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Solution for a Stiff Neck

Stiff neck

by Dennis Pollock

Stubbornness and determination are like twin brothers who have gone in opposite directions. One ended up very, very good and the other very, very bad. Stubbornness is almost always spoken of in a bad light. One definition of stubborn is: "having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so." To be stubborn is not merely to stay on a particular course, but it involves staying to your course even when you are being shown excellent reasons to change directions.

Determination, on the other hand, is not necessarily bad. In fact it is a highly valuable attribute in the life of any man or woman who desires to discover the full and perfect will of God for their lives. People without determination flounder around in life, and do little good for themselves or anyone else. A definition of determined is: "having made a firm decision and being resolved not to change it." Find any highly successful man or woman in their field, and you will normally find a much higher than normal level of determination.

Stubbornness in the Bible

First we will take a look at stubbornness. Keep in mind that stubbornness is only manifested when there are contradictory evidences, warnings, rebukes, and challenges to turn from your present course and go a different direction. As long as the sailing is smooth, and all evidence points to the success of your endeavor,  if all your friends and counselors confirm that you are on the right path, if your conscience is not troubling you, and most importantly, if no Biblical commandment or principle is being violated, you are not acting stubbornly in proceeding; you would be foolish not to do so! Stubbornness is when you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the red flags waving furiously in your path.  Stubbornness is when you simply will not hear the voices of conscience and reason when they are screaming at you.  And stubbornness is when you totally ignore the warnings of your godly friends that the way you are taking will surely lead to a bad end.  Such recalcitrance may move you to doggedly keep right on doing what you have been doing, obstinately clinging to previous decisions which are already revealing themselves to be impractical, unreasonable, unattainable, and ruinous.

One of the Biblical examples of a stubborn man is the story of David, Abigail, and Nabal. Nabal was a wealthy landowner whose livestock and household had been protected by David's men, back in the days before David was king. At one point David sent a small group of his followers, wanting provision for his men as a thank you gift for making sure Nabal's household was secure throughout the time he and his men had been camping nearby. Nabal, whom the Bible calls "harsh and evil in his dealings" had little respect for David's request, and sent back an insulting message, letting David know he wasn't about to give him anything. When one of Nabal's workers learned of the harsh way his boss had responded to David's request, he went to Nabal's wife, Abigail, urging her to try to do something about the situation. In his plea to Abigail, the worker gave a nearly perfect description of the stubborn-hearted man, saying to her: "Harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him" (1 Samuel 25:17).

"One Cannot Speak…"

Here is the essence of stubbornness: "One cannot speak to him." Regardless of how much reason your words contain, despite how many different types of evidence you may present, no matter how many Bible verses you quote, or how many different witnesses you may gather together to support your argument, there is no prevailing with such a one. A more modern example of the stubborn heart can be seen in the life and death of Harry Randall Truman (not the president). Harry R. Truman was an elderly, whisky-drinking, curmudgeon who owned and managed a lodge on Mount Saint Helens, in Oregon. In the month before the volcano erupted in May, 1980, Harry was warned repeatedly about the danger of living at the base of the mountain, but he stubbornly refused to leave his home despite evacuation orders by the police and repeated warnings from the experts. Harry became somewhat of a celebrity for a couple of months, as he gruffly defended his right to live where he pleased, and scoffed at the possibility of an eruption. Reporters loved to interview the colorful character, and Harry loved being the center of attention. But it wasn't long before the mountain erupted just as everyone had been saying that it would – and Harry and his numerous cats were buried under tons of volcanic ash. It turned out that the experts knew what they were talking about after all.

Just as Harry willfully refused to believe the overwhelming evidence of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, most of humanity has traditionally refused to believe God's own testimony about Himself and His will and purpose for us, His creation. When men and women refuse to repent and turn from their selfish and sinful lifestyles, God labels it stubbornness. In Judges, we read, "They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way" (Judges 2:19). In Psalms God says, "So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels" (Psalm 81:12). Isaiah thunders: "Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted, who are far from righteousness" (Isaiah 46:12).

A Neck Problem

Interestingly, the Bible associates stubbornness with the neck. One of the most frequent expressions God uses for a stubborn people who refuse to turn from a path leading to their own ruin is "stiff-necked," or sometimes He speaks of us hardening our necks. So, why the neck? We know that our neck is important cosmetically; we would look pretty silly with our heads planted directly on our shoulders. But more importantly it is the neck that allows our heads to easily turn left and right, which is of no small value. For the neck to do what it is supposed to do it must be flexible; it must be able to turn easily and painlessly. God speaks of a hardened or a stiffened neck. Just before his death Stephen rebuked his persecutors with these words: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit…" (Acts 7:51).

