Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Choice To Forgive

Last week in my personal bible study time, I read about obedience and forgiveness. It was good, and obviously, there is always room to learn about both of those potentially weighty topics. I felt my heart drawn to the passages on obedience more so than that of forgiveness. It’s funny the difference a week can make.

I’ve been exchanging emails with someone who is a struggle for me. It’s not a daily struggle, but things come up and I am hit with a situation or two and it brings back feelings that I know are not good. Overall, I’ve just decided to live my life and let God deal with injustice and the wrongs I may have suffered, but there are times when I am tested. And it doesn’t even take much – a simple comment, email or conversation from them and I find my heart racing, anger rises and that feeling that I have somehow been marginalized once again.

Today I was confronted with my choice to forgive or be bitter. Initially I wanted to be bitter, I really did. I was so angered by an email that really wasn’t that bad, but with tears welling up in my eyes I felt myself battling not just irritation but a deep resentment. I sat there and prayed, talked it through with a friend or two and then came home and sat down to pour over scriptures hoping they would speak to my heart. I know one thing for certain; I do not want to be full of hatred. Sin will lead to my destruction and there is no reward in a heart full of anger or bitterness. That has been a belief I’ve repeated over and over to myself and I’ve continued to cling to it. I’m not where I need to be yet, but these are the scriptures that are helping me today:

Hebrews 12:14
14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Mark 11:25
25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."[a]

Psalm 9
1 [a]I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders.
2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.
4 For you have upheld my right and my cause;
you have sat on your throne, judging righteously.

Read this great quote by Carole E. Smith of the Atlanta Counseling Center:

“We cannot know God fully until we know who we are and what has formed us. We do not go to God despite the sin perpetrated upon us. We go to God because of it, and we must take it to God held in both hands, known by heart and seen with both eyes. That is when we can hand it over. That is when we can forgive our abusers.”

Forgiveness is a process – one decision after another to be righteous. For me, today’s decision is for forgiveness and trust that my Father is my best, holy and only true advocate. He expects and desires me to give this heartache over to him. As he has forgiven me, I have to make that same decision to be gracious at times. And so tonight….a long walk, a heart lifted in prayer and a willingness to stay out there until I can be at peace with it all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Overcoming Fear

I was thinking about fear this morning. I struggle with it – I’m guessing everyone does at some level. One of my biggest fears is the fear of rejection. It is a large part of my emotional make-up. I tend to enter into a relationship with the knowledge that I may very well be rejected. I know it sounds somewhat desperate, and yet it is the core of who I am. It’s one of the things that I am laying before God – hopeful to change. Given that it is one of my prevalent fears, and that I was discarded by the closest, most intimate relationship I ever had, you can see how this would potentially haunt me.

I’ve discovered, too that there are different levels of fear and overcoming it. I have learned to trust God in the big areas, because clearly he has rescued me and cared for me in ways I never even dreamed he would. It has given me faith and built my trust. Yet what I’m seeing is that even in the smaller areas, I am still apprehensive –careful not to put myself into a position where I could be rejected or demeaned in any way. I guess this is part of my journey of walking with the Lord; learning the lesson and then having it reinforced over and over in smaller ways. I am determined to learn this and experience God’s power in my life in every way possible.

I watched a friend overcome a big fear recently. And while we laughed about it afterward, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it. My friend and I had the opportunity to go zip-lining – something I have done before and loved – and something that she had wanted to try. Knowing she had a fear of heights, I wondered how she was going to do with the launch on the very high platform. I went first and when I got to the top and saw her climbing the rope ladder I knew she was terrified. Fear was in her eyes, her body language and clearly this was out of her comfort zone. But she did it anyway; partly because once she had started up, she felt that she couldn’t go back down – the quickest way out of the situation was to plough through it. But regardless of her reasoning, she met her fear, pushed herself and conquered it.

I think of Mary. I know she overcame many fears in her life. Initially, a young woman full of trepidation – she was giving birth to God’s son, and all the implications that came along with God’s decision to use her in the ways that he did. She clearly overcame those initial doubts as she surrendered to God’s will.

Luke 1:37-38 “37For nothing is impossible with God." 38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."

Throughout her son’s life I’m sure that she had situations where she was confronted with the decision to be faithful or fearful. When Jesus was lost on their trip returning from Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover it says in Luke 2 that Mary and Joseph were anxiously searching for him – they were fearful. Also, at a later point, it says that she and her other sons were trying to pull Jesus away from the crowds. My guess is that this action was motivated by some sort of fear. I feel a connection with Mary knowing that while overall she was very faithful, even after that decision to trust the Lord in her overwhelmingly stressful situation, she still faltered throughout her life.

I’m going to continue to trust God is the big areas that I am uncertain about, but also in the smaller areas that cause me to occasionally react irrationally. And when I falter, I’ll think of Mary or various friends around me who have overcome big and small fears in their lives. I’m in good company.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Moving From Belief To Faith

For some time now I’ve been studying a very good book called “Live A Praying Life” by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. This week the study is focusing on faith and exactly where it comes from and how you get it. The author made a statement that is really germinating in my heart right now, it is:

“Faith can only come through a direct, firsthand encounter with Jesus. Belief can come through secondhand information, but belief is not faith.”

I’ve been sitting here dwelling on this statement and applying it to my life to see if it rings true, and it does for me. I had what I would label very strong beliefs for many, many years. I believed God loved me and that it was possible to have a close intimate relationship with him, but it hasn’t been until the past few years that I would say I have faith in that fact. There was a time when my belief system was very confused and I was struggling in my relationship with the Lord. My security was based on a belief system that revolved around what I did for him. If I felt I was performing up to standards, then I felt confident. However, if I was struggling to meet a set of self-imposed expectations or laws, then I was fearful and unsure of my relationship with him. Thinking in those legalistic terms, does not allow faith to grow. I remained in belief, but was never able to take that step.

Do I have all the answers? No. But, my faith is stronger and more solid than it has ever been. I believe it’s because when everything I loved and put my trust in was removed, I had to make a decision to move from a time of belief in God to faith in Him to rescue me. As I lay awake in bed for months and months fearing different life scenarios, I lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety. I believed God could help me, I wanted him to, but when he wasn’t answering my prayers the way I expected him to, I remained in a state of anxiousness. And then something amazing happened, He began showing me that even if my greatest fears were realized; his grace was there to help me in my time of need. As events unfolded, and I continued to see his hand moving, I became more and more confident, and there was a shift in my heart. I began to have a different type of personal encounter with Jesus. He was rescuing me and what I expected or wanted from him changed…and obeying him and allowing his sovereignty to reign in my heart became the issue and not all of my life circumstances.

Over and over I kept seeing his obvious hand in my life, my faith got stronger and I became confident, not in my works or in my desired outcome, but in God’s grace and unconditional love for me. I moved from belief to faith.

Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."