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Being Formed in Forgiveness

Perhaps no issue more quickly assesses the true state of our spiritual formation in Christ than how we respond to being sinned against. Forgiveness becomes concrete when we talk about how we deal with anger. How do you deal with your anger? Maybe a rude driver on the road cuts you off, Someone steals your credit card, A friend criticizes you, A family member continually mistreats you.

Most of us know that as Christians we should forgive in these cases. However, we may need to clear up some misconceptions so that our forgiveness will be genuine and result in healing for us and release for our offenders. “Forgive and forget,” some say, but forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about not being resentful, but you can remember and not hold onto anger. It’s important that we remember our experiences in life so that we can learn from them.

“Just let it go to God and move on,” is a common approach. This advice may work for minor offences, but to attempt to overlook deep wounds and repeated violations is denial. If forgiveness is to be real then it has to be honest about the violation against you that needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness in these cases is a process of working through hurt, anger, and other feelings. “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there” (Jeremiah 6:14, LB).

“I’ll forgive when…” It’s easy to think that until your offender apologizes or stops mistreating you that you don’t need to forgive. It doesn’t work that way; forgiveness is a gift of mercy. No one deserves to be forgiven! The only way to forgive is to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). By appreciating how fortunate you are that God has forgiven you of your sins then you are helped to share that forgiveness with the one who has sinned against you. “I can’t forgive,” some believe, “it’s not a safe relationship for me.” But this thinking confuses forgiveness and reconciliation. If you’ve been abused and are vulnerable to be re-injured then indeed you need boundaries to protect yourself. At the same time, you can learn to release your offender to God’s justice, refusing to hold onto a posture of angry judgment.

I’ve found that the acid test for whether or not I’ve forgiven someone is if instead of holding onto anger at those who sin against me I can pray for and sincerely desire God’s blessings on that person. Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27-28). We can’t do this by gritting our teeth and forcing it!

How do we learn to forgive and bless the one who curses us? “Train yourselves to be godly” Paul answers (1 Timothy 4:7). We each need to grow in grace to become the kind of person who, like God, forgives. We need to be formed in God’s forgiveness through a heart connection to God’s favor in which we’re thankful that God has blessed us though we don’t deserve it and his blessings are flowing through us to others. Then we can offer the gift of his mercy to those who sin against us, even if in some cases it takes some time to pray our way to that point.

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Whatever Happened to Sin?

(Adapted from Healing Care, Healing Prayer by Terry Wardle)

Dysfunctional behaviors are largely rooted in deep pain and unaddressed needs. We must also accept that much of our unhealthy behavior is at some level symptomatic of horrible wounding and loss, suffered at the hands of others &/or tied to harsh life events.

But, it is also important for us to consider that our dysfunctional behaviors must be identified for what they are: sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in our lives. Whenever we kill pain and try to meet needs in unhealthy ways, we are falling short of God’s desire for us. And the simple definition of that set of choices is sin. Failure to identify this truth takes away the personal responsibility for our actions that we must accept. Even when we are in pain or facing a genuine need, choosing to address it in a way that is hurtful to ourselves or to others is a sinful response. The presence of underlying wounds does not absolve us from responsibility for the unhealthy choices we make. Having been wounded by others does not give us the right to react in a way that wounds anyone else, even ourselves. Sin must be recognized and dealt with before the Lord as an integral part of the inner healing process.

We need to be overwhelmed by God’s good grace and experience His unbelievable acceptance, forgiveness, and hope in the midst of our own problems. However, the starting place for experiencing His matchless grace is recognizing why we need His mercy in the first place. We are like straying sheep, wandering away from God’s best, feeding in places that ultimately lead to our own destruction. Many times this happens because we do not know better. At other times we make bad choices consciously, either unconcerned or unconvinced that the consequences are really that serious or sinful. But they are, and there is no responsible way to detour around that reality on the path to inner healing.

What precisely is sin? It is a transgression of the law of God: disobedience of the divine will; moral failure. Sin is failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances. In other words, sin is the failure to live according to what God expects. This involves not doing what God has told us to do, and/or doing what He has expressly forbidden. God has set before us a standard of character and behavior and to fall short of that is to miss God’s mark. And to miss the mark is to sin. Dysfunctional behaviors aimed at killing pain or meeting needs in unhealthy ways do in fact miss the mark.

The Words of Jesus are most helpful and pastoral on this topic. He defined the purpose of life as “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). He said that all of the rules and laws contained in the Bible hang on these two commandments (Matt. 22:40). Expanding on an Old Testament text, Jesus was telling all His followers that they are to live according to the rule of love. How does one know what is right and wrong? According to Jesus that is really quite simple. Do what is loving to God, loving to other people and loving toward oneself. Every action that is rooted in the law of love hits the mark of God’s expectation, dead center. Conversely, if any thought or action is not loving toward God, another person, or oneself, it is sinful. Therefore, painkilling and meeting needs in any way that is unloving toward God, hurts another person, or which at any level compromises the well-being of an individual – even ourselves – is sin. For example, let’s look at one’s need to obtain acceptance and worth through performance in light of Jesus’ teaching regarding the law of love. First, by turning to performance in order to gain a sense of worth, I am in fact creating an idol. God has made provision for that need through the work of Christ. To seek worth apart from Him is unloving toward God and clearly misses the mark He set before me. As for others, it is very easy to subconsciously use people to meet my own deep needs. They become an unhealthy means to an end, which devalues and invalidates. That is not loving either. An as for myself, continuing to rely on this behavior is both damaging and depressing.

