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Posts tagged ‘Honesty before God’

What You Have to Do Before You Forgive Someone: The Surprising First Step

SOURCE:  Heather Caliri/Relevant Magazine

My grandfather molested my older brother back when all of us were kids.

And not long after I found out, Grandpa died. When I heard the news of his passing, I felt a colossal indifference settle in my chest. I was surprised how much space nothingness takes up. I knew that nothingness is not forgiveness. I knew I was commanded to forgive my grandfather. But for a long time, I did not care.

This year, our grandmother also died. I realized I could not really mourn her passing without figuring out how to feel something about my grandfather. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. We refer to it during the Lord’s Prayer, study the Sermon on the Mount and confess our sins in order to rest in God’s pardon. I used to think I understood forgiveness. I used to think believing in Jesus made forgiveness easy. I imagined forgiveness was an act of will.

I used to think believing in Jesus made forgiveness easy. I imagined forgiveness was an act of will. Instead, I have learned that forgiveness is an undoing.

While I struggled to forgive my grandfather, I read Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms.

Much of the book is devoted to the complaint, or lament psalms, the ones we often avoid or edit because of their violence and bitterness. Brueggemann writes, “The psalms issue a mighty protest and invite us into a more honest facing of the darkness.”

It was in Brueggemann’s book that I started learning a way to forgive my grandfather. It did not involve clichés or forgetting. It lay in lament: a fierce reckoning with what had happened, and how I felt about it.

Brueggemann taught me that without lament, there’s no forgiveness. Here’s why:

Lament Forces Us to Be Honest With God

Psalm 137 starts so prettily—“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept. …” But its ending has a shocking twist: the Psalmist wishes for the deaths of Babylonian infants. Back when I thought I understood forgiveness, I did not know what to make of it.

But I’ve found answers in the book of Daniel. Putting Daniel and Psalm 137 side-by-side, it’s shocking that Daniel chose to be a faithful servant to the empire that decimated his world.

How did Daniel forgive?

I think it’s because his community did not sugarcoat their rage or explain away their bitterness. Instead, they shouted everything at God. As Brueggemann puts it, “What is said to Yahweh may be scandalous … but these speakers are completely committed. … Yahweh is expected and presumed to receive the fullness of Israel’s speech.”

I think the Israelite’s lament helped them surrender their hatred, reconcile with their enemies, achieve positions of influence and sow seeds for their eventual return to the Holy Land.

Lament Ensures We’re Not Deluding Ourselves About the State of Our Hearts

It’s easy to pay lip service to forgiveness when we’re still stuck in indifference. It’s easy to say we’ve forgiven if we haven’t felt our anger.

But if we look at Christ, He raged in the temple and wept by a grave. On the cross, God’s forgiveness was accompanied by tearing, shaking and darkness. It required suffering, torture and anguish.

How could I think forgiveness is ever easy?

In his book, The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender says that smooth, unruffled acceptance is delusion. “For many [Christians], strong feelings are an infrequent, foreign experience. Their inner life is characterized by an inner coolness, bordering on indifference. Unfortunately, this is often mistaken for trust.”

It’s easy to pay lip service to forgiveness when we’re still stuck in indifference. It’s easy to say we’ve forgiven if we haven’t felt our anger.

Lament allows us to unleash our emotions to God so that we can get real about what we actually feel.

Lament Protects Us from Exposing Ourselves to People Who Aren’t Safe

When people hurt us, God commands us to forgive, period. But that doesn’t always mean we reconcile with them. In fact, without repentance, complete reconciliation is unwise.

Lewis B. Smedes put it this way in Forgive and Forget: “Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs.”

Lament is an audit of our heart that gives us clear-eyed understanding. That process of discernment shields our hearts from unsafe people, so we can stay tender for everyone else.

It took years for God to start shifting the cold indifference I felt for my grandfather. And the biggest shift happened when I started writing laments.

I asked my brother for permission. Then, I sat and wrote out my anger, bitterness and numbness. I shared it with my siblings. I discussed it with some of my extended family. I posted it on my blog.

And to my surprise, the act of expressing my rage started moving my heart.

I am still trying to forgive my grandfather. I feel pity for his weakness and selfishness. I ache to consider the state of a heart capable of such destruction. I wonder if what he did to my brother was done to him.

I no longer expect forgiveness to happen easy-as-pie. Instead, I depend on the incredible power of lament. It will lead us to truth, connect us to God’s mercy and soften our hearts.

