I like to think I’m a forgiving person, that my thoughts and words are kind. But I find myself struggling to overlook the offense. It’s as if the enjoyment of holding onto a grudge is more enticing than the glory God promises if I overlook an offense. Or I say I forgive, but then struggle to say the right things, or think good thoughts or even be around said person. I know I need to forgive, but the hurt is so great and so I struggle.
Physical wounds don’t heal instantly. Our blood clots to stop the bleeding. New skin replaces burnt skin. Bruises transform from mottled purple to chartreuse to gone. Our bodies heal, but it’s not instantaneously.
Forgiveness is a process, not an option, and we’ll get into that at a later date. For today, let’s talk about the process.
We need to forgive. Overlooking an offense doesn’t mean we don’t recognize that the offense happened, it means we address the hurt in our heart and extend forgiveness.
But how do we recognize that the offense has taken root as unforgiveness? By looking at our behavior toward the memory or person that caused the offense.
Blame is an indicator of unforgiveness
Relationships with others is like a dance. And when one person gets their toes stepped on or is wounded, we want to blame someone. Someone I called friend accused me of ungraciousness and judgmental behavior. She took my words and twisted them into something ugly and walked away from our friendship. It was a like a stab in the back with a vicious twist of the knife.
Women friendships became liabilities for me. I didn’t trust women to be good friends, and I second guessed each word said. Every conversation would replay in my head as I agonized if it would be or could be interpreted wrong. The fact that I blamed her for my inability to participate in other friendships indicated my struggle with unforgiveness. I knew I needed to forgive and I did so because it’s what I was suppose to do, but I struggled to live it out. Blaming her became my excuse for not growing into the woman God wanted me to be.
Punishment is the second indicator.
In our unforgiveness, we withhold our approval and acceptance of the other person. We punish them through snubbing them or talking about the situation to other people forcing them to choose sides or we promote division by telling a biased version of the situation. Or we rail against them in our minds and fill our thoughts with revenge.
Forgiveness is a process.
Forgiveness is a process. That’s not to say that we should justify our unforgiveness, but there’s a difference in our behavior when we’re in the process of forgiving or just not forgiving.
When we’re in the process of forgiveness, we often feel fake because we’re behaving in a forgiving way, but we’re still dealing with the hurt, which makes it seem that our forgiveness isn’t real. I don’t know about you, but it’s harder to forgive someone who’s close to me rather than the driver that stole my parking spot in the mall. We live in relationship with people and we can’t run away to the wilderness until we’ve full forgiven the person.
So we live with this tension of the process of forgiveness. We need to learn to recognize when we’re in the process: choosing behaviors that demonstrate godliness such as mercy and grace versus when we really haven’t forgiven at all with behaviors of blame and punishment.
“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4
John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sin. To repent means to turn from your sin. I am sinful. You are sinful. Withholding forgiveness is sinful. To blame or punish someone is sin. And when we turn from unforgiveness to forgiveness, we experience a washing of our soul. God washes us clean and gives us the strength to behave in a forgiving manner while He walks us through the process of forgiveness. This is a life being transformed.
Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
When you live in community with others in the process of forgiveness, you experience the power of the Holy Spirit guiding you. You get to see and experience the difference of being led by your flesh or led by the Spirit of God.
The two identifiers of unforgiveness: Blame and Punishment.
Recognize that forgiving someone is a process and submit to the process.
I’ve worn bitterness like a security blanket. I’ve wrapped it tight around me and held it close under my chin. The fabric is worn and ragged with stuffing spilling out, but still I cling to it. Nothing can penetrate, and no one can see what’s underneath. I’ve found comfort in my grief. It’s familiar. There’s constancy in replaying that conversation that slashed my heart. Instead of applying the salve of grace, I replay bitterness and hate and watch as the wound festers and weeps.
Bitterness doesn’t need much to take root. It can be a disappointment in a health diagnosis, a lack of response to your latest effort to connect with people, or harsh words exchanged between two people. But before we get to bitterness, we have to recognize something else.
If we reserve the expression of grief for those “big bad” experiences like death or devastation, then we’re ill-equipped to deal with the daily griefs. The daily griefs are more commonly known as disappointments and offenses.
But when I trace the disappointments back to the core feeling, I find grief. I’m sad because something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Or God didn’t answer my prayer the way I thought he should. Or someone I love chose to reject the very thing that I’m passionate about. Sorrow is at the root of these disappointments.
