Welcome GraceBreak Cycles, Embrace Grace
What does freedom look like?
When I think of freedom I think of jubilant dancing, arms lifted high, lots and lots of chocolate and comfy spaces with a great view. I don’t think of deserts or cliffside trails or enemies.
Freedom leads us into some pretty lean places, spacious places, and scary spaces. But through it all, God is with us. In fact, He is the one who leads us into these not so friendly, seemingly freedom stealing journeys.
But that’s the thing. Wouldn’t life get boring if all we did was sit around drinking sweet tea and nibbling on carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (did I mention it’s 3 layers of yummy goodness)? Wouldn’t it get a little bland and we’d go looking for adventure?
Usually when I go looking for adventure, I walk into some trouble that I need rescuing from. But walking in freedom with God means He leads us on adventures that can be fraught with danger and safety all at once.
He is our safety and life with him is our adventure.
But it doesn’t seem that way when we’ve been wandering in the desert and we’re desperate for drink.
It seems scary when we’re on a narrow trail with our backs pressed to the rocky cliff and our toes hanging over a precipice, and God calls us to keep walking.
We wonder if we’ve been left to die when we look up and see we’re surrounded by our enemies.
We can echo the psalmist in Psalm 18:30, “As for God, his way is perfect, the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him,” when we find ourself on a seemingly narrow passage with sheer cliff face on one side and the depths on the other because verse 33 states, “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.”
We will find ourselves in death defying heights or the depths of despair in this freedom journey, but also in the presence of the living God who calls the stars by name, knows every hair on our heads, and who holds us close to his heart.
We need not fear when God calls us to the desert, or waters, or fire because he is with us. He guides us with his staff and protects us from enemies. The question is, will you give up your idea of freedom and exchange for a life of freedom adventure.
Our idea of freedom is perilous because it places us on the sidelines, nibbling on bonbons while life is lived around us. And pretty soon, those bonbons become like a chain and we’re back in bondage.
Freedom is a gift so that you can walk confidently in all that God has called you to, whether it’s raising your kids, managing your employees, serving your customers, or loving your neighbor.
In Psalm 23 we have the perfect description of a life of adventurous freedom. God leads us beside still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death. He guides us in righteousness and spreads a table for us in the presence of our enemies.
He is with us and goodness and mercy follow us.
Trust him to guide you, never take your eyes off him, and listen for his heartbeat.
Can you imagine leading a people who constantly opposed you? Who constantly accused you of trying to harm them? Who longed for the benefits of the land of their bondage and who found freedom too burdensome? This was Moses’ experience.
But every time the people opposed Moses, he had the same response: he fell facedown. He fell facedown before God and waited for God to speak. Moses knew a secret that we could all learn when faced with opposition. Humility.
What does that have to do with forgiveness? Everything. It shows Moses’ heart towards people, his security in his identity as a child of God, and his awareness of who he is without God.
The underbelly of unforgiveness is a form of pride. Unforgiveness says, “How dare anyone hurt me or treat me that way? Who do they think they are?” But underneath those questions is a more pointed thought, “I would never treat anyone that way.” But there isn’t a perfect person who responds perfectly in all situations. Careless remarks can hurt just as bad as deliberate remarks.
It would look pretty silly if every time someone opposed us, we dropped to our face in front of them. But what if we trained our hearts to immediately take that posture? Can unforgiveness stand if the heart is bowed low before God?
Moses knew this secret. He also knew the secret of Luke 6:27-36, which contains Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies. This passage has the theme of forgiveness woven into it because we can’t love our enemies if we harbor resentment and bitterness towards those who wound us.
Do good to those who hate you. How? What? Why? I’ve failed at this spectacularly. Especially when I’m face to face with this person. Can I tell you a secret? On the days I do good to someone who can’t stand me, I experience a hop in my heart and a skip in my step. I feel lighter, happier, and more joy filled. But it’s hard.
Our natural inclination is to withhold good from someone who doesn’t deserve it. But do we really get to decide if someone “deserves” good? We can’t go around with a naughty or nice list. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, and your neighbor is anyone whom you have contact with: enemies or friends.
Bless those who curse you. If doing good is about our actions towards our enemies, then blessing them is about our words. How will you speak to your enemy today? Will it be with courtesy or contempt? What about your thoughts? Thoughts are words unspoken, and thoughts eventually make their way into the world.
The power of life and death is in the tongue and what we speak is the overflow of our hearts. Speak words of life. Speak with gentleness, watch your tone, and put on a smile. This will take superhuman strength, but if you know Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you have His strength and power living in you. Use it.
