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Prepared                                  17/5/16

On the day the church celebrates Pentecost, I woke with a very sore, stiff neck. It robbed me of some of my joy and I thought I should do a study of stiff necked people in the Bible to see if there was anything I had in common with them. I didn’t feel particularly stubborn and my desire was to listen and obey God. Perhaps there was something else that resulted in God calling them stiff necked, something I could learn from too.

The first reference to people being stiff necked is in Exodus 32:9.

"I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people."

Why did the Lord call them stiff necked people? Because they didn’t prepare their hearts or their ears. Instead they turned aside from God’s ways and they did it quickly. They went back to what they may have called the good old ways of Egypt, the familiar ways. They turned back to what they knew and were used to, what the New Testament writers might have called the way of the world.

God’s ways aren’t our natural ways. He often does new things, and if we walk with Him we will walk in those new things too. Like Joshua, God often leads us where we’ve never been before (Joshua 3:4). This means there are challenges and battles and times when we need to wait patiently upon God until we know what He wants us to do, and where He wants us to go. Does He want us to go out and fight the battle or stand still and watch, as He brings a miraculous deliverance?

In 2 Chronicles 20 the Lord said, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you.” So the people took their positions. They sang and praised the Lord and the Lord won the battle for them. In 1 Samuel David asked the LORD, if he should attack the Philistines, and the LORD said, "Go and attack the Philistines and deliver Keilah."

 Every battle is different. We can be overcomers if we prepare our hearts and ears to hear the counsel of the Lord. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is “wonderful counsellor.”

I had a strange dream last night. A lot of dark creatures wanted to shoot all those in the country who were in debt, who had taken out mortgages and were living beyond their means. They would only spare those without mortgages. We were about to elect a new leader and I had a word for him. I found myself sitting next to him and said. “You are the man. You will lead us out into the sunshine.”

Do you think it ludicrous that anyone would want to shoot all those with mortgages? Mortgages are a part of our way of life. Not many are debt free and live that way of life, yet in some places it is still possible.

Romans 13:8 “Pay everyone what you owe him: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Be indebted to no one, except to one another in love, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.”

Is it ludicrous to kill all those who are indebted to someone, to those who have failed to live according to this scripture verse? Well, some have been killed for not following particular religious commands. Some have been killed for owing drug dealers money. Have you ever had someone steal from you? They owe you don’t they? Did you feel angry enough to want to shoot them?

Jesus spoke of a different way of thinking. He suggested praying that our debts be forgiven as we forgive those who owe us. As Christians we have elected Jesus to be our leader. He will lead us into the sunlight, if we let Him.

The people in Exodus were not the only ones who didn’t prepared their hearts and ears.  We are told King Rehoboam did evil because he didn’t “prepare his heart to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 12:14).

In Acts 7:21 Stephen called the Jewish leaders “stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears.” They were like those in Exodus, he said. They had received the Word of God yet they didn’t do it. Instead they were always resisting the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, Ezra did prepare his heart. He prepared it to seek the law of the Lord, to do it and to teach it (Ezra 7:10), and Hezekiah prayed that the Lord would pardon every-one who prepared his heart to seek the Lord, and the Lord “inclined His ear.” He answered Hezekiah, and healed the people. (II Chronicles 30:18-20).

Some references in scripture speak about people preparing their hearts, some speak about God doing it and others of both God and the person doing so.

Job 11:13 “If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer!

Psalm 10:17 says, “LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart and incline your ear.”

Sounds similar to battles. Sometimes the Lord did the fighting and sometimes the people were told to do it.

So, how can our hearts be prepared? Will the Lord do it or is there something we need to do? The successful battles were those that began with people seeking the Lord, inquiring of Him of what He wanted. He is the Lord, the All- knowing One. He created us and knows what’s best for us.

  1. King David had a heart after God and in Psalm 139:23-24 we catch a glimpse of why. He prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

    Prayer is a good way to start, opening our hearts to the gaze of the Lord, like king David.
    “Know my heart. It is open to You. Search me and know me."
     
  2. King David said in 1 Chronicles 29:18, “O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee.”

What was it that David wanted to be forever in the hearts of his people? The people had just given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord and rejoiced in giving. Was it the willingness the people had to give to God as well as the memory of it? How would God keep it in their hearts? Talking about it with rejoicing may have been what King David had in mind, but David also kept the memory of it alive by writing it down.
One of the Holy Spirit’s functions is to remind people of things. He can use written memories of God’s goodness to prepare our heart. When I was young I wrote down some of my prayers and when God answered one, I would write the date beside it. This built up my faith and encouraged me. I was a witness to God’s goodness. The writing formed part of my testimony and re-reading them made it easier for me to tell others about God’s goodness. It kept not only the memory alive, but the knowledge of God’s goodness as well. It was a tool the Holy Spirit and I could use to keep me rejoicing. Does God want you to write down your testimonies, your answers to prayer, so He can keep the knowledge of His goodness in your heart?
Are there some things we can do to prepare our ears?

  1. In Revelation 2 and 3, it is written, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Part of preparing to hear, is expecting God to communicate with us.

In Isaiah 29:13 we read of people who drew near to God with their words and lips using the teachings of men, but their hearts were far from Him. A healthy relationship is not a one sided speaking encounter, but a heart to heart encounter. What is in your heart? What is in God’s heart?

  1. Tuning into God means tuning out of other voices. Mark and Luke encourage us to consider carefully what and how we hear (Mark. 4:24) (Luke. 8:18). What do we spend our time listening to? Is it true? Does what we hear encourage us in God’s ways or not?
     
  2. We can prepare our ears by putting ourselves in a place where we can hear. This may mean listening to a sermon, studying the scriptures, or reading the Bible. However, filling our time with activity, even Christian activities may not help. We can bypass the relationship Jesus wants with us, by filling our time with doing rather than being in His presence. I often begin my daily Bible reading by telling God I want to hear what He is saying to me.
     
  3. Seeking the Lord, takes time. We may need to mark it in our dairies if we have a busy life-style. Meeting with Jesus may mean pre-arranging the time and place so we are not interrupted or distracted by other things. If we don't think we've heard from Him in that time, don't be discouraged or in a hurry like the people who didn't wait for Moses to come down from the mountain. They were more interested in doing than getting close to the Lord.

In Nehemiah 9:17 the people stiffened their necks. They refused to obey God and were not mindful of the wonders He did among them. They also appointed a captain to return to their bondage, yet God was still ready to pardon them. He is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and He didn't forsake them.

It’s all about relationship isn’t it. We invite Jesus into our life and open our hearts to being filled with His Holy Spirit. We let Him captian us. We let go of going our own way and yield to being filled with the new Way. Do you remember Jesus saying that he was The Way the Truth and the Life? Christ in us, by His Spirit means we can be living this new way.
John prepared the way for Jesus, preaching about repentance for sins. Let’s enjoy our relationship with hearts prepared for Jesus.
Is there something you need to do to prepare your heart and your ears today?

 

References in brackets come from the Bible.