At the root of my response to offense, underneath the anger, is sadness. I’m sad that someone I called “friend” chose to walk away. Or insult me. Or turn others against me. I’m angry, but I’m sad too. And sadness is grief. And it must be processed in order for us to know the freedom that forgiveness brings.
But It’s in the processing where we trip and fall. And some of us don’t even like to process our emotions. Let’s just forget it and move on. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. If we ignore it, it will go away. And in running away from conflict we find ourselves struggling to experience authenticity in our life. And when we fail to experience authenticity, we rob ourselves of the fullness of God’s grace.
The antidote to bitterness is grace. It’s grace that gives us the power to forgive when forgiveness seems impossible. Grace gives us the courage to place our wounds in God’s gentle hands. It’s grace that reminds us that without God, we are wretched sinners bound for hell. It’s grace that washes us and makes us new. It’s grace that God longs to give us and it’s grace that makes a way for us to boldly walk into the throne room of God and ask for daily grace.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” Hebrews 12:15
The problem with wearing bitterness in our hearts is that eventually it shows up on the outside. We might feel secure and justified in it, but to other people all they see is that ragged security blanket that’s starting to smell.
Bitterness manifests itself in your approach to people. It’s a hard edge in your voice. It’s cynicism in your relationships. Bitterness manifests itself in your speech when your words tear others down instead of building them up.
Bitterness leads to selfish ambition which leads to forgetting what your purpose here on earth is for: to make God known and enjoy him forever.
But God. The most two powerful words in our language. But God. But God can turn our bitter into sweet through the power of his grace. Don’t fail to obtain grace. Receive it. Surrender your hurts, wounds, anger, and sadness. Practice grace. When that hurtful scene replays in your mind, see yourself running to the throne room, getting grace, and then pouring God’s grace on the situation.
It’s God who works in you. I know what it’s like to be unable to forgive. The hurt is too deep. Too personal. It feels like I’m bleeding to death while I put a smile on my face and go about my day and no one sees me bleeding out. Partly because I don’t let them. Partly because I don’t want to give voice to the beast inside me.
But what I can do is this: run to God, tell him of my incapabilities and that hurt has incapacitated me and that I need him to help me forgive. So I hold out my hurt and he pours his grace on it. He reminds me of his stripes and the beating he took for me when I was still a wretched awful sinner. And then he enables me to extend that same grace to the one who wounded me. And exchange bitterness for grace.
Consider a situation that has caused you grief.
Listen to this song and picture yourself running to God’s throne room.
Imagine God filling up your bucket with grace and then imagine you pouring it out on your situation.
We’ve had Good Friday and then a Saturday. Some call it sad, or silent, and for some it’s just Saturday–that day of getting things done. But Sunday comes and with it the recognition and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. There’s sunrise services, pancake breakfasts, and coffee. Kids and candy. We sing songs celebrating the cross and hear sermons centered on Jesus.
But what happens Monday? We drag ourselves out of bed still half drugged by all the delicious food we ate the day before. We stumble and bumble as we take one wobbly step after the other.
Do you forget the power of Resurrection Sunday and turn to the power of caffeine to make it through your morning? I stumbled through my Bible reading today and didn’t feel awake until I gulped that cup of steaming coffee. How does the resurrection change your life? Or does it?
I’m sitting here, slouched low with a blanket tossed over my lap. The skies are laden with hidden snow and a wind that slips through the cracks of this old house. I wonder how quickly bedtime will get here and I sigh as I wonder where that resurrection power went. Today felt less than powerful.
Is God’s grace only good for when I am full of energy? Is it grace when I’m on top of my game, but have I lost my hold on grace when my speed is that of a sloth?
Could it be that we have our understanding of grace misconstrued? What if it’s grace to embrace moving at a slower pace? What if it’s grace to snuggle a little longer with your babies or linger over that cup of coffee as you listen to the birdsong?
It’s the start of a new week and we experienced the climax of Christiandom this weekend. The betrayal. The sorrow. The beatings. The grief. And the wonder. It’s all grace because it was part of God’s plan to bring us to himself through his son Jesus.
And if grace can include the hard then we must look at our hard through the lens of grace.
Remember that morning where you longed for an intravenous line of coffee and it took all day to get your engines going? There’s grace in it because Christ is in you.
Yes, we have responsibilities that call us. And we’re going to eat too much and pay for it the next day. We’re going to be irritable and snap at our co-worker, our family, or our friends. That doesn’t mean grace has left us.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:7 ESV
It’s in those moments, when exhaustion sets in or irritation rules us, that we need to remember that it’s not our actions that prove grace is in our lives, but it’s God’s mercy that he washes us and renews us by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t ebb and flow based on your mood or energy or what happened to you today. It’s our response that ebbs and flows and the more we relax into God’s transforming, amazing grace, the more we’re changed.
