Inner Formation of the Heart

Part 4: Orientation to the Gap and Inner Heart Formation

    Posted by Klaus Issler on November 3, 2009

            Will power alone was never meant to carry the weight of right living. It is too puny to defeat the various temptations we face and to change the sinful habits and compulsions developed over a lifetime. For formation of the heart, we need another strategy that works along with how God has designed human nature.

            Jesus taught we always live out what is in our heart.  We must recognize that our life is primarily directed by the deeply submerged core beliefs, which may often be very different from what we say we value or believe. One key component of inner formation is changing our central governing beliefs and desires, with God’s grace, as an important means toward reducing the sanctification or willing-doing gap.

            Furthermore Jesus teaches that it is to our advantage that we recognize and acknowledge our gaps—not always being able to do what pleases God, and what we know is the better thought, word or deed--that we attend to these gaps and invite God and our community to assist us in reducing the gap.

            Consider this familiar example. During the Last Supper before he was arrested, Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray him. Then Jesus warned Peter the devil would soon test each of the disciples (“you all” plural, Lk 22:31).  But Peter—the lead disciple in Jesus’ band of close companions—strongly affirmed his loyalty to Jesus. In response to this declaration, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Was it his pride or just his defensiveness that took over when he announced with bravado, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" (Lk 22:33)?

            Much later that evening, as Jesus appeared before the high priest, Peter snuck into the courtyard to follow the proceedings.  While he warmed himself by the fire, various ones identified Peter as Jesus’ disciple.  Each time he denied it, the last time “he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’” (Matt 26:74, Mk 14:71).  The rooster crowed and Jesus’ and Peter’s eyes connected. Peter remembered Jesus’ words “and [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly” (Matt 26:75; Lk 22:62).  Peter thought he was the most stalwart of the disciples: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt 26:33).

            But let us return to the earlier occasion.  When we read the full text of Luke 22:31-32 we learn not only did Jesus announce the devil’s purpose to test the disciples, but Jesus also informed Peter that Jesus had specifically prayed for Peter’s faith to hold firm (“you” singular, Lk 22:32). Jesus added that, although Peter would fall, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”  (Lk 22:32). Yet Peter could not hear Jesus’ encouragement that Jesus had prayed for him and that Jesus noted Peter’s key role in encouraging the other disciples. Jesus was encouraging to notice this gap, and that Jesus had prayed for him.

            Consider that Jesus was not poking fun at Peter, or trying to embarrass him, or trying to put him down. He was speaking truth about the situation, and asking for the Father’s help in Peter’s formation.  We’ll develop this thought further in a later Musing. As we move forward let me share my hope for this series.  

            My hope is that the series of presentations will:

1. increase our hope about the potential for lifestyle changes, (including addressing our woundednesses, our various compulsions),

2. reduce our guilt over past failures about our “willing-doing gap,” and

3. help us actually welcome an awareness of our gaps—in the spirit of how Jesus engaged with Peter as mentioned above.

            Next, we’ll look at some key terms for our discussion, then lay out a series of principles about central governing worldview beliefs and desires and the formation process. Finally, we’ll draw out some implications for practice. Shalom.

To further interact with the thoughts in this Musing, visit our blog and make some comments.

Dr. Klaus Issler