I believe it helpful to be reminded yet again about the seriousness of sin, as described by Paul. In Romans 6:19-23, Paul writes:

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap from the things that you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wage of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Consider what Paul is saying about sin in this text. First, he repeatedly used the term slavery with reference to sinful actions. Paul was well aware of the practice of slavery and knew its terrible cost. Slaves had no freedom to go where they wanted to go, do what they wanted to do, or become what they wanted to be. They were in bondage, forced to live according to another person’s demands and desires. They were often mistreated, dehumanized and devalued. They had become the property of another, enslaved to spend their lives serving people who had little care or concern for them as human beings.

Sin leads to slavery. When hurting, we have a pain and need deep within that becomes too much to bear alone. Misguided, the thought can come to us to try some way to alleviate the ache inside our souls. Whether out of ignorance or rebellion, we stumble upon a short-term solution to our problem. Initially it is a conscious act that we initiate and control in order to feel better. But over time, the action turns into a habit, less conscious, more impulse driven. Slowly the habit sets deep talons into the flesh of our wounded soul and we become enslaved to a behavior that begins to rip and tear at our life on every level. The behavior has turned into the beast, and we become a slave to sin’s dark design. This slavery is a constant result of sinful choices, and we need to call it the ugly taskmaster that it is.

Paul also challenges us to consider the results of the sins for which we are now ashamed (Rom. 6:21). As broken men and women, we often wear shame like a dead skin that should have been shed long before. It is ugly, heavy and carries with it the most horrible feelings of self-contempt.

Shame has been defined as:  A soul-deep sense that there is something uniquely wrong with me that is not wrong with you or anyone else in the world. Because I am not perfect and problem free, I feel hopelessly, disgustingly different and worth less than other people. I view myself as, literally, worthless. It isn’t that I make a mistake when I make a mistake; I am a mistake when I make a mistake.

This definition cuts to the core of shame’s dark nature. Inevitably, we who are caught in sin wrestle with its suffocating presence. Often that battle occurs in silent hiding because we don’t want others to see what we live with day in and day out. While sinful choices seem at first to offer some relief to deep need, in the end they bring a covering of shame that only heightens an already difficult inner battle.

Paul does not end there, but speaks to a third consequence of sin: death. He says quite clearly that the ultimate and most devastating consequence of missing God’s mark is destruction. Paraphrasing his words, “death is the final payoff of sin” (Rom. 6:23). Enslavement to dysfunctional behaviors has the potential to emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and at times, physically kill. Though we may think such choices are harmless, long-term bondage rips and tears at us until we begin to die deep within our souls. It is often a slow demise, as dark forces, bit by bit, steal the life that God intended for us.

Given this reality of sin and its deep and devastating consequences in our lives, there is good news that has come to us through Jesus Christ. God the Father’s unconditional gift of love, Jesus Christ, has provided a way for us to be free from sin and its devastating consequences. Through the Cross, each of us has the opportunity to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Sinful choices need no longer plague us with slavery, shame, and death. Jesus gave His Life so that all who believe can be saved. And that salvation definitely includes the element of healing, reconnecting lost people with God, and empowering them to move forward in spite of the past, present, or future in the Power of the Spirit.

The Apostle Paul has clearly revealed all that is possible for us in our brokenness because of the Work of Jesus on Calvary. In Colossians he wrote:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

To call this good news is an understatement. As Christians, we have been forgiven all our sins. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law and paid for sin at the cross. Through His shed blood, Jesus has disarmed all the dark forces aligned against us, giving us authority by His powerful Name to defeat our evil foe. Because of this, we are now alive with Jesus, held securely in His eternal embrace.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul assures believers that they receive every blessing they need through Christ, and that even as they struggle, Jesus has made a way for them to be holy and blameless in God’s sight (Eph. 1:3, 4). He assures us that, as Christians, through Christ we are sons and daughters of God, recipients of great gifts, redeemed by His blood, and heirs to glorious riches of God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-8). And let there be no question about the grace-based faith that Paul declares. All of this comes, not because someone has worked hard or lived right, but as gifts, freely given to all who believe in the wonderful work that Jesus did on the Cross. They are not, according to Paul, given stingily, but instead lavished upon those whom God calls into His eternal family (Eph. 1:8).

Sometimes we come fearing the Lord’s rejection and punishment for what we have been doing. Granted, we must know that our choices are sinful and ultimately destructive. But we must also remember God’s steadfast love and acceptance in spite of our actions. He has no punishment left for us, having poured it out upon Jesus who died on our behalf. No behaviors could qualify us for God’s love, and none can cause Him to stop loving His own. He looks toward our brokenness with Divine compassion and understanding. While He in no way minimizes sin, God offers us the power to be set free and thoroughly forgiven. He longs to love and touch His sinful, wounded children.

We need to hear that nothing can separate us from His love, and that even on our worst day, He is thoroughly crazy about us. God rejoices as we turn home. He meets us long before we expect Him to be there. He welcomes us with great joy and provides the healing we need. As he calls us to set aside our painkillers and dysfunctional behaviors, He opens the way for us to have our deepest needs met in Him. And where pain continues to be present, He comes to strengthen and equip us to move forward in the Power of His enabling grace. So, while on the one hand, we need to see the seriousness of sinful choices, on the other, we need to see the matchless love of the God who desires to free us from all that is dark and evil.

In a practical way, how do we seriously deal with both known, unresolved, and unknown sin?

1) First, I need to meet God in prayer and ask Him to define obvious, known areas where there are sinful responses to pain and unmet needs in my life. I need to be open and honest before the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to show me where I have gone astray. I need to see my life from His point of view. Prayer-time like this may take place over days, weeks, and even months.

