Early spring air rushed through my car windows, whipping around some papers in the back seat. At a stop sign, I darted a backwards glance. My eyes recognized the bright colors of worksheets my preschool daughter loved to do, but there was also a strange black spot I assumed to be another “floater” in one of my eyes. I looked straight ahead, moving my eyes around to try to produce the same effect. Hmmmm….. where did that floater go? At the next stop, I took a longer look into the back seat. This was no black spot; it was a Something, a Something that hovered in the air.
Earlier that morning my mind fixated on a painful situation at church. A few members recently behaved in some very divisive, ungodly ways. Their actions and words cycled through my mind repeatedly, stirring up dark, vindictive thoughts, just like the vague shadow lurking in my car.
I completed the drive home, nauseated and shaking, refusing to look in the back seat and singing praise songs. I knew what this was. I didn’t understand why it was in my car! I immediately phoned an older pastor friend of ours from Texas. When I described the black shadow to him, he asked me one question in his baritone, southern drawl, “Darlin,’ is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone you maybe hate, just a pinch?”
My pride tried to answer first, and I hesitated, weighing my options. This church girl knew full well that hatred and unforgiveness are serious sins. What would my friend think? Ultimately, my fear of what might be stalking me prompted me to answer truthfully, “Yes, yes there is.”
While I cried, this seasoned pastor explained Satan’s delight in finding an inroad into my mind. Refusing to forgive people is an open doorway and welcome mat for him to stroll right into my thoughts. As a believer in Jesus Christ, my spirit is sealed and set apart for God. I cannot be demon-possessed. However, by allowing negative emotions to camp out in my soul, I invite evil to draw close to me, oppressively.
That frightening drive remains as one of the few times God allowed me a glimpse into the supernatural world all around me. I believe He wanted to shake and wake me out of the destructive sin of being a record keeper of wrong doings. The vividness of what I experienced that day keeps me on the straight and narrow regarding holding a grudge against those who hurt me or my family.
My friend laid out some scriptural forgiveness strategies, which became habit. I’ve also added some of my own that you may find helpful.
- As soon as someone sins against you, begin speaking silently or out loud, if possible, verses you committed to memory for such moments. My favorite is Matthew 5:11. Other great ones are: Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, 32, Matthew 5:23-24 and, of course, I Corinthians 13. (Sometimes, I’ll even excuse myself to the restroom, or some other private place just so I can do this.)
- Remember, Jesus understands. (Hebrews 4:15)
- Allow yourself to feel painful emotions. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Don’t ignore them, they will simply express themselves in a different way. It’s what we do with our emotions that leads us to righteousness or sin.
- For smaller things, forgive and move on. You may have to do this several times if you think of the offense, and still feel pain or anger. Keep clearing the wrong doer’s account. God will speak to this person, in His own time concerning their careless words or behavior. “Let it gooooooooooo………” as the song says.
- For large pains forgiveness is a process in need of time. On some occasions I’ve needed to pray for and forgive someone repeatedly until I genuinely feel no desire for retribution and can think about the person or incident without a yucky feeling in my gut.
- Picture offenses as individual rooms in a hallway. When you are able to enter a room and look at the memory of an offense objectively, without pain, you are now able to reach back and encourage someone else who might be struggling to forgive someone for a similar sin.
- Work towards reconciliation. Follow the Matthew 18 pattern to try to turn this person from an adversary into an advocate. This process takes humility and patience. You might think you are only 5% to blame in the situation, nevertheless, apologize and ask forgiveness for your part. Often this opens the door for the other person to take ownership of their part.
- When someone refuses to be reconciled with you, turn them over to God and continue your internal forgiveness process.
- Seek godly counsel. Some situations, involving habitual or unrepentant sin, must be dealt with at a higher level. Another pastor in your church, an elder or deacon, or someone else who has spiritual authority in your congregation will need to be involved if someone is habitually sinning against you within your church or Christian organization or refuses to be reconciled with you. In Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22, God bluntly says, “Don’t touch my anointed!” Tolerating and making excuses for those who “touch” pastors and ministry leaders with wicked behavior and words, grieves the Holy Spirit.
- Let God do His work in your heart. Just as he did for Joseph, God uses the sinful behaviors of others to accomplish greatness in our lives.
In my next post, I’ll be exploring this last item further. Does it feel sometimes like your ministry life is a roller coaster, rising and dropping based on the decisions and behaviors of others? What may feel like a crazy ride can be an adventure when you remember God is working the controls!