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Speaking to a broken heart is like giving nourishment to a starving child. Speaking to a hard heart is like correcting a rebellious teenager. So how do you do it?

If you're looking for an easy answer, it's not there. But here are some helpful ideas—ones that may crack open the most callous heart.

Start on your knees

Remember, not only can you not do it, God doesn't expect you to. You are the instrument; you're not the power.

An employer once told an employee to attempt the breaking of a rock with a pickaxe. After a half-hour of severe blows, the rock showed no signs of breaking. The employee threw the pickaxe aside. The employer asked him why he had stopped. The man answered, "Because I obviously have had no impact on the rock." The employer answered, "The job of using the pickaxe is in your hands. The results are not."

Only God can break the "rock" of a hard heart. If the heart is that of a callous non-Christian, only God can show him his need. John 16:8 refers to the Holy Spirit of God, not the human spirit of the preacher, when it says, "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." If the heart is that of a cold Christian, prayer remains the starting point. If Jesus prayed for them, we should too (John 17:20).

Watch your attitude

If a speaker doesn't admit that a hardened heart can invite frustration or even anger on his part, he is probably not being honest with himself. Preaching to a hardened heart can make us feel like we are wasting our time. "Why try?" we are tempted to explain. "If they want to ruin their lives, why not let them ruin them?"

But humility, not hostility, cracks a hardened heart. Paul says to Timothy, "...in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so they may know the truth" (II Timothy 2:25). Paul was writing a pastoral epistle, so the context would indicate that "those who were in opposition" may be unbelievers who have never come to the truth or believers who are walking from the truth. Either way, it's the attitude behind what you say that penetrates. If I am a hardened person, I may argue with what you say, but it is hard to refute the proper attitude in which you've said it.

Does not Ephesians 4:15 admonish us to speak the truth in love? One speaker I know attempts to break a hardened heart with what many have observed as harsh and blunt statements. He defends his position by pointing out that Christ said of the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). He further points to John the Baptist, who refers to those listening to him as a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 3:7). My response is threefold. To use those particular accounts as a pattern for breaking hardened hearts is not in keeping with the intent of the paragraphs.

Why not go instead to what Paul tells his disciple Timothy as found in II Timothy 2:25? Second, to liken ourselves to Christ and John the Baptist is a bit arrogant. We are certainly not the Savior, or even the forerunner of the Savior, as we speak. Third, it must be noted that they are the exception, not the norm. Christ Himself was noted for being "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). We ought to ask ourselves, "Does my attitude have the same reputation?"

Rely on truth, not emotions

Your thoughts could matter less and, frankly, may have no authority. Christ's thoughts could not matter more, and they have full authority. This is why preachers need to be expositors—ones who, each time they stand before the people, unfold the meaning of a particular text of Scripture, first to the people of that day and then to the people of our day. That way, a hardened heart has to struggle with God, not you. You may become the scapegoat, but the hearer's problem is really with the Author of the Scriptures, not the communicator of the Scriptures.

A seasoned pastor once told me, "The first book any pastor ought to preach through, a paragraph at a time, is I Corinthians. It speaks to every problem in the church." If you attempt to use emotion to convince, it distracts from the authority of the Word. If you use the calm (yet enthusiastic) preaching of the Word and allow a passage such as I Corinthians to convict, it respects the authority of the Scriptures.

Use humor

Tell me I'm in a wretched condition—callous to spiritual truth, uncaring about anyone about me, unteachable in spirit—and I'll likely get mad at you. Tell it to me in a way that makes the hardest heart grin, and I'm likely to reflect on what you say. Be careful, though, how you enter and exit the humor; it can make a big difference.

For example, suppose as you are preaching you say, "Sometimes we find it hard to admit where we are spiritually and how great our need is, how far we have walked from Him and how much we need His mercy. A woman who had her picture taken was totally disgusted with how it looked. Storming mad, she walked into the photographer's office, slammed the picture down on his desk and said, "That picture doesn't do me justice." He responded, "Madam, with a face like yours, you don't need justice, you need mercy."

Now, wait a minute, before you laugh, have you ever thought about how much we, too, need mercy? If He gave us what we deserve, we wouldn't stand a chance. We deserve His justice, but we receive His mercy. This kind of humor I'm not easily going to forget. You make me laugh, but the Holy Spirit may use it to make me listen.

Use "we" more than "you"

A hardened heart, whether it is a non-Christian who hasn't come to Christ or a Christian walking from Him, grieves the heart of God. But so does impatience, unkind thoughts and selfish thinking on the part of any growing believer. Sin of any kind is offensive to God. Furthermore, as D.L. Moody once said, "But for the grace of God, there be I." Had it not been for His grace, we too would be lost. Any believer stands the danger of walking from God if he ceases to grow as a Christian. Therefore, as we speak to hardened hearts, "we" has to be a big part of our vocabulary.