2) Next, I must spend time in prayer to seek the Lord regarding unresolved past sin. As a believer, it is a fact that all my past sin has been forgiven by Christ. But, even though I may have moved away from certain sinful behaviors, I may have done so without ever dealing with them before the Lord. Not only is that a matter of confession, but also an issue of closing the door completely on what has happened.

3) Finally, I must pray about unknown sin. I must seek the Lord and be open to the Spirit’s work of convincing, convicting, and revealing what I am not aware of.

As the Lord begins to reveal, define, and remind me of thoughts and behaviors He wants me to bring to Him, I can follow the following steps:

*Recognize. I acknowledge and admit that specific choices and actions that the Holy Spirit has identified are sinful. I declare to the Lord the destructive results and all that these actions have cost, and I admit that these short-term solutions bring long-lasting devastation to my life. I lay before the Lord all the ugliness that I feel, have done, have failed to do, whatever.

*Repent. I choose to tell God that I want to turn away from these sins and turn toward Him for help and healing. I invite Him to do whatever He must do in my life to break me free of what enslaves me. I tell Him that I can ask Him to this because I believe He will only do what is Good, Loving, Just, Wise, and Best regardless how I feel about it.

*Renounce. Sinful choices open the door for the oppressive and harassing work of the evil one. I tell the Lord that I choose to renounce any involvement the evil one may have in my problems, and that I desire to bring myself and my problems entirely under the Lordship of Christ. I ask the Lord to demolish any strongholds to which I have, in any way, given myself over to resulting in slavery and bondage. I further state that I desire only to be enslaved to Jesus Christ.

*Receive. I allow myself to freely (and even audibly) accept the forgiveness and cleansing that is mine in Jesus Christ. I ask the Lord to give me the emotions He wants me to accurately experience that represent the cleansing He has released within me.

*Realign. I seek the Lord’s help to have the desire and ability to make specific changes in my lifestyle related to the sin I am confessing. Also, I ask the Lord to empower me to look to Him as the Strength of my life and the true Source of all that I need.

*Rejoice. I ask the Lord to enable me to praise Him. I seek to have His ability to wait on His timing to bring solutions to my problems in the way He knows is best. I also ask for the supernatural ability to continue to trust in Him and praise Him no matter how differently He answers my prayers, or even if He should not answer them at all. As bad as I want answers to my problems, I ask for His help to be able to love Him, trust Him, and praise Him even more than I want answers to any of my requests.

Father, Forgive Them

(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 8)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus consistently stressed that as God has forgiven us, we in turn ought to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught us to say: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).

On another occasion, He commanded His disciples, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (Mark 11:25). When Peter inquired how many times He was obligated to forgive, Jesus insisted, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He then told a story about an unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34). Although his master had forgiven his immense debt, the servant refused to forgive a minor amount owed to him by a fellow servant. When the master found out what the servant had done, he had the servant thrown in jail. Jesus warned His disciples, “So, my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Jesus not only consistently preached radically extending forgiveness to others, He also practiced it. And He practiced it when it was incomprehensibly difficult – as He was hanging on a cross. The victim of gross injustice, His body wracked with pain, the vicious taunts of His enemies ringing in His ears, He gathered His strength and cried out, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,”

The Christian imperative to forgive those who have inflicted pain on us is a call to imitate Jesus. However, we are not called to imitate Christ in our own strength. We discover that as we will to forgive, He imparts His strength to us.

The Process of Forgiveness

I cannot overemphasize the importance of forgiveness in the healing of human hurts. Forgiveness unlocks the door to healing, restoration, freedom and renewal. Until we open that door, we will remain stuck in the past, destined to carry the hurt and burden forever without hope of a restored heart or a renewed future. There is no greater blockage to a person’s receiving healing from God than that person’s refusal to forgive others. We will never find healing for our hurts until, like Jesus, we say, “Father, forgive them.”

What then does true forgiveness – Jesus called it forgiving “from the heart (Matthew 18:35) – involve?

1. Facing the facts. Forgiveness begins when we are ruthlessly honest about what was done to us. We don’t cover up what happened, explain it away, blame ourselves or make excuses for the other person. Squarely and realistically, we face the truth: “I was violated and sinned against. I was hurt. What they did was wrong.” Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and, nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. In facing the facts, it is important to be specific. General acknowledgments of wrong followed by sweeping generalizations of forgiveness won’t do. For many, the first step in forgiving will involve getting out of denial. Truth can be hard to bear, and at times, we will go to great lengths to avoid it. Forgiveness begins by acknowledging the nails in our hearts hammered in by the actions of others and looking at them intently.

2. Feeling the hurt. Forgiveness begins with facing the facts but then goes further. More than “just the facts,” we must connect with the feelings bound up with the facts – feelings like rejection, loneliness, fear, anger, shame and depression that still reverberate in us today. For many of us, the emotions of past hurts are so painful and threatening we have simply disconnected from them. And so we have to persistently ask, “What was I feeling when that happened to me?” Answering that question can be extremely difficult. No one wants to reexperience such unpleasant feelings. Better then to deny them, it seems, or sweep them under the rug. But we can’t reach the threshold of forgiveness until we recover, at least in some measure, the feelings bound up with the painful facts.

3. Confronting our hate. Forgiving involves letting go of hatred or resentment toward the persons who have wounded us. But again, before we can let go of something, we have to acknowledge it’s there. We must admit we resent those who wronged us, for a part of us hates them for what they did. Forgiveness is not blaming ourselves for what happened. We may not be completely innocent, but what our victimizers did was unjustifiable. They are to blame for our pain, and there is a part of us that hates them for it. Forgiveness requires the courage to confront our hatred.

