Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
— Proverbs 4:23
Have you ever felt stuck—desperate to experience God’s touch but not able to see a way forward? I’ve been there. In the midst of chronic pain and anxiety, I wanted to know that God heard my cries. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t experience God’s presence the way so many others seemed to. What was wrong with me?
On February 1, 2006 I wrote these words in my journal:
Lord, you’ve shown me that my heart is hard. You’ve not said this with a voice of condemnation, but a voice of love. You say that you will remove my heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, a heart you can fill. Lord, let it be.
I don’t remember exactly how God showed me the state of my heart. The previous entry, from a few days prior, sheds no further light on this revelation. But it does provide a window into my desperation at this time in my life. My body was in a state of constant pain. I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and my doctors could not yet pinpoint the cause of some mysterious autoimmune symptoms. Up to that day, spanning nearly 5 years, my journal is filled with pleading for God to lift the pain. But that February day marked a turning point—and, I believe, the beginning of my healing. It was the day I invited God to change me from the inside out.
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
I had fought long and hard to change my situation. I was tired. I was angry. I was desperate. Something needed to change, and I didn’t know what. But God knew. He saw what was broken, and it wasn’t just my body. When God reveals the truth of our situation, it is never done to condemn us. His purpose is always to bring healing.
Often the root of our pain is found in the condition of our hearts.
Rejection, disappointment, abandonment, trauma, loss. These human experiences leave scars, and it’s easy to allow our hearts to become hardened with the additional residue of unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, and shame. But a hardened heart eventually becomes impervious to love, joy, and peace—simply put, it becomes unable to receive from God.
Scripture repeatedly warns about allowing your heart to become hard. Hebrews 3:15 is a firm reminder. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” Deuteronomy 10:16 commands the Israelites to “circumcise” their hearts, thus allowing what is hardened to be removed. If we truly want to see change in our lives, this is essential.
Take a moment and ask yourself what it is that you really want God to do for you.
I’m often reminded of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. He waited by the pool for his chance to receive healing, believing that if he could only enter the water at the right time, he would be healed. But Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” His answer isn’t a simple Yes! Instead, he responds with excuses. He places blame. He is conflicted. He perhaps holds on to some hope but isn’t completely convinced he can be healed. Jesus sees that this man needs more than external healing. He needs a touch from the One who sees him and knows him—the one who can change his heart.
This is so often the case with us. The thing we think we need most may actually be of secondary concern to God. The man at the pool needed to know the true source of freedom—not only freedom from his infirmity, but freedom from the law of sin and death. He’d been living with his illness for thirty-eight years. That’s a long time to live with disappointment. I can easily imagine that his heart had grown hard watching other people become well, and I think it’s safe to assume that his illness had become part of his identity. He was stuck and couldn’t see a way forward.
The passage becomes particularly challenging when Jesus says, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” What was his sin? I have no idea. But I know he needed to stop living in his broken past. This is an important truth for all of us. Is Jesus asking you to “Pick up your mat and walk”? (John 5:8) Maybe that seems impossible at the moment. But God wants to lead you into freedom, if you’ll let him.
You weren’t born to live in darkness and despair, so don’t let your own heart be a hindrance to freedom, keeping you as a slave to fear.
Are there areas of your heart that you’ve allowed to become hardened? Areas you’ve tried to hide from God? He doesn’t condemn you. Submit those areas to his loving touch and allow his light to come into the darkness. You’ll be surprised by the change of perspective his light brings. Everything looks different when God’s love has its way in our hearts. Joy and peace fill the places where shame and fear once lived. The horizon of his hope expands before us.
It took time, but God answered my prayer. I’ve often described it as receiving a drip, drip, drip of his love. He didn’t come in with a tsunami—probably because he knew my heart couldn’t handle such force. He gradually stripped away years of shame, fear, and doubt. He unbound my emotions and allowed me to feel the depth of his love. He freed me from myself and allowed me to live again.
It is my hope that you also will know the freedom to which you have been called. Let us not forget that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)