KEEPING FIRST THINGS FIRST
Jane M. Phinney | Jan. 20, 2020
Truth becomes our reality as we are washed in, & cleansed by, God’s Word. Sometimes I sense it happening. Other times I don’t see it coming. He stops me dead in my tracks when I’m totally unsuspecting, & I’m an awe-struck observer in His revelatory moment. I’m silent before Him, just trying to take it in. Since the writing of my January 6 entry, I sensed I hadn’t penned all that God had for me. I think it’s true that many times we embrace the truth of what should be, by clearly seeing the destructive effects of what shouldn’t be.
It’s spiritually naïve to think that forgiveness is random or accidental. Since the beginning, God has intentionally forgiven. If we’re going to spiritually survive life in this world & thrive in our faith, we need to embrace His example. If you’re living & breathing, and honest, you know that each & every day holds ample opportunities to forgive both the seen & the unseen situations that “trip” your flesh trigger. Most often this involves people we know and/or love at home, at work, or in social interaction. Then again, someone you haven’t even met, face-to-face, can spark a fire that negatively affects those around you. I mean, how many of us get cranky when we’re driving? Generally, we don’t know the folks who cut us off, lay on their horn, or communicate their heated feelings with their “tall” finger. 😊
Case in point. This week I was processing a return, online, that had arrived before Christmas. When contacting the company, via email, to clarify their written return policy, I was unexpectedly treated rudely & somewhat belittled in the communication. Instantly, & I do mean out of nowhere, I reacted emotionally inside my soul. It’s true that I didn’t take out these feelings, directly, on my family. But for a time, the situation did cloud my perspective on life around me. I was stuck in “mental muttering.” Do you know that feeling? I had to forgive a man I’d never laid eyes on or talked to. It was the only thing that would completely clear my head & diffuse the turmoil within. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” In Christ, forgiveness is always possible, even when we’re too stubborn to admit it. The fact is, I was responsible for my response even though the guy had no clue. This is God’s best for His children. “So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace & the building up of one another.” (Romans 14:19) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:6)
Unforgiveness blocks the conduit to unhindered intimacy with the Lord. Unforgiveness can turn hearts hard & over time builds strongholds in our lives that carry over into relationships. The longer you let allow your bitterness to simmer, the worse it gets. And the enemy turns up the destructive heat of self-justification. There will always be two sides to every story. But there is only One answer, a solution not dependent on your human willpower or intelligence.
A few days back I was reading in Ephesians 4 where it admonishes us to “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” What actions would cause the Spirit to be offended or sorrowful? Get ready!! Because the list is in verse 31. “Let all bitterness & wrath (passion of the mind; outburst of anger) & anger (wrath as an outburst with the purpose of revenge) & clamor (shouting vehemently) & slander (wounding one’s reputation by evil reports) be put away from you, along with malice (wickedness as an evil habit of the mind).” Isn’t it obvious that these are the attitudes & actions of an unforgiving person? And isn’t it true, that given the right circumstances, any one of us could choose these fleshy responses?
God never leaves us. He never abandons us, even when we make malicious, hurtful decisions. He has answers if we are willing to swallow our pride & heed His counsel. “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving (to pardon) each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (vs32) Simply put, we are told to relate to others as if they never committed the offense. It’s what Jesus does with us. We stand positionally righteousness in Him, because He paid all the debt we would owe for a lifetime. The Forgiver indwells those who have received His Spirit. (2 Cor 5:21) We are without excuse to give the gift of forgiveness to others.
Forgiveness has 2 sides, both necessary for healing in human relationships & for unbroken fellowship with our Father. When people are angry & hurt, they’ve either done the offending or they are the offended.
When you are the offender, the Holy Spirit is quick to bring conviction that you may try to ignore. (Note to self: You’ll pretty much be miserable until you listen.) This is the time when you seek out the party you know you hurt, ask forgiveness for the specific things God brought to your attention, & then complete the reconciliation process. But don’t be shocked if they aren’t eager & willing. Just do your part & let God go to work on the chasm between the two of you. It’s better for them to be honest than to fake forgiveness. When you are the one hurt, the offending party might not even be aware of it. It isn’t your job to point it out to them. Here’s when God has some lessons for you in the privacy of your own heart. You can tell Him all about it. Then you have a choice to make. You can either stay bitter & infect others around you, or, you can remember your own need for forgiveness & see the person who hurt you in the same light God sees you…clean & new.
There aren’t any guarantees that people won’t hurt you for the same offense, over & over. What does God require in those situations? Forgiving 70x7, or 490 times, isn’t a suggestion. I think the point made in Matthew 18:21-35 is simply this: Has anyone ever done the same hurtful thing to you, 490 times? Likely not. Hence, keep forgiving! God is the only one who sees inside hearts, both yours & the other person. We are accountable to Him. Humanly speaking, the level of understanding, trust, & faith to forgive this much is impossible. It’s only possible because Christ lives in us & works through us.
In my life, I battle the most with repeat offenders who appear to not care, in the least, that they are hurting me. Sometimes it feels intentional, or like they delight in inflicting pain. They do what they do because they can. This is where the forgiveness rubber truly hits the road of life. Lest I go down a path of bitterness, the Lord reminds me that I don’t know their heart or what’s going on in their lives to cause these reactions. Unforgiveness is a waste of my energy, a waste of my life, & a waste of the affected relationship. And it serves the enemy’s purposes. Just as God forgives me when I’m unaware I need it, I’m to forgive even when the hurtful person isn’t aware of what they are doing. Forgiveness is an expression of God’s unfailing love to us. We couldn’t survive without it. Forgiveness is the open door to internal peace & relational freedom. Step out in faith & walk through it. Keep forgiveness first.