4. Bearing the pain. When others have wronged us, there is a demanding voice within us that cries out, “What they did isn’t right. They ought to pay for what they’ve done.” This is a God-given voice. The desire to see justice in our own – and all – relationships has been planted in our hearts by God. So, when we forgive, do we ignore the divinely implanted desire for justice and set it aside? No. The sin, the injustice, must be taken seriously. But instead of achieving justice by insisting the guilty party pay for the wrong, we choose to pay ourselves. Though innocent, we choose to bear the pain of the injustice. In forgiveness, as the Scripture says, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). It triumphs, however, not by ignoring judgment, but by bearing it. Whenever we forgive, we bear pain. That’s why forgiveness is always costly.

The ultimate example of the costliness of forgiveness is the cross of Christ. The Scripture says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (I Peter 2:24). He took on Himself the guilt, punishment and shame of our sins. We deserved to suffer for them but instead, God in Christ carried them in His own being. God did not overlook our sins or pretend they didn’t matter but bore the pain and the judgment Himself. Christ, the Judge, allowed Himself to be judged in our place. To a much lesser degree, whenever we forgive others, we do the same thing: we take the punishment they deserve, absorbing it ourselves. We bear the pain.

5. Releasing those who have wronged us. Although forgiveness does not set aside the demands of justice, it still seems to run cross-grain to our natural sense of fair play. In part, our anger and resentment is our way of regaining control of an unfair situation and getting back at the persons who have wronged us. It’s our attempt to even the score. But forgiving means releasing our offenders and turning them over to God. It’s saying, “I know what they’ve done and I feel the pain of it, but I choose not to be the one who determines what is justice for them.” When we forgive we relinquish the roles of judge, jury and executioner and turn them over to God. When we forgive, we relinquish control of the persons who have wronged us. We quit playing God in their lives. No longer will we determine what is just for them or make sure they get what they deserve. Thus, forgiveness is an act of faith. We turn the ones who have wronged us over to God. We entrust them to God, saying, “Vengeance is not mine, but Thine alone.” And like all faith acts, forgiveness contains an element of risk. What if God doesn’t get even with those who have wronged us? What if God chooses to extend mercy to them?

By giving the people who have wronged us over to God, we also give ourselves to God. Parts of ourselves we have been holding are now entrusted to Him. No wonder there is such healing power in forgiveness. When we release others and ourselves to God, we give up control, and then His Presence and Power are released to us. Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us constitute the heart of forgiveness. But I want to emphasize that forgiveness doesn’t ignore or set aside the demands of justice. One might conclude that when we forgive, we refrain from any effort to hold those who have wronged us accountable for their behavior, leaving that totally up to God and to others. However, that simply is not true. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerating injustice. “Unfruitful works of darkness” should be exposed (Ephesians 5:11). Actions have consequences that evildoers must be forced to accept. When crimes have been committed, offenders should be turned over to the judicial system.

Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us have to do with our attitudes toward those who have wronged us; seeking justice has to do with our actions toward them. These attitudes and actions are not opposed to each other. In fact, practicing forgiveness and promoting justice go hand in hand. Having made a decision to forgive, our concern in promoting justice is not to avenge ourselves or destroy our offenders but to protect ourselves and others in the community from future injury at the offender’s hands. Furthermore, by insisting that offenders be held accountable for their actions, we are actually extending grace to them by offering them an opportunity to face the truth about themselves, admit their wrongdoing and turn from their wicked ways.

6. Assuming responsibility for ourselves. As long as we blame others for our problems, we don’t have to take responsibility for ourselves; they’re on the hook. By releasing them, however, we let them off the hook. Now, we’re on the hook. We must take responsibility and can no longer make excuses for ourselves. Often people hesitate when challenged to forgive because instinctively they know that if they do, they will have no one to blame for their predicament. Unfortunately, we live in a culture of victimization that encourages us to play the blame game. For many of us, portraying oneself as a victim has become an attractive pastime. Forgiveness strikes a blow at the root of one’s victim status. We may have been a victim, but we’re not stuck there. By taking responsibility for ourselves, we declare that what happened doesn’t define who we are. We have an identity apart from our pain. That can be risky and frightening, of course. We may have grown to depend on our excuses and become comfortable with our victim identity. Losing an enemy whom we can resent and blame may disturb us more than losing a friend. We may be meeting needs by our holding on to our pain and resentment.

Yet how liberating it is when, by forgiving, we do accept responsibility for ourselves. The persons who have hurt us no longer exercise control over our lives. When we forgive we not only release them, we also release ourselves from them and set ourselves free to determine our destiny apart from our wounds.

7. Longing for reconciliation. The ultimate goal and purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, or the restoration and renewal of broken relationships. Thus, forgiveness is not only about letting go of bitterness and revoking revenge. It is about the coming together of persons who have been alienated from each other. From a Christian perspective, forgiving simply so I can get my hurts healed and get on with my life doesn’t go far enough.

Of course, the nature and extent of reconciliation depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is the offender’s willingness to be reconciled with us and to take the costly action necessary for its accomplishment. In many instances we won’t be able to achieve the measure of reconciliation we desire. What do we do, for instance, when the offender refuses to be reconciled with us or persists in offensive behavior? On occasion we will have to settle for less than the best. Still, forgiveness ought to put within us a longing for reconciliation. At first we may grudgingly say, “I’ll forgive them, but I don’t want to have anything to do with them ever again.” And that may be a sufficient place to start. But as forgiveness does its work, it will change our attitude. We will begin to see our offenders through eyes of compassion. One day we will even find ourselves wishing good for them. Our longing for a reconciled relationship may so intensify that we grieve when it fails to work out.