The Takeaway for Grace
As we surrender to the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit our wretchedness gets exchanged for grace, our lost-ness for found-ness, and our blindness for sight.
On your next bad day, take a perspective shift and ask God to show you the grace in it. It could be developing perseverance, endurance, maturity, or hope. Today, I knew God as my strength, not just to help me with the physical exhaustion, but emotional strength as I dealt gently with my people.
How many times have you gotten up and within fifteen minutes wanted to crawl back to bed? Or you just wondered why you keep pushing forward and onward and ahead? Last week, I wondered “why” and my why’s took me down dreary paths. I moped and questioned God and his leading. For two days I alternated between demanding God do something and pouting that he hasn’t.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
These verses from Thessalonians pack a whole lotta hope tucked in a challenging call. I tend to skim over the secret ingredient that makes the challenge doable, but let’s first take a look at what Paul is telling us to do.
Be worthy of God’s calling.
Be resolved for good.
Do work in faith.
These three challenges address our heart, our choices, and our actions. In order to be worthy of God’s calling we must have our hearts cleansed of unrighteousness, which means that we basically need to get rid of slander, gossip, hate, and murderous thoughts, and anything else that pulls towards unrighteousness.
Our minds, will, and emotions must be resolved for good. This requires developing self-awareness. Where are you at in your thoughts? I tend towards speaking poorly to myself and about myself, which trickles down into what I think about others. Resolve your mind for good. When you choose good things to pursue that benefit others and yourself, you demonstrate a will resolved for good. Bringing your emotions to God, and letting him administer grace to you is how you resolve your emotions for good.
We often don’t see the outcome of our work. And by work, I don’t mean your day to day job where you exchange your time and effort for a paycheck. The work I’m referring to is your work of kindness and service. It takes faith to serve someone else without expectations placed on them. To act like you’re trusting God when you don’t see any evidence that proves that you should trust Him is faith at work.
These verses from 1 Thessalonians contain a secret ingredient that makes the three challenges possible. It is God who works in you to be worthy of God’s calling, to resolve to do good, and to work in faith. It’s God’s grace and power that enables you to leave behind your sinful habits and rise up to be a beautiful testimony of God’s amazing grace in your life.
It’s God who works in you to hope in him when all is dark.
God works in you to build your faith as you step out in faith and serve your neighbor.
Expect maturity to be a winding road and not the direct interstate. Enjoy the journey of surrendering your weaknesses so that he can be strong in you. It is his grace that works change in your life. Rest in that truth and know without a shadow of doubt that God has you close to his heart even on the days that you wonder what the point is to this Christian life.
And there is a point. It’s to point others to the grace and lordship of Jesus Christ. Then you get to experience God’s glory flowing in you and through you so that other’s may see God alive and current and present for our lives.
May God work in you to make you worthy of his calling, to resolve to do good and work in faith. May God make his power and glory known. You are a mighty force in his kingdom. Turn to him, rely on him, abide in him and turn your weaknesses over to him.
It is God’s power who works in you to make you worthy of his call, fulfill your resolve for good and every action done in faith.
Pray a prayer of faith to ask God to work in you in order to shine his glory to those around you.
Rely on God and not your own strength. Own your weakness and then exchange it for his strength. You’ll see his glory rise up within you.
Have you heard the phrase, “What’s the catch?” or “If something is too good to be true, then it probably is?” For example, commercials. If anything brings out the skeptic in me, it’s commercials. Nothing is as it seems. But listen long enough and pretty soon, we’ve ordered that amazing product. Only we find out it’s not so amazing because the grill that’s “smokeless” just actually “smokes less.” It’s incidences like this that grow skepticism.
Being a skeptic is not necessarily a bad thing, it keeps us from being gullible and being taken advantage of by miscreants. But God is not a miscreant. He is the king of the world, the great creator, and deeply interested in my heart. And in yours.
He made you for relationship with him. But the pesky thing called sin stands in the way of knowing him. We can know about him, but to truly know him, we must experience him through his grace.
But, we lean towards performance and the unwillingness to receive anything for free. For example, someone gives us a compliment so we feel obligated to give one in return. Someone surprises us with a birthday gift, and we feel the need to return the kindness when their birthday rolls around. Pretty soon giving is tied to obligation and worth is tied to what we can do.
