Imagine a wee little spring bubbling and gurgling, laughing and splashing life giving water on it’s surroundings. We see beauty in the rock’s hidden treasures that only wetness can bring. Our eyes caress the little mountain wildflowers and we wonder at that perfect shade of lavender. The little spring accomplishes so much as it feeds life into it’s environment.
“But whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be more thirsty again. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14
The Holy Spirit lives within those who receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. Transformed and made whole hearts happen because of the up-springing of the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit is the spring within us that gives us victory over our old life, makes real the things of Christ, and helps us realize the Fatherhood of God.
When the Holy Spirit can flow through our lives unquenched and ungrieved, he takes up our troubles and fears and settles them for us according to God’s will. The Holy Spirit makes a way for our outer lives to be the unforced reflection of an inner life which is pure, full of tenderness, looks on humanity with a heart of love, and watches for opportunities to offer a helping hand to lift up the oppressed and weary.
The power of God lives within us like the little spring in the woods. Sometimes we wonder if it will ever run dry, but then we hear the whisper of the upper spring assuring us that we’re connected to a much bigger source that will never run dry. It’s only risks are blockages to the flow. Muddy leaves or falling branches will prevent the grand-daddy springs from feeding the little spring.
What blocks the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
Grieving the Spirit
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:30-31
Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice grieve the Holy Spirit. Every time we justify one of these by saying, “God made me with a quick temper, it’s just the way I am, he’ll understand.” It might be the way you are, but have you considered the consequences to the person you took your quick anger out on? We don’t live as isolated islands, but intertwined and inter-dependent on one another.
All the things we keep in our hearts, defended, hidden, petted, and justified choke the inlet and outlet of the Holy Spirit in our life.
Quenching the Spirit
“Do not quench the spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19
Is it easy or hard for you to say yes to God? When God says to pray, do you? When he says be still, do you get busy? When he says give your time or money, do you find ways to get out of it?
Each time we say “no” to the command to pray, give, or serve, we block the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Say yes with your whole heart.
My beautiful friends, it’s not about getting more of God in you by praying harder or doing more, it’s about taking into account the fact that you have him already. As C. I. Scofield states, “If you really believe that the Holy Spirit of God dwells in your mortal body, a transformation of life has begun.”
We don’t base this God-life on feelings but by receiving the facts by faith. God lives within you, you are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives within you. Those are facts that you can receive by faith.
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.
How do we reconcile our disappointments with unanswered prayer when the Psalms distinctly says that God does not disappoint us? What about the things we beg God for that appear to line up with His will, such as no one should perish, and a loved one dies without ever reconciling with Christ? What do we do with the unexplainable hurts and pains of this world when we know that God breathed stars into existence, is able to calm storms with just a word, throw mountains into the sea, and set captives free? How do we forgive?
We will experience unexplainable hurts in this life, and we will wonder if God has left us. Our hearts will fail beneath the weight of our burdens. Grief will steal our breath. Our minds will be unable to fathom the abuse we have suffered.
During our lifetime we will wonder and question whether or not God loves us because we cannot see Him acting on our behalf in our circumstances. We judge God based on whether or not He’s acting the way we think a loving God should act.
We declare God guilty of not loving us the way we think we should be loved. Or we assume that we’ve done something wrong and so begins this vicious cycle of self-punishment and judging God. Instead of running to God we turn away from Him and hide in a corner. Or run in the opposite direction embracing a life that declares hatred for God. Or we become experts at religious conduct with our hearts growing harder each day.
Disappointments lead to disillusionment, which leads to cynicism and eventually bitterness and resentment. If we want to move forward in our relationship with God, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts for any indictments against God Himself. And when we do, we just might find we need to forgive God for not living up to our expectations.
I’ve given birth to four children and all my labors were difficult and are the stuff of nightmares. My “easiest” labor was about 12 hours long and still involved the NICU. With my third child, I truly believed things would be different. I had prayed. I had peace. I just knew that God was going to work a miracle.
The labor lasted far too long. The nursing staff dismissed my needs. The doctors traded shifts and the second doctor changed the previous doctor’s recommendations. I felt like I walked into labor and delivery with God on my side, but the longer it took, the more desperate I felt. And the more I believed that God had abandoned me. It took almost two years to admit that I was furious with God. I could have spit at Him and felt no shame. (that two year journey is a story for another time)
But in the process I learned a few things about God and my expectations.
First, there will be things that happen that I don’t understand, and in those moments I will need to turn to Him and trust Him, and yes, forgive Him.
