She asks me about forgiveness.
I look up into her tear-filled eyes and know she isn’t looking for canned advice. She wants real help, honesty, depth.
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. This is a hard topic to talk about without sounding preachy. I want to be sensitive and I’m not sure what to say.
Glancing over at me, she asks, “So what was it like for you to forgive? Why did you do it? Was it hard? And was it worth it?”
My mind scans all of the offenses I’ve forgiven. They have ranged from small–not being invited to a friend’s party. To medium- dealing with an insensitive and critical relative during a painful struggle. To huge – burying my infant son due to a doctor’s careless mistake. Or losing the marriage that I thought would last a lifetime.
I know she is referring to a specific offense that I’ve had to forgive, that I’m still in the process of forgiving, but there is a commonality to all the offenses against me. They have all hurt. Some superficially, some deeply, some permanently.
I take the questions one by one, trying to be as transparent as I can.
Why did I forgive?
I begin slowly, choosing my words carefully.
“To be honest I didn’t want to forgive. I never do. But the Bible tells us to forgive if we want to be forgiven. And forgiving those who wrong us brings glory to God. It shows the world Jesus.
“But forgiving has also helped me. When I carry around anger and bitterness over what someone has done, it eats at me, and almost controls my life. It’s almost like the bitterness follows me everywhere.
“I hate to admit it, but I take a twisted pleasure in replaying the offense, getting mad, being the victim. I feel entitled to those feelings- small consolations in the face of the injustices I’ve endured. But I know this pleasure is really poison. Poison that I am pouring into a gaping, already painful wound. That poison makes the wound fester, so I’m worse off than I was at the start. I’m in more pain, while the person who hurt me doesn’t even know, or care.
“I have found forgiveness is like a balm. It lets me heal. Keeps the wound clean. Enables me to move on.”
She looks at me. “I guess that makes sense. But it seems impossible when I look at my situation. Forgiving is too hard.” View full post »
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, especially in these weeks after Easter. Even as Jesus moved toward the cross with courage and strength, the men around him crumbled, plagued with regret and shame.
As I look at my own life, I realize that I am no different than those men. I do things I regret, make bad decisions, hurt people I love. And when I do, I am faced with the same choices that the men in the Gospels faced. I see parts of myself in Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter, each of whom displayed a different response to moral failure.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, so when the crowd wanted to crucify him, Pilate tried quieting them to prevent a riot. But when his efforts failed, he released Jesus to be crucified. Pilate rationalized his actions, publicly declaring, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matt 27:24), but that was a meaningless declaration. Pilate was responsible for Jesus’ death, no matter how he tried to justify it.
Then there was Judas, one of the twelve, who betrayed the Lord. We don’t know why he betrayed Jesus, but we do know that Judas never acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, referring to him as “Rabbi,” and not “Lord.” After his failure, he went back to the chief priests and elders, but not to his friends or community. Scripture doesn’t mention him with other disciples after he left the Last Supper. Alone, riddled with guilt and shame, Judas hanged himself in desperation.
Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him, but Peter insisted he would be faithful, even to the point of death. It must have been humiliating for Peter when hours later, after the casual question of a slave girl, Peter swore and for the third time denied ever knowing Jesus. But even after his heartbreaking denial, Peter remained in community, as he and John both raced to the empty tomb. Because he repented and sought forgiveness, Peter could unashamedly proclaim the gospel of forgiveness and grace.
Why did these men respond to failure so differently? 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Pilate showed no grief. Judas displayed worldly grief. Peter had godly grief. What kind of grief do you have when you fail? Which of these three men do you most identify with?
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In the midst of broken dreams and riveting pain, how should we pray?
Should we pray for healing and deliverance, believing that we just need to ask, because God can do anything? Or should we relinquish our desires to God, trusting that even in our anguish he has the perfect plan for us?
Yes. When life falls apart, God invites us to do both. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced unimaginable suffering. Sweating drops of blood, he fell to the ground and prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Jesus, in his agony, is teaching us by example how to pray when we’re desperate.
Jesus does not begin with, “Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth.” Of course, God is Lord of all and deserves honor and reverence. But Jesus chooses a term of endearment: “Abba.” While “Abba” does not mean “Daddy,” it was used as an intimate, personal term for Father. Jesus is asking his Father to do something for him.
I grew up calling my father “Daddy,” and still do to this day. “Daddy” was a great name when I was happy with him, but when I was upset, I wanted to call him “Sir.” I could feel distant and defiant on the inside when I called him “Sir”, but there was no separating myself from him when I said “Daddy.” And my father, who wisely knew that, insisted that I call him “Daddy” after our disagreements. When I was able to use that name sincerely, he knew our reconciliation was complete.
In a similar way, I need to draw near to God in my pain. He’s the Almighty Lord, but he’s also my Abba Father (Rom. 8:15). I need to approach him as such.
Nothing Too Difficult
Jesus knows God can do anything. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10). All things are his servants (Ps 119:91). Nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37). While I know those Scripture verses by heart too, I often functionally doubt God’s ability to change my situation. I scan my circumstances and assume things will continue as they are. Even as I pray, I don’t look for miraculous answers; my prayers become rote recitations of requests more than earnest petitions of faith.
But in Gethsemane, Jesus knows his Father can grant his request. God gives life to the dead and summons into being things that don’t exist. And I need to remember his limitless power when my situation looks insurmountable. View full post »
What good is God?
This may sound like a startling question, but if our lives aren’t what we expected, if our cherished dreams aren’t coming true, if our prayers are seemingly unanswered, many of us will ask that very question at some point – or maybe you have already.
A dear friend recently walked away from faith with that question on her lips. What good does God do for us anyway?
Her newfound atheism is based on her experience. To her, ‘You go to church, read the Bible, believe in Jesus and try to live by godly principles. But when life comes crashing down around you and you sincerely cry out for help, God is strangely silent. He doesn’t help at all. So you begin to wonder if he ever was real in the first place. The Bible sounds like nonsense and Christianity looks like a massive hoax that in the end delivers nothing but empty promises. It gives people false hope. And that is the cruelest part of all.’
Have you heard that line of thinking before? Or more importantly, do you feel that way yourself? Did you build your life on a faith that you assumed was strong, only to find that what you were counting on, namely prayer answered swiftly in accordance with your will, feels more like a mirage than an oasis? Are you tired of hoping and waiting because you’re not sure what you’re hoping and waiting for anyway? Maybe it’s easier not to believe and just to play the cards you were dealt without waiting for a miracle. That way you won’t be disappointed. And you’ll be in control of your own life.
If those words resonate with you, I understand, at least partially, how you feel. I have not walked away from my faith, but I have felt let down by God. Wondered where he was. Felt my prayers bouncing off the walls.
I thought that the only way God could make things right was to change my circumstances. My prayer list was made up of the things I wanted God to change. Change my circumstances. Change my relationships. Change my health. Make it all better.
And so when it didn’t happen, I questioned God. Why didn’t he answer my sincere prayers? View full post »