By Mike Gilland
Many reading articles like this will likely be familiar with the story of Moses in the Christian Bible, and his plight with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt who stubbornly lived through the plagues sent from God. Most of us would capitulate after the first plague, but not Pharaoh. He hung on through ten amazingly difficult and costly trials before releasing his hold on the people of Israel and granting them freedom.
So is the nature of a hardened heart.
Stubbornness is not always bad; if we stubbornly believe or trust in God in the face of persecution, then it has some virtue. But the trouble comes in the condition of hard-heartedness that is more self-focused in nature, the kind that manifests itself when we head in the opposite direction of God’s guidance and end up “missing the mark” on what it means to live in step with Him. Trouble comes when we persist in going our own way instead of trusting Him.
I grew up hearing a phrase that was often used to describe this particular character flaw – “He’s as stubborn as an ox.” You’ve probably heard that one too. There is good reason why this analogy became part of mainstream vernacular. In fact, Paul, when he was still known as Saul, was himself sort of described as being “stubborn as an ox.” Here is the back story…
Acts 26 tells of Saul as he was on the Damascus road. As a light from heaven blazed around him, he became blind (Acts 9), fell to the ground, and then Saul heard God challenge him:
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (Acts 26:14b, NIV)
In that culture, this last phrase was very common. A farmer would use a goad to control and guide the oxen in his field. The goad was often wooden, and had one end sharpened to a spike. When the ox would stop, and ignore commands to move, the farmer would take the goad and poke the flesh of the ox. Sometimes that worked. But sometimes, the ox would be so stubborn that he would resist and kick back on the sharpened end of that goad. Amazingly, though the pain had to be great, some oxen would continue to resist and continue to kick, causing bleeding and injury to their hooves and legs.
That was the message that God gave Saul. Yes, it is hard to continue to kick the goads. But maybe, instead of fighting, STOP, listen, and obey! That was good advice for Saul, and for us as well.
Pastor Shawn Thornton tells a story that captures our need to listen and heed, choosing NOT to continue to kick against that thing that God has allowed, or placed, in our lives to guide us.
The scene is a darkened night on the ocean, and the captain of a ship is looking over the waters when he sees a faint light in the distance.
He orders his signalman to give this message: “Immediately alter your course ten degrees south.” Moments later, the ship received this response: “Alter YOUR course ten degrees north!” The captain was angered, and sent a more stern message back: “Alter your course ten degrees south…this is the Captain named Smith.” A reply was quickly given: “Alter YOUR course ten degrees north – I am a Seaman First Class named Jones.”
Now overcome in his pride and anger, the captain signaled a third message: “Alter your course ten degrees south…I am the captain of a war ship.” A moment later, this message was signaled back to the ship: “Alter your course immediately – ten degrees north. This is the lighthouse.”
Imagine how foolish – and costly – it would be for the captain to have maintained his course. Yet, that is exactly how many of us respond in life. Like the captain in the story, we can be blinded by our pride, refusing to back down. We don’t listen. And often, we run aground.
Thank God that we can have a different outcome.
The answer to this dilemma of stubbornness is humility. May we humble ourselves before a holy God, repenting of our hard hearts and pride, and turn from our sinful ways. (By the way, “sin” in the New Testament is defined as “missing the mark”…missing the mark of being in step with, following, and trusting God and His ways). May we be willing to see the light, turn back, and head in a safer direction… God’s direction.
How good it is to know that God will hear such a heart cry, and will answer our prayers!
Mike Gilland is Operations Manager for The Shepherd Radio Network, a group of radio stations in Florida that features the “Christian Teach/Talk” format. Mike hosts a daily talk radio show in the 2 PM hour called “Afternoons with Mike”, talking to local pastors and newsmakers. In Orlando, The Shepherd is heard on WIWA, AM 1270. In addition to his broadcast experience, Mike spent 36 years in full-time ministry as a pastor and worship leader. As a guitarist, Mike performs at concerts, restaurants, private parties, etc. He is married to Cindy, the father of four grown children and grandfather to seven grandchildren.