Friday, May 31, 2013

The heart of forgiveness

It is easy to see the need to forgive hurtful actions. A person says something rude, carelessly forgets about something important or slights you, and you immediately are faced with the task of forgiving them. Without extending forgiveness there will be a wall between you and the offender. You will feel hurt while they will feel the burden of knowing they have damaged a relationship. No one wins and everyone feels like there is an elephant in the room. The burden is great but it is easily remedied by extending forgiveness.
This is basic. We were taught how to forgive when we were children. Just picture a small child in preschool. Little Sally is crying because Johnny stole her Barbie doll and won't give it back - typical boys. When the teacher is alerted to Johnny's antics she remedies the situation by reprimanding him and demanding that he return the Barbie to Sally. He does so reluctantly. The teacher then instructs Johnny to ask for forgiveness. Sally is instructed to accept Johnny's apology, hug and skip off into the sunset with glee. This is the kind of forgiveness we all know we should extend to each other. But there is a deeper forgiveness that is often overlooked and rarely put into practice.
There will be times you need to forgive someone's thoughts. They may never voice them, but negative thoughts can hurt just like negative words. The offended is left carrying resentment like a heavy weight. The offender doesn't even know the damage they have inflicted. This may seem hopeless. No words have been exchanged, no action taken, so how can forgiveness heal? This is where the power of forgiveness is on full display. The forgiver doesn't have to speak or make a ceremony of the process, they simply have to make the decision to forgive the person for the thoughts that are so hurtful.
This may seem too fundamental to work, but there is power in the thoughts we have towards others. Our thought life is so fundamental to our mental health and the health of our relationships that it can literally transform our outward life when we take the steps necessary to ensure that we are mentally whole and at peace.
The thoughts of others are so powerful that they can inflict real damage. It is hard to cover up our thoughts, and they are all to often displayed by body language and facial expressions that shine a light on the true feelings that lay below the surface. Unfortunately, we can't control what other people will think. We can only control how we will respond. We can be hurt and offended or we can extend forgiveness and acceptance.
To extend these thoughts of forgiveness and acceptance is as simple as telling God you forgive them and asking him to bless those very people who have hurt you. There is peace in blessing others. How can you be sour and perturbed when you are busy blessing and forgiving? The two cannot coexist.
God has forgiven us for not just the sins that are outward and blatant, but our deepest and most repulsive thoughts. He sees them all and forgives them all. He isn't selective. This is the same level of forgiveness he asks his children to extend to one another: believers and nonbelievers. We are to be a mirror, reflecting to the world the forgiveness shown to us and so desperately needed to be whole.

James 2

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

As Christians this is the view we are to take of trials. We are to embrace our trials and our difficult circumstances, finding joy and comfort in the growth they will produce in our spiritual lives. If we are living in sold out obedience to God and his will we will take this approach when we are faced with trials. Yet, we are given free will which means this joyful outlook must be chosen. God will give us the strength to walk in joy but first we have to deliberately decide that it is joy we want. 
Even as Christians, proclaiming the name of Christ and his goodness, love, grace and mercy, it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting our own way. We want our timing because we are so short sighted that we can picture a timing that is better. We want our plans because we aren't imaginative enough to believe that there is a more fulfilling plan out there. We are limited in scope and perspective, seeing with human eyes on a human level. But God is seeing the situation from a whole different level. He is above, seeing not only the present and past but the future. He knows far better then we do what is best because, unlike us, he knows exactly what is to come in not only our lives but the world that surrounds us. 
In the midst of a trial the situation never feels beneficial. It usually feels uncomfortable and downright lousy. We want our equilibrium and ease, so we strive to break out of the trial by whichever means is quickest and usually easiest. God doesn't always (and I might even say rarely) work that way. Instead of wanting to get us out of the difficulty ASAP, he wants to take whatever time is necessary to produce fruit in his children before he moves them on into a different set of circumstances. 
There is so much about a trial that we can't dictate. If we are allowing God to have his way, we won't tell him it is time to switch things up! If we are truly resting in God we won't be demanding that he change our lives around at our beck and call. We can only influence one thing and that is our attitude. 
In James we are instructed to claim joy in our trials. Will that be easy? James didn't claim it would be and if you have ever tried to be joyful in the midst of your darkest hour you know it is far from a walk in the park. But that doesn't mean it isn't attainable. 
God is loving and wants to give his children what they ask. So ask for joy. Ask for the rest and peace that comes through truly resting in God's promises and provision. Ask God to give you the strength to be joyful even when everything in life feels like it is in opposition to such an attitude. Claim the promises of God and take heart in them. Don't look simply at the mountain in front of you, look at the resurrection of Christ and the joy found in your salvation. 
When trials abound you get to make a decision. A) fight like mad to break out of your circumstances: run, hide, scream or cry. Or B) rest in God and praise him for who he is and the miraculous work he is doing in your life. 
There are no other options. If you are not for God and his will, then you are against him. The beautiful thing about God is that he gives you the opportunity to choose each day if you will circle A or B. Each morning anew you have the chance to wake up and choose joy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Content over cover

