Lead From the HeartMay 24, 2023
Blog by Gem Fadling
Today we are pondering the idea of the heart. And for the purposes of this conversation, I’m defining the heart as the inner person, that deepest place within ourselves where we interact on the central aspects of life in connection to God.
A few years ago, we visited the African nations of Uganda and Rwanda. The Christian leaders there are so warm and lovely. They care so much about community, people, and story. We also have some friends from Nigeria, and I have consistently been struck by their love for God and the importance they place on relationships.
When we were in Uganda, we were able to spend time with the Archbishop and the House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda. I will never forget the amazing countenance and spirit of this engaging, warm, godly group of leaders.
While in Kampala, the nation’s capital, we had the opportunity to visit an old palace. On its grounds was one of the torture chambers used by an infamous dictator. Part of me did not want to visit this site, but I felt compelled to learn more of the history as a way of honoring the memory of those who had been murdered.
CONTENT WARNING: In the next three paragraphs I am going to describe what I saw and experienced. It is disturbing. If you prefer, you can skip down to the paragraph that begins “RESUME HERE.”
The chamber was originally an ammunition bunker, so it was built into the ground like a concrete tunnel. Inside and to the left were large, square, open rooms where prisoners were held. The rooms were raised off the ground about five feet or so. Muddy handprints were still visible on the walls.
From where we stood at floor level, we observed a water line six inches up the wall. The guards would flood the floor and run electric current through the water so that anyone who tried to escape would be electrocuted. They would run electric current through the water so anyone who tried to escape would be electrocuted.
Prior to entering the chamber, we noticed bullet holes in the concrete walls on our left. We were told that the guards would prop people up against the walls and use them for target practice. The bullet holes were evidence of these further atrocities.
RESUME HERE: As we continued to move closer to the entrance, I felt the heavy weight of evil and death. I glanced to my right, where a few green bushes and vines spilled out of crumbling concrete. As I looked at the wild greenery amidst the oppressive scene, this thought came to mind:
This is why Jesus taught about the heart.
Phrases from the Sermon on the Mount came flooding in:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
What strikes me about these verses is the pattern: “You have heard that it was said…” contrasted with Jesus’ new way, “But I tell you…”
Jesus’ new way is one that begins in the heart.
- “Don’t murder” becomes “Don’t be angry.”
- “Eye for eye” becomes “Walk two miles.”
- “Hate your enemies” becomes “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”
This is not lightweight counsel. To choose the Jesus Way involves our thoughts and intentions. It’s about the heart, the inner person, not just the bad behavior.
And notice that right up front in this passage Jesus addresses relationships. He talks about murder, adultery, revenge, and enemies. This holy check-in is about how we hold others in our hearts and how that moves out into our actions.
Why did all this come up as I was walking toward the entrance of the torture chamber? Because tortures chambers likely wouldn’t exist in a world where people addressed their heart issues before they escalated to evil action.
I must insert here that the way in which I received the reminder was soft, quiet. This is why I talk about the heart. A gentle reminder from Jesus to keep attuned to him. Our actions flow from within. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).
I know this is a large and complicated conversation, and I am not even beginning to tackle the various angles and ideas of what it raises.
Today, I am simply sharing snippets of a story from my own journey. A peek into the invitations of God as they occur out in the wild of my own life. It’s been four years since that encounter, and I can still remember the moment scripture and my experience met in a very tangible way.
It strengthened my resolve to continue caring for my own soul and the souls of others. All of our prayer practices and inner work matters—spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally. We attune to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit by being receptive and open to God’s invitations.
We must attend to our hearts in the gracious presence of God.
Your heart matters. My heart matters. It’s good to bring focus to our thoughts, feelings, and intentions. It is from our hearts that our words and actions spring.
- Let’s get practical: Pause for just a moment. Check in with your heart.
- Are you harboring anything in your heart that, if it continued its course, would lead to an undesired end?
- Share it with God. There is no need for shame here. In God’s presence there is great grace.
- What is God inviting you to as you offer your heart to God?
Simply see what is there and let the light shine on it…and you. Continue to break unhealthy patterns before they become unwanted actions.
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash