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The Importance of a Soft Heart


By Bart Nelson




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Mark 4.1 He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3 "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold." 9 And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 13 And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? 14 "The sower sows the word. 15 "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold."

Psalm 37.4 Delight yourself in (Hebrew literally means be soft toward) the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Proverbs 4.23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

Who wouldnít want to have the blessings and fruitfulness mentioned in these verses? The key, then, is how do we receive them? All of life comes from the heart. Changing the outside wonít help, wonít work. It has to happen on the inside!

First of all we want lots of contact with seed. Reading, hearing, memorizing, studying, singing, meditating are all obvious ways of obtaining seed (the word). In addition, God is always talking to us, but are we listening? This scripture doesnít limit the seed to what we can read (in fact in those days, there was no ĎBibleí and many couldnít have read it if there was). God talks through our friends, creation, circumstances, etc. in addition to His word. We need to be open to all of these sources. They are actually part of the softening process.

Jer. 4.4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, for my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-- burn with no one to quench it. Dt. 30.6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Rom. 2.29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Phil. 3.3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Circumcision was a symbol of cutting away useless flesh that got in the way of producing life and intimacy. We need ask Holy Spirit to examine our hearts to see if there is anything useless there, getting in the way of life and intimacy with our Lord. Baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.

2 Chron., 2.14 And he did evil, because he prepared or fixed not his heart to seek the LORD. 2 Chron, 19.3 Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and have prepared your heart to seek God. How do you prepare your heart?

You see, the responsibility to prepare our hearts (soil) for the word (seed), i.e. keeping it soft, is ours. Part of that preparation is to be open to receiving the seed. As I was meditating on the idea of preparing our hearts to receive the word (i.e. being soft), I came up with these ideas. I donít claim to have the corner on this. I think there should be much discussion as this is such a key topic. Worship, forgiveness, waiting on God, confession, giving, and intercession are all keys to soil preparation.

Letís look at forgiveness and confession first. I heard an illustration more than 20 years ago that changed my life and has stuck with me. The pastor used the scripture from John 7 about how rivers of living water were to come from us. This abundant flow of life, love, peace and power were to be the norm of the Christian life. He said that stuff in our lives can block this river, slow it down to a trickle, and eventually dam it altogether if we are not careful.

Any time someone hurts us in some way and we donít deal with it correctly, a boulder is thrown in the river. Until it is dealt with, it stays there. Each time it happens (potentially many times a day), the boulders mount up. The same thing happens with unconfessed sin. The longer we wait to deal with these things, the more the flow gets blocked. Another way to look at this is the soil illustration. The longer unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, or unconfessed sin stay in our lives the harder the soil becomes, the more rocks abide in our field Ė Heb. 3.12-13 and 12.14-15.

In the last year or more, I have begun doing something different. When I get hurt, in addition to forgiving the person, I lay my hand on my heart and ask God to heal any hurt that may be there. I may not feel anything wrong, but I donít want my river dammed. I donít want rocky or hardened soil.

I also try to keep short accounts with God. Waiting until bed time or morning devotionals doesnít cut it. That means a major chunk of the day can go by without a soft heart or free-flowing river. One of the main issues involved here is that the more time passes the worse the issues are. The hurts and sins become imbedded and the soil becomes much harder the longer we wait. Human nature is such that once the rocks or hardness come, it doesnít seem to matter much if additional rocks or hardness come.

Just being in this world tends to harden our hearts as well. Its hardness just seems to rub off on us at times. This is where worship and waiting on the Lord come in to play. As we are grateful for everything, praising God for who He is regardless of circumstances, and worshipfully loving Him in reckless abandon, our hearts are softened. In this process we accept with openness whatever He sees fit to ordain to our lives. He never changes and is always worthy, regardless of what is going on around us. It is too easy to harden our hearts when every little detail doesnít go our way. This process of worship leaves us in the presence of the Lord. If we follow this time by waiting on the Lord, He is allowed to talk with us. There, our hearts open to Him, He is allowed to deal with anything that may be amiss. I believe this helps our soil to be plowed deeply, avoiding the scorching that comes with shallow soil.

Broken in the Right Way

The definition of brokenness: broken in pieces, broken in or down, to rend violently, wrecked, crushed, quenched, ruptured, be maimed, be crippled, to shatter, bring to the birth, destroyed, hurt, torn. What brings brokenness? Sin and repentance, illness and pain, rejection, depression, loss, accidents, etc.

Brokenness is how we come to God and appropriate what we need.  It is also what hard or stony soil need: Ps. 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Is. 57:15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 "For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Is. 66:2 "For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. Mt. 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Mt. 21:42  Jesus *said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? 44 "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces;

It is the correct response to circumstances that would break us: Ps. 51.8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Cracks from brokenness. Like Paul said, celebrate them! 2 Cor. 12:9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. Read 2 Cor. to determine how many ways and times Paul was broken!

What brokenness handled incorrectly can do: Prov. 15:13 A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. Prov. 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. Prov. 18:14 The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit who can bear it? Prov. 29:1 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. Mt. 21:44 but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."

