Last week we went to the Mississippi Petrified Forest. It’s not as well known as the national park in Arizona, but we enjoyed walking the easy trail and seeing the ancient pieces of petrified wood. The wood in the Mississippi forest came from ancient trees that were swept up and carried by flood waters. The trunks eventually sank into the mud and were covered by layers of silt. Over time, minerals in the soil gradually replaced the organic material, forming petrified wood. Today you can walk through the forest and see the remnants of what were once living giants, now turned to stone.
Wood is not the only thing that can petrify. Our hearts can also turn to stone. Sins like pride, self-justification, grumbling, and greed can all seep into our hearts, slowly transitioning the the organic material of our souls into unyielding stone. Over time, a petrified heart loses its ability to hear and respond to the voice of the Spirit. Here are three steps to a petrified heart:
- Refuse to listen to the voice of the Lord (Exodus 8:15). This was Pharaoh’s path to a petrified heart. Though Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh about what was to come, Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to listen. After all, he didn’t know this Hebrew God. Moses and Aaron could do miracles? So what? Pharaoh’s magicians could do them too. Strange judgments like frogs and hail and storms? Scary in the moment, but storms pass. No reason to cower or change before this unknown God’s demonstrations of power. After all, wasn’t Pharaoh a god himself? Finding reasons to ignore the voice of the Lord is a sure path to a petrified heart.
- Give God Ultimatums (Psalm 95:8). After God delivered Israel from Egypt, the people came to a place in the wilderness where there was no water (Exodus 17:1-7). They grumbled and quarreled with Moses, demanding that he give them water. Moses told the people that they were putting God to the test. What does that mean? The people had seen God’s power as he delivered them from Pharaoh and allowed them to cross the sea on dry land. They had believed God’s promises of a glorious future. But now, in this moment, when things got hard, they refused to believe. Instead of looking what God had already done and anticipating what God had already promised to do, they demanded God act right now in the way they wanted if they were to continue to believe. They tested God, saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Although God had already proved his goodness and power, they demanded God show up again–implying that if God didn’t do what they wanted him to do the moment they wanted him to do it they were ready to walk away. They wanted a puppet, not a Savior. Giving God ultimatums leads to a petrified heart.
- Cultivate pride (Daniel 5:20). Daniel warned King Belshazzar, that his father, King Nebuchadnezzar, had let pride harden his heart. King Nebuchadnezzar looked upon his kingdom and saw it as a testament to his power and majesty. God humbled him, and the king lived like a beast until he acknowledged God’s true dominion and power (Daniel 4:28-37). Pride hardens our hearts by convincing us that we have no need of God and reign over our own little kingdoms. There’s no need to listen to God when you believe you are one.
But there is good news for the petrified heart. God promises to give us a new heart. In Ezekiel, God promised a new and better covenant. The Lord told his people he would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh–hearts that could hear and respond to the prompting of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Christ fulfills that promise. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can have a new heart–a heart that is an appropriate dwelling place for the Spirit of God. Even petrified hearts can live again by the power of the Spirit.
Q: How do you prevent a petrified heart?