Sometimes, we have a pharaoh's heart.
It is an unpleasant truth, but turning begins with humility and freedom when truthfulness is embraced. Let’s face it, disobeying God is comfortable. Easy to do. He is always speaking, but we are not always listening, Matthew 4:4. I have counseled many people who have been so controlled, so manipulated, and so used by others that they have no idea how gentle the Holy Spirit really is. Like breath. He is tangible and intangible at the same time. He is in the tender nudges that trouble us. Momentarily. Easily, we shake Him off.
What I take, takes me, is my favorite Norman Grubb quote. Once we cast off the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit, a silent condition begins to overtake our heart. Hardness.
Matthew 13:15, 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.'
I remember a young man who was on the cusp of making an important decision. He was normally brash and arrogant, but there was a fresh humility to his deportment. It became clear that God was wrestling with him and I began to pray for him. When I prayed, I saw him at a crossroad and he confirmed this was true. The Lord said that one road would lead to an intimacy with the Father while the other would lead him deeper into *religious bondage. The next time I saw him, his entire countenance had changed. The humility was gone and the arrogance had returned. When asked what had happened, he said that God had told him it didn't matter which road he took.
Exodus 10:3, So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow… They will devour what little you have left.”
There are things that hinder our worship. Strongholds. Other gods. And each one of these strongholds has a master who rules over it. We want to be like Christ, but we are selfish. We are angry instead of gentle. Depression is more of a companion than joy. We walk around stressed and frustrated instead of peaceful and patient with others. We greet our brothers and sisters with a smile and act as though we love them, but acting is the operative word. It isn't real.
Not every negative situation that comes into our life is warfare from the enemy. Sometimes, God sends the locusts to expose the pharaoh that is keeping us from worshiping Him.
It wasn't love at first sight when I met my husband. In fact, it was his heart that drew me to him. From the moment we met, we spoke on the phone daily and I fell in love with the person inside the body of John McCrary. This was back when phones hung on the wall with long, curly extension cords attached to the receiver. I would lay on the thick shag carpet in the hall for hours. Of all the young men I had met, he was the only one who began a conversation I could not bear to end.
As minister’s children, we took great pride in our father's heritage. However, much time had passed since their glory days and the locusts had eaten away at the fruit. Hardness of heart ruled where Love had once birthed a great move of God. Pharaoh had acquired many slaves.
We entered into marriage with our unacknowledged brokenness and for a while things appeared to be normal. But we were slaves living below our birthright. Eventually, my strong, religious, legalistic rigidity ran head first into his irreligious, immoral, unethical compromising. The immature Moses in us rose up to kill the uncircumcised pharaoh. And everything I had built my life on fell apart.
What I learned from my life with Johnnie was that I'd rather have the locusts eating the things I can see than pharaoh enslaving the things I can't. I'd rather allow God to strip me of the strongholds that are hindering my worship than pretend all is well while pharaoh is hardening my heart and leaving me fruitless and bankrupt. I have watched many people keep an appearance of having everything together on the outside, while their soul was fractured and starving. All that was green was being stripped away. They were becoming slaves to an inner master, but they could not see it.
Exodus 10:7, Pharaoh's officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”
Pharaoh keeps us from seeing the obvious. A hard heart keeps us blind to what the locusts are eating and religious pride deceives us while our spiritual pantry is being depleted. These two work well together. Locusts and pride. I know. For years, I was their slave.
Religion is about performance. How to walk and talk. How to get a job, pay our bills and be respectable citizens. It teaches us how to dress, but the price of religion is the heart of pharaoh. It has no power without amassing slaves. And so it is that we wake up one morning to discover that while we were sleeping the locusts have been in our house, stripping us of everything we loved and held dear.
When Johnnie and I met, we dressed to impress. Religion loved us and we returned the affection. We continued to travel and sing with my family and enjoyed the image that came along with it. We were often in leadership. For a while, the outside looked as though we had our life together, but the locusts had already stripped away all the fruit that should have been our inheritance. We kept trying to fix what the locusts were eating. The pharaoh in us didn't want to face the truth. We were bankrupt. The only way God was ever going to get us out of the illusion and into true worship was to allow the locusts to finish their work.
Love is the greatest passion in the universe. It is unconditional. Unyielding. And unending. Love will go to any length to bring its children home.
Exodus 10:8, Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But just who will be going?”
Even when our world is falling apart around us, the pharaoh in us tries to remain in control. This is what got us into trouble to begin with. Pharaoh wants to be god.
We need a transplant. A new heart.
