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From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Change your hearts and lives, because the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 4:17 NCV

One of the things that makes Christianity inspiring (and, to be honest, sometimes a little scary) is that Jesus’s core message is about change.

You can’t follow Jesus and stay the same. 

My life changed tremendously when I started reading and following the Bible. After I became a Christian, I remember going to lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. About halfway through our meal, she started giving me a puzzled look. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that you’re so different. You talk now.”

I had been painfully shy before becoming a Christian, and I could literally go a full day without saying a word to anyone. I didn’t like this about myself, but I felt powerless to change it. As I read the Bible, I gained courage from learning that God had a purpose for my life. I also learned that a lot of my shyness was self-centered (I was thinking more about myself than about giving to or getting to know other people).

I still get afraid of talking to people, but my relationship with God consistently helps me change my heart and my life. 

So, if following Jesus gives us the power to change deep things about ourselves, why don’t we all run after him? 

So, if following Jesus gives us the power to change deep things about ourselves, why don’t we all run after him? 

The kind of change God brings to our lives is good, but it’s hard sometimes. Changing our hearts and lives can be scary because we usually cling to things that we think are helping us or making us feel better in some way. 

My friends have told me on several occasions that I am “nicely stubborn.” When God and my friends give me many good reasons to change things in my life, I often nod along with their suggestions …only to go on my way without doing any of them. Why? I’m usually too afraid, and my fear makes me stubborn. 

Stubbornness is “having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.”

Stop being stubborn. Give your hearts to God.

Deuteronomy 10:16 ERV

Stubbornness is one of the biggest obstacles to having a close relationship with God. This is true whether we are new to Christianity or have been Christians for decades. Whenever I am stuck, frustrated, or unbelieving about an area of my life, I have learned that my stubbornness is probably involved. God is powerful enough to change anything in our lives (Ephesians 1:18-20); but stubbornness makes us cling on to things that don’t really help us instead opening our hearts to God and letting him lead us. 

Is there anything in your life that you have been resistant to changing? When something in our lives feels too hard, too overwhelming, or perhaps too scary to let go of, God’s Word can help. That’s why we’ll use the Bible in this guide to help us let go of things that are hurting us and open our hearts to God instead. 

We’ll start by asking ourselves what exactly we’ve been stubborn about changing and why, then take an honest look at the cost of holding on to those things. Finally, we’ll learn how to let God’s kindness relax our stubborn grip on them so we can live the great life God intends for us. 

What are you clinging on to?

Let’s start by identifying some of the things the Bible says we tend to get stubborn about. 

Stubbornly clinging to control – “I need to take care of myself.” 

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?

Luke 9:23-25 NLT

I love this translation of the same passage:

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat— I am.”

Luke 9:23 MSG

Control—or doing things the way we think is best— is one of the biggest things we have to give up in order to live God’s way, and I think it’s one of the biggest things we get stubborn about. I am very controlling, but what makes me willing to follow Jesus is admitting that he does a better job driving than I do.

One of the first times I learned this lesson (and there have been many more since) was when I began studying the Bible to become a Christian. I was curious about God and wanted to be a Christian, but I was also very controlling over my time and my schedule. I would buck at any suggestion of changing my plans to make time for God or serving others. 

My way of living my life was using all my time for myself—my TV shows, my schoolwork, my travels, and my hobbies. These things weren’t bad in and of themselves, but the problem was they came before everyone and everything else. If you needed to talk on a night my favorite show was on, I would have said no without question. 

I spent all my time on myself not only because of my selfishness but also because of my fear—if I didn’t look out for myself and my desires, needs, and dreams, I was afraid no one would. So I was rigid about my schedule; I wouldn’t let go of anything and I wouldn’t let anyone influence my plans.

But I wasn’t happy. The more I chased things for myself the more empty and alone I felt. As I read the Bible and met Christians who used their lives to serve and love other people, I started to realize I was clinging on so tight to my desire for control and happiness that I was losing myself. I was becoming someone who would compromise everything and everyone else to get what I wanted, and it wasn’t even working. 

It was a long learning process, but the more I gave my time and heart to God and other people in simple ways (like making a card for a friend, giving someone a ride, or just listening to someone who needed to talk), the happier I became. My life and relationships became more fulfilling as I realized there was a bigger purpose for my life than myself. Let’s finish reading what Jesus said about letting go of control in Luke 9.

…You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? 

Luke 9:23-27 MSG

In all that trying to gain control, I was really losing myself. Though it felt counterintuitive, it was only through self-sacrifice that I was able to find who I really was. It was also how I was able to discover what life could look like if I handed the controls over to God and let him take care of my life, which is something he promises to do for all of us (Matthew 6:31-34). I still got accepted to a great university (Go Bears!), got a great job, and I have an amazing husband that I never would have found if I had continued putting myself first all the time. 

