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BECOME A MEMBER TODAY! JULY'S VERSE: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

Good News for this Hard Heart

God Can Make it Soft

 by Natalie Abbott

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." — Ezekiel 36:26

Have you ever made the conscious choice to harden your heart? 

Have you ever been in an argument where you just went there? Where the gloves came off and you were throwing punches with the intent to hurt your opponent (who was actually your loved one)? I have. I can remember specific times where I saw two paths before me: the path to restoration—calling me to soften my heart, admit my own wrongs, and forgive; and the path of destruction—beckoning me to harden my heart, press into my hurt and my rights, and fight back without regard for the other person. I can tell you without exception that I always regret hardening my heart. I regret the damage I cause when my heart is hard. And I always find myself wishing I’d chosen to be soft.

I want a soft heart all the time.  

Not just when I am at odds with someone, but in my posture toward God and other people, in my work and in my leisure. I want this verse to be true in my own real life! And it can be. There are so many practical applications for this verse in our daily lives. And we are for sure going to talk all month about so many of these things (here and on our podcast). But before we can rightly apply this verse, we must first understand it. These words come from the middle of a story, and when we understand them in that context they only become more beautiful and wonderful. That story starts out with this truth:

People have stony hearts. 

Our hearts are cold and hard towards God. Every story in the Bible bears witness to this reality. From Eve to Samson to David to Paul. And here in Ezekiel (where we find our verse), we pick up the story with God’s people enduring the consequence of hundreds of years of hard-hearted rebellion. God had promised if they would only follow him, he would protect and bless them in the land he gave them, but if they wouldn’t follow him, he’d send them out of their homeland and take away his blessings. Needless to say, they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. So, God sent the Bablylonians to ransack and conquer his people and take many of them into captivity 700 miles from home. 

In the midst of this mess, far from home, we meet Ezekiel. 

He’s a priest, and in the same year that he should have started serving God in his temple, God gives him a vision of his actual throne room, and it’s glorious and terrifying and awesome (you can read about it in Ezekiel 1–3). God makes Ezekiel his mouthpiece—communicating to his people through him. First God explains his just judgment of them (chapters 1–24), then he tells how he will  judge their enemies (chapters 25–32), and finally God tells them of his plan to bless them and restore them in the most wondrous of ways (chapters 33–48). It’s in this last section that we find the promise in our verse—that God would give his people soft hearts and new spirits. It’s the very thing God’s people needed then (and the very thing we need right now). Yet, it’s the very thing no one can do for themself.

Only God can make things right in us.

We can’t change our hearts from stone to flesh. We can’t muster up spirits that are willing to follow God. No one can. God has always known our human predicament, and he has always had a plan. Throughout the story of the Bible, God reveals his plan to make things right with people (and eventually with all of creation). And this prophecy speaks to that plan, for his people then and for us right now. This prophecy was fulfilled for God’s people in Ezekiel’s day when he brought them home, gave them soft hearts and willing spirits, and restored their relationship with him. The next verse says that God not only promised a new spirit, but his own Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27). And if you’re reading this today as someone who has trusted in Jesus alone for salvation, this promise God made long ago is true of you—the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, and it is astounding! God has given us soft hearts and his own Spirit! 

But let me bring it back around.

If we’ve been given soft hearts, how is it that we harden them so often? How can we hold a grudge against anyone when we’ve been forgiven so much? How can we harden our hearts to our own sin, dismissing and justifying it? How can we continue putting garbage into our hearts and expect them not to become callous to sin? How can we hold God at arm’s length when his own Spirit lives in us? Yikes! I certainly don’t have all the right answers for these questions, but I do think they’re the right questions. They’re the questions we’re going to be answering all month long on the podcast. I hope you’ll join us for some honest conversations about how we can live out this verse.

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the co-founder and chief content officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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