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TransformationLetting God Change You from the Inside Out
By Bill Hybels
ZondervanCopyright © 1997 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION 1 TRANSFORMATION
A New Heart
THE BIG PICTURE
There is a very serious heart disease we should all know about. I call it "the disease of hard-heartedness." There is also a very painful but effective cure for this disease.
Many times in the Old Testament we read that God accused the people of Israel of being hard-hearted. In the New Testament, Jesus would sometimes tell the religious leaders, and even His own followers, "Your hearts are so hard!" In the Bible "hard-hearted" refers to the unresponsive, stiff, angry, insensitive, rebellious, and independent attitude ruling our hearts. This attitude is first directed toward God, but also toward other people.
Jesus told a parable of a farmer who went out and sowed seeds. You don't have to have a green thumb to know that the object of sowing seed is to get it into fertile soil so it can take root and produce fruit. Jesus pointed out that often when a farmer would throw seed, some would land on hard-packed soil. That seed was wasted; it would never grow. Jesus went on to explain what He meant by this agricultural story. Some people's hearts are impenetrable, hardened, unresponsive, and callous. The Word of God just bounces off. It doesn't even take root.
If I were to nominate a biblical character for the "Iron Heart Award," I would submit the man who was crucified next to Jesus. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, there was a criminal being executed on His right and another on His left. One was a repentant thief. In the last moments of his life, he softened his heart and said, "Oh Lord, would You remember me?" Jesus said to him, "Today you'll be with Me in paradise." But the other thief, who was being crucified for a life of crime and violence, had a hard heart. He was minutes from death, inches from the Savior, but his heart was like stone. He was busy hurling abuse and insults at Jesus.
The repentant thief called over to the hard-hearted thief and said, "I can't believe it. You are minutes away from death and inches away from the Savior and you're still hard! Don't you fear God?" From all indications of Scripture, the "Iron Heart Award" would have been presented to that unrepentant thief on his arrival in hell. And that is what will happen ultimately to those people who spend their whole lives with an attitude of hard-heartedness.
A WIDE ANGLE VIEW
1 If you were a spiritual doctor doing a test for hard-heartedness, what are some of the symptoms you would look for in your examination?
A BIBLICAL PORTRAIT
Read Ezekiel 11:17-21; 36:24-28
2 According to Ezekiel, idolatry was a sign of hard-heartedness. What did idolatry look like in Ezekiel's day?
What does idolatry look like in our day?
3 In these passages, Ezekiel tells of some specific changes that are going to happen in the lives of God's people as their hearts are softened. What are some of these changes?
In what ways are these same changes needed in our lives today if we are going to experience transformed hearts?
SHARPENING THE FOCUS
Read Snapshot "A Hard Heart"
A Hard Heart
Hearts get hard when we habitually say no to God. The very first time you say no to God a little layer forms around your heart. The second time another layer goes around your heart. The third time another layer forms, and on and on it goes. A person who ends up saying no to God for a lifetime ends up with a heart encased by steel.
As a person's heart grows hard, two things begin to happen. First, the hardness drives them farther away from God. There is no openness, no sensitivity to spiritual things, no desire to hear God speak. Hard hearts finally say, "I have no need for God or the things God has to offer." Second, when a heart grows hard, there is a lack of sensitivity toward others. Selfishness sets in and generosity is driven away. Other people become commodities, pawns in the game of life, a means to an end. True love in relationships and care for others is no longer a possibility for people with hearts lined with steel.
4 Describe a time in your life when you experienced hard-heartedness toward God. How did this impact your faith and relationship with Him?
5 During a time you were experiencing a hard heart toward God, what impact did this have on your relationships with one of the following people?
A close friend
A colleague at work
A family member
Read Snapshot "A New Heart"
A New Heart
God says that if this disease is going to be dealt with, the first step is for the heart to be pierced ... stabbed ... pricked. In the book of Acts we read about the Day of Pentecost when Peter received the Holy Spirit and began to preach with great power (Acts 2:38). At the end of the message we read that all of the people who heard were "pierced in their hearts." They were stabbed with truth from the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Bible is like a razor-sharp, double-edged sword ... it cuts, stabs, pierces, and sometimes hurts. But it's the only hope for a hard heart.
The toughest truth for us to hear, the one that cuts the deepest, is the one we need to hear the most. The Bible tells us there is a root cause for hard-heartedness. The Bible calls it "sin." We're born in it. We're conceived in it. We have a sin nature, and we make sinful choices. We all have this heart disease. Romans 6:23 tells us that it is a terminal illness. All of us are infected with the disease of hard-heartedness toward God and others and we can't cure ourselves.
The good news is that God has a cure. The cure is miraculous. The cure is 100 percent effective. But, the cure is painful. No getting around it. The only way to get a new heart is to acknowledge your sin (that your heart is damaged beyond repair) and to let God forgive you and give you a new heart. There are no bypass surgeries, or simple solutions. It is going to take a heart transplant if we are going to experience change in our lives. It will be painful, but the new heart you receive will make all the difference in this life and for eternity!
6 If you have acknowledged your heart disease to God and received a new heart through Jesus Christ, how has this decision changed your life?
7 If you have not yet asked God for a new heart through Jesus, what is standing in the way of this decision?
Read Snapshot "A Soft Heart"
A Soft Heart
Part of having a new heart is having a soft heart toward others. In the New Testament days there was a man named Saul. Before he got his new heart, he used to intimidate followers of Christ, arrest them, beat them, and sometimes kill them. He thought he was doing the right thing, but his heart was hard as stone. But, hard-hearted Saul was pierced with the truth of Christ on the Damascus Road, and he received a heart transplant.
His responsiveness to God is legendary. His new heart became soft toward God and others. He soon referred to himself as a bond servant, a slave, and clay in God's hands. He became sensitive and soft toward other men and women. Old hard-hearted Saul became soft-hearted Paul. He ended up writing many of the books of the New Testament and his favorite term for other followers of Christ was, "Brothers and Sisters." He also called new Christians, "My dearly beloved little children." In Philippians 1:7 he simply says, "I have you in my heart." When we let God move in us, He will give us a soft heart toward others.
8 How have you seen God soften your heart toward others since you have become a follower of Christ?
9 Who is one person you need to soften your heart toward?
In what ways can your small group members pray for you and keep you accountable to honor Christ in this relationship?
PUTTING YOURSELF IN THE PICTURE
A Soft and Responsive Heart
When you have a new heart, you have a desire to be submissive to God. Every morning you need to say, "I give You my life today, Lord." You can start your day singing, "Have Your own way, Lord. Have Your own way. You are the potter, I am the clay." You begin to pray, "Mold me, make me, do whatever You want with my life, it's Yours." It's a submission issue, a flexibility issue, a surrender issue. Your life motto becomes: "Just say the word, Lord." Your soft heart says, "Whatever the Scriptures teach, that's what I want to do." A responsive heart is one that always says yes to the Holy Spirit.
Take time in prayer every morning for the coming week and offer your heart to God. Ask Him to soften your heart and make you responsive to His will and leading. Commit yourself to follow His will as He reveals it through Bible study, through experiences, and through the gentle promptings of His Holy Spirit.
Praying for Others
Identify someone in your life who still has a hard heart toward God. Commit yourself to take at least five minutes every day for the next month to pray for this person's heart to soften toward God. Pray that they will recognize their own need for a spiritual "heart transplant" and pray for the Holy Spirit to begin doing surgery on them, even if it hurts.
Excerpted from Transformation by Bill Hybels Copyright © 1997 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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