The process of forgiving someone who has wronged us brings us once again to the Cross of Christ. As we stand at the cross, we must remember that initially forgiveness is more about a decision than an emotion. First and foremost, it is a matter of the will. We come to a place where we choose to forgive. We might be struggling with negative feelings toward those who have hurt us, and we may continue to do so for a considerable time. What is most important at first is our willingness. In forgiving, we send our will ahead by express; our emotions generally come later by slow freight.

But what if we are unwilling to forgive? The hurt is so great, the anger and resentment so intense that nothing within us wants to let go of it. Then we should pray, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.” As a Puritan preacher once advised, “If you can’t come to God with a broken heart, come to God for one.” So if you can’t come to the cross with a willing heart to forgive, come there for one.

On the cross, if Jesus bore both the wrongs done to Him and the wrongs done to us, then when He cried, “Father, forgive them,” could it be he was offering forgiveness not only to those who had wronged Him but also to those who have wronged us? If that is true, then in effect, Jesus has already extended forgiveness to the persons for what they did to us. So if we can’t will to forgive them, we can pray, “Jesus, You live in me. Therefore speak the words in me and through me. Help me to join you in saying, ‘Father, forgive them.’ Even though I can’t speak them myself, I can at least allow You to speak them in me.

We obtain grace in His Presence to release resentment and revenge. As we wait at the cross, Jesus will speak the forgiving words in us. The healing of our hurts and the transformation of our feelings toward those who have wounded us can then really begin. But often this part of the forgiveness process happens slowly – layer by layer. Sometimes after making the decision to forgive, our negative feelings toward the person actually intensify. Repressed emotions surface. Anger may burn more hotly than ever. Or we find ourselves overwhelmed with sadness. Choosing to forgive may cause the pain to intensify. Now that the lid is off, we begin remembering hurtful incidents. Agonizing pictures flood our minds. Old wounds open up all over again. We seem to be going backward, getting worse rather than better.

At this point, we may be tempted to think, I haven’t really forgiven so-and-so. If I had, I wouldn’t be experiencing such intense pain and resentment. The truth is, forgiveness is both a crisis (a definite decision) and a process (releasing hurt and resentment and receiving healing at ever-deepening levels). We have made the decision to forgive, but we are still engaged in the process where many emotional twists and turns lurk along the way. So we don’t need to start over. We simply need to reaffirm our will to forgive, asking the Lord to deepen it. We must also continue to offer our hurtful and hateful feelings to God, praying, “Lord, heal the hurt and cleanse the hate.” As we do, we discover that God, who has begun this good work in us, is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). But the healing and cleansing of our hearts is not a one-shot deal. In the crisis of a moment we can will to forgive, but working through our hurt and bitterness happens slowly. We may even find Jesus’ charge to forgive “not seven times, but, �. seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22) applying to the same offense. At the cross, however, grace awaits to see it through, to finish the good work of forgiveness begun in us.

Do you need grace to begin the process of forgiving someone who has wronged and wounded you? Do you need grace to continue as you struggle with feelings of hurt and bitterness? Come to the Cross. It is the Place to remember how we have been forgiven. It is the Place to forgive. Listen to Jesus as He says, “Father, forgive them.” He not only is asking the Father for forgiveness for those who have wronged and hurt us, but He is also asking for forgiveness for you and me.

Taking Captivity Captive

(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 5)

Recurring themes run through the stories of us all. We are certainly a fallen people that live in a fallen world. We sin. We are affected by the sins of others. The world system is evil. The Enemy of our souls seeks our destruction. And, yet, we are not without Hope.

These themes can be labeled as: 1) Compassion Deficits; 2) Behavioral Narcotics; 3) The Two Selves.

Compassion deficits result when compassion and unconditional love are in short supply especially during our early formative years. These deficits can be devastating; not being loved enough damages one’s soul. We somehow keep going, but how do we cope with the pain and emptiness? The answer is that we turn to “behavioral narcotics.” We rely on them as pain relievers for compassion deficits and anesthetics for a lack of unconditional love. For some, the narcotics are actual chemical substances like drugs or alcohol. But for many, the narcotics are not chemical at all but are “patterns and habits of behavior, relating, or coping. These include:

* Habits of workaholism – filling the mind so full of thoughts, dreams, and activities of success that there is little room left to feel pain caused by irrational, underlying feelings of inadequacy.
* Habits of control – constantly striving to maintain control of others, making their will the servants of our own, and binding the hands we secretly fear will strike us.
* Habits of people pleasing – constantly monitoring what others expect from us so that we can avoid the pain of their rejection by minimizing its likelihood, becoming in the process slaves of our servanthood.
* Habits of dependency – always surrendering our will to the will of another (even to God) for reasons of fear and self-diagnosed inadequacy, instead of enjoying the freedom to follow the advice of love.
* Habits of perfectionism – wearing the mask of perfection and rightness to cover inner turmoil and ambiguity.
* Habits of escape – taking emotional vacations from pain through the use of alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive patterns of pain-delaying behavior.

Such behavioral narcotics may temporarily deaden the pain of compassion deficits, but they can’t provide permanent relief because they don’t go to the heart of the problem. As false substitutes, they also keep us from experiencing love and intimacy.

Considering the “two selves,” there are always two “people” within us, and they are battling for occupancy. The false self and the true self vie for the throne of our lives. The false self wants to remain in control. Its antidote for the agony of compassion deficits is always the same: “Turn to behavioral narcotics you are familiar with, and at all costs, stay in control.” The true self, however, desires more. It wants to restore the rightful order and to assume its proper identity. When the true self reigns, love is king. Its rightful reign is the only true solution to compassion deficits and the substance abuse problem of behavioral narcotics.