When we’re afraid to let go of control in an area of our lives, one thing that helps is giving careful thought to the outcome of clinging to our own ways and asking ourselves what our desire for control has really done for us (see Haggai 1:5-7). Talking to God about our fear is also helpful, and so are verses of the Bible that reassure us of God’s good plans for our lives (see Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10). 

Jesus does a better job in the driver’s seat than we do, but we must be willing to let him take over. We can’t live God’s way and our way at the same time.

Pause and reflect

  • What are some areas of your life in which you’ve been feeling a lack of control? 
  • How do you think your desire for control could make you stubborn toward God? 

Stubbornly clinging to unbelief – “I do not want to get disappointed.”

Afterwards, Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them because they were too stubborn to believe the ones who had seen him after he had been raised to life.

Mark 16:14 CEV

Stubbornness is about refusing to change your position on something despite good arguments to do so. Jesus’s disciples had very good reasons to believe that he had risen from the dead. They had even seen him bring a dead person back to life before (see John 11). 

The issue wasn’t that believing was hard, but that they were too stubborn to do it. Why? 

I can’t say for sure, but when I am too stubborn to believe, it’s usually because I am trying to protect myself from disappointment, fear, or pain. It seems easier to harden my heart than open myself up to hoping for something that might not come to be. I may be given a lot of good reasons to have faith—prayers may be answered, I may be reminded of the good God has done throughout my life, and I may even have personal examples of times I decided to take a leap of faith and good things came from it—but I will willfully ignore these reasons to stay safe and unmoved in my risk-averse unbelief.

Pause and reflect

  • What are some good reasons God has given you to believe in him and his Word?
  • Do you think stubbornness has affected your willingness to believe in God and his promises? Why? 

Stubbornly clinging to self-reliance – “I will figure it out myself.”

The LORD said, “How terrible it will be for these stubborn children. They make plans, but they don’t ask me to help them. They make agreements with other nations, without asking my Spirit. They are adding more and more sins to themselves.

Isaiah 30:1 NCV

How easily do you ask for help? Self-reliance makes us refuse to ask for help, even from God. We make our own plans and rely on our own ideas. We don’t slow down to pray or search the Bible to look for God’s answers. 

Stubborn self-reliance goes hand-in-hand with an overinflated view of our own abilities and wisdom. We think we can figure things out better than God can, and that’s why this form of stubbornness creates distance in our relationship with him. It also keeps us stuck, because no matter how hard we try or how in denial we get about our own abilities, our self-reliance can only take us so far. As long as we rely on ourselves, we will always be limited, and so will always come up against a wall. There are things to change only God can help us with and things to figure out that only God can teach us. Self-reliance will just leave us tired and frustrated.

Pause and reflect

  • Do you believe that God will help you if you ask him?
  • What are some “plans” you tend to make for your life without asking for help? 

Stubbornly clinging to the past – “I will not get hurt again.”

But the one who had his debt forgiven stubbornly refused to forgive what was owed him. He had his fellow servant thrown into prison and demanded he remain there until he repaid the debt in full.

Matthew 18:30 TPT

Forgiveness is another thing we commonly get stubborn about. In this passage, Jesus is telling a story about a man who was forgiven of a huge debt, yet refused to forgive someone who owed him much less. 

Forgiveness can be hard, especially when we have been badly mistreated. But if we stubbornly refuse to forgive, we ultimately hurt ourselves. We poison ourselves with resentment, and we will fail to experience the grace of God in our own lives (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 6:14-15).

Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for other people’s sins; it means letting go of our grudges because God gives mercy to us. Learning to forgive in a healthy, spiritual way sometimes requires the guidance of spiritual friends. Identifying our resentment or bitterness is a good first step, and from there, we may need some help processing our pain and letting it go. If there is anything you know you have been stubbornly refusing to forgive, start by opening up to God and some trusted spiritual friends about it.  

Stubbornly clinging to sin – “I’ll do it my way.” 

If you’re unfamiliar with the word “sin,” it essentially means “missing the goal.”  It’s not about being morally good or bad. To sin is to drift from God’s good way of treating him and each other. Maybe our hearts desired love, but we missed the mark and landed in lust and sensuality instead. Or we were aiming for peace and joy, but missed the mark and landed in deceit or greed. 

It is just as the Holy Spirit says, “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn! Don’t rebel like those people who were tested in the desert. My friends, watch out! Don’t let evil thoughts or doubts make any of you turn from the living God. You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn. We were sure about Christ when we first became his people. So let’s hold tightly to our faith until the end. The Scriptures say, “If you hear his voice today, don’t be stubborn like those who rebelled.”

