Inner Formation of the Heart

Part 18: A Personal Example of Reducing a Gap

    Posted by Klaus Issler on February 9, 2010

            Let me share one particular transforming experience from awhile back that convinced me my central beliefs could be changed.  In the Sermon on the Mount the first vice Jesus targets is anger (Matt 5:21-26). Note Jesus’ focus is not on the external action of murder, but the internal source of that action, anger, hostility and unreconciled relationships.  Further, Jesus was not laying down a new law that we can never say “raca” or “fool.”  Jesus uses the word himself in his own teaching ( “blind fools” Matt 23:17; “You fool!” on God’s lips, Lk. 12:20).  The point is, does that spoken word “fool” come from an angry heart? That was my problem, in using “turkey” to label drivers who wove in and out on the freeway lanes, as I drove each day to Biola, where I am a seminary professor. At the time, I thought I was not really an angry person (now I am aware how clueless I was/am), but when Willard used the term “contempt,” that hit home.  This was a gap I could not deny. I was nudged to enter a season of working on my contempt for some freeway drivers and to develop a more peace-filled heart on the road. 

            In a nutshell, I recited some relevant verses and invited the Spirit to make me aware of my “mild road rage.” When I became aware—if  I did—(at first, hours after the occasion) I would confess my sin and thank the Lord for his kind mercy and forgiveness, and invite his supernatural peace to wash over me. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Over the months of this project, several days each week working through this process, the time between the spoken word of contempt and the awareness became shorter and shorter. Eventually I became aware before I would hurl “you turkey” (with contempt). Then “graduation day” came, about 12 months later, when a driver cut in front of me and nothing stirred in my heart except peace. In that moment—as I experienced such freedom and peace in my heart—I was stunned by the grace of God. Of course I still experience internal turbulence on the road, but hardly like before.  This case has its limitations—it was an “individual” project, humanly speaking.  My community could have helped it along, but at the time I probably was too embarrassed to share it with anyone.

            In the last couple of years, I have become aware of how anxious I am—a gap that pervades various arenas of my life. (I have found Archibald Hart’s The Anxiety Cure, Nashville: WPublishing, 1999, a helpful resource on this topic, which includes practical exercises and a chapter on Christian meditation.) Again, as I have become aware of anxious moments, I bring my concerns to God and invite his peace to overwhelm me.  I have noticed I am more peaceful now than I was five years ago. And I hope five years from now, I will be even more peace-filled. My current practice is to include some physical aspect as a mechanism to help break the anxiety cycle that overwhelms my body at particular moments. I wanted some simple practice that could be done at any time, so chose to focus in my breathing—inhaling and exhaling. When I become aware of anxiety, I take over control of my breathing for a short period of time, as a practice of being present and aware. The Hebrew term for “breath” is also translated as “spirit.”  So I view this controlled breathing as inviting God’s Spirit to fill me and he is able to dissipate my anxiety. Also, meditating on Psalm 11 has become an encouragement, reminding me not to flee due to anxiety, but to take “refuge in the Lord” and remain in his peace. Why add a physical component in the strategy?  I wish to embrace an embodied Christianity rather than a mind-only version I had been accustomed to. Furthermore, bodily tendencies require a bodily practice component.


Next Musing: Part 19: Jesus Helps Peter Become Aware of a Gap

Dr. Klaus Issler