Speaking to a broken heart is like giving nourishment to a starving child. Speaking to a hard heart is like correcting a rebellious teenager. So how do you do it?
If you’re looking for an easy answer, it’s not there. But here are some helpful ideas—ones that may crack open the most callous heart.
Start on your knees.
Remember, not only can you not do it, God doesn’t expect you to. You are the instrument; you’re not the power. An employer once told an employee to attempt the breaking of a rock with a pick-axe. After a half-hour of severe blows, the rock showed no signs of breaking. The employee threw the pick-axe aside. The employer asked him why he had stopped. The man answered, “Because I obviously have had no impact on the rock.” The employer answered, “The job of using the pick-axe is in your hands. The results are not.”
Only God can break the “rock” of a hard heart. If the heart is that of a callous non-Christian, only God can show him his need. John 16:8 refers to the Holy Spirit of God, not the human spirit of the preacher, when it says, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” If the heart is that of a cold Christian, prayer remains the starting point. If Jesus prayed for them, we should too (John 17:20).
Watch your attitude.
If a speaker doesn’t admit that a hardened heart can invite frustration or even anger on his part, he is probably not being honest with himself. Preaching to a hardened heart can make us feel like we are wasting our time. “Why try?” we are tempted to explain. “If they want to ruin their lives, why not let them ruin them?”
But humility, not hostility, cracks a hardened heart. Paul says to Timothy, “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so they may know the truth” (II Timothy 2:25). Paul was writing a pastoral epistle, so the context would indicate that “those who were in opposition” may be unbelievers who have never come to the truth or believers who are walking from the truth. Either way, it’s the attitude behind what you say that penetrates. If I am a hardened person, I may argue with what you say, but it is hard to refute the proper attitude in which you’ve said it. Does not Ephesians 4:15 admonish us to speak the truth in love?
One speaker I know attempts to break a hardened heart with what many have observed as harsh and blunt statements. He defends his position by pointing out that Christ said of the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). He further points to John the Baptist, who refers to those listening to him as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). My response is three-fold. To use those particular accounts as a pattern for breaking hardened hearts is not in keeping with the intent of the paragraphs. Why not go instead to what Paul tells his disciple Timothy as found in II Timothy 2:25? Second, to liken ourselves to Christ and John the Baptist is a bit arrogant. We are certainly not the Savior, or even the forerunner of the Savior, as we speak. Third, it must be noted that they are the exception, not the norm. Christ Himself was noted for being “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). We ought to ask ourselves, “Does my attitude have the same reputation?”