ENGAGING THE PRACTICAL TIP
This Sunday, Pastor Donnell closed out his two-part series on Specks and Planks (aka Not Judging). The main text for the sermon was from the seventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:1-6)
In this passage, Jesus is referring to our tendency to see others’ problems as being big (they seem like planks to us), while excusing or mitigating our own problems (we see them as specks). Pastor Donnell put it more bluntly. He said that Jesus is telling us not to be hypocrites. Jesus is trying to help us reverse this tendency and help us to focus on our own problems before we focus on our neighbor’s problems. As pastor Donnell also pointed out, we are not actually responsible for how our neighbors live; we are responsible for how we live.
In order to help us bring this tendency into God’s loving and transforming spirit, we suggest praying this passage while we are examining one or two relationships in our life where we may be actually or feeling overly responsible. To start, grab a pencil and paper (or a smart phone or laptop) and take a few minutes to consider the relationships in your life which are the most frustrating, in particular relationships where you simply wish the person would change the way they act or behave. Write down names as you think of them, then select one or two which seem best to take before the Lord. (If you can’t come up with any relationships which fit this criterion, rejoice and thank God. You are truly blessed.) With these relationships in mind, read the above passage from the gospel of Matthew once slowly. When Jesus refers to the speck in your neighbor’s eye, recall what about their life bothers you. Feel free to sit with this contrast for a minute or two. Why does the “thing” they do really bother you? Why is Jesus referring to it as a speck? Feel free to take your argument to Jesus. Listen for his response. When it seems right, move on with your reading. When Jesus refers to the plank in your own eye, consider how you are looking at your neighbor. Consider how you live your life, particularly how others might criticize you. Take your feelings, good or bad, to Jesus. Share them and ask Jesus how he feels about you. Now imagine how the person who is frustrating to you might take their own life to Jesus. How might they feel about the criticisms which they experience? Do you have anything in common with them in approaching God? Do you both seek God’s mercy, forgiveness, or understanding? Maybe the other person isn’t a Christian. How does that affect their ability to live how you wish they did? How does God feel about it? Invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you sit with these thoughts.
When it seem right, read the passage one more time. God slowly, recalling what you thought and felt the first time through. Revisit your significant experiences and invite Jesus to help you look at the other person’s life and your own a little more clearly. We encourage you to take all of your feelings to Jesus in this exercise, as they could be significantly strong. Thank God for any significant insights which you might have gotten.
PRAYING WITH SCRIPTURE
One time tested way to pray is to meditate on a passage from the Bible. To do this, one selects anywhere from a verse to a couple of paragraphs from the Bible and reads them through slowly several times. You can read the passages out loud or to yourself. Reading out loud, when appropriate, can be beneficial, as it slows you down. You also effectively read twice each time through the passage, once when process the written words and a second time when you listen to yourself speak them. As you begin, you might invite God to join you in this activity. (This may seem odd, since you are praying to God in the first place. However, since we have no way to reach God on our own, God is both the enabler and the recipient of our prayer.) As you are reading, if something in the passage strikes you in a particular way, stop for a few seconds or a minute and let that thought or feeling sink in. Consider asking God about that thought or feeling and whether it is from Him or not. When the thought or feeling passes, return to reading the passage. Repeat this process if another part of the passage strikes you in a particular way.
The second time through, read more slowly. Again, stop if anything in the passage strikes you in a particular way. Pay particular attention to those portions where you stopped the first time through. Recall the experience from the first reading and ask if there is more to the thought or feeling than you sensed the first time through. After you have completed the passage the second time, thank God for the time with Him. You might note any significant experiences or inclinations that came to mind during your time of prayer. You can always read it three or more times if you would like. Also, some people find it helpful to take a minute or two before starting to read to quiet your mind. The main goal here is simply to effectively put aside whatever has been occupying us for the time of prayer. As you are trying to be “quiet”, as things or people come to mind, simply acknowledge them and present them to God’s care while you are praying.
Feel free to share your experience with others who have also tried this prayer exercise by commenting below or emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.