To numb the pain of compassion deficits and find substitutes for unconditional love, many have fallen into unhealthy behavioral and relational habit patterns. In fact, for so many, these patterns assume a life of their own. When they become compulsive, unmanageable and out of control, we label them as addictions. Experts agree that significant compassion deficits resulting from an unhealthy family life and personal trauma are the root of addiction. During childhood, the needs for intimacy, identity, and adequacy are largely unmet. In fact, adult addicts have been described as “essentially children hiding out in grown-up bodies, hungrily seeking parents to love them unconditionally.”

Out of this addictive root, an addictive mindset develops, revolving around the core beliefs to which addicts usually subscribe:
* I am essentially a bad, worthless person and therefore undeserving of love.
* No one would love me if they really knew me.
* If I don’t meet my needs, they will never get met.

All three of these core beliefs directly contradict the Bible’s revelation of God’s evaluation of us. We are deeply loved by God. When at our worst – hostile, rebellious sinners – God loved us the most. Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates our inestimable worth to God and the extent of his love. And Paul boldly affirms in Philippians 4:19, “My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

In addition to fostering an addictive mindset, compassion deficits also fuel anger. Behind the addict’s smiling face stands a person who is bitter and judgmental.

Prompted by their core beliefs and fueled by anger over unmet needs, addicts choose to listen to the voice of the false self. No longer do they depend on others to meet their needs, for when they have in the past, they felt powerless and out of control. Instead, they look out for themselves; they seek power and control by taking charge.

Lacking love and intimacy from significant others in their family, addicts turn to substitutes such as drugs, alcohol, spending, gambling, romance, work, food, or relationships to dull the pain and fill the void. At first these substitutes seem to work. They offer “relief” and a pleasurable “high.” They reinforce the lie, “I really don’t need anybody; I can take care of myself. I’m the master of the universe.”

Instead of depending on others or God to meet their needs, addicts learn to depend on their substitutes. Having turned to their substitutes for power and control, eventually they become enslaved to them and, ironically, once again stand powerless and out of control.

When does something that may have functioned as a behavioral narcotic turn into an addiction? The presence of the following characteristics indicates that a behavioral narcotic has become an addiction:

1. Tolerance. Addicts continually need more of the behavioral narcotic to feel satisfied. Their system develops a tolerance for the behavior or substance, thus diminishing its desired effect. Hence it takes more and more to get the pain relief or the pleasure they need.

2. Withdrawal symptoms. When addicts are deprived of their behavioral narcotic, their system responds in two ways. First, there is a physical and emotional stress reaction as the system cries out for the narcotic. Then there is a backlash reaction marked by the exact opposite symptoms of those caused by the addictive behavioral narcotic itself.

3. Self-deceptions. Addicts go to great lengths to justify their behavior and to convince themselves they are still in control. They are masters of mental trickery, adept at denial, rationalization and various other defense mechanisms.

4. Loss of willpower. Despite their firm resolutions, addicts can’t stop the addictive behavior because their will is divided. Although one part sincerely desires to quit, another part tenaciously clings to the addiction. Their determination to quit is always short-lived.

5. Distortion of attention. Addicts become so preoccupied with the object of their addiction, they are unable to fix their attention or love on anything else. The particular object has become their ultimate concern; it is their god. Idolatry is present in every addiction.

The litmus test for whether a person suffers from an addiction is the absence of freedom -when addictive desires and behaviors have become habitual and compulsive, enslaving the addict. Their wills are bound. They cannot stop. Having exchanged the truth for a lie, they have been given over to their addictive thoughts, their lust and desires, and the idolatry of their false gods (Romans 1:25-28).

Powerless – describes the addict best. By turning away from God and others and turning to substitutes for unconditional love, addicts hope to gain power and control over their lives. Yet in the end they are powerless, slaves to the very substitutes they thought would free them.

What does the Cross say to those shackled by the chains of addictions? First, we must admit we are powerless over our addictions. Jesus won victory over sin, death, and the devil by becoming powerless. He overcame not by launching an all-out frontal attack on his adversaries or by beating them at their own game but through the power of suffering love. He chose the way of forgiveness, not retaliation; meekness, not self-assertion. He took everything the powers of evil could throw at him yet remained free, uncontaminated, uncompromised. The devil could gain no hold on him and therefore had to concede defeat. Now the tables have been turned. Death is under His feet; so are the devil and all dark powers. “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive” (Ephesians 4:8).

We will never overcome our addiction until we realize and confess we are powerless. We are not in control; we are not the master of the universe. We can’t quit anytime we please. Our willpower is no match for the power of our addictions. The only power we have is the power to admit we are powerless. Only by confessing our absolute weakness will we find strength to overcome.

Pierre D’Harcourt, who was in the French underground during World War II, discovered this principle of power through powerlessness when he was captured by the Nazis. He was thrown into a prison and handcuffed to the iron frame of the bed. The first hour in his cell was one of the worst in his life. As he lay on his bed feeling utterly alone and hopeless, he turned his face to God and cried out for help.

Beneath everything, beyond everything, I felt myself humiliated and defeated. I knew I must make the gesture of complete humility by offering to God all that I had suffered. I must not only have the courage to accept the suffering He had sent me; I must also thank Him for it, for the opportunity He gave me to find at last His truth and love. Then the inspiration came to me to kiss the chains that held me prisoner, and with much difficulty I at last managed to do this. Once my lips touched the steel I was freed from the terror that possessed me. In the blackness of that night my faith gave me light.

To be set free from the bondage of addiction, we too must discover this liberating principle. Instead of fighting the chains of our addiction, let’s kiss them and acknowledge our powerlessness. We cannot deny or despair over it but must rather embrace it. Our honest acceptance is the first gigantic step on the path to freedom.