Deuteronomy 29:29 states, “The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed to us belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
This tells me that there will be secrets that I will never know. I’ve chosen to create a “file” in my heart where I put my “why’s” and “what the heck’s” that haven’t been answered. If God chooses not to reveal something, it doesn’t negate the truths that He is still good, kind, and loving. What it does is reinforce the truths found in Isaiah that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. And when I lean into Him, knowing that he bears the weight on His shoulders, I find comfort.
Second, if I allow anger to take root, I will need to address my expectations of how my life should turn out in the light of surrendering to him.
Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Once we surrender our lives, we’re bound to Christ. And we live this life in the flesh by faith in Jesus. Faith means moving forward even when we can’t see. It means that we can declare in the darkness that God is light. And even when we feel abandoned by God, we declare by faith that He never leaves nor forsakes us.
What looks like forgiving God is really a surrender to His character, wisdom, love, and ways that are higher than ours. Go ahead. Let your disappointments go. Surrender to him and create a file that His secrets can be kept in. Wrestle through and then place it in His loving hands.
I don’t know why the birth of my son went haywire, but even though I thought God abandoned me, He hadn’t. I turned my back on Him when He didn’t give me what I wanted. But what I really wanted was revelation. And that He did. He revealed Himself, I just couldn’t see it at the time.
And isn’t seeing Him what we desire most?
Anger at God leads to disappointment which leads to bitterness which leads to needing to “forgive” God, aka: surrender.
Consider creating a “Secrets File.” A place in your heart where you keep all the things you wish you understood, but don’t and probably never will.
Let God keep things for you and trust him to reveal things in his time.
Control. We want it, we fight for it, and we don’t like to give it up. At our core, we live our lives in response to what we can control and what we can’t. We fuss and fume for our rights. What happens when they’re violated? We feel unheard, unwanted, and unneeded. Our wounded hearts cry for retribution.
Many of our battles with unforgiveness come because we experience loss of control. We can’t control someone’s choices no matter how hard we try. The struggle with forgiveness lies in this hidden problem many of us carry around and that’s control.
We think that if we hold onto our unforgiveness, it shows that we still have control. It almost feels that if we let go of control over the situation that we condone the action that wounded or offended us in the first place.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re saying what happened to us is okay. Forgiveness means that we entrust our heart, lives, and the people in it to a God who knows all things, holds all things, and sees all things.
But this is the thing with control and unforgiveness. When you withhold forgiveness, you’re allowing anger, bitterness, and resentment to control you instead of the Holy Spirit. You’re actually giving unforgiveness the power in your life that God deserves.
If you want to experience forgiveness towards someone, then look to surrendering your need for control in the relationship. I’ve found the greatest freedom I’ve ever experienced is in surrender. You don’t surrender to the pain, but you surrender the pain in your heart to a good, good Father.
Everyday we are presented with the opportunity to practice surrender in order to forgive. Your kid calls you names and blames you for their problems. Your parent demands payback for raising you. Your coworker throws you under the bus. Your spouse betrays your trust. All of these hurts and wounds challenge our need for control over an expected outcome.
You don’t expect that your child blames you for their drug addiction. You expect your parents to raise you without strings attached. You expect camaraderie among your coworkers, and you never ever expected that the person you exchanged vows with would betray you.
But these things happen. People disappoint us and don’t live up to our expectations. No matter how hard we try to control the outcome of our lives, we cannot. And underlying the unforgiveness is an anger because we didn’t have a say into any of those things that hurt us.
And so we hold onto our unforgiveness because we’ve had control stripped away from us and, by golly, we’re not going to be caught unawares again.
But we will. It’s what makes life an adventure. And wouldn’t it be better to go through life with a forgiving heart so we can see life for what it is? An opportunity to know God and make him known.
There’s very little we can actually control. We can’t control someone else, we can’t control natural disasters, and we can’t control our boss’s response to our work. We can control our responses and that’s it. Unforgiveness and control leads us into a defensive attitude towards life, and an offended spirit takes root in our hearts.
Even if we try and be all things to all people, some people will reject us. We can’t control the outcome of every decision. That drunk driver might be in the wrong place at the wrong time and our lives are broadsided and changed forever.
Control. We long for it. We think we need it. But forgiveness comes when we surrender control. It’s when we submit our hurts, our circumstances, and our disappointments to God that we find forgiveness is possible.
It’s in the surrendering where we find the impossible to be possible.
The Takeaway for Forgiveness
One of the roots of unforgiveness lies in our need for control.
Don’t surrender to the pain, but surrender the pain to God.
You control your response to the ups and downs of life.
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!
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