Who in your life, in the world, or in history do you most admire? (Besides Jesus.) Why? Who in the Bible (besides Jesus) do you most admire, relate to, or find intriguing?
Mark 11:25: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Psalm 66:18: “. . . If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”
Now, the other level of forgiveness, though, relates to the condition of our relationship with the Lord and our daily walk with Him. When we sin, we break fellowship with Him and we prevent ourselves from attaining the abundant, God-glorifying life that we should have. Like in any relationship, a sin doesn’t necessarily mean that you dump the friendship, but it does interfere with the condition of your relationship, with the level of closeness you feel with the other person.
We need to take it seriously when God says that He forgives our sins as we forgive others. But how many of us just consider this poetic? But it’s not just poetry. Being unforgiving to others - holding grudges and being bitter - puts up a wall between us and the Lord. And we cannot have the kind of relationship with Him that we were meant to have if we have unforgiveness in our hearts. Being unforgiving doesn’t just hurt the other person; it hurts us and our health (stress hurts our body) and, most importantly, it destroys our fellowship with the Lord. And we need to confess these sins as we become aware of them in order to restore proper fellowship.
The problem is that when we call them “needs,” we turn them into something that we are entitled to, that we passionately pursue, and that we are unfulfilled without. These needs can become idols. But we are not entitled to any certain blessing, and everything we already have is a gift from God. And God should be what we passionately pursue. He should be where we find our fulfillment. And we have to get to the point where we can learn to praise Him, be content in Him, and glorify Him, even when those “needs” are unmet.
When I defined my desire to be appreciated at home as a “need,” I was miserable because I wasn’t getting something I thought I had to have to be joyful and content. But when I redefined it as a “want,” I was able to hold it loosely, to give it over to God so He could do what He wanted with it, and to allow God to be enough for me, regardless of if I was appreciated at home or not.
We have to start calling our “needs” what they are: great, big wants that we need to put into God’s hands if we want to be truly fulfilled in the best way possible.
We think we “need” more attention or appreciation or help around the house or our spouse to listen to us more or our spouse to change for the better. But God knows we need to honor our vow to our spouse even when things are not going the way we want, to learn to love them as He loves us, to focus on changing ourselves instead of trying to change them, to let go of bitterness, to pray for them, and to let God be our all and meet the “needs” that our spouse doesn’t.
We think we need to fight for our “needs” to be met, to dish out justice when those needs are unmet, or to seek revenge. But God knows we need to let go of unforgiveness and learn to fully and completely forgive as we have been forgiven, to trust that He is a righteous judge who will avenge all wrongs and make all things right again in the end, to be more concerned with our standing before Him than other people’s standing before us, and to be more concerned with the plank in our own eye than the speck in someone else’s.
Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with “our issue” until we make a decision: hold onto the fear/”need”/desire/resentment/difficult situation (etc.) and try to maintain control over it, or place it fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.
He will not allow us to hold onto both. We cannot hold onto control, fear, “our right to have our needs met,” resentment, selfish desires, etc., and yet still hold onto Him, too. He knows that it’s not best for us to carry those burdens ourselves.
These “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long. And they often involve learning to be vulnerable and to trust God, whereas we prefer self-preservation and having control.
But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us. And so we are asked to eventually face, work through, and let go of the self-reliant, self-protective, self-focused thoughts and behaviors that hinder our relationship with Him, with ourselves, and with others.
And to correct a common misconception: You don’t have to be happy about being obedient, handing things over to God, giving up “needs,” forgiving someone else, letting go of bitterness, or living with heartache and longing in order to do it. You don’t have to “feel like it.” Even if you are still heart-sick and sad, you can still humbly submit your life to the Lord and forgive from your heart. Because He has forgiven us. Because we know He will right all wrongs in the end and that He alone has the right to avenge all wrongs.
I was really bothered by this, but I had no recourse. So I complained in my head about it for days. And it was eating me up inside, making me bitter and miserable.
But what finally put a stop to it is when I realized that, in God’s eyes, my thoughts and critical attitude were probably “more” sinful than what this person was guilty of. And I found myself saying, “Yes, Lord, what they did wasn’t right, but I am guilty of pride, unforgiveness, and a harsh, critical attitude. And this is a sin against You. Forgive me!”
It helps us keep a soft, forgiving, repentant heart when we look at ourselves instead of at others. Of course, it is a great thing when we move from saying, “Look at the wrongs they have done to me” to saying, “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing.” But it is an equally great thing to move from “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing” to “Lord, forgive me for I don’t know what I have been doing.”
God will deal with the sins of others. He is the one who will avenge wrongs. We just need to be concerned with the plank in our eye and with our sins. And all sins, whether they are actions or thoughts or attitudes, are really sins against God. He alone really has the right to avenge them. And He will right all wrongs in the end. If we keep this in mind, it will help us to put bitterness, criticalness, and indignation aside. (These things just kill us slowly on the inside anyway.)
