on your ways” (Job 22:21 NKJV).

So, “above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23 NIV), we can do this by detaching our heart from these iniquities (Col. 3:5), by renouncing all evil ( Col 3:8) and holding on to the “things above” (Col. 3:2).

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