“Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me. “Psalm 86:1-7
Woo-hoo. Here we go. First I must apologize for taking such a LOOOOONG time to write this. Since I read the chapter on
“Forgiveness” in Dave Early’s book 14 Secrets to Better Relationships Powerful Principals from the Bible, I have been doing a lot of “work” …or let’s say that God through the Holy Spirit has been doing a lot of work in me.
This is NOT easy stuff. When somebody wrongs us we are not quick to get over the pain…whether it is merited because we were REALLY done wrong…or whether it was a miscommunication…or whether it was a misperception. When we are hurt by somebody the last thing that we want to do is say, “that’s alright…I’m alright…I forgive you.” We want to be mad! We feel like we deserve to be mad…and we want others to join in our anger…and we want to make the person who has hurt us pay.
Legalism is where we treat other people EXACTLY like they treat us. Exactly. There is no generosity or mercy. What you do unto me I will do exactly the same unto you. Some how in our current world this Legalistic view been taken to the extreme. It is way beyond tit-for-tat. Now if someone wrongs us we believe that it is perfectly acceptable to get them back “in spades”. This conventional wisdom is literally killing us. Think of the destroyed lives that we see in almost any action movie today. How many bystanders get killed… or cars get crashed or trains get blown up. Yes, these are “not real” …but they are too often real someplace! I try not to watch the news, but I hear about buses and trains and buildings getting bombed… schools getting shot up and REAL people dying. There is warfare on grand and small scales. Gang violence that escalates and becomes territorial…to the point that a person must not wear certain enemy colors…or hang out in “public” places that are not really for public use. Or the warfare that goes on in the mind of a sick and deranged person that will snipe cars from an overpass, or send bombs or anthrax in the mail or plow through kindergarten rooms with an automatic weapon. That is warfare too! We have enemies that we can see, and enemies that we can’t. We know the rules for some types of combat…but more often we have no idea who the enemy is, where they are or what they might do. It is always my ever-present prayer that good people not be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And if they are, that angels will protect them…protect us all!
The world is a battle ground with tribal genocide, Middle East bloodshed…even our own disciplined, trained soldiers will lower themselves to brutality and murder of innocent people to avenge a death.
But even if you aren’t a soldier or in a dangerous part of the world, we are all in a battle ground. One where there is a very real enemy that wants to destroy us. We may not find ourselves in the crossfire of a war, but we have a war that is constantly going on inside of us…that can and will destroy us every bit as thoroughly as a gun or a bomb…even MORE thoroughly because a gun and a bomb can only destroy our body…but the injuries that I speak of can destroy our joy and our hope and ultimately our soul.
Dave Early writes, “These unhealed wounds fester and spread until they steal our joy, pilfer our peace, rob our intimacy with God, and shortchange our possibilities of close relationships. Each old hurt becomes like a bar locking our souls into a prison of bitterness. They become shackles holding us back and dragging us down. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
What can we do?
If you are under the misguided notion from other people or from what you have seen or read or you are giving into your human nature …if you believe that the way for you to become “ok” again…or be happy again or be at peace again is to get that person back who has done you wrong…you are being terribly terribly TERRIBLY deceived. I am here as a witness to lives of people who hold onto hurt and hate and bitterness, that curses “prayed” to get a person back for all of the wrong that had been done DOES NOT and WILL NOT harm anyone except ourselves. The curses that were prayed do not reach the intended person. A wise fellow told me recently that when we curse people we are causing curses to come into our own lives! The way to make certain that bad things do not come to us is to instead of curse them… BLESS THEM! Can you image? It seems so contrary to what we are told by the world…but that is PRECISELY why it makes perfect sense to me!
In the first book of the Bible in the last chapter we get the end of a story that really makes me want to cry…God just gave me this story as I was writing this morning on this topic. I looked it up in my Bible – and of course (because God gave it to me!) it is perfect. We know the story of Joseph…he was his father’s favorite…he was spoiled and a little bit arrogant and his brothers were VERY jealous and hated him. To the point that some of them wanted to kill him. One of Joseph’s brothers, Reuben, did not agree with the other brothers plan and wanted to save Joseph. When Reuben was away the other brothers stripped Joseph of the fancy robe that their father had given him and threw him in a cistern so that wild animals could eat him. A caravan was passing near and another brother, Judah, suggested that they sell Joseph as a slave. And that is what they did…Joseph was taken and sold into slavery in Egypt.
When Reuben returned he found the cistern empty. The other brothers had taken Joseph’s robe, dipped it in goat’s blood and convinced Reuben and then later their father that Joseph had been killed. Jacob, Joseph’s father, could not be consoled about the “death” of his favorite son.
But THIS is how the story ends…Joseph becomes great…his brothers become poor. They go to ask for help from Pharoah in Egypt but when they arrive they are met by their brother Joseph that they do not recognize.
