“You can choose one of these three outfits.” I calmly told my three year old what her options were for church attire. I wasn’t as concerned about her appearance during the week, especially if we weren’t venturing from the house. But heads would turn if I allowed her to select her church outfit. Having a choice was the battle, and I gave her that choice… within limits.
Anyone who has raised children knows that the struggle for power begins at a very early age. I wanted my children to learn to speak up for themselves. However, when they felt they had to have a say in matters that weren’t really their responsibility or that would cause problems, we brought their ideas to a halt.
Echoes from my own growing up years ring in my ears. Heated arguments with childhood friends sometimes ended in, “Make me!” or “You can’t make me!” If there wasn’t a quick resolution, those ugly taunts could sideline a relationship for days or forever.
Let’s look at the word stubborn: determined not to change one’s attitude or position even in the face of good arguments or reason. There are several words to use in its place: obstinate, headstrong, pigheaded, inflexible, uncompromising. And that truly vivid attribute… stiff-necked!
Speaking through Isaiah, the Lord God has a colorful picture of someone who is stiff-necked: “For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze” (48:4).
Jeremiah again and again referred to the stubborn hearts of the Israelites in these verses: 3:17; 5:23; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:1016:12; 18:12; 23:17. My goodness, that’s a lot of stiff necks!
The Lord Jesus also referred to stubborn hearts, and He was angry at the lack of compassion from the religious leaders (Mark 3:5). They were basically saying, “Rules are rules!” His response was to ignore their criticism and do what was the right thing … heal the man in front of Him.
The Lord spoke through Zechariah when He condemned the Israelites for their refusal to be merciful, just and compassionate: “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen …” (Zechariah 7:11-12). Oh, that image of covering their ears and walking away sounds so childish. Yet this behavior can follow us into adulthood.
It’s obvious children aren’t the only ones who act stubbornly. Sometimes those we are leading are stubborn when they’re not willing to follow our directions, or they just “forget” what they were supposed to be doing.
Of course we can just fire an employee. But that becomes complicated when we truly value his or her contribution and expertise. And some situations, not just in families, create impossible elimination solutions. We can’t always choose who we work with or who we are expected to manage. I wish I had the answer to this dilemma. Perhaps it is a matter of presenting them with carefully thought out choices just so they feel they have input.
Or perhaps it’s a question of looking at our own demands and policies to see if we are being stubborn in our practices, insisting on our way no matter how unreasonable. Do we announce, “Rules are rules!”? Are we the stiff-necked ones?
There is another definition of stubborn: difficult to cure or remove, tenacious. This reminds me of my stain of sin that wants to stick to me. Sometimes I resist, stubbornly refusing to give up the sins I’ve convinced myself aren’t really all that bad. Or not accepting the fact that I’m even guilty of sin. When I think I’ve had a pretty clean slate even for a day, the Lord Jesus reminds me of all the things I didn’t do that I should have.
However, one synonym doesn’t apply here: permanent. Because when I admit my failings, my Lord Jesus is quick to forgive. And when I’m stubborn in my refusals He calms me down for my own good. That reminds me of how I dealt with another stubborn toddler who just wouldn’t take a much-needed nap. I would lie next to him and stroke his face until he relaxed and gave in.
My Lord Jesus is the Loving One, the Holy One, the Servant Leader. I want to be like Him so very much. And when I’m being stubborn, He tells me to stop… relax!
It’s as if I can feel His hand caressing my face as I yield to Him and whisper a prayer: “Oh Lord I am willing … make me willing … do what You must do … to make me like You … please make me like You!”
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published at Lead Like Jesus May 2019)