“HARDENED HEARTS” By Pastor YAU
Text: Zachariah 7:8-14. August 10, 2008.
1) Hardened physical hearts: Keeping hearts healthy is a big concern for all people, young and old alike. Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars from selling drugs that may prevent hardening of arteries in the heart, a condition that can lead to heart attacks and other kinds of heart problems that kill thousands of people each year. There are other suggestions that may help prevent or slow down hardening of heart arteries such as proper diet, exercise and life style changes. All of them are aimed at keeping hearts healthy and functioning properly.
2) Hardened spiritual hearts: A much more serious condition than hardened physical hearts is the hardening of spiritual hearts. A hardened physical heart may lead to heart attack, causing people to suffer serious physical health condition; a hardened spiritual heart may lead to serious spiritual condition that may cause our spiritual deafness or death. There are many steps we may take to prevent our spiritual hearts from hardening. A hardened spiritual heart is more harmful and serious than a hardened physical heart. This could lead to eternal loss of life with God.
VARIOUS HEART DISEASES: (Info from WebMD)
1) Congenital heart disease: Heart defect or malformation in the structures of the heart that occurs before birth. This heart problem was a condition a baby was born with. On the spiritual sense, we all were born with a sinful nature in our hearts. Paul struggled to do what is good with his conscience but was unable to do so because there was a pre-condition in his life that prohibits him from doing the right thing. He lamented in Romans 7:21, “I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” All men were born with a sinful condition that prevents us from having a healthy heart, a condition only Jesus can help to remove.
2) Coronary heart disease: Coronary heart disease is also called artery heart disease. This happens when arteries are clogged with fat, inflammatory cells, proteins, calcium and other things that form plagues sticking to the blood vessel walls. This causes the blood vessels to become narrow that slows down the supply of oxygen rich blood to the heart. When human hearts are clogged with sinful desires, worldly values and evil intents, it is difficult, if not impossible, for God and His words to flow through human hearts. That's why Paul encouraged Christians to get rid of all the filthy defects of the old life that may clog our spiritual arteries and slow or stop our spiritual growth. (Ephesians 4:31)
3) Heart valve disease: The four valves in every heart suppose to provide one-way blood flow through the heart. The heart valves make sure that blood always flow freely in a forward direction and that there is no backward leakage. This pattern is repeated over and over to cause blood to flow to the heart, lungs and body. But valve opening could become hardened and smaller and could not close tightly and blood flows could become backward. Backward blood flow could cause serious heart problem in our physical health, backward sliding of spiritual life may cause serious spiritual problem in Christian life, effective growth and usefulness in God’s Kingdom. Paul encouraged us to “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize.” (Phil. 3:13-14) Hardened spiritual heart stops the intake of spiritual nutrition for healthy spiritual growth.
4) Heart muscle disease: This is a type of progressive heart disease in which the heart is abnormally enlarged, thickened, and stiffened. As a result, the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood is weakened, often causing heart failure and the backup of blood into the lungs and the rest of the body. This disease can also cause abnormal heart rhythms. Strong heart muscle is essential to strong heart condition. Strong spiritual muscle is also essential to spiritual growth of faith, love, service and giving. You can measure your spiritual condition by measuring your spiritual muscle condition: you faith, love, service and giving to God, His church and other courses. Some Christians become weak in their spiritual muscle that lowers their usefulness in God's Kingdom and His church, This will lead to loss of joy, faith and strength in everyday life.
PROBLEMS OF HARDENED HEARTS: (Zachariah 7:8-14)
1) God pointed to a problem: As medical studies indicated, heart problems are not modern-day problems. They begin to form from teenage years long before medical technology development was able to detect. Hardened of spiritual heart is also not a recent problem. Prophets in the Old Testament cried to call God’s people to repent their sins and come back to God. Zachariah lamented on the hardened of hearts of the Israelis and begged them to return to God. Some may think or feel that the world today is much worse than that of yesteryears. The truth is human race has been wicked and evil ever since history began. Very early in history, the Lord saw that all the inclination of man’s heart was nothing but evil all day long. (Genesis 6:5)
2) God demanded a solution: "And the word of the Lord came again to Zachariah," (Zach. 7:8) Early in the Bible, God spoke through Moses that the Lord "does not leave the guilty unpunished, He punishes the children and their children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation." (Exodus 34:7)Just as doctors won't leave a deadly disease untreated, God will not leave spiritual problems of His children untreated. God told the Israelis through Zachariah that He saw the sins in their society and demanded a solution for correction. No one should assume that God doesn't care if he or she has a spiritual problem or a hardened spiritual heart. He does and demands a change. In Hebrews 12:6 says, "Because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son." God will never let go of our spiritual problem without taking steps to correct the problem.
3) God demands justice: "This is what the Lord the Almighty said: Administer true justice." (7:9)True justice based of the justice of God. There is not true justice besides God's justice. This is about those who hold the authority of judging people, those who hold power on others. This is a social problem against those who administer the law not by the justice of God but by personal agenda or by bribery. For a society to be in peace, all people need to be treated equally just and fair according to the standard God has set in His word. No judge may make up laws or interpret laws on his own terms or benefits.
4) God demands compassion: "Show mercy and compassion to one another." (7:9b)This is about the people and their ways of treating each other. God asks that we treat others not base on laws or regulations, but on mercy and compassion. Mercy is needed on those they have come short of the law and compassion is needed on those who have violated the right of others. God has tremendous capacity of mercy and compassion and "does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." (Psalm 103:10) The Bible always encourages us to treat others with mercy and compassion just as God has mercy and compassion on us.
