An Exercise for Your Heart
In my sermon Sunday, I said that Jesus sees the anger that gives way to resentment, indifference and degradation as a kind of “heart murder.” But don’t just take my word for it. This is how Jesus says it:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)
In my sermon I also said that I, perhaps like you, have struggled from time to time in dealing with this kind of anger in my own life, even toward other believers (hence Jesus’ use of the term “brother” three times).
In the one instance that has perhaps marked me the most, I mentioned that God had graced me with a personal heart exercise that helped me deal with my resentment, indifference and degradation, and released me from the “heart-murder” I was prone to in that season. It was my response to Jesus’ words here in Matthew 5, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (5:23-24).
Here is the step by step process that I took. I pray God would use it, by His grace, to help you as He has helped me:
1. Set aside 3-6 hours in the next week or two. This may sound like overkill, but trust me, it will take a while to settle in to all that’s in your heart. Make sure to purchase or bring your personal journal along with you. Go away somewhere quiet and solitary – as quiet as can be.
2. Begin your time with some personal worship. Listen to 2-3 three of your favorite songs that open your heart to God. After that, shut off your device to be free from distraction.
3. Read Matthew 5:21-26 through 3-5 times, at different paces.
4. Move into a lengthy prayer and journaling exercise by praying, listening to the Spirit, then journaling through these three questions, in this order:
- What are some of the helpful things I have learned from this person or ways in which this person has pointed me to or pushed me to Jesus?
- What are the ways I sense I may have sinned against this person?
- What are the ways I sense this person has sinned against me?
5. Take your time on each question before moving on to the next. It would be better to feel a sense of completion and closure on each question instead of forcing yourself to complete all three in one sitting, though you likely will.
6. Take 2-3 days to continue to think and pray over the three lists you have made. Once you have a sense of rest and peace over the three lists, initiate contact with the person you need to share these things with.
7. Make your meeting in a quiet booth at a restaurant or coffee shop. You probably won’t be in the mood to eat. Coffee will likely work best. Begin your meeting with a short prayer asking for the Spirit’s leading. You take the initiative here. Then explain to them why you are there, and the journaling exercise you have been through. Ask them for their permission to share these things with them (they will be very unlikely to say ‘no’). Then read through the lists. After you read the first list, thank them. After you read the second list, ask for their forgiveness. After you read the third list, ask for their response.
8. Don’t be flustered by a less than ideal response. Don’t be defensive. Be as truthful, yet gracious as you can be. Listen well. Talk little.
9. End your time by asking if you could pray for them. Focus your prayer on the things that came out in your first list – the things you have learned from them.
10. As you walk or drive away, repeat this Scripture as a breath prayer: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18 ESV) Nuance this heart-exercise in whatever way you sense you should. I pray it would help you forgo the “heart-murder” you could be prone to, offer the forgiveness you sense you need to, and receive the forgiveness you desire to. In this with you, Pastor Matt