Once a week, I have to get alone with God and really really pour my heart out. Whether it’s a time of immense praise, or a time of processing something hard, I have to go before the Lord and let it all out. I have to pray about whatever is weighing on me and lay it out at His feet, or praise about it and lift it up and let my heart dance. I use that time to be honest and raw. I use that time to remind myself that first and foremost, He is my Father, and He is with me every step of the way, and that He, above anyone else, knows every detail of what I’m feeling. I use that time to marvel at Him, and to glance back at what He’s done and celebrate what He’s doing, even if what He’s doing hurts at the moment. I cherish this time.
I can’t carry around the weight of life all on my own. I’ve been thinking so much lately about the fact that life just moves forward; things that you fear happen, you lose people, you grieve, you have family issues that you can’t control, etc. You have all of these circumstances floating around that you don’t like or that you can’t control, that you are supposed to find peace about and just keep trucking. As the past year has been full of a series of walking through things that I absolutely feared and didn’t want to face, I am questioning how much more of this is coming in life? I’m only 25, if I’m #blessed, i’ll probably live about 3 times as long as I already have. I’ll pile on 3 times as much grief and loss and patience building and refinement; yet I have just as much room to grow and be marveled by God. I have 60+ years left of walking and navigating through my life with Jesus, and as much as I’ve seen, I can’t imagine what I’ll see. I can’t imagine how many things I’ll have to let go of, and learn to be ok with along the way.
I’ve been caught up in thinking how unfair things are, and how unjust. How in a situation you can feel like you were wronged on so many different levels, but when you are following Jesus and working to be more like Him, you are called to forgive every wrong doing against you. Forgive every debt you feel like you are owed.
Last week one of my dear friends who I love and even more so, respect, sent me Matthew 18:21-35. Everyone’s favorite verse to hate, and ignore; the parable of the Unforgiving servant.
For the sake of space, I’ll give a synopsis: The passage starts out by saying there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that you give someone, and goes on to break down this command through the use of a story, as Jesus so often did.
A servant is indebted to his master. His master decides it’s time to settle everything and get what he is owed. The servant begs his master to forgive his debt. His master takes pity on him and forgives the debt. The same servant that just received a pardon, and whose debt was completely forgiven, went out to track down another guy who owed him something. This guy, much like the servant, had no means to be able to pay the debt that he owed. He couldn’t balance the scales. But rather than showing the forgiveness, compassion, and mercy of his master, the servant decides to put the man who owed him in jail until he could pay his debt (sounds kind of oxymoronic to me, how can you pay off a debt in jail). His peers saw his lack of mercy, and informed their master. The master, seeing the wickedness of his servant after the servant didn’t follow his lead to show forgiveness and compassion, threw the servant in jail to be tortured until he could pay his debt. The grand finale of the parable says “So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Really?
This one is hard to swallow, it’s literally saying you are dead wrong to not forgive people for their sins against you, and you are without excuse. You’ve been forgiven of so much, and to hold unforgiveness in your heart is to blatantly disobey what your Father tells you to do. I have seen this play out all too clearly in my life in several different scenarios where someone had a boulder of unforgiveness in their heart, that lead to years of negative repercussions.
The week that I was reading this verse and trying to digest it without flat out being like, aw naw hell naw, God – they preached the same exact verse at Church that weekend. Funny how He likes to hammer it in like that. The pastor talked about the repercussions of unforgiveness, and how studies show the negative affects that bitterness has on your body, your blood pressure, disease; physical ailments can stem from an emotional and spiritual root of something bad. Again, I’ve seen this personally on more than one occasion that unforgiveness literally spreads like a poison and branches out not only to negatively effect the person’s life who is unforgiving but their children and their family, and their friendships. I think me experiencing the fruit of unforgiveness first hand (in my own family and in other relationships) has lead me to be more afraid of the consequences of unforgiveness, than the swallowing of pride that it takes to forgive. Deuteronomy 29 says “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit…the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sickness with which the Lord has made it sick – the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown, and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout..”
You can’t bear good fruit with poisoned, rotting roots. You will look around at your land, at your life, and you will not see flourish and plenty, but ground that is impossible to get any sustenance from. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 says that forgiving keeps Satan from having an advantage over us. And I refuse to let Him have an advantage over me; it’s for freedom that I have been set free, not enslavement, and I won’t be a slave to unforgiveness and let it eat away at me slowly in different areas.
