Reading: Proverbs 29:1-27
When I think of phases that best describe the opposite of a Jesus filled life, there are few better than ‘stiff-necked.’ It carries such a powerful image of a person who is unable to look up and see God, look around and see others, look backward and evaluate mistakes or even look in a different direction and move to new destinations. It’s most definitely not a compliment, it means stubborn, haughty, obstinate, wilful, rebellious, wayward, defiant, unruly and pigheaded.
Verse 1 tells us that a person who remains stiff-necked in the face of many rebukes will have no hope. That’s quite a terrifying thought. Often it’s easier to identify this malaise in others than in ourselves. I think that might be a sign that we suffer from it! If we are honest, we like our ways the best; ‘we’re ok,’ we think, ‘it’s everybody else that we need to worry about.’
A while ago I came across this checklist; these are the marks of someone who is ‘stiff-necked’:
1. Certainty that you are right.
2. Refusal to listen to anyone else.
3. Defensive when criticised.
4. Making excuses for your shortcomings.
5. Lashing out at others.
6. No desire to examine your own life.
7. Repeated pattern of misbehaviour.
8. Prayer without repentance.
When I read that list it’s clear to me there are times when I am stiff-necked. Is there any hope? Yes, the way of wisdom calls to us to keep listening to God, to move with him, directed by him. I love what Henri Nouwen writes,
Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and are standing up again when the storm has calmed down.
Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy-washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground. A humourless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause these issues to break our spirits and make us bitter people. Let’s be flexible while being deeply rooted.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)
Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)
Father, please break down the stiff-necked spirit within me. I ask that your Spirit might be poured out on me today, that I might listen and hear your voice: soften me, cleanse me, renew me. Make the roots of my life go down deep into you, your love, and your word. In Jesus name. Amen.
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