How does a person get a hardened heart? You might be surprised by my answer.
It can happen when you’re listening to a preacher. That’s because you decide how you’re going to receive that message. Some listen with an open heart, wanting to do what God says. Their hearts will get softer and more pliable. Others listen to the same message and say, “I’ve heard that before. You’re not telling me anything new.” And their hearts will get harder.
As I’ve often said, “The same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay.” The problem is the same message that impacts one person can actually cause another person to have a hardened heart. They become hardened by the very truth that should have softened them and become judged by the very message that should have set them free.
We see this in the life of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. Despite seeing the many miracles that God performed through Moses, Pharaoh’s heart became hard.
The Lord had directed Moses to take his shepherd’s staff and throw it on the ground in front of Pharaoh. That staff became a snake, presumably a cobra, which was the symbol of ancient Egypt. Then Moses grabbed it by the tail, and it turned into a rod again.
I think this was God’s way of saying to Moses, “Take the snake by the tail. Face your fears. You’re going to overcome Pharaoh and the might of Egypt.”
Pharaoh, however, wasn’t impressed. And he hardened his heart.
God has given each of us a free will, the ability to choose. And God honors this privilege that we have. He will not force us to do His will. Sometimes it seems as though He ought to, but He doesn’t.
For example, God said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (30:19 NLT)
In other words, “That’s your choice, and I’m even telling you which choice you should make.”
So to Pharaoh, God was saying, “OK, Pharaoh, here it is: Release the Israelites, or don’t release them.”
And Pharaoh said, “I’ll harden my heart.”
The word the Bible used for “harden” in this instance can be translated “strengthen or stiffen.” So the Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s heart, which means that Pharaoh made his decision, and the Lord strengthened him in it.
Pharaoh was culpable. He was responsible.
You see, we make our choices, and then our choices make us. And if our hearts become hardened, it’s because we’ve chosen to harden them ourselves.
The hardening of the heart can happen to anyone. Certainly it can happen to nonbelievers, because every time a nonbeliever hears the gospel and God’s offer of forgiveness and chooses to reject it, his or her heart gets a little harder.
But even Christians can get hardened hearts. Jesus’ own disciples allowed their hearts to harden. When they ran out of food before Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fish, he said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in?” (Mark 8:17 NLT)
If you’re a Christian reading this today, do you have a hardened heart?
One indication would be that you’ve simply stopped caring. You just don’t care about your spiritual growth or about your fellow Christians. And you don’t care about lost people.
Also, you don’t want to worship. When others are engaging in worship and praise, your arms are folded. In fact, you’re even judgmental and sort of look down on them.
Another sign of a hardened heart is that you’re always critical. Some people think they have the spiritual gift of criticism: “This is wrong here, and that is wrong there.” They’re always critical. They see the bad but never the good. That isn’t a spiritual gift; that’s a sign of a hardened heart.
Christians who have hardened hearts can’t remember the last time they brought anyone to church. And when someone becomes a Christian, they think, “Who cares?” It doesn’t affect them at all.
But God cares about lost people. And let’s remember that we once were lost people as well.
We want to keep a tender heart. As Billy Graham used to say, Christ can resensitize your conscience, and He can soften your heart.
The Bible warns us in Hebrews, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God” (3:12 NLT).
Don’t harden your heart. If you do, then God will strengthen you in that decision.
In contrast to the hardened heart of Pharaoh, iron had entered the heart of Moses. He was full of faith and courage. And where did Moses find that strength? The Bible gives us this insight: “It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27 NLT).
In other words, Moses looked to the Lord, “on the one who is invisible.” That’s what kept him going. And that’s what will keep us going as well.