If you’ve ever visited us at First Christian, you know that there is a simple question I ask the audience weekly, “How many real people came to church?” The response is predictable – loud hoots and hollers! So, I just keep asking.
I have found that there are three prayers the Lord always answers in the affirmative in my life and ministry: “Lord, would you please encourage me?” “Lord, please lead me to someone hurting.” “Lord, help us reach real people.” For those wondering, ‘real people’ are simply those aware of and honest about their needs and challenges – those courageous enough to trust God to heal and help them. At FCC we have plenty of them!
This past week, several of these treasured friends shared with me honestly and with great transparency a herculean obstacle in their paths – forgiveness. As I looked at each face, I began to rewind their stories in my mind. Some had been severely abused and neglected. Some were the victims of violent acts. Some were battered verbally, still hemorrhaging emotionally from the cruel careless words of others.
Contrary to some beliefs, I believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks! As I listened to their struggle to forgive their predators, I thought about how the younger version of me as a man and minister would have responded in a far different way. As a younger less-experienced man, I would have been much quicker to be pragmatic – throw them a few pertinent verses – maybe a well-worn cliché about forgiveness – then move on. Yet, the current version of me listened. I listened to their anger and resentment. I listened to their hesitations about finally cutting the proverbial line – and letting their tormenters swim away. Real life and grey hair reminded me of the many times I needed to forgive and needed to be forgiven.
I reminded them, as I do you (my reader) today, that God often calls us to do difficult things – things that are fiercely opposed to our nature. He asks us to not only forgive our enemies but to also pray for them and bless them. Why? Because that is exactly what He did for us and modeled for us – even to those who crucified Him.
Its somehow comforting to know that Jesus’ apostles struggled with this whole forgiveness thing also. In Luke 17:5, realizing the demand to forgive, ‘The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”’ This is too much Lord! You don’t know what you’re asking us to do! We can’t do it! You’ve got to pour something more into us in order for us to forgive – really forgive.
The beauty is that God never asks us to do anything that He didn’t do first; and, that with His personal help we cannot accomplish. In the natural we can’t do it; but with a supernatural God in the loop – we can! It would be a cruel father who would ask his children to do something impossible. Our Father is not a cruel father! Instead, with intimacy, engagement and empowerment, He does it with us and through us. It’s only in Christ that we can do all things.
Recently I shared a good litmus test for identifying the ones we must forgive. Here it is: If there is a person in your past, that if you heard they had become a Christian, and, that they were now a totally different person – and that report made you bristle with anger – that is the person you must forgive!
Friend, if you’re one of those real people I mentioned struggling to forgive, let me encourage you with a few things.
First, forgiving is not about forgetting. You’ll most likely always remember what someone else recklessly did in your life. However, with God and time, the pain of that person’s actions will diminish.
Second, forgiveness is a process. It takes time; but, it must start for your own well-being.
Third, forgiveness ultimately helps you and enables you to walk in true freedom.
Lastly, forgiveness honors God and models His life and reality here on earth.
The good news is that Jesus went on to say in Luke that if you have just seed-sized faith, you can do the most challenging things the authentic Christian life requires. So, when it comes to forgiveness…
You can do it.
For your sake, you must do it.