My pastor also touched on one more painful and important thing, that the people who hurt you the most, usually, will never ask for your forgiveness. You won’t ever hear an I’m sorry, or I was wrong. Obviously the next thought you have, is why should I have to forgive someone who doesn’t even ask me? The answer is because you are doing it for you, not for them. You are doing it because that’s what expected of you and commanded of you by your Father in heaven. You’re doing it so that there is no separation between you and God (Matt 6:14-15). You are doing it so that no bitter root springs up in you (Hebrews 12:15). You are doing it so that you can walk in the fullness of Christ; you can’t decide to follow some teachings, and then go your own way on others (Psalm 16:11, John 1:16). You can’t be obedient sometimes and expect to reach the full measure of what God has planned for you. You can’t follow the path on Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday, and then do whatever your self-motivated, prideful, human heart feels like doing every other day of the week. Forgiveness is painful. Forgiveness is like swallowing a ton of bricks. Forgiveness is like holding up the white flag, and saying I’ll let you win. It feels like all of those things. But the liberty and freedom that comes from humbling yourself before the Lord and seeing how He lifts you up will undoubtedly eclipse the sacrifice of being broken down in spirit, and meekly surrendering to the Lord’s will to grab hold of forgiveness. Uproot the anger that’s budding in your heart, threatening to grow roots there, uproot that with forgiveness and grace, and never give the enemy a foothold over your life.
One of my favorite chapters of the bible that I find I need pretty much all the time, is Isaiah 53. Jesus literally walked silently, mouth sealed to His death, to bear the burden of all my sin. He silently walked amidst taunting and beating harboring no anger, and never speaking a word. All pride laid aside, in complete humility. He was powerful, and He was capable of pay back. He was capable of escape, and to not walk obediently down the path the Lord laid out for Him. He was more acquainted with humility than I ever will be, and He knew the heartbreak of rejection. Can you imagine knowing that you are giving your life up out of love, and having to bear the weight of their rejection? People are pouring out hate, and you are meeting them with an incomprehensible amount of love? What if He packed it all up that day, and said this is where I draw the line. This is where I can’t follow you anymore, Father. I can’t deal with this rejection and hate and disrespect.
I think we tend to forget that Jesus had human emotions. That He took on human form and lived a human life and faced everything that we face and more, and still did it obediently. We look at our lives and proclaim obedience is too hard, and God your expectations for me are too great. Are we not called to be refined to the point of completely losing ourselves to be more like Him (Romans 8:29 says For those whom he foreknew He also destined from the beginning to be molded into the image of His Son)? Did God not send Him as a Shepard to lead the sheep, as a physical being to follow so that we can know God through Him, through the way of Christ?
Obedience is hard, and forgiveness is obedience. I’m learning to be less resentful about my trials and revel in the fact that God is paying enough attention to me to want me to be more refined, and more like Him. I read a C.S. Lewis quote once that said something along the lines of, when God tests us, it is not to reveal our hearts to Him, it’s to reveal the true character of our hearts to us. He already knows our hearts, and doesn’t need it to be revealed.
So He tests to show us something we need to work on, or maybe even to show us how far we’ve come. Some things I used to respond to so angrily and hatefully, I can now respond with meekness and courage and complete submission (by way of those weekly “pour it all out to God” sessions that I mentioned in the beginning). It’s not like God intends for us to not have human emotion, or human reaction, or human desire. He just expects us to be obedient; He provides everything we need to do so, and provides the grace for when we fall short. I won’t waste my pain. I won’t let something that is thrown at me hit me, and no growth come of it, because I know that’s not what God’s intentions ever were. I won’t miss something He is trying to teach me or show me. And I won’t ever, ever ever, fall down in front of my enemy in defeat and let his malicious design implant itself in my heart, and ripple down into my life. The enemy is always looking to kill, steal, and destroy. Kill my hope. Destroy my peace of mind. Steal my future by planting bad seeds in my heart, and enticing me to go my own way, and follow my own rules.
A good work has been started in me, and it will be finished. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3). I know from the word of God that I have everything I need to be obedient, and to forgive, and with God nothing is impossible. I’m going to live in the fullness of joy that comes from Christ, and won’t have my doorstep darkened with the bitter root that is unforgiveness.