Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Painful Price of a Stiff Neck

“Now, do not be stiff-necked…, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God…” 2 Chronicles 30:8

I have had a painful, stiff neck lately. This usually happens when I get stressed out, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. I don’t know too many people who haven’t had a physiological response to stress, so you can probably relate. As I’ve been nursing my stiff neck, I can’t help but think of all the references in the Bible to stiff-necked people. Just this morning I was reading Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. As he confronts the high priest and his cohorts, he calls them stiff-necked because they “always resist the Holy Spirit.” As I read this, I felt one of those Holy Spirit jabs that happen occasionally when I know that things aren’t quite right in my heart.

What does it mean to resist the Holy Spirit? My go-to Scripture for the answer to this question is Galatians 5:17:

“The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” (NLT)
Even though I have been saved, I still have a sinful nature that wants to do evil. At the same time, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit in me wants to do good. Because I am His, I want to glorify Him with my thoughts, words and actions, but my sinful self wants to disobey. This tension results in stress!

Back to our 2 Chronicles verse, we see the admonition not to be stiff-necked, but to yield ourselves to the Lord. So, instead of insisting on and pursuing our own way, we are to submit to what God has planned for us. The high priest, the Israelites, you, and I have something in common: We are resisting the Holy Spirit. Maybe our pride has got us taking on more than we are really able to do. Maybe we are covetous, and want to work harder to make more money to have what the neighbors have. Maybe we are perfectionistic, and insist that everything and everyone meet our standard.  Whatever the reason, if you find yourself with a stiff neck today, it’s possible that you are resisting the Holy Spirit in some way.

My own current stiff neck started when I was exhorting (for the umpteenth time) a friend who was caught up in sinful thinking about her life. As I listened to her, I thought, “Why doesn’t she get it? I’ve told her this a thousand times! She keeps coming back with the same issues! Ugh, when will she ever repent and change? I don’t have time for this!” I had become frustrated with my friend because I thought she should be past this by now. My timetable for heart change had expired, and she was not cooperating!

If I were submitted to God and His plan, I wouldn’t have a timetable for her. I would be trusting the Lord, graciously and patiently waiting for His work on her heart, understanding that I am nothing but a tool in His hand to help my friend and sister in Christ. I would also be thinking about how patient God is with me when I am stubborn and prideful; or how patient he was when He waited for me to cry out to Him for His saving grace. Out of love for the Lord and for her, I would be able to offer patience, kindness, and all those other wonderful fruits of the Spirit that are listed in Galatians 5.

This brings me back to the jab. God is so good to reveal my sin to me, and to offer me repentance and hope, and He almost always does it through His Word. As I read Stephen’s speech, I realized how much I have been resisting the Holy Spirit lately. I want to be physically stronger. I want to do the things I used to do, but I can’t. I want people to learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through, but they each must endure their own sanctification process. If I want to avoid being both literally and physically stiff-necked, I must do as I was told in 2 Chronicles and yield myself to the Lord to serve Him.

What will this look like for you and me? There are as many circumstances as there are moments in the day, so I don’t know for sure what your particular yielding will mean. I do know, though, that it always means a dying to self and a willingness to live for the Lord. Paul boils it all down for us here: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5: 24 &25).  How will you apply this truth today?