Sometimes, the words of Jesus bother me.
It’s then that I try to shut my mouth and silence the alerts and distractions around me to examine the bother:
Sharp, yucky bother? Just the enemy trying to condemn me over a thing of which Jesus has already pronounced me “not guilty”.
Warm bother? That’s the Spirit drawing me closer to the mirror for some good old fashioned plank yankin’.
While our written blog has been back burner’d in favor of building a few recently released and soon to be released YouTube video blog (vlog) articles, this week I had a hard time not passing on the following post from a really sharp thinker some of you already know – Daniel Diaddigo. Dan’s had a good look at the plank that was in his eye, my eye, and probably yours…
Allow me to hand the mirror over to Dan so you can stare long and hard at it. I pray you’ll join me for some plank yankin’.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17
We’ve been talking about things that distract us from Jesus, deep things that growl at us from the corners of our hearts. Last time, we discovered that we can trace our fear to misplaced hope. To conquer fear we must confront it and bring it before Jesus. Fear approaches us from the future, with things that might hurt us tomorrow. But what about those things that hurt us from the past?
A college roommate once told me, “Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I have to like him.” The “him” was a mutual acquaintance who had apparently fallen from favor. I was a babe in the faith, begging wisdom wherever I could find it. Here was a friend, more seasoned than I, telling me over milk and cookies that there would be people I just didn’t have to like.
A liberating thought.The fact that I recall this conversation so many years later gives me a clue that I must have made some space for the idea. I see now this is the Spirit’s prompt to shine light into a corner that needs attention.
Live long enough, feel long enough – and you’ll experience the pain that accompanies the human condition. It is a pain born of brokenness. Deep cuts. Wounds of the heart that pump the serpent’s venom into our souls. Wounds at the hand of another.
For some, these wounds bear the scars of physical or sexual abuse. Others carry the weight of an absent dad or a cheating spouse. People who have hurt us, who left us hemorrhaging and gasping for air. People we don’t like. People, if we are willing to go there – we hate.
Jesus says that anyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer. And somehow we’re okay with that. “You know Jesus, always using hyperbole and parables to make a point.”
“Yeah, like when the disciples asked Jesus how many times they had to forgive their brothers and Jesus said, ‘seventy times seven’ which meant, like, ‘infinity’?”
“I know it. That’s crazy talk.”
I’ll be honest. If I could write my own story, there are people I would remove from its pages. I would erase them completely. I’d pencil in new characters to take their places. Characters who were neither arrogant nor hypocritical nor small; characters who did not steal from me, or belittle me, constantly compete with me, or otherwise cover my light with their bowls. I would cut the characters that cut off people’s heads in God’s name; and I would dispose of those who sell girls to wealthy bidders. There are people who simply would not exist in my world – if I could write my story. Hmmm. Maybe Jesus is onto something.
Unforgiveness distracts us from Jesus. It diverts our gaze from Him and cements it to our pain. Jesus wants to break the shackles that bind us to our wounds. To fully experience the freedom that Jesus offers, we must choose to walk away from the wounds and to release those who inflicted them. We must… forgive.
Forgiving “those who trespass against us” is not easy. It can be a process. Here are some things that help me. I hope you find them to be useful:
- Surrender your right to not be wounded. Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “why not rather be wronged?”
- Cancel the debt. Write down on a sheet of paper what the offending party owes you. Respect? Credit? Dignity? Reputation? Then tear up the paper. Debt cancelled. It is Jesus who makes us whole, not people.
- Embrace Jesus’ suffering. Jesus suffered unjustly. Sometimes He gives us an opportunity to share in that suffering. Truly, an opportunity. I have discovered there is a special flavor of intimacy in that place where we consciously occupy Jesus’ suffering. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I taste it – and it’s sweet, not bitter.
- Set up my assailant as a prayer target. Have you ever tried to forgive someone but it just doesn’t seem to stick? You find yourself having a thousand imaginary conversations, reliving the offense again and again? Remember, we have an enemy who will leverage our pain to distract us from Jesus. Try this: Every time these thoughts assail you, fight back with prayer. Aggressive, war-footing, prayer. Speaking out loud may help:“Here’s the deal. Every time I hear these thoughts, I am going to pray for _________. I’m going to pray for this person everything I would pray for myself. I’m going to ask the Lord to prosper him / (her) and draw him near and conform him to His image. So, if that’s what you desire as well, I invite you to keep bringing me these thoughts to remind me to pray. Thank you for the prompt.”
Then, allow for the possibility that your persecutors may have been brought to you by the Lord so that they may be set free in response to your intervention. I know, twisted, huh?
Okay, let’s strip this down to its foundation. Is it possible to forgive, to truly forgive at a heart level, absent the life of Jesus pulsing through us? I would say “no”. No, because in order to forgive, something in us must die. Let’s call this something the offended Self.
We who are being conformed to Christ’s image will eventually experience what it means to forgive someone who does not deserve our forgiveness. In this, we are invited to join God in the ministry of reconciliation of which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians.
Yes, forgiveness will cost us – just like it cost Jesus.
“While we were enemies of God, Christ died for us.”
My roommate was right. We don’t have to like them. We have to LOVE THEM. We have to love them to death.
1 Corinthians 6:7, Romans 5:8