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Pray for a thick skin and a soft heart

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Think about a time in your life when you had thin skin or a hard heart. You are not alone in this struggle. All of us by nature tend to be easily offended. It is also natural for us to have little compassion for the needs of others. Let’s face it; apart from God’s gracious intervention, human beings can be unforgiving, petty, selfish, callous and cold. 

Perhaps you find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to receive constructive criticism. If so, then I suspect destructive criticism sends you into orbit. The problem with criticism, especially if it is mean-spirited, is that it penetrates thin skin and it hurts.

Thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins which had separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The love of God softens hard hearts and transforms thin skin into thick skin.

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Ruth Graham famously said, “Just pray for a tough hide and a tender heart.” 

Ruth and her husband, Billy, didn't just talk about the importance of prayer; they put it into practice all the time. Billy said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayer for which no one ever bothered to ask.” Many hearts were changed by the Gospel message as Billy Graham preached the good news all around the world (John 3:16; Romans 10:17). 

The solution to the human dilemma of thin skin and a hard heart is found in the Bible. For example, Scripture teaches: “Love is not easily angered” (1 Corinthians 13:5). In other words, true love is an essential component of thick skin. And Jesus is the author of everlasting love. The love of God guards our heart and empowers us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

The Apostle Paul taught believers about the “love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). This supernatural love flows within your soul once Jesus Christ takes up residence in your heart. God’s love provides the greatest defense against feeling overwhelmed when you face criticism or a personal attack. The love of God is also critically important whenever we start to hold a grudge against someone. 

God has given His children the beautiful privilege of prayer. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)  Prayer helps a Christian develop thick skin and a soft heart. It has often been said: “Prayer changes things.” But the greatest benefit is that prayer changes us when we make it a priority. 

For example, think about someone in your life who tends to get under your skin. You could choose to sincerely pray for that person every day for a week. “But I don’t feel like praying for that person.” Of course not, and you never will until God replaces your animosity with Christ’s compassion. This change of attitude and softening of your heart will take place in conjunction with your prayers. We need to pray every day, and especially when we don’t feel like praying. 

The weaker our prayer life, the thinner our skin, and the harder our heart. This is why Jesus instructed His disciples: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). 

Paul identified his human weakness when he wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) Paul also understood the change Jesus can make in a person’s life. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). 

This miraculous change, however, does not mean that Christians are incapable of ever falling back into old habits. Whenever we are tempted to take a step backwards, our old life is knocking on the door.

When Cain became extremely angry with his brother, the Lord told him: “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). 

Rather than confessing his evil intention to the Lord and refusing to open the door to sin, Cain gave into his wicked desire to kill his brother. The murder of Abel was the result of Cain's jealously and hard heart. 

Like Cain, sin often crouches at the door of our heart. “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14) So don’t open the door when sin comes knocking unless you want to get dragged away into a state of restlessness, paranoia, pride, and resentment. 

Just as you would never allow a burglar into your home, you can choose to say “No” to temptation when it is standing at the front door of your heart. (Titus 2:11,12). Simply ask Jesus to protect you from your impulsiveness and sinful tendencies. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:23). Saying “No” to selfish desires is a huge part of Christian discipleship.

Here is a prayer that can help us as we seek to walk closely with Christ in a spirit of humility and compassion:

“Lord Jesus ... Forgive my hardness of heart and my selfishness. I am weak, but you are strong. Strengthen and protect me from my natural way of responding to situations. Teach me how to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. Consume my heart and mind as I meditate upon Scripture, and grant me your peace, wisdom, love, and compassion. Wash away my sins with the blood you shed for me on the cross. Empower me by the Holy Spirit. And make me more like you Jesus every day. Please give me thick skin and a soft heart, especially when my natural impulses flare up under pressure. In your holy name I pray. Amen.”

What do you think would happen if you and I presented this request to God every day for a month? There is only one way to find out.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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