I have become a terrible forgiver

Daily Readings: Judges 9-10, Mark 11, Psalm 70

“Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. 

Mark 11:23-25

Every morning when I am about to do my readings for the day I always pray a simple prayer of, “God, what do you have for me today?”

Today the answer was not hard to discern. I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

This used to be an extreme weakness of mine, holding things against people. I have spent the majority of my life believing that there were almost no people in my life that I could count on in the clutch, that most people would take advantage of me eventually, and that few people truly cared.

I imagine I am not alone in this.

The challenging part of being surrounded by other human beings is that they are human beings. If we are waiting on the edge of our seat for them to disappoint us, we will never have to wait long. We all fall short.

If our first response is, “See, I knew it…” we live a life of keeping others at an arms length away to “avoid getting hurt”, we have our guard up at all times, and we search out the worst motives in others instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.

God wants our reaction to be one of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard.

Throughout the last 7-10 years, I feel like I had grown a lot in this area. I feel like giving grace and forgiveness had become strengths of mine over time. God had really worked on me in this area and I had so much more peace of mind in my relationships with others.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Life is so much more peaceful when you forgive quickly. Life is so much more enjoyable when you don’t hold on tightly to every wrong someone does against you. Life is so much more rich and full when there isn’t a constant movie playing in your mind, replaying of every slight you have felt in the last year or imagining terrible conversations unfolding in the future with the person you are harboring unforgiveness towards.

Lack of forgiveness is exhausting.

Over the last 18 months or so, somehow, I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

When we turn to Jesus and ask him into our lives, we are called to forgive. This isn’t just a small asterisk or minor footnote when it comes to our faith. At the end of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray he concludes with this in Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

As a church we rarely think of “unforgiveness” as a sin that needs to be rooted out of our lives the same way we think about things like lying, violence, lust, drug abuse, etc. And yet at the end of teaching his disciples how to pray, this was the singular thing that Jesus decided to highlight that has the power of keeping us from receiving the full forgiveness of God.

Whenever I feel stressed, underappreciated, overlooked, taken advantage of, overwhelmed, angry, and generally just distant from God; there is a 100% chance that there is someone in my life I have not fully forgiven.

Always.

I am stewing in it. I am allowing that anger to fester. I am harboring ill will. I am not giving forgiveness freely the way Jesus commands us to and in return I don’t feel that closeness with the Father that we have access to.

Forgiveness.

It is hard, but it is worth it. It is worth the constant pursuit.

True forgiveness takes more than just 30 seconds of quick prayer. We frequently need to really come before the Father and absolutely plea for his help in forgiving others. Forgiveness is unnatural. It runs counter to every natural wiring we have as human beings. That is why we need God.

I am going to go back to living a life of forgiveness. I am going to go back to seeing the best in people and not waiting for the other shoe to fall. I am going to go back to loving people even when they may not “deserve it” because God first loved me when I certainly didn’t deserve his love! I am going to go back to living a life that has forgiveness at the center of it.

Thank you God for revealing this to me today. I needed the reminder.

Thought to ponder

Who am I currently withholding forgiveness from?

“My own strength has saved me”

Daily Readings: Judges 7-8, Mark 10, Psalm 69

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

Gideon 7:1-16

I love this story in Judges.

You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Sometimes I wonder how many times God has done in this my life without announcing it to me. I wonder how many times God has thought to himself, “Aaron has too many men in his army right now. He might begin to think any success he has is of his own doing. I need to thin this out a bit…”

When I look back over times in my life where I have faced quite a bit of adversity and really needed to lean on God to get through it, they have almost always been preceded by periods where I have been feeling pretty darn good about myself and what “I have been accomplishing”.

When the Lord chooses to bless us in our families, careers, ministries, etc. it is natural for this success to draw attention to us. It is natural that people can’t help but ask, “How did you do it?” At these moments there is the temptation for false humility that takes the shape of, “Well, God has been really good throughout…” and then launching into ten minutes of tactics, strategies, etc. that ‘actually brought about our success’. We know we are supposed to credit God in the beginning, but our heart is not really in it even as we say those words.

God doesn’t mind you sharing helpful strategies with others that might help them in their family lives, careers, etc. However, we short change God if we are not also sharing the times where we totally dropped the ball, had very little to do with our own success, and had no idea how things were going to come together; and then God stepped in.

Success in our lives can be a blessing with which we can bless others if we are able to share our shortcomings as well.

This is also true in advance of potential success.

When people ask you, “How is everything going in your career?” or “How is your marriage going?” or “How have your kids been?” the natural tendency is to want to make things sound rosier than they are.

If the true way you are feeling about your career is, “I will be honest with you, I have been sick with worry a lot recently and I feel like God is the only thing keeping it together right now” say that. By going with, “good, really good” we rob people of the ability to come alongside us in support when we need it most.

We also rob God of future glory.

When he works the miraculous and there is an incredible, unexplainable comeback story in your business, marriage, or as a parent; no one knows about it. There is no glory given to God. People are not able to look and see 300 men with Gideon routing the Midianites. They just see “business still going well, marriage still chugging along, kids still appearing to be good kids”.

I wonder how many times God has thinned out my army so that I would turn back to him in desperation and tearfully proclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I am going to do!”

