Pursuing Relentless Forgiveness

I am confronted with a daily challenge.  How do you forgive someone who intentionally hurts and offends you every day?  How do you endure someone you can’t walk away from because you are tied to them by God and earthly law?

Both the Word and wise counsel from others say that we must forgive, continually, if needed. Matthew 18: 21-22 shows this to us:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I don’t say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

In Matthew 18:23-35, He then teaches us the parable of the unforgiving debtor.

However, since I am still flesh, I struggle when faced with the same unrelenting offenses every day, and I have to take one day at a time.  Some days I can choose not to think about it and be truly grateful for all the amazing things that God continues to do in my life.  I can “rise above” it.

Other days, I find myself deep in the ditch with my old friends, resentment and bitterness. On these days, it feels cruel that I am, in fact, dishonoring all the Lord has done by focusing on these worldly offenses rather than choosing to forgive as He forgave me. I don’t like to think of myself as a hateful person, but I can’t deny feeling contempt. This in turn brings shame and a feeling of helplessness with it. I envy those whose deep hurts are in their past, even if they are still struggling with healing. It is difficult to heal, defend my heart against ongoing offenses, and resist the temptation to seek my own will all at the same time.

Over time, this cycle of good and bad days is stretching out to include more good ones than bad. The practice of mindfully giving this issue over to God each day and intentionally choosing to trust that the Lord will work all things out for good helps because He has already proven this to me personally so many times. Occasionally, I get tired and frustrated and feel that I may not be able to endure or withhold from seeking my own will. There have been times when I have prayed in the form of a full-on hissy fit style meltdown before the Lord (please don’t tell me I’m the only one out here who has been there as that would be embarrassing). In that situation, I beg Him to change my attitude when what I really want is for Him to change my circumstances. In those moments, He has been faithful to soothe my frayed heart.

The bottom line is this. My testimony hinges on all of the amazing ways the Lord has intervened, comforted, guided, protected, and prospered me. It hinges on my continued trust in the almighty sovereignty of the Lord. I continue in obedience, humility, gratitude, and perseverance despite my desire for relief. All in this world is transient and finite, and I desire to honor the blessing that I will inherit.

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  1 Peter 3:8-9 

About the Writer:
Amy is a joyful believer who is experiencing the healing power of understanding one’s identity in Christ. She is grateful to serve among amazing sisters in Christ at her church and for a church body full of beautiful believers who model the pursuit of Christ with their words and actions. She is also a mother of two tweens (pray for her) and enjoys her career as a scientist and medical writer.

 

The Courageous Ask

Prayer takes courage.  Remember Elijah’s challenge to the false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18?  

Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.  And all the people said, ‘That is a good idea.’  I Kings 18:24

This was a bold ask on the part of Elijah with much at stake. When it came time to pray, Elijah’s prayer was simple:

 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.’ I Kings 18:36-37

Time after time, story after story, the Bible is filled with courageous asks – many of which God answered in miraculous ways that showed His power over our lives and the world around us.

I must admit that it is difficult for me to pray courageously. I do not doubt that God is able, but deep down inside I ashamedly admit that if I were to stand in front of others and ask God to prove that I am His servant and that my ask is so that others might turn back to the true God, I fear that He wouldn’t come through for me. I fear the crickets of a silent response. I fear that my ask might not be in line with His will. It is hard to forget all the past prayers God has answered with “no.”

It’s easy for me to pray for others or for my own needed heart change or attitude adjustment. But it is difficult for me to pray for the things that I know God may choose to deny.  Am I the only person who would rather not ask than to ask and be told “no?” A “no” hurts. . .sometimes bitterly.

I cannot claim to understand why God asks us to pray, but I can obey His call to pray without ceasing and follow the example of Jesus.

These are the words of Jesus Himself to His disciples:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?   Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  Matthew 26:36-41

God didn’t grant Jesus’ prayer for this cup to be taken from Him. Yet still Jesus asked. To me that shows great courage, humility, trust, and submission on Jesus’ part.