Don't judge a book by its cover. Yea, sure, we've all heard that one but don't try to lecture me on the subject when I'm standing in Barnes and Nobles with a table full of new titles staring me in the face. The cover is the first thing that grabs my attention. I pick up the best looking, prettiest, most attractive covers I see. Sometimes I open the cover before I even read the title. The cover hits me before the synopsis, the author and certainly before the content.
And so it is with people. We are immediately struck by what is visible. Before a person even has a chance to open their mouth or extend their hand in a friendly greeting, we see an outward appearance and come up with an inward conclusion. It may be faulty logic and chances are, if we took the time to really meet the person and get to the heart of them, we'd find that our initial conclusion was way off base. Very few people can be summed up by the packaging they wear.
This truth has never been as apparent to me as it is now, wearing a packing that is skin and bones. My physical appearance throws up red flags and flashing lights that warn of impending danger. "Caution: this girl has some issues!" What are the issues? No one knows unless they ask but plenty assume without any further knowledge. Most assume anorexia or an eating disorder of some sort which must come from some deep seeded mental instability. I've been around enough to know the thoughts that snap into a person's head when they see a severely underweight individual. I know it so well because at one time I would have come to the same conclusion. What the common observer doesn't know is that my digestive system has been plagued for years, causing symptoms that have made life terribly unpleasant and weight to be a thing of the past. But they don't know and instead of finding out, they stay far enough away to avoid any true involvement.
Instead of finding out the content of who I am, what I believe and why I look the way I look, they judge solely based on the cover. They are making a terrible mistake. But who can blame them? Who among us hasn't judged based on the appearance?
My favorite and most cherished book, apart from the Bible, is the Oswald Chambers devotional, "My Utmost for His Highest." I never put it down without being convicted. It has spoken to my heart and grown me spiritually unlike any other modern day writing (modern being anything not written in the scriptures). Yet, that devotional has the most unassuming cover of any book I own. I would walk past it ten times out of ten in a book store. The cover is a plain brown with the title simply printed across the front in gold. The font is small and simple. The gold isn't flashy and doesn't jump out at you from its brown background. If you were looking for intrigue you would look elsewhere.
Unless you actually opened up the book to discover its content.
Inside you would find the uncompromising truth of the Bible laid out in 365 devotionals that shake off spiritual stagnation and demand growth. They convict by unabashedly declaring the truth of obedience, patience, faith, love, humility and so many more Biblical principles. Chambers doesn't hold back and never gives his reader an out for a lack of spiritual fervor. He declares the truths of the Bible, calling his reader to be changed by the word of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ.
The book that has so changed my life doesn't do a thing for me aesthetically but if I would have never picked it up I would be much poorer spiritually. God has used that little devotional book to speak to me in ways the fancy, artfully designed devotional books never have. Is that to say he can't speak to me through a book that has a beautiful cover and an appealing color scheme? Of course not. But he has chosen to use what would never catch my eye to change my heart.
When we meet people we have the same opportunity as when we book shop. In the aisle of the bookstore we can stop, read the title, take in the synopsis and decide if we want to jump into chapter one and get more familiar with the style of the author and his purpose for penning the book in hand. Or we can simply glance at the colors and pictures on the cover and grab the prettiest of them all, possibly getting ourselves into a lousy romance novel or boring book about the life cycle of a fruit fly. When we meet someone new we can pre judge and pre determine based on the physical appearance we encounter upon first glance. The question is will we get past the cover and give them a chance to show us their true content?

Tune in and turn it up

God often speaks to us in ways we don't want to hear. Maybe that is why so few people ever say they hear God. They don't want to, so they shut him up. Instead of tuning in they press mute.
For three years God has been turning up the volume in my life and I have, at times, reluctantly let him have that control. I admit to not always wanting to hear what the message was going to be. Most of the time the message was to be patient and be prepared to wait. Who wants to hear that? We live in a culture of now. I'm not used to waiting. When red lights take too long I start to get antsy. When the internet is taking forever to load I immediately start pressing all sorts of buttons which probably only makes the problem worse. I'm human and on my own natural steam I am a terrible failure at waiting.
So God has been making some improvements in me. Throughout my ordeal he has raised the volume and made the message in loud and clear: get patience or get frustrated, because you are in a period of waiting. At first I wanted to get frustrated and search for answers to put an end to the waiting. Who wants to be in a depleted physical state at the age of 20, 21, 22 or 23? No healthy minded person wants to be physically unhealthy. I have never wanted this physical condition and at first I fought hard against it, trying to find a human answer to a problem that could only be cured by a spiritual solution.
It has taken years but I am finally resting in the waiting, allowing it to take as long as is needed.
To get to this point I have endured tears, screams and deep depression. Many days have been far from pleasant. I have wanted answers and a solution, not a future of unknowns. God had to teach me that I didn't need to know the future to rest in it.
Peace doesn't come from knowing the road ahead but knowing who is driving the car.
This revelation didn't come overnight. The truth of God's promise to take care of his own has come slowly. I haven't always been able to see proof of it in my physical life but God didn't go silent in my spiritual life. He purposely quieted my physical life so he could have full control of the airwaves in my spiritual life.
He taught me that learning to listen comes when it is not what we want to hear. But hold on to the promises of God. It may seem like he is only giving you bad news but those are the times to take heart and get comfortable. Enjoy the time of rest and the peace that God wants to give lavishly. When you learn to listen in these trying times, you will be better equipped to hear God when the messages take on a more uplifting tune: your healing is in you, claim the victory, you are gaining weight. If you couldn't hear him when he said: "stop and wait," how will you hear when he says: "get ready to go"?
What I have learned over the last three years is that God will use the unpleasant circumstances, the unwanted conditions of our lives to make us better listeners. Will you tune in?