There was no spiritual flexibility with these folks. They had set themselves on a course of resistance to the grace and work of God through Jesus Christ, and they refused to turn. The Bible promises a bad end for those in this condition. In Proverbs we read, "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). When Moses was with God on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were worshiping a golden calf. God told Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them…" (Exodus 32:9,10).

Neck Relaxer

neck massage

Most of us have awakened to find that we slept the wrong way the night before and now our neck was sore. Sometimes in order to turn and see someone we would have to turn our whole body, rather than simply turning our head. It is a miserable condition, and one that we would give anything to remedy. But stiffness of neck in a spiritual sense is far worse. The first and most important solution is to believe on Jesus Christ and be born again. This experience comes with its own "neck-relaxer" and gives us a spiritual flexibility that we could never manufacture on our own. Repentance and faith are so often spoken of together, because where there is genuine faith there will always be repentance and a willingness to change course. Harsh people become tender, thieves become honest, liars find a sudden love for the truth, sexually immoral folks become chaste, greedy men discover mysterious new springs of generosity, and the conceited find humility. Through Jesus Christ old things have passed away and all things become new.

It would be wonderful to suppose that the Christian will never again be troubled by stubbornness, but such is not the case. Even in Christ we still have the flesh we must deal with and subdue, and if we are not diligent, and our abiding in Jesus is not what it should be, streaks of stubbornness can once again appear in our lives. They may not rob us of heaven, but they can surely rob us of God's best for us, and many things we hold as precious. We must learn to differentiate between holy determination and fleshly stubbornness. God wants His children to be determined in many things. When Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph day after day, the young man was determined to remain pure. The Bible says, "As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her." None of her womanly charms had any effect upon the young man who had determined to do the right thing. And when Ruth's mother-in-law attempted to convince her to return to her Moabite people, the young lady refused to listen. The Bible tells us, "When she saw that she (Ruth) was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her" (Ruth 1:18). Ruth's determination ended up bringing incredible blessings into her life and placed her name in the lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In a sense, determination is a sanctified version of stubbornness, and stubbornness is a corrupted version of determination. The stubborn man pursues the wrong course despite any and all evidence of the foolishness of his actions. But the determined, godly man pursues righteousness and the will of God despite any and all attempts to slow him down or turn him aside. The old hymn says, "I have decided to follow Jesus… No turning back, no turning back."

"I Was Wrong!"

Because Christians are still human, they make mistakes. They sometimes start projects or set off on some direction in life that is not at all the will of God. It may look good, it may seem reasonable, but God has no interest in their little expedition, and will in no way support it. In such cases the best asset we can bring with us is a flexible neck, a willingness for a course correction as the Holy Spirit makes it clear that we are moving in the wrong direction. And because God is both loving and faithful, He will be sure to put up some red flags, those warning signs and various witnesses that caution us that the direction we are going is not His direction. The worst thing we can do at that point is ignore the flags and refuse to heed any of our brothers or our sisters that may be seeing things more clearly than we are at this point.

The Bible tells us, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment" (Proverbs 18:1). Another version puts it this way: "One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment." This speaks of men or women who refuse to listen to wise counsel, and stubbornly pursue a cause or dream which nearly everybody else recognizes as foolish. This person says to himself, "I don't care what anybody says – I'm going to do what I want to do and nobody is going to tell me differently." Such a man is suffering from a hard, crusty, creaky, unbending, stiff neck. He holds so tightly and stubbornly to his own desires that his desires run roughshod over every warning, every cautionary friend, and every witness the Holy Spirit places before him. He will pay a high price for his stubborn refusal to accept the veto power of the Spirit.

One of the major fruits of the Holy Spirit is humility, and where there is humility there will be a willingness to consider counsel from others. There will also be a very keen recognition that we can be wrong. With all the best intentions, with all our Bible reading and praying, and even with a strong desire for God to be glorified, we can head off in a direction in which God has not the least bit of interest. Let us stay close to Christ, and hold our desires and plans loosely, so that if at some point we get the word to turn and change directions, we will have the grace and the freedom to obey the voice of the Lord.  

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