Both Jesus’ and Elijah’s prayers inspire me to pray with courage:  Elijah because he was willing to lay his life on the line as a prophet of God in obedience to what God had prompted him to pray and Jesus because he was willing to ask even when God did not change the course of Calvary in response to His prayer.  In both cases, God answered with what was best and what was truly spectacular and miraculous.

What I don’t see Jesus saying to the disciples is this: “Pray that you may be strong enough to do what you think is best and right.” Instead, Jesus said, “Sit here and pray” or “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

May our prayers be like that of Elijah – rooted in obedience to God and like that of Jesus – willing to take the less desirable path if that is what it takes to bring glory to the Father.  May we go beyond our limited understanding and just do what He says: with faith, pray.

About the Writer:
Lyndsay loves movement of most every variety. Some of her favorite moments are going on long walks, runs or bike rides in some new uncharted territory or exploring some intellectual or emotional space waiting to be uncovered. By day she works at First Baptist Dallas and in her spare time you will find her enjoying family, teaching mindful movement classes or serving in some community that has as many questions about God and life as she does. She is passionate about God’s Word applied masterfully by the Holy Spirit’s leading and believes the kindness and compassion of Christ changes hearts and unbinds minds – the most significant movement of any kind.

 

The Nameless Woman

Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Romans 16:13

In Romans 16, Paul sent personal greetings to people who were special to him. What had Rufus’ mother done for Paul that she would have been like a mother to him?  Who were the people involved in this verse?

Who was Paul?

As a faithful follower of Jesus, Paul spent his adult life testifying to the truths of Christ. He encountered extreme, relentless, and undeserved persecution. In this one short verse, we learn God provided a place of respite for His weary servant.

Who was Rufus? 

“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” Mark 15:21 (NIV)

Scholars believe Simon became a follower of Jesus Christ after he carried Jesus’ cross. When Simon returned home, it appears his family members also became followers of Jesus.  Simon’s sons, it is believed, grew up to be leaders in the Christian movement and Rufus became a friend to Paul. Paul’s words reveal Rufus’ mother had a special place in his heart. The father helped Jesus, and the mother and son helped Paul. One man’s encounter with Christ changed a whole family!

Who was Rufus’ mother?

Since we don’t know anything about this nameless woman, we can only surmise what she might have done for Paul. Did she provide meals for him, wash his clothes, furnish a comfortable, clean bed so he could rest, listen to his stories of pain and joy over God’s provision and power through difficulties, encourage him to persevere, and pray for him to have courage, strength, tenacity, and safety? We can imagine Paul and Rufus, and Rufus’ mother sitting by the fire as they talked into the night about Jesus and the changed lives as people were coming to faith in the Messiah.

When Paul experienced closed doors and opposition in the towns he visited, Rufus’ mother opened her door and ministered to his needs. She cared, encouraged, listened, and loved as only a mother can. She lived out her faith in selfless deeds of kindness.

We can be encouraged and motivated by this unnamed woman. God uses this one short verse to remind us that what we do matters to Him. When we sing to little ones and their friends, God sees. When we feed noisy, messy teenagers and pray before they eat pizza out of a cardboard box, God is aware. When we’re doing our Bible study, and our daughter and her friends come crashing through the door, how we respond is seen by God. When we make pancakes in colors and shapes for our grandchildren and clean up the sticky syrup, God knows. When we encourage adult children to persevere and trust God despite difficulties, He hears. When we’re babysitting our niece and nephew, and they want to go to the park, God knows I need to be working and can help me make up the time later.

This nameless woman who lived thousands of years ago left a powerful and timeless legacy for us. Oh, God, please help us respond in love to our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and their friends! If the friends of our family never remember our name, please help them to have a strong, positive memory of how they felt when they were with us! Give us joy in serving, a kind response when interrupted, gentleness when speaking truth to ears that seem not to be listening, and patience when we mop up spilled drinks and wash piles of dishes. Help us, God, to remember that what we do and say and how we respond and react today are important to you and will matter in eternity.

What was Rufus’ mother’s reward?