Next, in our powerlessness we must cry out to Jesus, for his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our powerlessness releases His power. The Lord can break the chains of our addictions. So we must call on Him to deliver us and give Him permission to do anything necessary to set us free.

Finally, in our powerlessness we must reach out to others for help. Make no mistake, achieving freedom from addiction will involve a long, difficult process. To break an addictive behavior cycle alone is a major accomplishment, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. We still must deal with an addictive mindset (the lies we have believed about ourselves) and an addictive root (our wounds and compassion deficits). A determined, personal commitment to change coupled with involvement with others in a recovery program and group support, individual counseling and spiritual disciplines (such as worship, bible study, prayer, meditation, service) are necessary to reach that goal.

My Lord, Jesus, I’m in trouble. I see no way out. I am miserable. I am held totally captive by _________________. It masters me, my life, and all I hold important and dear. It is destroying me and everything of value to me. I don’t understand all the complexity about how I got here, and I can’t honestly see a way to freedom. But, I know that You can somehow lead me to freedom and break the bondage I am in. I admit that I need You so much more than I have ever allowed myself to realize. I admit that I have let _________________ become my god. I am guilty of idolatry. I have turned to it instead of turning to You in the way You require. I admit I want to let go of ______________, and at the same time, I am scared to turn it loose. I can’t even say that I know how to trust You, nor that I really believe You will supply all my needs. But, You are all that I have. You are my only Hope. You offer the only possibility of healing, health, holiness, freedom, and restoration for me. You, Lord, will have to give me the ability to trust you and exercise my faith in You. Make me willing for you to do anything that You know is necessary in my life to break this bondage. With fear and trembling, I do invite you and give you permission to have complete freedom to do whatever You have to do. Help me to trust in Your Goodness to do only what is right and best for me. Help me to even see Your Sovereignty and Wisdom in the way that you have allowed me to suffer with ____________________. Although I hate what I am experiencing, I give You thanks for the way you use even this terrible stuff in my life to make me the person You want me to be. Forgive me! Continue to cleanse me! Heal me! Restore me! Bring me to an end of myself so I can have a new, fresh beginning with You! Thank You, Lord Jesus!

The Inward Journey Begins

(Adapted from Healing Care, Healing Prayer by Terry Wardle)

What do we need in order to realize our full potential as a human being and walk successfully through life? What special endowments must we have to experience the wholeness and well-being that God designed for us? Parents and significant others are to be instruments of the Lord, helping us become all that God intended, teaching us to rest secure in our identity as His child. Parents and significant others are supposed to provide us:

*A safe and secure environment
*Constant reinforcement of personal worth
*Repeated messages that we are valued, unique, and special
*Unconditional love and acceptance
*Basic care and nurture
*Encouragement to grow and develop personal gifts and talents
*A pathway to fellowship with God

These important people in our lives were meant to love, cherish, nurture and believe in us. They were to delight in us and be thrilled to see the beautiful human being God created. They were each meant to recognize and rejoice in our unique gifts, listen to and value our opinions, and encourage us to fulfill all the special dreams dancing in our heart. When we failed they were to look beneath the mistake and affirm the wonder that we truly are to them. Their arms were to be a safe place for us to grow, a hiding place against the slings and arrows of a hostile world.

But what if some of these endowments were never given to us? What if part of what we needed was stolen by insensitive or uncaring people? What if the one called to love us, ignored or abandoned us? What is a loved one gave us far more criticism than love, shame and blame instead of nurture and encouragement? What if our opinions were ridiculed, dreams ignored or gifts and talents rejected? What if we turned to a loved one for affirmation and acceptance, but instead were sexually abused. The affect of such things would surely have compromised our ability to function in life appropriately.

The pain is great when part of the treasure that was meant to empower us for life is stolen. Rather than moving into life fully equipped to succeed and experience abundance, we feel empty and insecure. We struggle with deep despair and humiliation, and wear the shame of brokenness like a coat made of iron. We feel fear so powerfully that we want to run away as fast as possible. The constant gnawing deep within threatens to undo us, and no matter where we go or whom we are with, we feel unsafe. There might be days when dark clouds settle in, bringing a debilitating depression that feels cold and endless. Instead of believing that life makes sense, we feel confused and constantly at risk.

From whatever the source, deep wounds impact what we believe about ourselves and our world. The experience of insensitivity and abuse, especially at an early age, can lead to seriously distorted thinking. This is particularly true when the adults who are called to care for us actually injure us. As a child, we are far too young to process all that happens, and there is nowhere to turn for help. Strong emotions lead us to draw conclusions about life based on what we have seen or experienced. Granted, our assumptions may rest more on feeling than rational thinking, but a very strong belief system gets formed just the same. These values and judgments are often shaped subconsciously, empowered by negative feelings that drive us to act in unhealthy ways. Unchallenged, they will continue to operate into adult life.

Being wounded, we may intuitively conclude that we are now damaged goods, unattractive and worthy of rejection. We might believe that if people knew what had happened in our lives, they would make fun of us, or worse, injure us even more. We may easily presume that all people are unsafe and out to get us whenever possible. We may even assume that God is not there for us, allowing bad people to hurt us without care or concern. We might believe that all the loss we have experienced was somehow our fault, that we are bad and out of control. Possibly we could think that we are all alone to provide and care for ourselves. Or we may conclude that we are powerless victims, destined to limp through life, able to receive crumbs to exist, but never food enough to truly thrive.

