Monday, October 28, 2013

Forgiveness and Praying a Blessing

As I've said, practicing righteousness is foreign to my nature.  It's why I have to practice, and practice, and keep on practicing.  Forgiving others is one of those exercises I will have to work on....a LOT!  It just isn't easy.  What's even more difficult is Jesus' instruction to not only forgive, but to pray for those who hurt us and spitefully use us.  Not only pray, but speak words of blessing.  I think I could pray as David sometimes did, "Lord, smite my enemies..."  Yet, Jesus' teachings to his followers didn't include that kind of praying. He used the word "for" not "against."  He was specific and used the word "bless."  To bless: to speak words of blessing, goodness, and praise; to hope, wish, ask for something that would benefit or bless.  When someone has spoken or acted spitefully toward me, the last thing I want to do is ask God to give them good things.  Yet it's Jesus teaching; it's his training for followers who want to practice righteousness.  Honestly, I've known this teaching for weeks.  I've known I've needed to practice it.  However, I've drug my feet (or rather, my fingers) on sitting down and sorting through it.  I've delayed processing what this blog entry would look like.  So much so, that here I sit, driving in a car, mid-afternoon, on the day of the morning I should have updated my blog, and I'm still at a loss.

No, that's not true.  I'm not at a loss, not really.  I know what I need to do.  I need to practice living out of a forgiving heart, and I need to pray a blessing on one, in particular, who has spoken spitefully against me.  If I say I've forgiven, then it's more than just words, it's acted out in a prayer that is "for" the one who has hurt me.  So, here I go...

Sweet Jesus! You know my heart. You see deep inside and are very aware that the words I'm typing are not coming from a very engaged want-to-mentality.  Yet, I want to be a follower who is quick to obedience.  I want to be a follower who looks like my Savior, who on the cross begged for the Father to forgive those who put him there.  I struggle to come up with words of blessing, but I hear a little inner voice telling me to just ask you to bless the one whose face is in my mind with the very things I'd want to be blessed with, so here's my stab at practicing this unconditional forgiveness.

I'm asking you to bless _________________ with your presence.  Be so very real to _____________ that the communion between the two of you will be intimate and honest. Give _______________ the fulness of joy that comes when we are in your presence, and open your right hand and distribute pleasures forever more.  May those pleasures bring a deep delight that spills over into generosity.

I'm asking you to bless _____________ with your provision.  Not necessarily what _____________ wants, because I know that sometimes what we want is not what is best; so, I ask for what is needed.  Bless with finances, with energy, with time, with material possessions, and with abundance of comfort.

Bless _______________ with wisdom, insight and clarity. Wisdom to make decisions that will take ___________ down a path that is good, pleasing, and a part of your perfect will.

Bless ____________ with peace that passes all understanding, and guard ___________'s heart.  May _______________'s mind be filled with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable and may praise be quick off ___________'s lips....more than anything give __________ a sense of true contentment.

I'd ask for a fruitful ministry, a growing theology, a personal sense of fulfillment, an accurate Christ-given identity, and a bright hope for every tomorrow.  I'd ask for relationships that are meaningful and deep, excellent physical health, and enough fun and laughter to bring healing to any disruption of the heart.

Lord, this is a start.  It's a beginning that has made me look into my heart and remember that I can love, pray, bless, and forgive, because you loved, prayed, blessed, and forgave me first.  I want to look like you more than I want to harbor bitterness.  So, with all the oomph I can muster, internally, I want to mean what I have just prayed and to keep on praying good things.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Jesus-Followers Offer Forgiveness. What it is and isn't!

Jesus-Followers practice righteousness.
There are a few particulars we seem to need to practice more than others.
Jesus gives us some specific instruction, as well as reminders that he understands as long as we're dwelling in our earthly, fleshly tents, living righteously won't be easy.  However, with practice, it does get easier.
So far, we've discussed giving away our money - check!
We've looked at prayer - check!
However, right after prayer, in which Jesus specifically incorporates forgiving those who have sinned against us, he offers a little commentary on forgiveness.
His commentary is only two verses.
It is very straight-forward...and, also, very convicting...and very hard.

For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (6:15).

