This is based on material developed for my memoir Masterpiece: A Love Story, but not used in the book. It is also part of a year-long focus on Reconciliation. (A four minute read)
Sometimes I get a stiff neck. Not my physical neck, but my spiritual neck. This stubbornness apparently wasn’t fully healed when I began following Jesus. I’ve learned that ending stubbornness is not a one-time deal. It’s a life-long challenge.
With my physical neck, if I hold my head in one position too long the muscles lock up and it becomes painful to move. It’s the same in my spiritual life.
As a lad, I often stayed at the neighbors’ dairy farm. We would all rise about five a.m. to milk the cows. The first thing to happen after the lights went on, even before the cows were led into their stanchions, was turning on the radio. It was a 1940s vintage RCA AM console radio with an analog tuner.
The tuning knob was on a spindle that had a cord tightly wound round it: when the knob moved, the cord moved and it moved the tuning element. There was an indicator that slid back and forth behind an opaque plastic rectangle with frequency markers painted on it, from 540 to 1600 khz, left to right.
The dial was at 830 – WCCO Radio, the same station that guided morning activity in our house, indeed in many tens of thousands of homes across Minnesota in the 1960s. I remember trying to retune that radio one day to another station for some Top 40 music. I turned and turned and turned that knob, and the tuner didn’t budge. It was locked up tight, and no longer moved.
My stiff neck can be just like that. My prideful ego can be just like that. It’s sometimes hard to tune from one frequency (let’s call it ‘The Pride Channel’) to another (‘The Humility Channel’) without pain or outside intervention. That was my experience all the years I pursued a sinful lifestyle. It was impossible for me to hear wise or sensible advice. I was tuned to the wrong channel.
That stiffness reappears in my occasional spiritual stubbornness today. Even though I now follow Jesus, I still become stiff-necked sometimes, to my detriment.
God often described Israel as being a ‘stiff-necked people’ – too much pride, and especially too much for too long.1 Just like me. They seemed to continually turn away from God’s best for them, choosing something inferior: Baal (sexual fertility rites); Moloch (child sacrifice); Astoreth, simultaneously the goddess of war and sexual love.
The ancient Israelites wanted to be like the peoples around them, so they adopted their gods. They did this so much for so long their world view became unhealthily distorted and then locked in place. They could no longer even hear the wisdom of their own prophets.
The same happened to me, earlier in life. By my early teens I was too often tuned to the wrong channel. By my late teens, I was unwilling to be tuned back at all. Like Lucifer, I was too taken with the sound of my own voice – my own veneer of intelligence and talent.2
Amazingly, I learned even from a creature as depraved as the devil. The truth he taught? When I turn away from God, that which turns my head becomes my master. The harder I turn, the more I am mastered, and the more difficult it becomes to turn back my stiff neck.
My answer to this today is simple: keep looking in the right direction and don’t be distracted by all the voices shouting ‘Hey! Over here!’ 3 Simple, yes, but not always easy. You may have noticed a recent four-week gap in publication here. I was busy looking in the wrong direction then and couldn’t be bothered to engage in this dialogue.
Happily, that season was short. Jesus always has the power to retune me, to reconcile me, when I cry out to Him with an open heart. He unlocks everything, even the stiffest of necks.
1. ‘But they did not obey or incline their ears, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.’ – Jeremiah 17:23
2. ‘Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness; I cast you to the ground, I lay you before kings, that they may see you.’ – Ezekiel 28:17
3. ‘Ha ha! Made you look!’ – Satan
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