I hadn’t been to church in weeks. Illness, traveling, family needs, life. You get it. Last Sunday, we actually got to church. I’m always amazed at how no one at church looks like they are facing something impossible.
Everyone looks so pretty and polished; fresh and clean. However, how we look on the outside does not usually reveal what’s on the inside.
Because I wear my heart on my sleeve, it doesn’t take long for the sermon to press into the places where I’m struggling and remind me that I need a fresh reminder of the power of Christ’s cross.
But that was not how things started out last Sunday. The music didn’t really move me like it used to . . . the silence felt more irritating than peaceful . . . I was restless. The sermon was from Matthew 18. Here’s a taste:
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21–22 NLT)
Has this ever happened to you: after listening to a prayer or a sermon, you are convinced the preacher has read your email or perused your texts and is now speaking directly to you?
The preacher prayed that the Lord would bring to mind any person we had . . .
- Not forgiven
- Held a grudge against
- Were bitter toward
- Hated deeply
Sometimes it feels like God takes His time answering our prayers. This was not one of those occasions.
I’m humiliated to admit it, but name after name of people I hadn’t thought of in literally 30 years came to mind. I promised the Lord I would commit to forgiving and letting go.
Easier said than done. Forgiveness is my IMPOSSIBLE. Some evil things have happened to me, as well as to my kids and my family—things that were so painful I didn’t think we would make it through.
And because Jesus modeled righteous anger with His whip of cords in John 2:15, it seemed perfectly plausible that my anger was righteous also, considering the atrocities my family and I had endured.
However, Matthew 18 never offers a “justifiable, reasonable” clause: if we choose not to forgive, we are turned over to the torturers. No exceptions.
What exactly does that mean? It’s the same for us all because God’s Word is not relative to our comfort; it’s foundational to our lives. In Matthew 18:34–35, Jesus warned that His Father turns over to be tortured anyone who refuses to forgive a brother or sister in his or her heart.
Jesus made this comparison during the time of Roman occupation. The Romans performed severe, appalling torture methods:
- Flaying skin
- Stretching limbs on the rack
- Mauling by wild beasts
But torture isn’t limited to physical pain. We can be tortured mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We can be plagued by the works of Satan and demons:
He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Solomon prays in 1 Kings 8 for God to hear the prayers of His people who have sinned and forgive them:
If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to their land far away or near. But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.’ If they turn to you with their whole heart and soul in the land of their enemies and pray toward the land you gave to their ancestors—toward this city you have chosen, and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name—then hear their prayers and their petition from heaven where you live, and uphold their cause. (1 Kings 8:46–49)
God is concerned about our hearts. Our hearts of repentance. Our compassionate hearts that are quick to forgive, because He has forgiven us. Our hearts that hunger and thirst to love and follow the Lord more than the desire to feed vendettas.
God, who allowed His own Son to endure the worst torture so that we would be granted mercy and forgiveness, calls us all to the same forgiveness.
What has been done to you must be released to God. It’s not your battle to fight any longer.
Perhaps your IMPOSSIBLE is believing we have just cause to cling to what God wants us to release. Sometimes we need something to remind us that God is for us, not against us; that He alone can achieve what we cannot do for ourselves.
We need to remember that healing comes when we let go and wait and obey. Sometimes, circumstances in life are so big, so deep, and so painful that only God can get us through. Sometimes we need to be told that what we are called to do in our humanity is impossible without God.
I have a list of people and circumstances I’m working through a process for forgiving and letting go. It will take time in His Word and stillness in His presence for me to hear God’s comforting voice and begin to experience His healing care. It will for you too.
But examine the alternative: how do you want to live, and how do you want to be remembered? How’s your heart?
Let Me Hear from You
Who is someone you struggle to forgive? Let’s work on this together.
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