"We" in speaking has three advantages. For one, you don't come across as "holier-than-thou." Listeners understand that you not only see them as sinners, but you see yourself as one. Secondly, "we" helps you speak as a caring friend, not a scolding parent. When my heart is hardened, I need such a friend. The scolding is deserved, but the care is more needed.

Thirdly, it lets me know you are speaking with me, not at me. This is particularly effective in reaching hardened hearts because by speaking with me, you come up underneath me; while speaking at me, you come down on top of me. Is there a place for "you" language in preaching? Most definitely. But "you" should be used prominently in the end of your message and "we" used at the beginning.

As you come to the end of your message, "you need to come Christ" is in order. After all, you as the speaker have already come to Him; the listener is the one in need. If I'm a Christian with a hardened heart, "you" is also in order as you close your message. You as the speaker have already dealt with the truth of the passage you are speaking from. You are now asking the listener to do so.

Develop your communication skills

Hardened hearts need to hear from a communicator, not a speaker. What a speaker says may go in one ear and out the other. What a communicator says tends to have an impact. Why? Communicators look at several things: "How can I say this in different words than they have heard before?" "How can I use illustrations to drive home my point and cause them to identify with it?" "Where would humor be effective?" "What kind of analogy would help?" "How can I keep my message to thirty minutes?" "How can I speak in a way that causes them to want to come back?" "How can I say this in truth, but also in grace?"

Communicators are difficult for a hardened heart to turn away from, because they present the truth of the Scripture in a way that penetrates. If my heart is hardened, truth communicated well allows me to leave your presence, but it makes it more difficult to leave your message.

Conclusion

Are these ideas guaranteed to penetrate a hardened heart? No. But that, again, is not our business. Our assignment is to do our part and let God do His. I dare say, though, millions of hardened hearts have been broken through these six principles. They have caused more than one person to admit, "Oh, wretched man that I am ..." (Romans 7:24).



Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Jeff Strite

commented on Jun 27, 2013

Exceptionally good article. I read it more from the perspective a man who's been there, done that... and without the wisdom here given, God guided me to use most (if not all) of the guidelines Mr. Moyer presented. I still got "fired", but the attitudes I portrayed in those two churches (yes, I was fired twice) allowed God the room to fix the problems. And God promoted me each time to a better congregation.

Akpan Akaninyene

commented on Jun 28, 2013

very good a article. i have learn alot from the article. I remember how a lost someone to argument on speaking Christ to the sinners. I was not a good communicator but a speaker. I appreciate this write up, I hope to charge it with my MEM members in Methodist church Nigeria. Thanks.

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jun 28, 2013

Lovely article Larry, I agree with you so very much but only wish to state that I have the view that whilst rebuking in love is the unbrella position of pastoral ministry, we need not feel less than John the baptist because in christ today we are co-heirs with christ. We are sons and not forerunners. We are a royal priesthood and that is covenanted. Having said this, I wish to state that we carry the love of christ in our doing ministry as we are the mouth piece of the holy spirit. Meaning that as he ministered through christ, and even John the baptist he ministers through me as well. My focus is simply being obedient to His leading for they that are led by the holy spirit are the children of God- Rom 8:14. Since he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, he may choose to rebuke someone through me. If it is done by himself through me, the rebuke will bring sorrow that leads to repentance and not condemnation for he came not to condemn. This is the more reason why we find the very apostle Paul who through him the holy spirit taught Timothy to embrace Love in preaching; the same holy spirit through my co-labourer Paul advised the church to throw the sinning brother out to satan at a certain point. Not for condemnation but that the brother may get to repentance through Godly sorrow. What am I putting across? When we lead as vessels, the holy spirit shows how to minister and not stick to a pattern for out of patterns tradition is instituted which lead to error. Thank you again for the article.

Vincent Aja

commented on Jun 28, 2013

This is great and what was left was added by number the three contributor Charles Ingwe . When speaking or preaching to the people most people do always forget that they do not just become the kinds of Christians that they were expecting to see just in one day. Forgetting to know how long it took the Lord to reprocess us. And in the other hand we will not keep negotiating the truth or remained polishing the words of God so that people may like what we are saying to them. The change may never come unless we beginning to balance the gospel like this. 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:29-31).

Joseph Steeves

commented on Jun 28, 2013

Larry great perspectives I needed to hear them again and I will likely need to hear them again in the future. My prayer is that I will walk them out each week in prep time and each Sunday in delivery for the glory of God and His Kingdom.

Benjamin Pine Lampad

commented on Jul 3, 2013

Such an excelent article to grasp and to be reminded of we do our part and GOD do HIS..besides every humansoul is of GOD?s creation, we that preached were only a servant to tend the people of GOD, sometimes we forget that our audience is of GOD?s property.thank you Dr. R. Larry Moyer for your for sharing grace and humility to most of us...GOD blesses you the more...

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