In these moments, if we genuinely turn to God and place our challenges in his hands, I think he frequently does for us what he did for Gideon.

“Go down into the camp and hear what they are saying.”

God wants to encourage us. He wants to let us know that everything will ultimately be ok.

Sometimes this might take the shape of divine inspiration on things you should do to right the ship. Sometimes it takes the shape of a kind word from a friend speaking truth to you and lifting you up. Sometimes it is a dream, a passage in the Bible you read that morning, or a line from a worship song that speaks directly to your heart and the situation you find yourself in.

God says, “I have got this, if you will just trust in me.”

I don’t want to be an unaware Gideon. I want to be honest with challenges in my life and give God the glory in advance, not just in hindsight. I want to push boldly into challenges with full confidence that God will work in this situation in one way or another.

I want to take my 300 down into the camp expecting victory.

Thought to ponder

What is my Midianite army currently? What area of my life do I need to turn over to God instead of leaning on my own strength? Are there any recent successes in my life where I have been tempted to take all of the credit and not allowed God to get the glory?

 

Heal my unbelief

Daily Readings: Judges 5-6, Mark 9, Psalm 68

I love the story of Gideon. The church I attend recently finished up a series on Gideon and the courage that it takes to follow God’s will in our lives. When his story popped up again today in our readings, I was reminded of another reason his story is so inspiring to me: His story reflects so many of our stories.

At the beginning of this story Gideon is met by and angel and we see the following encounter:

The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 

But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Judges 6:20-24

God had promised Gideon a victory over the Midianites. For 7 years God had allowed the Israelites to experience the ramifications of their actions. They had turned away from God, worshipped false idols, and broken their covenant with God. Now God tells Gideon he has come to save them.

At first we see Gideon following God’s instructions and removing the altar of Baal from his own household before leading the Israelites against the Midianites. But as the time to confront the enemy draws near Gideon grows nervous…

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:36-40

Every time I read this series of events I look back at my own life and laugh. I would venture to guess that most of us truly are like Gideon.

There have been so many examples of God showing up in my life in incredible ways. On my occurrences I have strongly felt that God directed me down a certain path and walked that path faithfully despite obstacles that came my way.

However, frequently I have been Gideon. Frequently I have wanted to negotiate with God for just one more sign.

“Lord, I know you made this fairly clear already, but my normal human emotions are kicking in, so I am going to need you to confirm that one last time…”

“Ok, maybe just one more confirmation…”

“Ok, those were nice. Thank you for that. I am really nervous though, and at this point I need a borderline audible voice…”

I love that Gideon even realized he was being ridiculous as he was asking this of God. “Do not be angry with me…”

We see another story of unbelief in today’s readings as well.

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:19-24

This is a different type of belief in Mark 9. In the case of Gideon, he didn’t feel that he was worthy of being used by God to accomplish incredible works. Here in Mark, we see someone struggling to believe that they can be on the receiving end of God working a miracle in their life through no effort of their own.

I imagine we have all found ourselves relating to each of these two stories at times in our lives.

In some cases, God wants to use us to accomplish great things and our natural tendency is to say, “Are you sure you have the right person?” We then kindly inform God of all the reasons we are unqualified, incapable, and simply not enough. We have an identity issue. We see ourselves through our own lens and not through God’s lens. The good news is that virtually every major character throughout the entire Bible struggled with this same feeling! You are in good company!

In other cases we want to come before our father in Heaven and ask for something on behalf of another or ourselves. But that nagging unbelief lingers…

“Heal my unbelief!”

God knows that we struggle believing. God knows we struggle to accept his calling for our life. God knows every one of our human weaknesses.

I love Jesus showing us that part of him that is fully human and slightly annoyed in today’s story when he said, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

And yet our God is patient. He is loving. He wants to give us the chance to turn our unbelief into belief. He wants to give us the chance to step into our calling even if we begin that journey needing to be dragged into it a bit, kicking and screaming like a child. That nervousness, apprehension, and personal insecurity put us in good company when you read stories of all the major characters throughout the Bible.

The key is that we are willing to say, “Lord, heal my unbelief.”

I can point back to many times throughout my life where I prayed that prayer at some point along the way and God was there to greet me.

However, I sometimes wonder how many times I have missed out on something God had put in my path, whether it be an undeserved blessing or an opportunity to serve others, because I acted like Gideon one too many times. For every Gideon in the Bible there are also lots of periods of seven years leading up to Gideon where God had to say, “Alright, if you are going to be that stubborn…”

I know as a parent, I constantly have to think through this with my own children. Sometimes they make the right choice soon enough, but sometimes I have given them one too many reminders (my wife might argue three too many reminders) and there needs to be consequences for their disobedience.

I am a human father with imperfect judgment. Our father in Heaven’s judgment is perfect and just. Our human timeline is short, his timeline is eternal.

Today, this week, and this year my prayer will be, “Lord, heal my unbelief. Heal my unbelief on a daily basis that you want to work in my life. Heal my unbelief on the larger scale so that I might have the courage to be steadfast on this path you have put me on.”

Heal my unbelief.

Thought to ponder

When have I most recently been Gideon and constantly asked for “just one more sign” that I should walk down a path God has clearly laid in front of me? When have I have been the father in the story wanting to ask God for a miracle in my life or the life of a loved one and struggled with unbelief?

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