“Forgiveness” is not an easy pill to swallow, especially when you are on the receiving end of some hurt by another person. The deeper the hurt, the harder it can be to bring ourselves to the point of forgiveness. And yet, as a Christian, we have a command from our Lord that is as clear as day that we MUST – not just that we ought to – forgive others. There are no caveats to this imperative, there are no circumstances that are exempt, there is only forgiveness.
While this can be hard, it helps for us to remember what we ourselves have been forgiven of. We could each echo the cry of Paul who said in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Christ came to forgive even the worst and vilest of sinners, and each of us has been in Paul’s shoes. Why is it so hard for us to forgive others sometimes when forgiveness is so readily available for us?
Matthew 18:23-35 tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. It tells the story of a servant who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents (one talent was worth about 15 years’ wages) and yet would not forgive someone else a debt of just 100 denari (about 100 days wages). The last verses of this chapter make it clear how our heavenly Father views and will deal with those who do not forgive others. Verses 34-35 read like this, “His master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Christ Himself, while being crucified at the hands of those He came to save, pleaded to the Father that they be forgiven. No matter the hurt, Christ calls us to be a people of forgiveness. This week I read an article about the forgiveness that Ronald Reagan had toward his would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr. that highlights this principle well. Craig Shirley, in an article written for RealClearReligion, wrote the following:
“The diagnosis was devastating, but he took it calmly.
To a person, no one ever came forward and said Ronald Reagan ever felt sorry for himself, ever asked God, "Why me, Lord?" He never got down in the dumps, never moped around, simply accepting and working around his Alzheimer's disease -- and maintaining his uncanny optimism.
Always a man of devout faith, the experience of having narrowly escaped death drove Reagan's Christian faith even deeper into his character.
From Harrison to Lincoln to Garfield to McKinley to Harding to FDR to JFK, all were elected at twenty-year intervals, and all had died in office, including four via an assassin's bullet. Reagan, through the grace and hand of God, the speed of his Secret Service detachment, the decision of Jerry Parr to go to George Washington Hospital rather than the White House, the skill of the attending physicians, nurses, and staff, and his own strength, stamina, and mental toughness, broke the curse; he did not succumb to the assassination intentions of John Hinckley.
But no one would really know Reagan's immense capacity for Christian forgiveness until 1983 after Hinckley's incarceration at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, DC.
Astonishingly, Reagan sought a meeting with Hinckley to tell him in person that he forgave the young man. Reagan had first raised the idea of talking to Hinckley with the White House physician Dr. Daniel Ruge one weekend at Camp David. After Ruge initiated the conversation, Reagan reached out to the head of psychiatry at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Dr. Roger Peele.
"Ruge said that Reagan would like to talk with me," Peele recalled. A call was arranged but "the striking thing for me was how modest they were. They were concerned about interrupting my schedule." Reagan and Peele chatted amiably, and Peele said he recalled the kindness and professionalism of Reagan and his staff asking several times if he was being inconvenienced in any way. Further, he told of Reagan saying he wanted to pardon Hinckley, not legally but "personally" and "in private."
As Reagan’s heart was toward the man who wished him dead, so must ours be toward those who wound us. We must understand that by holding a grudge against others, and being unwilling to forgive them, that we are in direct disobedience to the commands of Scripture and that God will deal very severely with us if we do not lay our wounds at His feet and pray His prayer of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them.” Take a moment and ask the Lord to help you develop a forgiving heart and give your hurt to Him.
I have told people before who work with their hands that I envy their line of work. When they build something, they can see the results with their eyes and feel it with their hands; they can observe the completion of their project and be satisfied with the outcome. As a Christian, though, our calling is very different. Our work is not results based and, for many people including myself, that oftentimes can make it discouraging if you go for a period of time without seeing any fruit from your labor.
James compares the work of the Christian to a farmer waiting for harvest time. He says in James 5:7-8, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Many of the words used by James can be hard to swallow: be patient, waits, waiting patiently, and, again, be patient. We do not naturally excel at being patient, and it makes it all the more difficult when, in other areas of life, patience is not so desperately needed. We long for biblical patience, but we long for it right now.
Many times, though, the Lord will send us His little assurances that, in fact, His work is being accomplished through out toil. Much like the farmer who, after planting the seed and waiting patiently, sees the first glimpse of green breaking through the black soil, the Lord allows us to see the evidence of His fruit before it is completely mature. Paul, for example, planted the Philippian church in about 50 AD. Several years later, he was sitting in a lonely, dark prison cell. If I were Paul, I would be wrestling with the doubt that, perhaps, some of my labor had been in vain. And yet, as he is sitting in this prison cell, a familiar face from the church in Philippi, Epaphroditus, journeys to find him to bring him encouragement and a gift from his friends in Philippi. It was this occasion – the occasion of the green leaf breaking through the black soil of Paul’s circumstances – that prompted him to write the beautiful letter of Philippians.
