Last post, we dug more deeply into what it means to "commit to JOY". How we need to be sure that our priority is to find it in Christ, and Christ alone. To see that finding JOY in Him keeps us from seeking it in places (or people!) that will ultimately only bring disappointment, bitterness, harm.
And that to find such joy, we have to press on for it. And to "forget" what lies in my past. My past sins and failures.
But also the wounds from my past, The things that I am tempted to define myself by. The hurts and injuries that seem to dictate who I am, to determine how I react to situations, and even my own measure of joy.
Forgetting the hurts of the past involves forgiveness.
So let's look at what that is...and what it's not...and how we can do it.
First, what is forgiveness NOT?
It is NOT saying that whatever has hurt us is "OK". Some things are very much NOT OK. And to say they are is to trivialize our pain. And that does not help us heal.
In fact, the opposite is true and to acknowledge that is the first step in the right direction.
When we can bring the hurt into the light and before the Lord and say "This hurts. Help me heal." Sometimes, when I pour my heart out before the Lord, I find that I eventually come to the place where I don't see the offense as big as I originally did. It is helpful for me to read through some Psalms - particularly Psalm 142. Very beneficial. Check it out -
With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
5 I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me
Notice how the psalmist very plainly tells the Lord all about his troubles! He feels very alone and helpless...but he eventually works through that to the point of desiring to leave this place of despair, not so he can "feel better" but rather that he may give glory to God and experience the blessing of the Lord.
Sometimes that's all I need to get back into the place of JOY.
But sometimes it's not. Sometimes my hurts feel too heavy to get past and I need more than just a crying session with the Lord.
Sometimes He shows me that indeed a grievous wrong has been committed. The other person "owes me". An apology, a debt of love, a righting of the wrong. No question about it - he/she owes me.
Problem is, he or she may not ever acknowledge the debt they owe me (which brings more pain) and/or they may very well not have the ability OR INCLINATION to pay it back.
What am I to do?
In Matthew 18, Jesus relays a very familiar parable - the one where one slave owes the king a ginormous debt which he cannot repay. He begs for mercy and the king releases him from that debt. That forgiven slave then turns to a fellow slave and demands payment of a debt, paltry in comparison to what he has been forgiven. That slave also cannot pay and asks for mercy, But the first slave - the forgiven one - refuses and places the debtor in prison.
We know the parallel - we are the first slave, The one who owes the impossible to repay debt to The King. He has mercifully forgiven us. And how wretched we are when we refuse to grant the same mercy to the ones who owe us.
The part we might have missed is in the last two verses of this chapter. The part about what happens to us as a result of refusing to grant this mercy of forgiveness to others:
34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Did you catch the word "torturers"?
Does that mean that God sends us to hell if we don't forgive?
Well, I definitely that our continued insistence on unforgiveness might be an indicator of a dangerous flaw in our spiritual condition but I think the point here is a bit different. Rather, I think it is describing what goes on in our own hearts when we refuse to forgive.
Instead of hurting the other person with our refusal to forgive, we actually inflict pain upon ourselves. Anxiety, depression, paranoia, anger, unreasonable fears, critical spirit, hardness of heart, bitterness...LACK OF JOY. Even harmful physical symptoms can arise! All stemming from our refusal to forgive.
Which hold us captive until we learn to forgive.
So, what does it mean to forgive?
Simply put, it means not making the person pay the debt they owe. Releasing them from what they should pay.
That sounds good but we are still left with that debt! It's difficult to go on with that mound of debt on our shoulders.
So what are we to do?
Well, as you might expect, God's way is different that our way. But it's the best way. His way brings blessing and peace and JOY. It works.
His way to deal with the debt we have been owed...is to pay it ourselves.
Pay it ourselves.
Well, since God's way is different, you might not be surprised that His economy is different. Only in God's economy can we not only successfully pay off what is owed us but we are the ones to benefit when we do!
And, thankfully, His economy includes the installation plan :) We don't have to do it all in one big payment!
How do we pay this debt of others to ourselves? In a thousand little ways if needed.
When we resist the temptation to "tell them off", a payment is made. When we don't tell "our side of the story" over and over to everyone around, a payment is made. When we pray for them (our enemies!), a payment is made. When we have the opportunity to repay them the evil they have done us AND YET WE DO NOT, a payment is made.
And a huge installment is paid down on that debt when we do something that blesses them instead. Romans 12:21 calls it "overcoming evil with good".
When we do that, God supernaturally sees to it that the debt of love we are owed gets paid. He fills our heart. With goodness, not bitterness. With joy, not anxiety. With love, not hate.
And the bonus? We get the joy....and look what Romans 12:20 says - “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Before you get excited and think this verse means that if we forgive our enemy, if we pay their debt by blessing them, then God is going to pile on the fires of pain in their lives, think again:)
I'll tell you tomorrow what it means. This post has gone on long enough.