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In a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law, she made reference to there being a time when God tenderizes our hearts while He prepares us for something more. When I first think of tenderizing something, I relate it to the process of breaking down tough spots in meat before it is grilled. Can I find any similarities between tenderizing a steak and tenderizing our hearts? Let us answer this question by looking at a couple of scripture verses in Ezekiel.
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;
and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes
A heart of stone is a heart full of sin. Jeremiah 17:9 NLT describes the condition of the heart by saying, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” This verse confirms my need of a new heart! A heart of stone refers to a hardened heart that refuses to hear from God. Ephesians 4:18 NLT states, “Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him.” Only God can change this condition of a person’s heart. Being born again is how God replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:7, “You must be born again.” (To apply the meat tenderizing process, I might say that thawing a hard frozen steak is similar to removing the hardened heart of stone.)
By accepting the new birth offered to us by Jesus Christ, we can be born again and our sins are forgiven. God’s forgiveness removes the sin and stone from our hearts. Going back to my primary scripture for today, Ezekiel describes the heart now as a heart of flesh. Flesh is softer than stone but the Lord offers more. Paul warns in Philippians 3:3 that we are to “put no confidence in the flesh.” (For tenderizing meat, I can say that when the steak is thawed it becomes a pliable piece of beef.)
Referring back to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says in John 3:5-6, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” One’s heart can still be tremendously influenced by fleshly, or earthly, desires even though the heart no longer is a hardened stone. The flesh continues to require the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us in John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Now looking closely at the words of Ezekiel, he promises not only a new heart but also a new spirit in verse 26. This new spirit is the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” This Old Testament promise of a new spirit recorded in Ezekiel is fulfilled in the New Testament scripture of II Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now it is God who establishes both us and you in Christ. He anointed us, placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come.” (The work of the Holy Spirit symbolizes the tenderizing process. When meat is allowed to marinate in specific ingredients, “tough stuff” is broken down.)
I want to further develop this concept of tenderizing our hearts. Before I put a piece of meat into a marinade, often I will pierce it with a fork so the marinade, acting as a tenderizer, will penetrate into the meat more deeply. Now consider this from a spiritual perspective. We all encounter experiences when our hearts of flesh feel as if they are pierced with challenges. However, the Lord works in these poked holes of our sensitive hearts. He will also convict us of any sin that might piece our hearts so we will confess our sin. The Lord’s desire is to pour the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that not only is the Holy Spirit upon us as a seal but the Spirit penetrates our hearts and flesh. We are baptized, or immersed, in the Holy Spirit. This is first recorded in Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” I believe the Spirit works within us to tenderize our hearts towards Him before He can move in our lives through more manifestations and revelations of His nature and character. Once again looking at Ezekiel, we notice in verse 27 that the outcome of our tenderized heart is that “He will cause us to walk in His ways.” The New English Translation says, “I will take the initiative and you will obey.” This is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. We no longer have a hardened heart or just a heart of flesh but a heart controlled by the Holy Spirit. We may have to chew on a tough steak, just like we may need to meditate upon what the Lord is showing us. However, it is easier for us to enjoy and digest a more tender steak. Similarly, we can more easily comprehend the will of God and enjoy serving Him for kingdom purposes when the Holy Spirit has softened our hearts toward the things of God. One final similarity I find interesting is that many marinade recipes include olive oil, and oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit in scripture. Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.”
Colossians 3:12 NLT admonishes us, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” A tender heart has a softened quality of being gentle, affectionate and compassionate. It is sensitive, pliable and yielding to the Spirit of God. Tenderizing one’s heart is part of the process of a deep commitment to the Lord. Let the tenderizing begin!