We can imagine that when Rufus’ mother entered God’s presence she heard,

Well done, good and faithful servant. Matthew 25:23a (NIV)

About the Writer:
Sherry enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, Bible study, and traveling.  She and her husband, David, are Directors of the Sonburst Class at First Baptist Dallas.

Let Jesus Pick Up Your Trial

Throughout our journey as Christians, we will face periods of suffering from both trials and difficulties. These encounters will at times produce stressful moments along with paralyzing fear within the hearts of believers. Yet, instead of running to the throne room of grace, we often rush to other resources for help and comfort, ones that demand self-defense and self-strategy.

  • We Panic.
  • We Plan.
  • We Pursue.
  • We Protect.

Sometimes We Panic: The trial that overtakes us often produces fear. If we are not careful, we will immediately give power to the forbidding panic.

But the Lord says . . .

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

Let’s examine this verse for just a moment.

The Lord says, “Do not fear.” Why? For He is with us.

The Lord says, “Do not anxiously look about you.” Why? For He is our God.

The Lord says, “I will strengthen you.”

The Lord says, “Surely I will help you.”

The Lord says, “Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Sometimes We Plan: In the mix of the brewing trial and fear, we position ourselves to try to figure out the best way to manage the hardship at hand. How? We strategize. We look around at the best options possible to handle the crisis. We run to different sources to try and solve the problem.

But God’s Word says . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5–6

Let’s examine this verse for just a moment.

We are told through this verse, first and foremost, to “Trust in the LORD with all our hearts.” We are not told to trust in people or in resources, but in the Lord. . . with our entire hearts. Next, we are told to refrain from leaning on our own understanding. We get into trouble when we try to figure out or carry out our own plans based on our own understanding. God says to trust Him instead of leaning on what we feel is best. Last, we are told to acknowledge God, and He will make straight our paths.

—Sometimes We Pursue: After we carefully plan the course of action, we pursue it with all our might. Then, as we are running speedily ahead, we look back, as if to invite God to “join us” on our own self-made course.

But God’s Word says . . .

The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.  Proverbs 14:12

Sometimes We Try to Protect: When enemies come against us, often our first line of defense is one of self-defense. We want to protect our names. We want to protect our reputations. We want to protect our hearts from being hurt any further. Yet we must remember this important truth: God will avenge His own. That is His specialty. We can both rest in His love and faithfulness and trust Him to intervene, as only He can, on our behalf.

God’s Word says . . .

‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the Lord.  Isaiah 54:17

At one point in my life, I had an encounter with a lady who struggled with an obsession of jealously toward me. She came after me in ways no Christian ever should. It was an all-out attack, intended to keep me from being seen and heard.

Manipulation and deceitfulness bred deep within the lady’s soul, and the overflow of her heart resulted in different strikes against me. Yet, instead of reporting her actions, I chose to ignore them. This poor decision left others with unanswered questions as to the truth of the situation.  I began to realize that those individuals thought poorly of my character. Since they didn’t know the truth, I was tempted to run to them in order to protect my name. But one evening, I went before the Lord’s throne of grace. I wept profusely as I placed my request at the feet of Jesus. Then, as I concluded my prayer, I asked Him to pick it up. I wanted it in His hands. Yet what He chose to do with it from there was not my business but His only. From that moment on I had a surreal sense of peace.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

Instead of panicking, planning, pursuing, and protecting, why not try something different? Why not do the very thing God asks us to do? Bring the trial to Him and then trust Him with it.

Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Giving one’s life over to Jesus will result in peace and victory. Bring to Him today what you have been trying so desperately to fix. He will pick it up.

About the Writer:

O’Shea is the mother of two and nana of four and enjoys both roles tremendously. She is the Executive Director of Entrusted Hope Ministries where she loves serving through speaking and blogging. A member of First Baptist Church Dallas, O’Shea serves with the church’s First Impressions ministry and teaches the Strong & Courageous Sunday School class for single moms. She received her bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain, Mississippi, her master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and is currently working on her D.Ed.Min. at Southwestern in Family Ministries.