If we can wrap our heads around the idea that God, while we were wretched, hell-bound sinners, loved us enough to save us, then we must let go of the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back,” mentality. God loved you while you hated him. God loved you while you hated yourself. He looked into the future and saw a beautiful son or daughter distraught by life’s struggles and he whispered, “Come to me.”
His love for you doesn’t change once you love him back, but it does enable you to live for him. We can’t save ourselves. We can try, but then we lose the depth of grace in our lives.
I know what I am. I know what I once was. Do you?
ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-8
God saves you. He takes your dead heart and makes you alive. He pours grace into your life so that you will walk in the ways he has for you.
Going to church, reading your bible, being in community with other believers is vital to your health as a follower of Christ. But they won’t save you. They won’t prove to God that you’re worth his time and attention. Your faithful heart that receives his grace is what he’s looking for. He’ll take care of the rest.
Open your heart to him and receive him.
When has performance replaced grace in your life?
Would you tell me in the comments about a time you’ve exchanged performance for grace in your life?
I’m a both and kind of girl. It’s both coffee and chocolate. It’s both chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. I can’t separate the two. I mean, I can, if I have to, but I’d prefer not. But those are the easy both/ands. Those are the ones that I can take and run with that don’t make me squirm or feel twitchy inside.
It’s the ones that challenge our pet preferences, especially when it comes the Bible, that make us twitchy. Everybody has them, so when one of the both/ands rub up against those preferences, which we often disguise as biblical truth, we get. . . twitchy. You know, that squirmy feeling we quickly ignore, but keeps coming back and so we drown it out with busy? Yeah, meet twitchy.
Grace and Truth
Grace and truth is a both/and kind of deal, and it’s easy to get twitchy about them. Our human tendency is to lean slightly one way or the other. We extend so far to the grace side that we forget to bring truth right along. Or we run so fast with truth as a weapon that we leave grace back there at mile marker 3 while we’re at mile marker 20 brandishing our sword.
The two can’t be separated, it’s when we try to separate the two that we create legalism and liberalism. Both prevent the Holy Spirit from truly accomplishing his work in our lives. So what do we do? How do we stop this separation of grace and truth?
John 1:16-17 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
For starters, we focus on the personhood of Jesus Christ. Who was he? Why did he come? Why should I follow him? We can answer these questions by starting at the beginning. Jesus is God in the flesh. He came to show us the way to Father God and following him is the absolute best, most remarkable decision you can make. Not so that you have a “genie in the bottle,” but so that you have the hope of heaven in your heart, which makes every trial or burden in this life a mere stepping stone into the presence of God.
So. First things first. Consider your own heart. There’s a funny little saying that when you point at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you. Technically, they’re pointing at your hand, but I think we get the picture. Be careful how you point an accusing finger at someone. Often the lack we witness in other’s lives is prevalent in our own.
Jesus brought both grace and truth. He fulfilled the law, streamlined the law and in essence made it much more difficult to follow since it’s now dealing with the heart rather than behavior as the Mosaic law did. But his grace is what gives us the power for our hearts to be changed. Grace is the power we need for transformative living and when we reject grace in our own hearts, we turn back to the Mosaic law and focus on behaviors.
Grace considers how much God loves you. Think on how Christ set that kind of love before him in order to endure suffering on the cross. If God’s love can be Jesus’ motivating joy, and through Jesus you get to know that kind of love, embrace it. Embrace the grace that God pours out into your heart.
The truth? God loves you. He has set you apart. He has called you to be righteous. What steps can you take, with God’s strength, to step into that righteousness? What habits or attitudes are preventing you from “right-living” according to God’s standards?
It’s both grace and truth simultaneously growing in your heart. As you experience God’s grace and truth working in your heart, you will be so enamored with loving God and serving others that another person’s failure won’t bring out the pointing finger. But instead it will bring out a story of how God showed you grace and truth to change your life.
I use to be afraid of people and their rejection. But God showered me with grace. He reminded me over and over again that his approval could satisfy me. But he also showed me truth. He showed me how people’s approval had his spot in my heart. I turned seeking people’s approval into an idol. I can’t serve two masters. God helped me kick that people-pleasing, fear of rejection, dead idol right out of my heart.
Grace and truth. They work together to bring lasting change. They work together to bring victory. Keep them together as one unit and watch how your life is transformed.
I write to encourage you that you can experience a vibrant, transformative relationship with God even if your past or your shame tells you otherwise. God invites you upward and onward, will you join me? You'll receive weekly devotionals straight to your inbox. By subscribing you'll receive my 7-Day Devotional, Kicking Perfect, as a thank-you gift from me!