I certainly need forgiveness - often!  So, I wish I could say that I was a person quick to forgive. Here's the bottom line.  Sometimes, people don't live up to my expectations; sometimes, they say/do things to me that are very hurtful (often without even realizing it); and, sometimes, they do things intentionally to be hurtful (these folks are the hardest to forgive).  I've come to realize that I give myself quite a bit more room for making a mistake, than I do others.  As I've evaluated this truth, it has become more glaring.  There are times when I'm a bit more tolerant of myself than others - and quicker to extend that act called "grace" for me.  Why is this so?

I've discovered that I don't REALLY understand (in an active, verb-sort-of way) what forgiveness means.  So, I've done some research.  Here's what I've found.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that what someone else did to me, or against me, is OK.  It's not OK.  It's still wrong.  It doesn't mean that I let the offender off the hook.  It doesn't mean that I allow them to hurt me over and over again.  It doesn't mean that I completely forget what happened.  Forgiveness means that I make a choice to no longer dwell on the past, or the behavior, or the words, or the action. In doing so, I consciously choose to mentally walk away from the power the pain has over me.  Not forgiving is a choice to live in bondage (ugh, I've been there, and don't want to go back).

Choosing to forgive means I recognize that the action is a process, not a one-time event.  It means, I may have to forgive again and again and again and... Choosing to forgive means I acknowledge that often hurt people, hurt people, and I don't necessarily have their full story...  Forgiveness means I choose to walk away from an identity the enemy is trying to stick on me of being a victim.  Forgiveness means I walk in light of my new identity in Christ Jesus as that of a VICTOR!

Choosing forgiveness means I may have to confront the one who hurt me, because if I love them, I want to see them grow in character and godliness (especially if they are a believer).  Choosing forgiveness, also, means I believe the truth that sometimes love covers a multitude of sins, and at this time, I don't need to confront. Knowing the difference between the two depends on whether or not I see a consistent, repeated pattern of behavior.  Choosing forgiveness also means I may never ever hear the words, "I'm sorry, will you forgive me?" from my offender. That's between them and the Lord!  It does mean I decide to forgive anyway.

Most of all, I make a decision, when I forgive, that I will not talk about what has happened to others, to myself, to them, or to God anymore.  Forgiveness says, "Your debt is cancelled."  You owe me NOTHING!

No wonder forgiving is hard!  Yet, when the decision is made, and when I've wrestled with my weak flesh one more time to the place I no longer wish to nurture a grudge, I can truly say that I have NEVER EVER FELT SUCH FREEDOM and release from burden-bearing.  One thing I also know to be true, forgiving is much easier when I keep in mind my own sinful heart...and how the Lord has, indeed, forgiven me!

And be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32.

Monday, October 14, 2013

There's No Place for Hypocrisy in Practicing Righteousness

Practicing righteousness vs. hypocrisy.

As I began re-reading Matthew 6 this morning in light of Jesus' teaching on practicing righteousness, the word, hypocrite, jumped off the pages of my Bible (6:2, 5, 16).  In essence, Jesus said (paraphrased):  When you give money...don't be a play actor, don't wear a mask and pretend you're something you're not.  When you real, don't act like you've got it all together if you don't.  When you fast...don't put on a show; don't fake who you are.

Righteousness is about stripping off anything false, pretentious, and insincere. Righteousness is being vulnerable, authentic, and true.  A Righteous Man (or Woman) has a core-character that's dependable and faithful.  If there's anything at all I'm learning, it's that a true Jesus-follwer is not hypocritical.  Ouch.  Maybe I should just stop for today, right now.  Nah....

I'm still looking at the passage on prayer in Matthew 6.  You can read what I've been reading here:
Matthew 6:5-13.  It helps me, since I'm prayer-disabled, to look closely at what Jesus is teaching.  All he is really directing is for me to come to my heavenly Father as he modeled.  Being a teacher, myself, I see a few "s's" that make it easier to remember.  Jesus' "Six How-To's for Prayer from Matthew Six:
1) Sincere (real & authentic)
2) Secret (not for show)
3) Simple (doesn't have to be wordy, or breathy, or flowery, or in the language of the King James Version)
4) Surrendered (when we remind ourselves of who our God is, we start with a surrendered heart - prayer is always more effective when prayed by one who is in a humble and contrite position. This, then, would include a repentant heart).
5) Straight-forward (give him the facts, ask him for the "ask", and seek his help in living out the journey).
6) So-be-it! (While we know this to be the Amen of prayer, it is really so much more. We tend to think of the amen as the proper way to close a prayer, as if it is our signature at the end of a letter. However, the amen is a statement of fact - a declaration of faith.  All prayer includes an element of faith or it isn't prayer.  Look at Matthew 7:7, & 21:21-22, as well as, James 1:6-8).