The world (and, unfortunately, often the church) offers false hope, comfort and healing: Jer. 6:14 "They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace. Jer. 8:11 "They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace.

Godís response to our brokenness: Jer. 8:19 Behold, listen! The cry of the daughter of my people from a distant land: "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not within her?" "Why have they provoked Me with their graven images, with foreign idols?" 20 "Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved." 21 For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? Mt. 12:20 "A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick he will not put out, until he leads justice to victory. 21 "And in his name the gentiles will hope."

The result of brokenness: Ps. 34:17 The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. Ps. 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

No fruitfulness comes unless weíre broken:  Is. 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; Mk. 6:41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves. Mk. 14:3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 8 "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 "Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her." Jn. 12:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 2 Cor. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4  who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. 2 Cor. 12:9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong

Jesus is the perfect model of this, of course. He never asks us to do what He doesnít already do. He left all to come to lowly birth and growing places. He became part of a hated race. He was servant to all. He was called the anointed, rather than the anointer, the lamb rather than shepherd, a sacrifice or ransom rather than the One to whom these were offered. His body was broken for us so that He and all of us could have resurrection life.

How do we determine the state of our hearts? Jeremiah 17.9-10 states, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" 10 "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds." For a long time I would try to figure out what was going on inside of me. Then I finally realized the truth of this verse. I can't figure myself out. As a good friend of mine preached that our hearts will either berate us or inflate us, that is telling us we're worse off or better off than we really are. Only Holy Spirit can reveal what state our heart is in. That's why David prayed (and we would be wise to do this daily) Psalm 139.23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Follow that with another of Davidís prayers, once Holy Spirit has shown us what is going on in our hearts Ė Ps. 51.10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Mt. 15.17-20 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.Ē Examining our words (and even thoughts that we dwell on) is another great way to see the state of our heart.

We've dealt a lot with the rocky and hard soils. It is time to look at the thorn-filled soil. If we have become self-centered -- i.e. greedy or worried, confession is an obvious help. That will get the thorns out. But more importantly, how can we keep them from growing in the first place? This is where giving, intercession and ministry come in. Giving sacrificially to the Lord, pouring our hearts out in intercession and spirit-led ministry are some ways to help us combat thorny soil. As we are pouring out to others, it is more difficult to be swallowed up in being self-centered and self-seeking. There are always others who are much worse off than we are. Focusing on meeting their needs helps us from not focusing on our own. The river illustration comes in here as well. If the river has no outlet, it becomes stagnant like the Jordan river flowing into the Dead Sea. If those rivers of living water are not flowing out to others in ministry, it is like having a dam of another sort. That flow is essential for life.

Mt. 9.17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. This parable was troubling to me for years. I always tried to keep my heart soft (my wineskin new) but it bugged me that if it ever became old, that it would be the end. Then I heard Jack Hayford talk about wineskins. He said that in Israel, what would happen is that when new wine (a type of Holy Spirit) was put in a new wineskin, it would ferment, expanding the skin and leaving deposits of tannin. But rather than throwing a way the skins, they would put the skin in a clear running stream, tying it down, so the water could flow through it. In a short amount of time, the skin would be good as new, ready for new wine again. That gives us a picture of us soaking in the river of Holy Spirit, until all the residue is washed away and we are renewed to our original flexibility for use again for the Lord.

Ezekiel 36.22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 23 "I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. 24 "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 "You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. 29 "Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. 30 "I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 "Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 "I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!" 33 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. 34 "The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. 35 "They will say, 'This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.' 36 "Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it." 37 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them: I will increase their men like a flock.

Zech. 7.12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. One of the dangers here is that we can willfully harden our own hearts. If we find ourselves in that state, it is time to repent!

Lastly, we can seek the Lord for a softer heart. That is the beauty of this passage in Ezekiel. A softer heart is available for the asking. The difference between a heart of flesh and a heart of stone is striking. A heart of stone is not flexible, itís dead, useless, hard, cold, hard to break, etc. while a heart of flesh is the opposite, itís flexible, living, soft, useful, changeable and warm. Gal. 5.19-23 talks about the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. 1 Cor. 13 talks about what love is and is not. In addition, Dt. 6.7, Mt. 6.19-21, 12.33-37, 15.5-7, 16-19, Eph. 4.22-24, 29-32, 5.18-20, Col. 3.8-15 help us discern the condition of our heart. If we need a softer heart, once again, ask Holy Spirit to reveal our hearts to us. If we recognize our need for a new heart, all we have to do is ask. It is likely that the Lord will direct us in some of the areas mentioned above. But, if we are persistent in seeking a soft heart from the Lord, we WILL receive one. Then, lets follow the principles listed above to maintain it!

2 Chron, 16.9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein you have done foolishly: therefore from henceforth you shall have wars. Ps. 51.16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heartó These, O God, You will not despise. Ps.57.7 My heart issteadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise. Ps, 86.11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Eze. 11.19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. A perfect or whole and undivided heart is Godís desire for us. He wants all of our heart. In that way He can give it away or flow through it to whomever He wishes, however, when and where ever.