Pray for those who mistreat you. Prayer is our number one tool that God gives us, but it’s often the last tool we reach for. Why? Because when we begin to pray in earnest for someone one of two things happens: we develop compassion for them and/or we see our own weaknesses. Neither one of these things are wrong, but they make us uncomfortable because they challenge our secret resentments.
At times, we won’t know how to pray, but we can follow Paul’s example in Romans where he groaned his prayers. Or we can turn to the Psalms and see how David prayed when he was beset with troubles. He poured out his heart–ugliness and all–but then he turned his heart towards praise.
Have a generous heart towards them. Be helpful. If they need something, step in and offer your assistance. Being generous with your time, your compassion, and your interest in someone’s life paves the way for love to flow from your heart to theirs. But what if someone takes advantage of you over and over again?
Yes, boundaries are important. Time to heal is necessary. Trust is not the same as forgiveness. The key in all of this is to stay close to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit lead you. It also means that you don’t allow one horrific experience to cloud your judgement that all people are out to hurt you. Being generous means entering into relationships with an open heart, not judging a person based on a past experience. Be wise, but gentle.
Be merciful. God is full of mercy. We only have to read the book of Numbers to see example after example of the Israelites treating God and Moses with contempt and God not destroying them. Mercy is defined as not getting what you deserve. Your enemy might deserve your contempt, hatred, and slander. But to show mercy means that you don’t give them that.
Mercy takes the high road, not out of pride, but out of love. Love for God and for people. But in order to be able to extend that kind of mercy, you must receive it for yourself. When was the last time you fell facedown before God because you did or said something so wretched that you knew without a shadow of doubt that you didn’t deserve his mercy. Yet, He gives it to you anyway as you humble yourself before Him.
Forgiveness brings us full circle with humility in its center. In order for us to receive forgiveness from God, we must first humble ourselves before God. And then, we can extend that forgiveness to others.
Loving our enemies finds its roots in developing a lifestyle of walking in forgiveness.
We develop a forgiveness mindset by doing good, blessing others, praying for our enemies, cultivating a generous heart, and extending mercy.
Always, always, always rely on and look to the Holy Spirit for direction and guidance. It’s through His strength not your own that makes the impossible possible.
I sat by the pond today. The sun shone on my head and the fountain twisted left and down in the wind, but continually sending droplets of water upward and downward. Thousands of them splashing down and ring after ring spreading outward to the shore.
I sat, holding a book and pencil in my hand, coffee at my side, and lest you think it too idyllic, the flies buzzed about and the ants tickled my ankles while I pondered the power of one droplet to affect so much change in the surface of the water.
This is not a new concept. I’ve skipped rocks and watched the rings start and stop and begin again once the stone sunk beneath the waves. We can use that metaphor for love, kindness, and grace. But as I sat and watched the fountain in the pond and watched the water move I thought of you and me and our journey into forgiveness.
You see hurt ripples. Our wounds touch every part of our lives. They touch our inner worlds of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and our outer worlds of actions and speech. Regret. Shame. Disgrace. These are ripples of wounds to our hearts.
We’re individuals, but what happens to us affects us as a society or corporate church body. Our behaviors always reveal our hearts. Even when we try to hide our wounds, the masks slip. And the wounds ripple out.
Forgiveness is like dropping a stone that ripples out into all areas of our lives. When I harbor unforgiveness, my relationships suffer. When I forgive, my relationships with God, myself, and others benefit. Even if I never interact with the person who wounded me, once I forgive them, my other relationships improve.
The pond is shallow and the fountain’s base is visible for all to see. It’s not majestic, but it is beautiful in a rustic kind of way. But the real treasure is on the south side. You see, the ripples need a place to go, and off to the side, is an outlet between a narrow band of rocks. This tiny outlet winds down and around and feeds the most beautiful wildflowers.
Think of the beauty forgiveness will bring to those around you. When you’re heart is ruled by forgiveness, you contribute to the beauty growing in someone else. Imagine the continuous ripple effect as you nurture the forgiveness fountain in your heart.
The power of the Holy Spirit works in you and tosses up droplets of obedience that fall down in the form of forgiveness and grace and mercy. And the ripples move out further and further, but still effective, touching lives and hearts. You don’t need to wonder and worry and manage the effects of the ripples. All you need to do is stay connected to the Holy Spirit’s power.
That’s where you find forgiveness that brings lasting change into your life.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Be generous with forgiveness just as your heavenly Father is generous with you.
Rely on the Holy Spirit to be the fountain that rises up within you enabling you to forgive.
Enjoy the beauty forgiveness brings to your life and others.