Guest Contributor: Kevin P. Horath
The Bible spends a considerable amount of time describing a hardened heart, an extremely common spiritual condition. The Pharaoh of the Exodus is arguably the most well-known character with this condition. However, there are many other examples in Scripture, too. Throughout history, this phenomenon has occurred time and time again. Thankfully, God has graciously described this condition for us and has also given us the cure.
This is important to me because, like Pharaoh, I struggled with a hardened heart. Many others do, too. If I am not careful, it can still happen. This was originally confusing to me because I did not understand my condition. What was going on? Was my hardened heart caused by my own doing? Was it a conditional judgment in respect to my own sin? Did God harden my heart? What, exactly, was going on? I had to know.
I knew the story of the Exodus. I heard it over and over again growing up. However, the character of Pharaoh was an enigma to me. I saw so much of myself in Pharaoh’s character that I had to find out what was happening. I had to understand. In order to understand my own heart, I needed to understand Pharaoh. I had to know if there was an answer – a solution – to my hardened heart. I had to know whether God had discarded me on the garbage heap of eternity. I had to know whether there was hope for me.
Thank God, there was—and is. There is hope for you, too. Below is an excerpt from my book, “The Pharaoh Factor: Living with a Hardened Heart,” that explains my story:
At the age of fifteen, I was diagnosed with a life-changing condition – psoriasis. I did not know it at the time, but this chronic condition would affect me for years to come. It still does today. However, dealing with a severe form of the disease during my pivotal teenage years caused me to harden my heart. It impacted my body. It impacted my self-esteem. It impacted my relationships – both with God and others. I followed my heart and it led me down a path I did not want to go. I could not find my way back.
Just a few years earlier, I had received the call of God on my life. It was at our summer youth camp – then called Circle J Ranch, now Bethel Youth Conference Center – and I knew God was going to use me. I knew it. My passion and excitement for God swung high on the pendulum of emotions. But what I did not understand was how fickle my emotions can be. For when I truly realized the severity of my condition, my passion for God was just as intense but it swung to the other side of the pendulum. My anger with God was as strong as my love for God.
Years of failed treatments, years of self-esteem issues, and years of hardening my heart kept me from listening to God’s voice and serving Him. Sure, I went through some of the motions, but it was just that – empty religion. I used the hardness of my heart to build a wall around my emotions. I did it to protect myself. What I originally planned to be a place of protection within my heart very quickly became a cold, dark prison.
There was no escape.
Until God broke through and rescued me. It was about eleven years after my initial diagnosis. Life continued but I was slowly dying on the inside all those years. Then, something happened with my treatments and my condition. I became very sick. Critically sick. To this day, I am unsure what happened exactly. But I ended up in the hospital not knowing if I would live or die. My skin became erythrodermic – it turned red and peeled off in sheets. I couldn’t eat. My heart was racing. I was in bad shape for nearly a month.
It was during that time – when I was alone in my hospital bed with nothing to do but think – that I reviewed my life. When my daughter, who was only five at the time, would come and visit me, I would think, “If I die, what will my daughter remember about me?” What kind of father had I been? What did I teach her about life, struggles, love, and God? It was during those times of contemplation that God broke through my heart of stone. He got under my skin and into my heart. He showed up and for the first time since I was diagnosed, I began to understand. I realized that His Grace was sufficient for me – no matter what.
From that point forward, I began to let God use me in ministry. I took small steps at first. But, I took them. I still struggled with the disease, but I had made my peace with God. It was not always easy, but He and I together handled it. Oh, we still had straight-forward conversations about my condition. But I kept my heart open to His Word. For a time, I even used my experiences and my faith to lead a support group for people struggling like me.
Years later, I finally found a medicine that has helped me control the disease. I was very thankful. I am very thankful. But, then my daughter was diagnosed with the same disease. I genetically passed it along to her. I was crushed when she was diagnosed. Being honest, I could feel the edges of my heart hardening once again. I had to get it under control by listening to God’s Word. I did. And, life went on.
But, it has not ended yet. Even as I am writing this book, my son was diagnosed with psoriasis, too. At fourteen years old, he is showing the same symptoms I did when I was close to his age. In the natural, it does not look good. Just a week prior to writing these very words, we were at the doctor’s office together. While waiting for the practitioner to return to the room, I apologized to my son. I felt guilty. I felt angry. I, once again, felt the edges of my heart begin to harden. I could feel it closing in and I felt guilty that I passed on this disease. I said, “I am so sorry that you have to deal with this.” And then, my son said something to me that I will never forget. He said:
“If you can deal with it, I can, too.”
And then it hit me. The callouses infringing on the edges of my heart dried up and crumbled away, leaving a heart of flesh. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes. The very questions I asked myself in the hospital bed so many years ago made perfect sense again. A hardened heart did not just affect me and my relationship with God. It affected others, too. Likewise, a heart broken before Jesus did not just affect my relationship with God. It affected others, too.
No matter what we do, our lives serve as an example to others. What kind of example do you want to be for your children, your relatives, the children in your church, and the children in your neighborhood? Look, life happens to all of us. I get that. God allows circumstances to happen that we do not always understand or want. However, the way we respond during these times makes all the difference. It makes a difference now and also for the future.
Therefore, we must not give up. If we do, that is when we truly fail. We must not give in to the circumstances of life. We must not let our hearts be hardened through the trials and tests we experience.
Submitting to God’s Word is the key to overcoming a hardened heart. The only way for us to know God’s plan is to listen and obey what He has revealed in Scripture. Your heart is either hardening against God because you are resisting His ways, or your heart is growing softer toward God because you are submitting to His Word.
Your response to your trials reveals your heart. It did for Pharaoh. It did for me. It will for you, too!
About the Author: Kevin P. Horath is a dynamic speaker, teacher, and author who has served as Associate Pastor for Hillside Bethel Tabernacle since 1997 and worked as a healthcare Human Resources executive for over 27 years. He holds a bachelor of science in management from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Kevin lives in Decatur, Illinois, with his wife, Kathy. They have three children, three grandchildren, two dogs, and one cat. In their free time, Kevin and Kathy love to sail on Lake Decatur. His goal is to help others find a spiritual healthy approach to life through the realistic, practical application of biblical stories, characters, and principles. Follow along with Kevin’s work at www.thefactorbooks.com and on Facebook and Instagram!