This past week was a hard one for me. Old wounds were literally reopened and resentment fell like a cold acid rain on my heart. While I am pretty good at letting go of the offenses done to me, I have a much harder time with those done to my family members, especially my children. I have worked on my own heart the last year trying to deal with an issue or two in this regard. I know all the reasons why we need to forgive. Maybe most haunting of all are the warnings from Jesus that if we don't forgive others, God won't forgive us. (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35) Not even that could quite poke through the callous on my heart in this one situation.
I have asked God for help in this matter for months. In my impatience, I wanted the Father's help to be immediate, decisive, and permanent. My progress has been slow and the reawakening of the issue caught me by surprise. Yet in the middle of dealing with the bitter vitriol still coursing through my spirit, God helped me come to terms with this besetting sin ---the spiritual toxin of my unforgiving spirit.
First, I was confronted straight on by the sermon of a dear friend. He didn't know he was preaching it for me, but the Lord did. I realized it about half of the way through the message. The timing was perfect. The message was right on target. The opportunity to hear it was right on time for me. I was convicted. I repented.
Second, I've been working through the life of the apostle Peter for a message I am going to share. Peter's stumbles, bumbles, and bravado are hard to miss. Yet the Lord doesn't just put up with him, doesn't just forgive him, but he puts him at the head of the team. Just a quick survey of the last hours of Jesus' life gives us plenty of ammo to blast Peter completely out of the water as a great follower of Jesus. He embarrasses himself when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. Then he claims that he loves the Lord more than his other friends and that he would never fail the Master. He cuts off Malchus' ear in the Garden and then runs away in fear. He denies the Lord three times just as Jesus said. He joins the other followers of Jesus as they fearfully hide in a locked room in sadness and defeat.
How could Jesus forgive and keep on forgiving Peter? How could he trust him to lead when he let his Lord down so many times? How could the Lord trust Peter to lead when he had demonstrated so little strength and faithfulness?
Suddenly the issue of forgiveness isn't about the difficulty of m7 forgiving someone who has hurt me or someone I love; it is about the gracious generosity of Jesus to forgive me of so much. If the Lord has been so gracious to me, how can I claim to belong to him and to not offer that same graciousness to another! Each Sunday as we gather around the Lord's Table, I am reminded of his boundless grace and overwhelming love. How can I withhold that love from others who needed it so desperately? I cannot. I must not. I will not.
And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:30-32 NLT)