“For where two or three gather together as my followers,” you better believe someone’s going to get offended. I apologize for taking liberty with the Scriptures, but who can deny that this is true. We all have opinions and preferences and there’s bound to be conflict or an argument at some point.
I try to tell our younger guys as they prepare for ministry that people will expect them to be perfect but continually remind them they’re not. People will get their feathers ruffled, especially when we can’t walk on water, wave our magic wands and make their problems go away. And inevitably, we will get our feelings hurt as well. To put it bluntly, it’s a fact of life. Clashes will occur but the important thing is: how do we respond? Here are some indicators that we, in no small part, need God’s grace to forgive:
- The number of people we tell about our offense. We’ve been crossed, we’re bleeding, and we need to be appeased. Instead of following Christ’s directive (Matthew 18:15-17, Ephesians 4:26), we begin to wage a smear campaign against our “enemy” to discredit them.
- The amount of time we spend replaying the offense in our thoughts or conversations. We know that forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. But we still have our memories. I believe that is why Jesus tells us to forgive seventy x 7 times (Matthew 18:21-22). We are not only to continually extend mercy, but to lavish it on others.
- How lengthy the case/list we build against the offender in our mind. Of course we want to make the offender feel our pain and present ourselves as innocent. Christ tells us to forgive our debtors, to clear their account and extend credit to them, actually giving them the potential to do it again (Matthew 5:39; 6:12).
- How we respond or react the next time we encounter the offender in person or via cell phone, texts, etc. We want to make them pay with our silence, hostility, or passivity. Paul reminds us to be kind to everyone, including those we’re bitter against (Ephesians 4:32).
- How long it takes us to forgive the offender. Do it! Do it NOW! Don’t let it fester. Don’t let it have a chance to grow (Colossians 3:13).
- The number of punitive measures we concoct filtered through our hurt. We want to get revenge…make them pay…make them hurt like we hurt. God says “NO! Don’t strike them, serve them! (1 Peter 3:9).
- The way we treat innocent bystanders (collateral damage) in the midst of our hurt. It’s so easy to misdirect our anger towards other people who have nothing to do with the issue. They are merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, they fall prey to our rampage, usually in our speech and attitudes. Let’s not allow our fiery temper to singe or burn anyone else (James 3:6).
- How long it takes us to invest in and serve other people after someone has wounded us. We allow ourselves to be neutralized or paralyzed and begin to wallow in self-pity, missing other ministry opportunities. Let’s not allow guile to rob us or others of God’s blessings. Jesus washed all His disciples feet, knowing full well who would betray Him and who would abandon Him. Even on the Cross, He pleaded the Father’s forgiveness on His very accusers. In His anguish, He kept going for all of our sakes (Proverbs 3:27, John 13:12, Luke 23:34).
- How much we justify ourselves and blame others for our issues. We could very well plead for our innocence, attempting to deflect attention from our own failures, humiliation, foolishness and guilt…and transfer the reproach to someone else. Adam tried it. #majorFAIL (Genesis 3:12-13). In addition, we rehearse what we’ve done right, the sacrifices we’ve made, the good we’ve done, and demand what we think we deserve. Give it up already.
- How punctual we are in praying for them. We talk about prayer, we even believe in its power as we come before God. Yet, we save the greatest solution as the last resort. We want to be in control and do it our way and in our own strength. Good Luck on that one! (Matthew 5:44)
Taking a look at that list, I see how miserably I fail on an ongoing basis. If it were a test, I’d be headed to summer school. It is absolutely paramount that we embrace the Cross, the place where Christ broke the power of our sin. In turn, we gain the strength to embrace others and reconcile. What an amazing gift and expression of God’s love by setting things right again. But it’s up to us. Are we ready to love unconditionally, serve outrageously, and forgive endlessly?
Please remember: when dealing with broken people, that much of what they do is filtered through their sorrow, failures, mistakes, and hurt. As ministers of reconciliation, do we have the character to filter their actions and words through mercy, love, grace, patience, compassion, and empathy? Christ certainly did with us.
God, grant us grace to be gracious, demonstrate Your mercy so we can be merciful, and remind us of your patience so we can be patient. Amen.