5) God protects the disadvantaged: "Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the aliens or the poor." (7:10)We always have the poor, the under advantaged, the aliens and the outcasts in our society. We are to treat them with dignity, respect and fairness. Taking advantage of the poor and the vulnerable is against God's command. This is not just a social problem, it is also a personal problem. We are to protect those who cannot protect themselves including the unborn babies. To support policies that work against the poor and the defenseless is a spiritual problem of hardened hearts.
6) God demands our attention: "But they refused to pay attention, stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears." (7:11)This is not a present day problem people turn their backs on God. It was the same in the Old Testament time, at least during the years of Prophet Zachariah. (Approx. 500BC)Today, too many people turn their backs on God and their ears from listening and obeying God's command. When a society turns her back against God, that society is on her own to govern and administer justice without the supreme authority of God. Anyone who refuses to listen to God will certainly be dealt with by God's judgment. No one may ignore God and doesn't pay a price.
7) God saw hardened hearts: "They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent." (7:12)There are people, including some Christians, ignore their hardened hearts and they think God doesn't see their problem but God does. A hardened heart is a spiritual problem and God is the source of all spiritual matters. How can a spiritual God doesn't see our hardened hearts? How do you know your heart is hardened? God says: Just look at your attitude to His laws and words sent to us through the Bible and His servants. This may be the reason some so called Christians never want to read the Bible and don't like to go to church because they are afraid that the law and word of God may condemn their hardened hearts. But ignore your hardened heart and the reminder of fixing it doesn't make it foes away. I just deepens the problem that may lead to more serious suffering at a later time.
8) God gives us a warning: "When I call, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen." (7:13)This is not an act of revenge but an urgent advice to get the attention of the Israelis and us. Many people, including some Christians, think they will never need to call on God for help but they do. The sure way to get God's attention and answer of our prayers is to listen to Him now. Communication to God is a two-way street like every relationship. If we don't listen to God today, don't expect God to listen to you when you are in grave trouble. When you hear people complain that God doesn't hear their prayers, they may need to ask themselves if they have listen to God's call before the bad things happen.
9) God shows consequence: "I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations where they were strangers. The land was left desolate behind them that no one could come or go." (7:14)Everyone knows the old time principle: you reap what you show---there are consequences of your actions. When people forget God, ignore God, close their ears to God, abandon God, they will certainly reap consequence of their action. God will withdraw His hands of protection and they will be subjected to their enemies, captured and put into exile in places they don't belong. All that they used to treasure will be left behind, their land will become waste land and no one will even come across to their land. Total abandonment by God is a terrible consequence of ignoring God. God doesn't need us but we sure need Him.
PREVENT HEARTS FROM HARDENING: Here are some of the ways that may prevent hearts from hardening.
1) Pay attention to your heart: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23)These are the wise counsel of King Solomon, the wisest man on earth. Too many people care about many other things except their hearts which is the center of their life. When the heart is bad, everything else doesn't mean anything. Same is our spiritual heart because that is what God cares the most. Do not ignore the condition of your spiritual condition. It has to do with everything else of your life. Turn your heart toward God and He will heal your sickness.
2) Watching your diet closely: "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)These are the words of King David who was honored to be "the man after God's heart." (1 Samuel 13:14)The first thing to keep your heart healthy is watching what you eat. Same principle applies to our spiritual heart health: watching what you put into your heart. Are the things in your heart good for your spiritual growth or they are like plagues that block your heart from functioning properly? Paul advised the early Christians to install in their hearts and mind with things that are worthy of praise and of value. (Phil. 4:8)
3) Never stop exercise: "Brother, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13-14)At his old age, Paul still continued his spiritual exercise, straining forward each and everyday. As muscles need exercise to keep them strong, spiritual power also needs constant exercise to keep them strong and the exercise is actively serving God anywhere and everywhere God puts you in: at home, at work, in school, at church, in neighborhood and everywhere else. Do not idle and do nothing for God and people. Serving God and others is a sign of your healthy condition.
4) Take medication regularly: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you know that by (study) them you possess eternal life." (John 5:39)All heart patients know the importance of following doctor's advice to take medication as prescribed regularly without interruption. King David in Psalm 119 used many different ways to describe the healing power and the nurturing effects in the study of God's word. To have a healthy heart, we need to have regular doses of God's word each day. Bible study draws us closer to God and His will. It helps us to understand God's way of life much better and clearer. It also helps to clean up clogs and filthy stuff in our thought and mind. When we are connected with God through His word, we have more powerful to bear fruits to glorify Him.
1) Monitor your heart condition: We all know that regular physical checkups is a must to maintain good health, same is true to our spiritual health condition. We need to keep checking our spiritual heart to see if it is in good condition. Do not let busy life, worldly activities or even busy schedule at the church steal away your attention needed for your spiritual health. Consult a spiritual mentor to tell you how your true spiritual condition may be. Ask him/her to suggest ways you may improve your spiritual health condition.
2) Take necessary actions: Whenever you know there are problems in your heart, you will consult a doctor to seek treatments. Same is true to our spiritual heart. When we feel something is wrong, or see the effects of a wrong spirit, we need to seek God for a cleanup treatment. Do not ignore your spiritual problems or they will only get worse until it is too late to treat or too hard to change. That's why it is important that we need to keep a regular time with God each day for self examination and cleaning. Ignoring your spiritual problems won't make them go away.
3) This heart is more important: Almost everyone knows the importance of keeping a physical heart clean and healthy. But all human hearts are going to die someday. Our spiritual heart is much more important because that will live forever. Fro your eternal health needs, you need to seek help from the best doctor for your heart who is our Lord Jesus Christ. He has the power to clean your heart, to put you back in right condition and to make your life meaningful again. Come to Him, seek His forgiveness of your sins and ask Him to come into your heart and be the center of your life. When Jesus is in control, all things will be in right positions.