by Sharon Betters
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, I repent, you must forgive him.
A friend showed me what walking by faith looks like when your heart is broken. Unless God gave me grace, I couldn't do what she did. My own heart agreed with her cries, "This isn't fair! I shouldn't have to do this! How can I? I can't! I can't!"
I wanted to tell her, "Then don't. I agree with you - this isn't fair. Your enemy doesn't deserve grace." But I couldn't join her Obedience Resistance. Jesus had already given her marching orders. His call was clear. Forgive.
Someone has said that choosing not to forgive is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. What a picture of bitterness. Bitterness steals peace. No peace means no rest.
Forgiveness requires walking by faith. Walking by faith requires doing what doesn't come naturally and goes against every normal response.
A few years ago I joined a Body Pump class at our local YMCA. Fortunately, a friend warned me to start slowly because after her first class she could not move without crying. I thought I had heeded her advice but the next day I moaned with every step to the point that my husband rushed to my side to help me. "Don't pay attention to my cries. It's just that every muscle in my body is screaming in rebellion over that exercise class!" Our daughter Heidi told me I had to go back and work through the pain. Because I've seen the results of physical perseverance in her life, I followed her orders. I forced my body to surrender to the stretching and weight lifting and push-ups. Slowly the muscles got the message and stopped screaming for relief.
The first steps of forgiveness often result in the same kind of emotional and spiritual pain. Dormant spiritual muscles will wail, "NO, NO, NO! This HURTS!!" We might conclude that such pain means we shouldn't go forward. But my broken friend taught me that instead of stopping and going backward, we need to adjust our pace and give ourselves permission to take tinier steps. Stopping is not an option. What does forgiveness look like and how do we get there? It's different for each situation, except for the first step of choosing to obey God's call to forgive. We find the power to forgive by looking at the cross and seeing our enemy through the eyes of Jesus.
As I watched the miracle of grace transform my dear friend into a woman of strength, I envied the miracle I witnessed. But I also knew that unless God gave me similar grace, I could never take the steps I observed her take. Forgiveness required her to die to self and put aside her own sense of justice and need for vengeance. Trusting God to treat her enemy with justice weighed on her heart. She recognized her inability to make hard choices and surrendered her will to wise counselors whose wisdom came from Scripture. Emotional and physical exhaustion followed her obedience, because her surrender to God's ultimate glory took every ounce of strength to break through the shell of bitterness wrapped around her soul. I saw hope in her eyes for the first time since the betrayal. In that moment she experienced supernatural power she didn't know resided in her soul. She also recognized this one step was the first of many more difficult moments toward healing and reconciliation.
Trusting God's wisdom and perfect love equips us to obey in the hard moments. But then we must trust again in the obedience. We must trust Him with the outcome of our obedience. And then, what do we do when our obedience brings about the very thing we were trying to escape, when our spiritual muscles cry out every time we move, and it seems the very "medicine" creates more havoc than before? We start at the beginning, and once more surrender to God's purposes. It’s the tiny steps, perhaps even going backward for a while, but refusing to give in to the bitterness and rage. And perhaps this time, maybe our spiritual muscles will not be so flabby.
Originally published in Treasures of Encouragement blog in 2008.
Tomorrow I introduce my husband Chuck as our Guest Writer. Stay tuned!
Sharon W. Betters is author of Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness and co-author of Treasures of Faith. She is Director of Resource Development and co-founder of MARKINC.org, a non profit organization that offers help and hope to hurting people. Sharon enjoys quality time with her husband, children and fourteen grandchildren.
Subscribe to Daily Treasure and have devotionals like this one delivered to your inbox.