Jesus’ Compassion For Me Is “ALWAYS”

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

A Prayer for Resting in the Current Compassion of Jesus

     And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matt. 9:35-36

Dear Lord Jesus, there are so many reasons to love you—so many reasons to risk being completely honest and vulnerable with you. Today I’m particularly thankful for your compassion.

When you looked at crowds of harassed and helpless people, you didn’t ignore them; you weren’t irritated with them; and your body language never shamed them. Sympathy beat within your breast; kindness overflowed. I praise and bless you, for having this same compassion for each of us today.

You don’t despise our brokenness and my weakness. I believe this; I would believe it even more. Free me from my residual posing and pretending, Lord Jesus. There is no more welcoming place than the gospel. There is no safer haven than your love. There is no greater, richer, more certain acceptance that what we have in you.

If your kindness leads me to repentance, then your compassion leads me to the freedom of vulnerability. So here I am… I wish I could speed up my sanctification, Lord Jesus; I wish I was already over certain things; I wish old wounds still didn’t carry present power; I wish I wasn’t triggered to anger, insecurity and fear by certain people.

I wish I were freer to be in the moment, without concerns for the next thing and the next. I wish I were more spontaneous, relaxed and welcoming of strangers… This really isn’t a “wish list” as much as it’s the cry of my heart for the gospel to do its work in my life, Lord Jesus.

I am so thankful that one-Day we will be as loving and as lovely as you. I am so thankful that the Father will complete the good work he has begun in each of his children. You are the Good Shepherd, and I trust, love and adore you. So very Amen I pray, in your holy and healing name.

How to Talk to God When You are Suffering

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

“Why is God doing this to me?”

These words signal a spiritual train wreck in process.

Any version of a “why” question, when it is directed to or about the God of the Bible, is terribly risky. Even if it begins as a simple question, it gradually accumulates other questions about God’s character and promises, while it generates false assumptions about ourselves.

“Why (God) would you do this to me? (when I haven’t done anything like this to you.)”

“Why would a good father allow this to happen to his children? (If I were God I wouldn’t allow such things to happen.)”

Questions like these will only lead us away from God.

It’s okay to question God, but how you go about it really matters. Here are two ways to avoid the God-ward accusations and self-righteousness that can so easily become part of the why questions.

Use his Personal Name

First, ask “Why, O Lord?”

When we use his less personal name (God) we can slip in a few complaints and feel okay about it, but speak to the Lord and everything changes. He is your creator and rescuer. You belong to him. He is both your liege and the lover of your soul. Your response is praise, thanks and humble requests.

This kept the psalmists from going off the tracks.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

Not surprisingly, this psalmist ends with hope and confidence.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. . . . The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (Psalm 10:14-18)

The Psalms encourage great freedom of expression. We are strongly encouraged by the Lord himself to speak openly from our hearts. The one thing he asks is that we know whom we are speaking with, which is a normal requirement of any conversation. We don’t talk with a child in the same way we talk to an adult. With the knowledge of his mighty acts in mind, the why question can end well.

Ask in Hope

Second, for a change of pace, and as a way to stay in tune with the psalmists’ style, consider another question.

“How long, O Lord?”

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

This is the much more frequent question of psalmists, and for good reason. The true knowledge of God is clear and inescapable. He is the one who will deliver his people. There is no question that he hears and responds. The only question is when our eyes will be open enough to see his mighty hand in action. Hope is built into the question; an optimistic conclusion is guaranteed.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6)

“Why, O Lord?” This takes our why questions and adds humility.

“How long, O Lord?” This question considers our suffering and infuses it with hope.

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Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary.

A Lesson from Hezekiah: 7 Steps to More Effective Prayers

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, decided to attempt a take over of Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan. He went before the Lord in prayer and followed the Lord’s commands. Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared all Hezekiah’s people to death.

Hezekiah heard about it and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be ok, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up. They kept taunting and taunting, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. They sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, basically which, said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”

What do you do when you are backed into a corner about to face something bigger than your ability to handle? Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in  2 Kings 19:14-19

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Immediate. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but as a habit we need to make God the first place we turn in our lives.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord.  I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter…laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards right down all the things you are struggling with….lay them out on a table…then say, “Okay God, here are my struggles…I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Honoring, humble and respectful of who God is.  Hezekiah knew his place as king…and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was Dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle Hezekiah was going to depend on God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain…Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God.  In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do…some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.

