Is your neck stiff? This image is used several times in the Old Testament. We are told, for example, to “speak not with a stiff neck” (KJ Ps. 75:5). In Hebrew, this can refer to the stubbornness and churlishness of the human heart. When we are resisting, our neck stiffens. Throwing our head back, chin up, we dig in our heels and refuse whatever is coming at us. As the Lord said so often to Moses, we are “a stiff-necked people” (Ex. 32:9). But we can be “stiff necked” in the other direction as well. We can bend our heads into a task, stiffen our necks, and drive relentlessly forward into our day with our heads down, listening to no one.
What I’ve found is that being stiff-necked in either way is the most destructive for us during our prayer time. Some mornings I’m already powering forward into my day, my head actually bent into the tasks at hand. Other mornings, I don’t want to face the day at all. And maybe I don’t want to hear what the Lord is saying to me. Leaning stiffly forward, or rearing stiffly back, I’m just not listening.
And so, if we want to be centered as a Christian, if we want to be open and available to the Lord, we should resist this tendency to lean forward or pull back. That’s because, in our communication with God, the initiative for action doesn’t rest with us. As C. S. Lewis explained in The Problem of Pain, God’s love is “a Divine act of pure giving.” God, who lacks nothing, “chooses to need us” (44). He loves first. We aren’t the “wooers” of that love and God is not the one to be “wooed.” And so Lewis concluded: “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative.” (Living Large, 2013, www.yieldingtochristianity.com)