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Friday, October 22, 2010

Forgiveness is a habit

3-4 If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?
   As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped. 
(Psalm 130:3-4)

We humans are "record keepers".  We manage to stuff all kinds of information into our brains - dates, times, events, memories, agendas, wishes, dreams - to name only a few.  We organize that information based on importance to us - prioritizing it and "packaging" it into "parcels" of thought.  If we cannot manage to store anymore, or feel that the information is SO important that we cannot risk losing it, we write it down, recording it for future reference.

This process works well for us if what we are "storing away" in the recesses of our brain, or recording on paper, has a significant meaning that will lend itself to our growth or development.  When we begin storing away the thoughts or memories that actually serve to tear us down, keeping us in a place of bondage to a past hurt or failure, we are opening ourselves to more hurt.  When these thoughts are about another's actions in our life, God refers to this process as "harboring unforgiveness" or resentment.  When these memories are about some failure on our part, God refers to this as "bondage".

Look at the example God sets for us:  He keeps NO record on our wrongdoing.  In fact, he practices forgiveness out of a well-established habit of repeatedly forgiving his children.  If this is the case, why do we find ourselves so engulfed in keeping record of wrongs committed?  Why do we hold those memories so close to our heart, investing more and more emotional energy in the maintaining of those memories over the course of time?

There are some principles we need to embrace in order to be free of our past failures and our present resentments:
  1. Embrace God's forgiveness.  We cannot be free until we are convinced of God's ability and willingness to forgive us.  Don't gloss over this!  God is both willing and able to forgive.  He is able to forgive based on the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.  That sacrifice paid any penalty that is "due" as a result of our sinful wrongdoing.  He is willing to forgive because he is a loving God - his grace is his response of love.
  2. Embrace God's ability and renewal.  God can bring good of even the worst situation we manage to get ourselves into - there may have been unwanted consequences, but he is there to pick up the pieces.  We made the choices that led to the outcome, but he stands at the ready to restore what we have allowed to fall into ruin in our lives.  We don't see much value in forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply - we may know that we are commanded to do so, but we just cannot connect the dots of how this will set us free.  All I can say is that as soon as we begin to let go of that other person in our thoughts, refusing to invest our emotional energy in holding on to the hurts of our past, we can begin to be free in our present.  
  3. Embrace God's plan for wholeness.  We often stop short of being completely free of our past by not following the pattern laid out for us in Scripture.  God has given us repeated examples in the Word of how a man is to live once he has been forgiven (redeemed).  First, there is a "turning away" from that which was once a strong pursuit of our heart (that which we were making that huge emotional investment in).  Then, if we are to live free of that past hurt, we need to "replace" it with something else.  This is where God comes in - we turn away - he helps us with the renewal.  We have to put something into the place of those past responses to our hurt or disappointment.  They leave a void that must be filled.  God asks us to fill that void with more of him - investing our emotional energy in the things he delights in.  This may be Christian service, or it may be as simple as time spent with him in worship and study until what was significant to us about a past hurt or failure fades from our memory completely.
We stop short of allowing God to completely set us free by not being willing to let go.  Letting go is the hardest part of emotional healing and the new life he purposes for us.  Yet, we cannot move on until we are truly willing to move out of that focused investment of our time, energies, and repeated rehearsal of our past.  It begins with just one step - often, this step will NOT be coupled with an immediate "feeling" that something has changed.  We call this obedience.  We step out in what God is asking us to do, whether we "feel" like it or not.  If we continue to do this long enough, the emotions associated with the actions of obedience will begin to follow.  When we release ourselves from our past enough times, filling up that "gap" a little bit more each time with what God wants us to have in our lives, the emotions will follow.

Today is a day to "let go".  I don't know what you need to let go of - that is between you and God.  I am praying for your journey.