Is your heart hardened? Do I have my mind set on earthly things? On the face of things these two questions don't seem to be related, but I think that they are. Most of us would say that our hearts aren't hardened against God, but if pressed would admit that we spend a significant amount of time thinking about earthly things.
I started thinking about this topic on Wednesday, when my friend gave a message to our Youth Group from Hebrews 3:7-4:3. In that passage the writer, quoting from Psalm 95, calls on his readers to not harden their hearts when they hear God's revelation. His example is the Israelites when God brought them out of Egypt, but then made them wander in the desert for 40 years because they rebelled against Him when it came time to enter the promised land. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that those who rebelled did not enter the promised land because they did not believe God's promise to give it to them; they were focused on the size and number of the people in relationship to themselves. The writer's exhortation to us is to trust God so that we can enter into his rest that he has promised to those who believe in him.
My friend's message and subsequent reading of the passage in Hebrews prompted me to think about a passage that I was reading recently in Philippians 3:18-20 where Paul mentions those who live as enemies of Christ. He characterizes them as being more focused on this life and earthly pleasures than on God and his word. This theme is also found in Colossians 3:1-17 where Paul exhorts his readers to "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2, NIV) He goes on to tell them to put to death the earthly desires of their flesh and to embrace the things of God. The thing about Pauls instructions in Colossians is that it involves consious effort and action on our part; it does not happen automatically.
So what does setting our minds on earthly versus heavenly things have to do with hardening our hearts? As the example of the Israelites indicates, they rebelled and hardened their hearts because they didn't believe God's promises. Most of us aren't at the point of open rebellion like the Israelites exhibited, but are we practicing a passive rebellion that is much more subtle and thus more dangerous? This is where some of the Christians in Philippians were, and what Colossians is warning us against. They were more focused on the things of this world instead of the things of God. If we aren't actively seeking God through his word then we will begin to focus on the world around us and pursue what it says is important instead of what God says is important. As our focus shifts to this world, we are less and less sensitive to God's word and our hearts begin to harden toward his truth. It happens slowly and many times we are unaware that it is happening. We may still be reading the Bible, but we aren't willing to make any changes to our life based on the truth that we read. It may even just be hardening in certain areas, such as our attitude toward family members, but in other areas, such as serving the church, we are willing to do whatever God may ask.
The remedy to this subtle hardening is to follow the pattern laid out in Colossians 3. It involves daily putting to death, devaluing, those things that are leading you away from God and his word. Then you need to put on, give value to, those things that God calls good. This begins with reading the Bible and when you are reminded of a sin in your life, repenting of it and following God. In addition to personal Bible reading and prayer, as I have been learing in our Sunday Morning sermons, we need to be interacting with each other, encouraging one another to remain sensitive to God's word and lovingly confronting each other about sin that manifests itself. This is how the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to keep from hardening their hearts. He says "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (Hebrews 3:13, NIV) To that end, I am praying that God will use this posting in your life to focus your mind on the things above rather than being focused on the things of this world.