Words of Hope: Stiff Necks

Dad and I liked to take a sermon or scripture and understand it as well as we could. He would pass out blank pages with pens or crayons and ask us to delve deep into what scripture was saying to us. One devotional I remember was about not being stiff-necked. This was a phrase used to describe people who irritated and displeased God. Dad personally understood what it feels like to be stiff-necked. Dad had injured his neck body surfing in Hawaii, and he interacted with life so differently after that event. His stiff neck prevented him from turning quickly. He could not see the whole picture easily. He was careful and didn’t take risks. He was in pain and held his neck like he was in pain. Dad came to value flexible, healthy necks. He invited us to consider this. Dad also explained that the phrase in scripture was used to describe an ox who was unwilling to be obedient. An ox was an essential animal for plowing and travel in Biblical times. An ox who refused to be led in a different direction was labeled a stiff-necked ox. They were disobedient, stubborn, and terrible to work with. They refused to do the work the farmer had intended for them to do.

Dad would ask us to imagine the qualities of a stiff-necked person — probably defensive, always on guard, uncompromising, bullheaded, stubborn, obstinate, unable to listen or change their mind or opinion. Then we would imagine the opposite of a stiff-necked person, who was flexible, could see from different angles and perspectives, could be bold and adventurous, healthy, relaxed, open, and eager to do the work.

Next Dad invited us to imagine what ways we demonstrate we are stiff-necked. How do we miss out on the work God invites us to do because we are unwilling to yield, reluctant to move our heads, or consider a different path? What I always find interesting about the Pharisees is that they were absolutely convinced God loved them. They loved their current course; they were completely convinced they were right on the right road and others were wrong. They couldn’t believe they were the disobedient ones, the ones God was greatly displeased with. Dad ended this devotional by asking us to invite God to show us ways that we are stiff-necked, to reveal ways we absolutely believe we are right. He invited us to spend time asking God to review any work we are avoiding or refusing to do and to be obedient to step forward into this call.

“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. – Acts 7:51