How our hearts subconsciously block God out
Many Christians ask the question, “How can I grow close to God and hear Him speak to me clearly?” We may try for years and yet find we cannot hear God’s voice, see His face, or genuinely understand Him, no matter how hard we try. We begin to think that maybe He hasn’t chosen us, doesn’t care, or doesn’t speak anymore – without realising that is actually our hearts, which have been hardened over many years, that have shut God out. How do we unknowingly block God out?
Acts 28:27 NLT For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’
Most times, we are not even aware that our hearts have become stony and impenetrable because the spiritual barricades around our hearts have been slowly built over the years, one brick at a time.
Mark 3:5 ESV And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…
Identifying a hardened heart
What does the Bible describe as some symptoms of hardened hearts?
- Feeling disconnected or alienated from God | Ephesians 4:18 ESV They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
- An inability to empathise with or feel for others | Psalm 17:10 ESV They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
- Difficulty in progressing forward in spiritual abundance and maturity | Jeremiah 7:24 ESV But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.
- Difficulty in understanding the spiritual meaning behind God’s Word | Mark 8:17 ESV And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
- A lack of hope, constant anxiety | Ephesians 1:18 ESV Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
- Restlessness | Hebrews 4:5-7 ESV And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, Again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
God calls a heart that is hardened and closed off to Him “evil” because we become incapable of listening to the Holy Spirit and following His counsel. A hard heart will ignore or resist repenting to God for our wayward ways and thereby, receive His forgiveness and spiritual abundance. A heart that is soft and humble towards God, on the other hand, will store up eternal treasures in heaven.
Genesis 6:5 ESV The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Matthew 6:19-21 ESV “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Why we hold on to hardened hearts
We often block God out of our hearts subconsciously, hardened by the lies and sinful patterns we have learnt from this world.
1. Wrong teachings about God
Looking back historically, we see that it didn’t take too long (about 60 years) after Jesus ascended into heaven that teachings about “another Jesus” and “another gospel” started to circulate amongst the churches, as indicated in 2 Corinthians 11. Today, we too can put up with different and wrong teachings about God when we don’t search the Bible to test what we are being taught.
2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
For instance, some of us have been erroneously taught that Jesus’ first disciples’ radical love and works died along with them. As a result, we (wrongly) assume that many things that Jesus taught no longer apply to us today. The Bible is not God’s authoritative Word but simply a guidebook of niceties. We harden our hearts against God’s commandments that we find too challenging.
Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him will do greater things than He has, not less. This includes loving the most reviled enemies, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching God’s Word. Spiritually, Jesus has never left us; He has given us His Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit who was at work in Jesus’ first disciples and is the same Spirit in us today. We are warned not to be misled by diverse and strange teachings.
John 14:12-14 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Romans 8:11 ESV If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Hebrews 13:8-9 ESV Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…
2. Doubts and mistrust about God’s character
Secondly, we can also project our human understanding on to God and view Him through the distorted biases in our hearts. If we grew up in households where our guardians were harsh disciplinarians, we may see God as harsh too. Or perhaps our parents were too busy for us. As a result, we subconsciously assume God is likely to neglect us too… and so forth.
When our hearts are hardened against the first (but imperfect) representatives of love, our parents, it is likely our hearts will also be closed towards God, the ultimate Source of love.
1 John 4:16,18 NLT … God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
3. Confusions about salvation and God’s grace
It is easy to take God’s grace for granted.
Some of us may have made the mistake of assuming we can bask in God’s love and blessings without repentance. The Bible gives us a different picture. God is compassionate and gracious towards us, but He is no one’s fool. His patience and kindness are intended to lead us into repenting and turning away from our old hardened ways, so we are transformed into His image, away from the deadly grip of sin. When we keep rejecting His counsel and guidance, instead of gladly following Him, we demonstrate that we do not belong to God and are no different from those who refuse Jesus as their Saviour. There is no true salvation for those who harden their hearts and refuse to follow God.
Romans 2:4-5 NLT Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Luke 13:3 ESV No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Hebrews 10:26-27,29-31 ESV For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Also, see What Jesus demands of our salvation
4. Inbred defence mechanisms
When we were little, all our hearts were unguarded and impressionable. As we experienced hurtful, frightening, or stressful incidents growing up, we slowly closed and hardened our hearts in self-defence. Each of us still uses these deeply ingrained and instinctive patterns to cope with stressful situations today.