The deep pain and the distorted belief system lead us to react in destructive ways. We develop a multi-layered coping system not even aware of the relationship between our reactions and the deep loss. In childhood this unconscious strategy may have helped us survive. But as an adult what once served to enable us only further compromises our emotional and mental health. The undressed wound hidden beneath the layers continues to eat away at the core of our inner being. And the older we become, the more difficult it may be to see the connection between certain unhealthy behaviors and deep loss. Just the same, a cause and effect relationship does exist, and it must be identified and acknowledged on the journey toward personal well-being.

The Pain Layer

The first layer of the coping system represents our reaction to pain. Stolen treasures and broken dreams do not happen without great physical and emotional agony. Abuse and abandonment, regardless of the form they take, pierce to the most tender and sensitive places in the human soul. Although the initial hurt seems unbearable, the chronic pain threatens to undo us long after the wounding occurred. How do we attempt to silence the pain? Consider the following list of possibilities:

Dissociation – food – sexual addictions – gambling – work – shopping – sleeping – alcohol – drugs – religion – television – exercising – tobacco – recreation

Any one or combination of these could temporarily anesthetize chronic pain. But they do not address the deep wound that generated the hurt in the first place. The relief seems to be a welcome alternative to the daily agony of deep hurt. In fact we initially seem to feel and function better. However, years of inattention to the wounds deep within simply intensifies the inner agony. And over time a person develops a tolerance for the “drug” of choice. This usually results in the need for higher doses or a change to more powerful pain killers. The cycle that results is very destructive. Eventually both the original wounding and the painkillers of choice exact a grave toll on our emotions, body and relationships

The Protective Layer

The next layer of defense is a wall of protection. When we are significantly hurt, the pain and trauma of that wounding motivate us to be much more cautions. We would do most anything to keep from experiencing the anguish a second time. Self-protection is not an improper reaction to the threat of wounding. It is quite healthy to learn to set appropriate boundaries with people. We have both the right and obligation to set limits on those who consistently hurt us, be it by intention or insensitivity. No one should be permitted to take or destroy any of the treasures that were intended to help us fulfill life’s dreams. However, many methods of self-protection are actually personally destructive and often harm friends and family as well.

Fearful that we might not be capable of discerning who would or would not bring us harm, we construct shields to keep people at a distance. The underlying wound remains undressed, causing the infection to grow and threaten greater pain. People never really have the opportunity to know us or call forth the wonder that is ours’ in Christ. This self-protection can grow out of embarrassment and shame. The wound not only robs us of some life endowment, it left us believing that we are essentially deformed and unattractive. We can grow fearful that if anyone saw the brokenness and weaknesses that lies within, they would openly reject and ridicule. And so, the walls go up through such reactions as:

Pretense – denial – avoidance – silence – anger – aggression – isolation – shyness – hiding

The Layer of Provision

When part of our well-being has been compromised, the absence creates a noticeable emptiness. In a perfect world, mature adults would step in to provide what primary caregivers neglected to give. They would, with God’s good help, nurture us where once abused, and call forth all that had been forced into hiding. Love, acceptance and affirmation would flow through them to fill the places in us that were robbed. But, this is not a perfect world, and as a wounded person, we seldom experience such gracious infillings from others. And so we begin to provide for ourselves. Unfortunately, what we often turn to gives little more than further pain and heartbreak. Sexual promiscuity might seem to promise acceptance and love, all the while tearing away at the soul and ultimately leaving us more intensely alone in a bed of guilt and shame. We might turn to people pleasing as a pathway to approval, only to discover that we have lost our own identity in the desperate quest to be found acceptable by others. Hungry to feel that we have worth and value, we might embrace some performance addiction. But satisfaction lasts only as long as the applause continues, leaving us alone and frightened when memories of our latest performance fade in people’s minds. We might find a way to grab what we so desperately need, only to watch it turn to dust in our hands. Any of the following could become the substitute for genuine love, acceptance, worth and approval:

Sexual promiscuity – career – academics – fame – control – success – money – athletics – people pleasing – manipulation – popularity – unhealthy relationships

It is obvious that some of these are not in themselves problematic. But whenever we try to fill the internal void with any one of these, we will find that they are far from adequate. Most attempts to do this will fail to meet our deepest needs.

The Punishment Layer

Pain often births an anger that drives us to strike back at the one who has perpetuated the injury. While we may not actually act upon the demand for repayment, the deep feeling is often there. We may have even gone so far as to extend the words of forgiveness to the offender, yet struggle with the desire to punish someone, anyone, for the robbery that left us in such pain. Sometimes, the desire to punish turns inward, causing a reaction of self-hate and self-abuse. We can believe that there must be something personally wrong for such bad things to have happened. Reactions include:

Blame – abusive words – criticism – fantasies of harming someone – aggression – slander – self-contempt – shame – physical abuse – unforgiveness – bitterness – withholding – rejection – self-abuse

Where Do We Go From Here?

We must understand and believe that God wants to meet us at the place of our own deepest pain. Jesus knows the heartache we experience and the unhealthy ways in which we may have tried to deal with the lost treasures of life. The Lord is also well aware that any coping system we may use is ultimately compromising our own well-being. Christ offers a better way. He is willing to help us systematically identify and set aside any multi-layered reaction to deep wounding. The prospect may be frightening and there will be some initial discomfort when painkillers are surrendered to the Lord. Laying aside coping mechanisms may cause us to feel vulnerable and at risk. But through the tender guidance of the Holy Spirit, God will take us back to the loss, meeting us there with great love and care.

God is willing to touch the places where pain gains its power and to bring His healing to bear upon our lives. And most important, He stands ready to replace the stolen treasures and lost endowments with something far greater. He will give us Himself. The fellowship of His Presence will far outweigh the pain of past wounding. Empowered by His Holy Spirit, we will be able to move forward in life to realize more and more our full potential as God’s miraculously endowed child.







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