Hebrews 3:7-8,12-15 CEV

Sin fools us and makes us stubborn toward God. It convinces us that it will make us happy and give us the love and security we all desire. I have felt this way many times about many different sins, perhaps most significantly the sins that surrounded my eating disorder. I obsessed over food, cut back my calories, and overexercised, convinced that doing these things would make me stronger and more secure. I felt like I needed to lie, binge eat, and constantly compete with others to be happy. 

None of these things worked. I felt wracked with insecurity even at my lowest weight. I didn’t have the physical strength to do the things I wanted to do, and I felt enslaved to my jealousy of other people who were thinner than I was. I was also very lonely; I wouldn’t eat with others because I lied to them about what I was eating (I remember convincing one of my good friends that I had food allergies to get out of eating around her).

Sins make us think that they are helping us somehow, so we can’t let them go. The truth is, they hurt us. They cover up the areas in which we usually need some healing. The sins related to my eating disorder covered deep insecurity, anxiety, and a deep sense of low self-worth. This deep healing is something that God wants to give us: 

For the minds of these people have become stubborn. They do not hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might really understand what they see with their eyes and hear with their ears. They might really understand in their minds and come back to me and be healed.

Matthew 13:15 NCV

To let go of my stubbornness about any sin of choice, I need a lot of help from God and spiritual friends to see the truth. Once I can be honest with myself about how sin is hurting me, I am a lot more willing to let them go and find healing for my heart. 

Pause and reflect:

  • Are there any specific sins you don’t want to let go of? See Galatians 5:19-21 if you’re not sure what the Bible calls “sin.” 
  • In what ways are those sins fooling you into thinking they are helping you? 
  • What are the real effects of those sins on your spiritual, emotional, and physical life?

The high cost of holding on to stubbornness

The Bible has a lot to say about stubbornness, and a quick search of the word in a digital Bible will go a long way in helping us want to let go of it. 

Let’s see how our stubbornness might be costing us the good life God wants to give us.

God longs to be close to us, but stubbornness pushes him away 

“I let Myself be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I let Myself be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To the nation [Israel] which did not call on My Name. “I have spread out My hands all the day long to a rebellious and stubborn people, Who walk in the way that is not good, [following] after their own thoughts and intentions.

Isaiah 65:1-3 AMP

God loves us so much that he keeps his arms stretched out to us even in our most stubborn and rebellious moments. He opens himself up to hurt and rejection because he cares deeply about us. I think he can see beyond our stubbornness; he knows what we really need, and he longs to fulfill the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

“I am the LORD your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. 
But My people would not listen to My voice, And Israel did not [consent to] obey Me. 
So I gave them up to the stubbornness of their heart, To walk in [the path of] their own counsel. 
Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!

Psalm 81:10-13 AMP

But eventually, if we are determined to walk away from him, he will let us go. This is not because he doesn’t love us or has given up on us; it’s because those of us who are stubborn sometimes insist on learning things the hard way. 

God wants to protect us, but stubbornness punishes us 

If you keep being stubborn after many warnings, you will suddenly discover you have gone too far.

Proverbs 29:1 CEV 

Understanding is a fountain of life to the one who has it, but stubborn fools punish themselves with their stupidity.

Proverbs 16:22 GW

Yikes! What happens if we cling to our stubbornness? We eventually punish ourselves with it. God will give us many warnings because he wants to protect us, but we should make sure we listen to them before it’s too late. 

God takes no pleasure in seeing us hurt ourselves, and he tries to stop us from doing it. His correction and training really are for our good in the long run, but sometimes we don’t see it that way. Reflecting on the lessons God might be trying to teach us now will save us a lot of pain later on.

Pause and reflect:

  • What are some things that you’ve been told (or have told yourself) many times to change? What has happened as a result of not changing them?
  • How do you think those warnings could be God’s way of protecting you? 

God wants to give us family, but stubbornness keeps us alone 

God makes a home for the lonely; He leads the prisoners into prosperity, Only the stubborn and rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Psalm 68:6 AMP

God doesn’t want us to be lonely. He will provide a family for us, but if we’re stubborn, we won’t take it. We’ll find ourselves lonely, not because other people don’t care about us but because we’re too stubborn to let them into our lives. 

How exactly does stubbornness make us lonely? Let’s look at a few other verses from Proverbs about how our stubbornness affects our relationships with people:

  1. Stubborn people talk more than they listen. Proverbs 10:14 GW – Those who are wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a stubborn fool invites ruin.
  2. Stubborn people are hard to influence. Proverbs 12:15 GW  – A stubborn fool considers his own way the right one, but a person who listens to advice is wise. 
  3. Stubborn people are easily irritated. Proverbs 12:16 GW – When a stubborn fool is irritated, he shows it immediately, but a sensible person hides the insult.
  4. Stubborn people create a heavy burden for those around them. Proverbs 27:3 GW A stone is heavy, and sand weighs a lot, but annoyance caused by a stubborn fool is heavier than both.
  5. Stubborn people make dangerous decisions. Proverbs 17:12 CEV A bear robbed of her cubs is far less dangerous than a stubborn fool.