However, God’s Word shows us that such childhood emotional responses are led by the “basic spiritual principles of this world”, not God. In His grace and love, God allows us to use childish defence mechanisms to cope with pain and anxieties growing up, when we truly were vulnerable. As we choose to step into our identity of God’s children, we must turn away from our child-based spiritual princples because our defence mechanisms will inevitably mutate into ungodly strongholds that block God out.
Galatians 4:3-7 NLT And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Here are some examples of how our defence mechanism may play out in ungodly ways:
- Cover up, denial, self-deceit, suppression: “Everything is fine. I am doing all the right things as a Christian. (I won’t ask the Holy Spirit to show me if there is any sinful attitude in my heart).”
- Mistrust: “I have been hurt by people and don’t trust other easily. I don’t truly believe I can trust God. (I will re-make God in the image of man, rather than see God for who He is.)”
- Displacement: “This is causing me a lot of stress. (Instead of pouring my heart’s anxieties to God,) I will surf the internet / play online games / exercise / go to sleep / watch pornography etc.
- Shutting down: “There is too much going on in my life right now. I need to escape and sleep this off (instead of crying out to God and waiting on His help and healing.)”
- Pride, comparison: “I am doing fine, I am a better / nicer / wiser person than most people in this world. (Instead of comparing myself with Jesus and following Him, I use the patterns of the world as my guide.)”
- Projection: “Yes, this is ungodly but I don’t think I have a choice. They made me do this. (I won’t model Jesus who denied Himself and the world’s pressures to follow God’s will.)”
This is why God calls us to obey His Word, because our instinctive defence mechanisms will lead us to automatically obey our own desires instead. We are called to not rely on our own understanding but to trust and follow God’s ways. He will lovingly straighten out our crooked patterns.
James 1:14-15 ESV But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
5. Deceived by the lies about sin
To sin is to deviate from God’s will for us. Mankind has been sinning against God and His commandments since the fall of creation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, chose to follow the devil’s words instead of God’s. We all continue that pattern today. Everyone is under the influence of sin. No one is righteous.
Romans 3:9-12 NLT … we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
The devil lures us with the things of this world, such as “physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions”. From the minute we were born up to today, we have been persuaded and deceived into believing that worldly things can fulfill our desires for comfort, acceptance, and self-worth. The satisfaction that such things offer us, however, are fleeting and last only for a while.
The world offers many counterfeit options that can never satisfy our souls like God’s deep love, joy or peace can. As a result, we deviate from His will for us and contine to sin. Sin hardens our hearts and makes us “slaves” who can no longer hear God’s words, until we humble ourselves and seek Him with our hearts again.
1 John 2:15-17 NLT Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
Hebrews 3:12-13 ESV Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
John 8:34,47 ESV Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
6. Personal commandments and beliefs
From birth, our families or society give us a set of “social rules“ or commandments to live by, most of which are not likely to be biblical. Perhaps we are expected to worship our ancestors, strive for perfectionism, chase money or gain acceptance from others at all costs.
Once such ideas are planted in our young tender hearts and take root, they can block us from obeying God’s Word. We may have become hardwired to chase material “security” or avoid testifying for Christ for fear of rejection. We resist following the Holy Spirit because certain parts of our hearts are out of bounds to Him. We are more faithful to the commandments and beliefs we picked up in this world than to God.
John 14:15 ESV “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
7. Idol worship and spiritual blindness
The persistent worship of idols and false gods across the generations within one’s culture or family gives Satan access to our lives and the right to “blind our minds”. Such societies or people groups are no longer under God’s protection because He abandons idol worshippers to “do whatever shameful things their hearts desire”, until we repent and return to Him. Even though our spiritually blocked and hardened hearts will struggle to understand God’s Word, God graciously provides a “homing signal” in every one of us, idol worshipper or otherwise. Our conscience will lead us back to God if we choose to seek Him.
Romans 1:23-25 NLT And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired… They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
Romans 2:14-15 ESV For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
How to overcome a hardened heart
As we can see, there are many things that can harden our hearts towards God if we are not careful or remain unaware. This is dangerous for believers because whoever hardens their heart “will fall into calamity”.
Proverbs 28:13-14 ESV Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
The opposite of a hardened heart is one that reveres God, is willing to be humble and contrite, and submit to Him. God never forgets those He has created. Even if we have stubbornly refused to obey Him in the past, He will have compassion on us when we return our hearts to Him. He is a good and faithful Father who will forgive us. We simply need to genuinely repent of our unbelief, worldly sins, and idol worship in Jesus’ name.
Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
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