Raw Praying: A Prayer for the Spiritually Disconnected and Distressed

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. (Jer. 20:7) Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? (Jer. 20:18)

Gracious Father, this is some pretty raw praying by one of your called and beloved prophets. Jeremiah’s lament makes me thankful today for the freedom you give us to bring our unfiltered and unfettered feelings to you. If we don’t bring our painful emotions to you, we will take them somewhere. Somebody besides ourselves will feel the brunt of our anguish and anger, disconnect and disillusionment.

Father, only you have the big enough heart and broad enough shoulders to walk with us through our seasons of chaos and confusion. I praise you for your constant, compassionate welcome. If you’re not put off by Jeremiah’s struggle, surely you will take on ours.

It’s comforting to know that the same prophet who assured others of your gracious promise and good plan—a plan for prosperity, not harm (Jer. 29:11); the same prophet who gave us a vision of the glory and the grace of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34); this same prophet, like us, experienced seasons in which he felt deceived, betrayed, and abandoned—even regretting the day he was born. We’re all weak and broken. We all need the gospel of your grace, every single day.

This gives me courage as I seek to steward my own feelings. But today it gives me compassion as I pray for a few friends who are feeling exactly what Jeremiah felt. For the friend I sat with yesterday who’s feeling set up, chewed up, and spit out by you, bring the gospel to bear. She loves you, but she feels abandoned by you. She knows better, but she feels bitter. My instinct is to “fix her,” but the way of the gospel is to listen and love before launching. Give me patience and kindness as I trust you to restore her to gospel sanity.

For my friend whose spiritual melancholia is heading to an even darker place, Father, give me wisdom. What part of his struggle is purely physical? What’s, to some degree, demonic? What’s just plane ole’ pity party? I can’t tell, but I trust you to love him through me and to give me the grace I need to walk with him. Help me, Father, and heal my friends. Meet them as you met Jeremiah. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name.

How to Pray When You’re Depressed: A Look at Psalm 13

SOURCE:  Mark Kelly/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Identifying with the Psalmist

Psalm 13 is a special chapter in my Bible. There is a date, March 12, 2012, written next to the chapter heading. That day I identified with the psalmist, and poured out my heart to God like never before. It had been five long years of dealing with chronic pain, two major surgeries, limited physical ability, limited ministry, and horrible side effects of multiple medications that had brought me to this point. I was tired, depressed, worn down and God was silent. That day I “got real” with God.

Since then, I have pointed others in the middle of their own dark days to this psalm. How can the depressed pray? Depression often robs us of our hope. The temptation in thinking that we cannot be honest with God about our situation deepens this hopelessness. Proceeding in prayer using the psalmist’s example in Psalm 13 breathes new hope into our lives.

Be Honest with Your God: Psalm 13:1-2

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Baptist minister, Andrew Fuller, once said of this psalm, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.” Often when one finds themselves in depression, it is a result of a long duration of trying circumstances with no foreseeable end in sight. During these dark days there is an intense desire to know the duration of the suffering.

Can you identify with the hopelessness of the psalmist? Honestly he cries out to God. He sees no end in sight and so he howls against the perceived neglectfulness of the Lord.

John Calvin said of these verses, “When we are for a long time weighed down by calamities, and when we do not perceive any sign of divine aid, this thought unavoidably forces itself upon us, that God has forgotten us.” Why has he come to this assumption? Because he was assaulted with the reality of his depression which battled against his understanding of who his God was.

So, in an act of faith, he continues to lament. Laying his heart wide open before God the psalmist communicates this battle for his soul. The circumstances dictated that God must have forgotten but his faith drove him to seek the Lord.

The battle continues into verse two. While searching for relief unsuccessfully, the psalmist also has to contend with his fellow man. He has exhausted every avenue of relief. This intrusion from the “enemy” only adds to his hopelessness in a crushing way. Peace escapes him. People are mistreating him.

When prolonged suffering occurs with no relief or answers, even our closest friends become frustrated with our plight. What some have termed “compassion fatigue” seems to take its toll and there is abundant exhortation to just “snap out of it” or to “repent” due to some unseen, forgotten or hidden sin.

My most discouraging moments came upon the insistence of friends that I “must” have sin in my life. Little did they know the hours spent begging God to illuminate the dark recesses of my heart! These comments tempted me to the brink of destruction in my depression. This is the desperate cry of the psalmist in Psalm 13.

Speak honestly with your God. Realize that your cries are statements of faith and belief in who God says He is. Understand that even though those around you may not minister to you well, that they too are finite creatures in need of the grace that has been lavished upon you. Be honest with your God.

