We had a neighbor in Casey Creek, Kentucky – where I grew up who had “hardening of the arteries”. It was so sad to see this sweet lady who was full of class and was so kind, become mentally and physically dysfunctional over a short period of time. I remember thinking what a debilitating disease. The official name of this disease is Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes arteries to narrow, weaken and be less flexible. It’s the term for the process of fatty buildup in the inner lining of an artery. The buildup that results is called plaque and reduces the amount of blood and oxygen that is delivered to vital organs. Here is animation of Atherosclerosis from The American Heart Association.
I believe that a hardened heart is a grave spiritual condition. The Lord called this out when He walked this earth. It was a bit obvious in the Pharisees and Religious leaders. The Lord was frustrated with their hard hearts, but at the same time sad to see this. These people were the leaders of the synagogue and pursued God, but missed what He was saying to them. They were stuck in their traditions, rituals and habits and had no room in their heart for God to move them and shape them into who He wanted them to be. Check this out…
1 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand.2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.
3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.
5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6 NLT)
I see hardening of the arteries as a physical condition that develops over time. I see a hardened heart as something that happens over time as well. I don’t imagine that the Pharisees and Religious leaders started following the law and leading the synagogues so that they could be spiritual bullies and building up the law to supersede the One Who gave them the law in the first place. Jesus addressed this issue in the previous chapter of Mark, but it obviously fell on deaf ears. Check this out…
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:27-28 NLT)
Likewise, I don’t believe that Christians with hard hearts set out to be this way. They started out following Jesus with passion and enthusiasm. This passion gave way to rule keeping and spiritual aloofness that not only becomes destructive on our relationship with others, it becomes self-destructive personally.
When I see a lost person, I realize that except for God’s amazing grace – that could be me. I could also make a bad decision and ruin my reputation and my witness. I don’t ever want to become so “heavenly bound” that I’m no “earthly good”. I want to live a very open, transparent life with the Lord. I do not have all the answers. I struggle with temptation and sin. I have to repent often because of sin inside my heart. With the Lords help, I want my heart to continue to be shapeable and moldable by His Spirit in me.