The Antidote for a Hard Heart

The writer of Hebrews speaks to us of the importance of encouragement:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 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 3:12-13

In this passage the writer tells us that the antidote for a hard heart is encouragement. The Greek word, translated encourage, is 'parakaleo' - it is one of my favorite Greek words. In John's gospel Jesus calls the Holy Spirit "Comforter" which is a translation for 'paracletos' - a similar Greek word . Both of these words communicate a deep sense of coming along side someone to comfort them, strengthen them, rebuke them and teach them. These words encapsulate encouragement.

I find it interesting that these verses seems to define leadership differently than the way I once thought of leading ... leading from the side and not the front or back. I guess that is really what encouragement is all about ... walking with someone ... holding their hand as they go through some difficult stuff. My wife has been such a person for me ... believing in me ... hanging in there with me ... helping me see that the glass is more full than empty. I believe that the Holy Spirit not only encourages us directly but at times He becomes an encourager through other people.

The verse warns us that our hearts can be hardened, sinful and unbelieving if we are left to ourselves. Being in close relationships with caring brothers and sisters sets our hearts free to be soft. When we share our pain, our disappointments and our fears with them we make ourselves available to be encouraged. Another verse in Hebrews speaks also of encouragement. It reads:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. -- Hebrews 10:25

Again we see the writer using "parakaleo" ... urging us to not just see each other on Sundays but walk with each other ... open our hearts to each other ... and to give and receive God's gift of encouragement.

Religious Pollution

Do 'religious people' make you angry? You know those people who seem to love the rules but don't seem to love people. I must confess that they do make me angry. They made Jesus angry too. Listen to what Mark records in his gospel:

Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.' Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts? Stubborn hearts? Could that be the definition of a 'religious person'? Someone with a stubborn heart? That is way to personal for me. I want to look at this story and interpret 'religious people' as those who do not have compassion ... probably because I think of myself as a somewhat compassionate person ... but stubborn? This is not going at all the way I wanted it to - this was supposed to be a commentary on those religious self-righteous people who lacked compassion - not about 'stubborn people'.

When you come down to it we are all stubborn in one way or another. We get locked into our positions or thinkings and have a difficult time when Jesus shows up and wants to do something that doesn't fit into our theological paradigm. We can, like those religious people of Christ's day, cause distress and anger to our God when we refuse to work with Him and bring healing to the hurting. May He redeem our stubbornness and bring us to a place of humility, brokenness and compassion and make us religious people in the best sense of religion:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -- James 1:27

and also keep oneself from being polluted by stubbornness :)