I experienced a similar joy as I was serving with my Army Reserve unit this past weekend in Atlanta. Everyone in the Army has a specific function, a task to complete. Some work on computers, others handle logistics, and still others handle paperwork and so on. The chaplain, however, has an interesting role within the Army. Their job is working with people, and how do we know when a person is “fixed” to the point where our task is complete? I had spoken with a Soldier several months before when he shared with me some personal difficulties he was having. I prayed with him, wrote him a letter, and sent him a book I had written about having assurance in your faith. This weekend, he found me and told me that, through prayer and reading, the Lord had spoken to his heart, and that his life was turned around. His family was back together, and the Lord had pulled him out of his depression. Praise the Lord! The little green leaf broke through the black soil.
Though, as Christians, we cannot touch a finished product or see a completed project, the Lord does send us little reminders that He is, in fact, accomplishing His good work through us. As you serve the Lord, be patient. Establish your heart in Him as you wait patiently on His return. And, look for the little green leafs that break through the black soil of depression, weariness, and apathy. Look for answered prayers. Look for changed hearts. Look for the Lord and you will discover that, as you serve Him patiently, He is bringing forth a great and beautiful harvest in your life.
In 2001, HBO released one of the great mini-series’ ever produced for the television screen: Band of Brothers. The series chronicles the journey of the Soldiers of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during World War II. It begins with their rigorous training on Mt. Currahee in Toccoa, GA and ends with their capture of Hitler’s famous “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden.
One scene that stands out vividly to me came about three-quarters of the way through the series. These men had been at war, without a break, for months and months. They were, for the time being at least, at a point where they not been shot at for some time. The company had been supplied with replacements, and one of these replacements – who had yet to experience the perils of combat – expressed his desire to be engaged in a firefight. Immediately, one of the Soldiers who had been present from day one, Frank Perconte, began to yell at the man and curse him for his desire. You see, Perconte had experienced more than his share of fighting and was probably experiencing what today would be labeled “battle fatigue”.
As Christians, we too can experience “battle fatigue”. We are called to serve others, just as Christ Himself came to serve rather than to be served (Matthew 20:28). I have seen many good brothers and sisters who are just simply physically and mentally drained from doing the Lord’s work and doing so while in the midst of otherwise already busy lives. What are we to do in those times? What would the Lord have us to do when we feel as if we have given everything and, quite frankly, feel sick and tired of serving other people?
I was comforted to discover, as I combed through Scripture this week looking for some wisdom from God’s Word on this subject, that our Lord has much to say about serving Him, serving others, and experiencing His rest in the midst of life’s fatigue.
When Paul had been slowly drained by some particular weakness, the Lord told him in II Corinthians 12:8-9 that His grace was sufficient for Paul, and that GOD’S power was made perfect in PAUL’S weakness.
When we feel fatigued from persistent and repeated prayers that are unanswered by the Lord, we are reminded of the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1, and that we ought to never lose heart in our prayers, knowing that they are heard by our Heavenly Father.
When we feel that all our labor is for naught, and that no one cares and that even in our toil we are making no difference in anyone’s life, Matthew 6:4 promises that our Father, who sees in secret, will reward us. HE sees us, and HE will reward us. There should be much comfort in that knowledge.
When life’s various pressures clamp down on us from all sides, and we feel that we are simply not going to make it out with our sanity intact, James 1:2-4 reminds us that the various trials of this world which test our faith produce patience, and that when patience has its perfect work in us, then will we truly understand the perfect sufficiency of Christ and lack nothing.
And, when we simply grow weary from the struggles of this world, may we hold on to the comforting words of Galatians 6:9-10 which tell us that we should “not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
A great number of people these days are just plain TIRED. The world seems to be spinning faster, things don’t seem to get easier, and weariness seems to grow until it beats us into submission and we take our eyes off of the prize that serving Christ brings. Christ calls us to serve, but He also promises to give us REST in Him in the midst of serving (Matthew 11:28). If today you are heavy laden from your labor, reflect on the promises of Scripture for those who serve faithfully. Go to Christ and spend some time resting in His presence. Ask Christ to remind you of the reward that comes from Him and not from man. Don’t give up, Christian!
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.