Being reconciled to others is so important to God that we are not even supposed to offer our gifts at the altar until we do. But how many of us sing God’s praises at church while we have unfinished business in a relationship with someone else? How many of us won’t seek reconciliation because we don’t think that we should have to? (After all, we didn’t do anything wrong, did we? It was all them! Besides, it’s history now!)
And how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense? How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified? (After all, they deserve it, right!?!)
Or how about the things that we get upset or bitter about that were never attacks on us to begin with? How about holding grudges against people who aren’t even aware of it? Like misreading someone’s tone of voice or body language? Making assumptions about what someone is thinking? Or how about “road rage,” when we take it personally that someone is driving too fast or that they passed us in a “no passing” zone?
I used to struggle with road rage, with being offended by other people’s driving. But one day, after someone erratically passed me in a crazy hurry, I heard myself say, “Someone better be bleeding to death in the back of that car or on their way to hospital if they are passing me like that!” And I stopped for a moment and listened to what I said. I was saying that I preferred that someone was in the middle of a crisis than that they were just driving irresponsibly. (Of course, I wouldn’t really prefer that, but I responded like I did.) I decided that day to always hope that crazy drivers were just being irresponsible, but to assume that they could be on their way to the hospital. And I virtually never took it personally again.
I think that some of us are just so used to being upset or indignant that we will make up things to be bitter about. And this is not a healthy, godly way to live. We need to be willing to especially forgive the things that are not really personal attacks on us anyway. To let go of our “right” to be angry at the world.
Forgiveness is never easy, because it makes us feel like we are letting people get away with something. But we all need to remember that not only has God forgiven us all our sins – to the point that we can have eternal life – but that He alone has the right to avenge all wrongs. Any sin is really a sin against God, because He is the Creator of all and we are all His creations. So any sin against us is a sin against God, and He alone has the right to dish out justice and punishment.
Same thing for any sin we commit against others. When we sin against someone else, we are ultimately sinning against God. This is why David could say in 2 Samuel 12:13 that he sinned against God, even though he obviously sinned against Uriah, too.
This should give us pause when we want to condemn others for hurting us or let ourselves off the hook for hurting others.
Maybe we have never experienced true mercy and grace from other people in our lives? Maybe we have never been given anything and we are used to earning everything we have?
But we cannot earn forgiveness and grace and mercy. The only way to truly be forgiven is to accept it with a grateful, humble heart. And when this happens, we find God’s love and healing. And we begin to want to live a life that honors Him, out of thankfulness for the unearnable gifts that He gives us. If we are still trying to earn anything from God then we don’t have a correct understanding of Him.
I want to look for a moment at the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. (I wonder how they knew it would be happening at that exact time? And why did they not bring the man who was just as guilty? Sounds like a set-up to me. Just speculating.)
They are trying to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him.” And instead of answering their question about if she should be stoned, Jesus writes on the ground. We don’t know what he wrote, but we do know that it is enough to make them all leave after He says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Verse 7) (I think it’s interesting to note that the older ones left first. I think as we age, we lose some of that dogmatic, self-righteousness that we might have had when we were young, and we begin to see that we are just as human as the next person.)
What I want to specifically note here are two things.
1. Jesus was more disturbed by the unforgiving, self-righteous attitudes of the “spiritual elite” than He was by the humiliated, shamed, guilty woman. And this should be sobering to those of us who are more bothered by what everyone else is doing wrong than by what we are doing wrong and to those of us who are so eager to accept forgiveness that we don’t deserve but who are unwilling to give it to others.
2. And Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from. He was much more concerned with where she was going. “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:11)
I point this out because I think too many people do not realize how ready and willing God is to forgive them. They hold onto their guilt as a sort of punishment, too full of shame to accept God’s forgiveness and love and healing. But God is much more concerned with where you are going than where you’ve been. Accept His forgiveness, let it make you free. And forgive yourself and “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
But at some point, we have to decide if we will still trust God even when things don’t go the way we want or if we will harden our hearts toward Him because He isn’t the kind of God we thought He should be.
If this is where we are at in life right now, I believe that we need to look at our expectations of God. Because I’m going to guess that we do not truly see Him the way that He is, the way the Bible says He is. When we try to smoosh Him up into a little box that we made or to define Him according to our faulty or unreasonable expectations, it is easy to lose hope and faith and trust when things go wrong. He isn’t the God we thought He was.
But it isn’t God who is failing us; it is our own ideas of God and life that are the problems to begin with. And we need to sort these out if we are going to be able to see the situation clearly, to “forgive” Him, and to humbly trust Him and seek His comfort when things go wrong. Life is hard enough without holding grudges against God. Or against others or ourselves, too.
1. Does this topic trigger any thoughts or questions you want to share?
What do you think about this? What kinds of “needs” do we demand that others meet? (How about you personally?) Which are fair and which are not fair? And how does our view of our “needs” affect our lives, our attitudes towards others and God, and our relationships with others and with God?
37. Are there any other thoughts or questions that you want to add?