...and, of course, if we're going to keep strengthening our prayer-muscles, keep "training for righteousness,"  I think Jesus would also teach us to be stubborn. 

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Above all, if you only remember one thing, just set aside hypocrisy when you come to pray.  Maybe that's why the prayers of children are often so effective.  Vulnerability comes so easily for them!

Monday, October 7, 2013

If Jesus Gave a Grade for Prayer, I'd Fail.

Jesus calls us to be followers, learners, stumblers-along-the-journey-toward-heaven-and-perfection.  He knows we won't do following perfectly.  He knows we'll be messy all along the road.  So, he tells us to practice. Train for righteous-living while we're on earth. Allow ourselves to be taught, rebuked, corrected, and then "discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness."  He wants us to become imitators, so we can be imitated.  That's a huge responsibility.  One I'm taking more and more seriously....especially, as I start reading the first four topics Jesus asks us to engage in our practice.  He couldn't have picked four any harder:  money, prayer, forgiveness, and fasting.  I love you, Jesus, but couldn't you have picked a few other topics (oh, maybe something like, the importance of singing praises, or giving encouragement, or, I know, take people out for coffee to talk about life...).  As I start untying the bow, and unwrapping the package of these four areas of righteousness-practice, I find myself shifting in my chair...a lot.  They are uncomfortable for me.

I've already struggled my way through the money thing.  Now, I've just but glimpsed at prayer.  I'm NOT GOOD AT PRAYER!  Not in any way. Oh, I pray. Yet, I'm easily, easily distracted.  Other things pop into my head.  I chase rabbits.  I get off topic.  I lose myself in my "Get To Do Today" List. When it comes to prayer, if Jesus were to give me a grade, I would fail.  If I prayed as good as the books I've read on prayer teach, I'd have a doctorate in prayer.  I've written papers on prayer.  In fact, for one of my masters classes in seminary, I had to write a paper titled, The Apostle Paul's Theology of Prayer.  It was something like 32 pages long. I can teach on prayer. While prayer is itself a simple task, it is one of the hardest disciplines (can I use that word?) of the Christian life (according to me).  I've tried all the tricks. I write out my prayers. I keep a prayer journal by topic. I focus on one category every day (Monday: Missionaries. Tuesday: Family. Wednesday: Country...well, you get it). I pray breath prayers. I've followed the ACTS outline. I have a prayer list I keep in my phone under REMINDERS. I've even asked Siri to help me remember some things I need to add to my prayer list. MY WANT to pray is BIG. My actual ability is small.

Oh, wait!  It just dawned on me, wasn't that also true of Jesus' disciples?  Didn't he take his three closest followers into the Garden to pray on the night he was betrayed?  While he labored in prayer, didn't they fall asleep (yes, I've done that, too!)?  Three times, didn't he come back to them and find them still sleeping? Here he was, deeply grieved and distressed to the point of death, and all he asked was for them to keep a prayer vigil.  His response, "Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying...the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:40-41)  Oh, bless his sacrificial, surrendered heart!  In spite of their ability, in fact, in the face of their disability, Jesus still committed his will to the Father's, and died for the weakness of our flesh.

I find encouragement in this passage.  Even Jesus' closest friends had a prayer-disability.  I do too!  I have a diagnosis for my prayer-problem; it's a disability.  As long as I wear this tent of flesh, I will struggle with prayer.  Hence, the need to keep practicing.  It's not about finding the right trick that clicks.  It's about a weak flesh that needs strengthening.  If I give up, my flesh muscles will completely atrophy.  So, I press on...I keep praying.  The only hope for me is to keep my spirit willing and persistently stay the course.  In fact, Jesus knew I'd struggle.  So, he died. He rose. He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  There, next to his Abba, he whispers my prayer into his Daddy's ear.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us us with groanings to deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the holy ones according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

I don't know about you, but I'm sitting easier in my chair.  Thank you, sweet Spirit of the Living Lord!