God wants to give us purpose, but stubbornness makes us resist it

We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.

Acts 26:14-16 NIV

This is the story of the apostle Paul (formerly called Saul) and how he became a Christian. He was an active persecutor of the church; if anyone could be called “stubborn,” it would be him. He would not change his position on Christianity, and even got to the point where he witnessed and approved the death of Jesus’s followers. 

And then Jesus had a talk with him. 

According to Jesus, Saul was kicking against the goads. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll explains this concept in a very clear way: 

Apparently, “to kick against the goads” was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature… Though unfamiliar to us, everyone in that day understood its meaning.

Goads were typically made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge a stubborn ox into motion. Occasionally, the beast would kick at the goad. The more the ox kicked, the more likely the goad would stab into the flesh of its leg, causing greater pain.

Saul’s conversion could appear to us as having been a sudden encounter with Christ. But based on the Lord’s expression regarding his kicking back, I believe He’d been working on him for years, prodding and goading him.

Saul had been resisting God’s purpose for his life, and Jesus helped him see that by “kicking at the goads” he was hurting himself. This interaction with Jesus changed Saul’s heart and life, and he found an incredible purpose as one appointed to tell others the Good News. Paul went on to preach persuasively for Jesus, putting his stubbornness to good use. 

Like Paul, our stubbornness can be used for good in our lives. Imagine the possibilities of you decided to be stubborn in good things — like faith, love, compassion, and truth!

Pause and reflect

  • What are some “goads” you might be kicking against in your life? Is there a purpose God has been guiding you towards that you might be resisting?
  • How can you choose to be stubborn for good this week?

How can God help me let go?

You and your descendants are stubborn, but the LORD will make you willing to obey him and love him with all your heart and soul, and you will enjoy a long life.

Deuteronomy 30:6 CEV

If we’ve been stubborn about something, we can take comfort in the fact that God has experience with stubborn people. He can help us be willing to let go of the things we cling to and give our hearts to him.

Let’s look at a few ways we can let God change our stubbornness.

Think carefully about what you do

Wicked people are stubborn, but good people think carefully about what they do. There is no wisdom, understanding, or advice that can succeed against the LORD. You can get the horses ready for battle, but it is the LORD who gives the victory.

Proverbs 21:29-31 NCV

To let go of stubbornness, we have to be honest with ourselves about what our stubbornness makes us do. What good is really coming from our decisions to cling to our own ways? What has our stubbornness really done for us?

God wants to bring us victory, and there are no human plans that are better than his. When we take the time to be honest with ourselves about how our wisdom, understanding, and advice has affected our lives, we’ll be much more willing to try God’s way. 

Pay attention to God’s Word

Stubbornness is, by definition, hard to change. But it’s not too hard for God’s Word. 

Is not My word like fire [that consumes all that cannot endure the test]? says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock [of most stubborn resistance]?

Jeremiah 23:29 AMPC

If we’re stuck in some area, one of the best things we can do is open our hearts to read verses of the Bible on that topic. Reading the Bible builds our faith and trust in God and his heart for us so that we can follow him. 

The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

Psalm 32:8-9 NLT

God promises to guide us down the best pathway for our lives. We can trust him; he doesn’t want to harm us. As we read the Bible, God will guide us along good paths in our relationships and our lives. We just have to follow his guidance and instructions instead of resisting like a horse or mule that has to be forced into listening. 

Pray for God’s help

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

Ultimately, a tender and responsive heart is something God promises to give us. Sometimes, underneath our stubbornness, we want to change. But like we discussed in the beginning of this devotional, change can be uncomfortable. It can be scary to give up what we thought we knew or what we have relied on for a long time. 

In the moments when our stubbornness feels too strong, we can respond with prayer. God can give us a new heart that is tender and responsive. All we have to do is ask him. 

Pause and reflect 

  • What uncomfortable change can you tackle this week?
  • What’s a change you will start praying for this week? 

Final thoughts

I hope this Bible study on stubbornness has helped you become aware of anything that might be preventing you from experiencing an inspiring transformation as you walk with God. Christianity involves change, and that is a pretty amazing thing. As we pay attention to God’s Word and take a closer look at the way we’re living, we’ll discover that God has a great path for us and can give us the courage to take it. 

The High Cost of Holding On 7

Amy is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality. She studied psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has over a decade of experience in mentoring, counseling and community organizing.

The High Cost of Holding On 7

Amy is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality. She studied psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has over a decade of experience in mentoring, counseling and community organizing.

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