Ezekiel 36:26, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
I vividly remember the day God told me He was going to remove my stony heart and give me a heart of flesh. For the first time in my life tears became an integral part of who I was. I didn't know what had happened, but Love had changed me. From a disconnected, religious person to a woman of brokenness and mercy. I wept all the time. I spent hours on the floor in prayer. The thought of others consumed my conscience. My heart became tender. Responsive. Compassionate.
I like how the New Living Translation puts this verse, And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
A stony heart is a stubborn heart; a “stiff neck” - a pharaoh's heart. Who among us hasn't stubbornly insisted on having their own way?
Isaiah 53:6, (amplified) All of us like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, each one, to his own way; but the Lord has caused the wickedness of us all [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing] to fall on Him [instead of us].
Pharaoh was stubborn. That's all. We've all been there. Done that. It didn't end well for him.
The locusts came and destroyed the rest of Egypt's produce. The land was devastated. There was nothing left to eat. Not now. Not later. Even then, his heart did not turn.
Flesh is proud. It can strip us down to our last dollar. Our last crumb of bread. Our spouse can walk out. Our children can tell us they don't want to have anything to do with our God. The last bit of green can fall from the tree of our life and still self refuses to yield.
It is a short distance between the Love we crave and the emptiness we dread. Humility is the bridge that spans the void, but self cannot cross it.
How is it possible that Pharaoh did not realize that the locusts were only the complication; the intensification of the conflict leading up to the climax? Beware the deception of a pharaoh's heart.
Obadiah 3, The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?'
The final showdown was coming, but first: Darkness.
Jeremiah 13:16&17, Give glory to the Lord your God, before He brings darkness and before your feet stumble on the dark and shadowy mountains, and while you are longing for light He turns it into the shadow of death, and makes it into thick darkness. But if you will not listen and obey, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and flow with tears, because the Lord's flock has been taken captive.
Be careful lest you receive darkness for light.
Isaiah 8:20, Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
Darkness can be misleading. Deceptively peaceful. Still. I imagine it was so for Pharaoh. Even the cricket's chirp had been obliterated from the land. Yet, in the midst of this windless, lifeless hush a sound more dreadful, more inexpressible and more alarming than any animal or creature under the sun began to rise over Egypt. The cry of human anguish floated out over the Nile, rolled up over the desert plateau and burst out over the delta, for Death had crept into the silence and taken center stage. The climax was in full swing. Pharaoh had lost the thing he worshiped more than God.
Locusts can't break the delusion of a stony heart, but Love will pursue us until death. Death will either separate us from God forever, or bring us into His presence.
Either way, death is the only thing that can set our worship free.
Locusts can strip away our possessions, but our idols are the things we keep near and dear to our heart. Our idols are what we truly worship. My way. My agenda. My will. The I am of man must meet the I Am. That was the showdown in heaven between Lucifer and the angels, between Pharaoh and Moses, and that is the ultimate showdown every man and woman must face between their flesh and God.
Death is painful. No one can minimize that. But it is the birthplace of worship.
Audrey Assad's song, Show Me* is one of the most anointed songs I believe I've ever heard. Though the music is haunting and lovely, it is the message that speaks.
Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and breathe me back to life
But not before You show me how to die
Oh, not before You show me how to die
Love is pursuing you, but the exaltation of self has to die. The stony heart must be crushed. Pharaoh's rule must be broken. There is no other way.
Ephesians 5:2, Live a life filled with love following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
There is nothing in the whole universe more passionate than Love. True Love is unconditional. Self has limitations. Religion, offense, bitterness; the soul can only take so much. Pharaoh ultimately drowned in the sea, but Love will go to any length necessary to bring you home.
I only thought I loved John McCrary when I met him in 1974. Years later, after the locusts had eaten all our facades away, after our weaknesses had been exposed and our vulnerabilities established, after we had become a reproach, a byword and the scorn of many, we finally faced the idols in our heart. We started the process of dying so that we could live. It was a process that brought us to an altar of obedience and a table of surrender. It led to death and death led to a new heart. As lonely as it was, for death always is, nothing has ever yielded a greater reward.
Sometimes, we just have to admit that we have a pharaoh's heart. Stubborn. Defiant. Self-willed. God has been speaking, but we haven't been listening. Today is the day to release the worshiper inside. Let the idols go. Put self on the altar. Yield. Surrender is the best death.
Scriptures: NIV, NLT & AMP
*The term religious or religion is used in the context of our attempt to control God through rules, formulas and doctrines instead of surrender and obedience.
*Songwriters – Hart/Tribble
Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LL