Be Moving Toward Your God: Psalm 13:3-4

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

In the middle of darkness, chained to time, the psalmist begins to move toward God in his cries. He does this be focusing on the character of God. When we are without relief or release we often come to think that God must not see us or hear us. We do not believe that God is blind, but in faith we are crying out to him because we believe He does see.

Often the eyes disclose our depression. How many the days when I would say that I was “fine” when my eyes betrayed my speech! During these times there were dear friends that would move through the verbal resistance to enter into my pained state that they saw evident in my eyes. The psalmist is acknowledging that the light of life is reflected in the eye. He continues to speak to the fact that if God does not move on his behalf soon he fears death itself will be victorious.

Repeated is the theme of his enemy. Oh how the world can threaten our very existence! Remember this: the world may threaten, but God can restore.

And so the psalmist cries out to God to move in such a way that his enemies would not have reason to triumph. He understands the character of God to be such that God does not abandon His own. So, in a sense, he reminds God of God’s character.

As we speak honestly with God about our feelings in the circumstances of life, we also need to constantly be moving toward Him. Speaking in faith we can “remind” God of His promises and expect Him to move in accordance with His character. It is also important to see that the psalmist has move beyond trying to solve things in his own strength and is now totally reliant and dependent on God. This is a key stage in our prayer during our depression.

Be Trusting in Your God: Psalm 13:5-6

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist does not know if his prayer is of any profit at all. Yet, he continues. Now hope is beginning to well up within himself. He continues to focus on the character of God and this proves to be beneficial in the temptations of his depression. Deep in his own distress the psalmist declares his resolution to continue firm in his dependence of the grace of his God.

Because God is God, I don’t have to be. I can, in the middle of my distress, trust Him to bring about the good He has lovingly purposed for me.

There is also a sense of expectation at the end of this prayer. His heart will rejoice in the deliverance brought about by God and he will sing praise to God because of his gracious interaction. Even without the circumstances relenting he will continue to hope in the salvation of his God. He has not yet obtained release from the depression, but he promises to praise God for His grace towards him.

As you speak honestly with your God, moving toward Him as you focus on His character, you should prepare to celebrate in praise of the grace of God in your life. Time is a gift of God. We believe that one day we will stand in the presence of our God, removed from all pain, tears, and death.

Time is a gift in this life because we understand it in terms of beginning and ending. We experience our depression in terms of time. We also understand the hope of a time yet to come. If this life is “but a vapor,” how long then is our suffering? Even in the middle of your distress, be preparing to sing praises for the goodness of God in your life.

The final question I have written in my Bible is, “Am I persuaded that my prayers are effective?” God moves through answered prayer. When the depressed pray honestly, focused on the character of God, preparing to celebrate in praise of the grace of God, they can be assured that God hears them and moves toward them, inclining His ear to His children.

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (2)

SOURCE:   Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

“Jesus replied, ‘But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” Luke 11:28 NLT


Tammy continues her testimony: “When I first made a commitment to serve Jesus, I promised to read the Bible and attend church once a week. My intention was to read scripture with an analytical eye, but soon the words came to life and penetrated my heart. I was confronted with God’s love and his call to obedience. Though I tried, I could not make the Bible say what I wanted it to say. I prayed, ‘OK, God, I still feel like a homosexual. I don’t know how to follow you in obedience. But even with my questions and my confusion, I’ll leave it all.”

“When I first came to Christ, I was obstinate and resistant to God’s will. But his grace stood patiently, hands extended in mercy and arms open wide in love. Now, with his help, I was ready to take a very difficult step of obedience.”

“That evening I ended the relationship I was in. My partner responded to my declaration by saying, ‘You can’t get out of this; no one ever gets out.’ Her words seemed like the words of a drug dealer, not a friend.”

“‘Help me, God,’ I prayed. And he did.”

Tammy couldn’t experience the power of God’s Word until she moved beyond reading it to living it. Then God gave her the strength to make some very difficult choices to walk in obedience.

Are you struggling with a problem, doing some things you know you shouldn’t, but just aren’t strong enough to do what you know is right?

Ask God to make his Word real to you. And determine in your heart that you will obey him. Once you make that choice and run to him, you will experience his love, his grace and his power in an all new way.

PRAYER….

Father, please forgive me for disobeying you. I thank you for your love and grace. Help me to make right choices. Help me to not just read the Bible, but to obey it. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

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