I am going to be real honest here, folks…I stink at forgiveness.
I know what you are probably thinking. ‘But you are a Christian. Christ forgave you, so you are called to forgive others.’
Yes, I know what the scripture says. “Even while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.” I realize that God has sacrificed far more than I can ever imagine in order that I can experience His forgiveness. There are scriptures—many, many scriptures—that illustrate the remarkable character of God as He extends His forgiveness to His people. There is no doubt in my mind that God poured out His grace and mercy upon me when I (undeservingly) received this gift.
Still, this whole forgiveness thing isn’t easy. Just yesterday I was talking with my local pastor about this very topic and the maturity required to accomplish genuine forgiveness. He explained to me that the church where we serve is home to many young people, most of whom struggle to forgive the people in their lives for the pain they have (intentionally and unintentionally) caused. For years, they have been disappointed and hurt by the very people that are supposed to love them…and letting those people ‘off the hook’ just doesn’t seem possible.
But it isn’t only the young people who struggle with this concept. It is a challenge for the older people too; for both men and women; spiritually mature and those who are still growing.
Through recent conversations with fellow missionaries—grown adults with mature faiths—the struggle to forgive is real. It may sound ironic that someone doing the Lord’s work struggles with stuff like this, but here’s the thing…They pour their heart out each and every day to serve and meet the needs around them. They give and give and give of their time and energy, trusting that the work they are doing is making a lasting impact on the souls around them. And despite their best intentions and well-meaning hearts, they face harsh persecution and experience immense pain for their work.
But such pain doesn’t happen only here in Africa. Christians around the world suffer pain at the hands of others. It is likely that you, too, have experienced some level of suffering from a fellow ‘Christian’ who, knowingly or unknowingly, did you wrong.
So, what are we to do?
Well, God has been teaching me a thing or two about this issue over the past couple of months…
First, we need to realize that we aren’t facing these trials alone. Throughout scripture, we see several stories of people following the will of God and being ‘punished’ for it:
Everyone knows the story of Job—a righteous man who faced unimaginable physical and emotional torment. His wife left him and his ‘friends’ ridiculed him for his faith.
Moses followed God’s commands and led the people out of Egypt. How did they repay him? By blaming him for their starvation and accusing him of impure motives.
Jeremiah warned people that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed and as a result, he was slandered, arrested, and called a traitor.
Then, of course, there is Jesus—the holy Son of God, blameless and without sin…nailed to a cross.
In each of these stories, men were doing the will of God. Unfortunately, the world was not able to appreciate their obedience. And if it can happen to Jesus, surely it can happen to us. So when the world fails to recognize your heart to serve and follow God, remember that you are suffering in good company.
(I realize that was not much of a consolation…)
Next, we should examine and consider changing our perspectives. Try to imagine what life is like from the accuser’s point-of-view. Is it possible that they are battling with something that no one else knows? Was their behavior a consequence of their ignorance?
Perhaps they misunderstood your intentions and reacted on instinct— you know, fight or flight? To you, their actions were grossly unacceptable, but for them, it may be all they know to do. Maybe their words/actions were a result of temptation or a selfish desire to obtain something they lacked…and you just happened to get in the way.
Perhaps it had NOTHING to with them at all…
Wait—how can their inappropriate behavior have nothing to do with them?...
Because, as much as we hate to admit it, we are in the middle of a spiritual battle. We have an enemy whose only goal is to steal, kill, and destroy. And as a child of God, we have a large target on our backs. One of the greatest tools God gave us is the Body of Christ—unity among members to accomplish the Great Commission. If Satan can wedge his way into the minds of people and create disharmony among the church, it hinders the spread of the Gospel. Hence, our pain and sufferings may be the result of naïve people believing Satan’s lies and deception, and choosing to commit his moral evil. You see, nothing to do with them…they may just be victims of this whole battle too.
Third, we must remember who we are serving. In our ministries and in our lives, are we seeking the approval of the people around us? Or are we seeking the approval of God? Scripture says that we cannot serve two masters. We must choose whom we will serve.
After being called to this work, I genuinely believed that serving God was an honorable thing…but as it turns out, not everyone shares my views…and why would they? God has created us all so uniquely and gifted us with free will. Truly, the actions of others can be excruciating and painful, as I am sure you are well aware. But over these past few months, God has been reminding me that despite their recklessness behavior, they are still made in His image. His love toward me is relentless (despite my own rebellious ways) and His love for them is just as passionate. It is not my job to judge their decisions, or seek retaliation and revenge in the wake of my pain. God simply wants me to love them.