Joseph makes himself known
Genesis 45 ” Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, “This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me – you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.”
‘You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honour accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.’
Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him.
When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Tell your brothers, “Do this: load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.”
… And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Don’t quarrel on the way!’
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, ‘Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.’ Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, ‘I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.’
Wow! Right? There was a bigger plan…God worked something out that seemed terrible to be a blessing for all. Joseph did not curse or kill his brothers that had wronged him. He BLESSED them and he forgave them and they were all healed. Reconciliation may not always happen…but we can trust God to do His work in His time for His glory. Yea!!!
And the story continues…
Jacob, “Israel”, said to his son Joseph upon their meeting and upon Jacob meeting Joseph’s sons, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” Genesis 48:11
We don’t know how things will turn out…ALL we can do is what we are called to do…the right thing. And then we must let God take care of the rest!
Jacob said his final words and “when he was finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.” Genesis 49:33
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21
WOW!!!!! “Am I in the place of God”? We don’t live in a vacuum. There is evil and bad people and horror and chaos in this world. God allows hard things to happen to us. What we do with the knowledge and wisdom we gain is the key. We are told clearly how to respond…we were SHOWN how to respond through Jesus’ example. We are TOLD through God’s Word. We are GUIDED by the Holy Spirit.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgives you.”
So what if we don’t forgive as God forgives us? It is very clear what will happen. In Matthew 18 we hear a story of a man who owed such a great debt to his master that he could never in his lifetime of the lifetime of several generations of descendants ever pay back the debt. The servant prayed to the master to be patient and have mercy…and “the servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Matthew 18:27
The master freed the man from slavery, prison…the entire debt that was too large to ever be repaid was erased. It was forgiven.
But then this same servant, who had just been pardoned, came across a person who owed him a much smaller, yet significant debt. The newly pardoned servant did not show mercy. “He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!'”…his servant begged for mercy but was refused. “Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”
When the master heard from other servants what had happened…that the servant that he had pardoned….that he had forgiven… had not shown the same mercy for a much smaller debt, the master was VERY angry. “The master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant. I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In his anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Matthew 18:31-34. This is THE WORD of the Lord.
Dave Early explains, …”failing to forgive will ultimately hurt us more than it hurts the other person. It locks us into a dungeon of torture and a prison of bitterness. Although the bars, chains, and torture chambers of this prison aren’t visible, they are every bit real…even when they (the person who has wronged us) are not even thinking about us, we cannot get them out of our minds. We become their prisoner, and our bitterness toward them tortures us….Only one key turns the lock of freedom from the jail cell of resentment: forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness is costly. But there is only one thing that costs more. Unforgiveness.”
It is easy to forgive small misdeeds…accidents…if we did not forgive people who hurt us in small ways then we would probably have very few people left in our lives!
We MUST forgive, but we do not have to tolerate the wrongdoing. Lewis Smedes teaches, “Forgive those who wrong you, but do not tolerate their wrongdoing. Forgive them and tell them what Jesus told the people who He forgave: ‘You are forgiven for what you did, but stop it, don’t do it again,'”
We are not “wired” to forget things that hurt us deeply…and we are not called to forget. We are called to forgive…not just for the other person’s sake, but for our own! Dave Early explains that …”when the Bible says that God ‘forgets our sins’ it means that His present treatment of us is not tainted by our past offenses. John Ortberg writes, ‘forgiving is what’s required precisely when we can’t forget.'”
If someone cheats you, abuses you, and that person is NOT repentant and is not going to change his/her ways “Forgiveness is NOT foolishness.” We must forgive…but we do not have to work with them or live with them or continue to “take it”. Again Dave Early, “Forgiveness is something I can choose to extend even if the other person never asks for it or doesn’t deserve it…if you wait for some people to say they’re sorry, you may wait forever. As Lewis Smedes says, ‘Why put your happiness in the hands of the person who made you unhappy in the first place? Forgive and let the other person do what he wants. Heal yourself.'”
WE have a choice. Die of bitterness and hurt…spend our days in a prison of our own making… heap curses on our own head…or trust the Holy Spirit to work a miracle in the heart of the one who wronged us. Bless them. Jesus tells us clearly in Matthew 5:43-47
“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
God calls us to be different…not to see things with our human eyes or hearts or think like the world. Romans 12:2 encourages us, ” Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Don’t buy the lie that you deserve to be angry and that you deserve revenge. Seek the truth that the only way that we can be happy is to let it go. We might have to remind ourselves 20 nor 100 or 500 times a day for a while…but the way to begin to be free and to forgive is by asking God’s help. We CAN NOT do it without God’s help. He will take the burden from us, if we will just let it go… completely… without a single finger trying to grasp or hang on…without a single binding string. That is the only way to find freedom. Find a place of freedom. Forgive and heal.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMxcmoSFZ98