Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong-- then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalm 139:23, 24 MSG)
Have you had a good look at yourself lately? I mean really? Recently I was reminded of the power and importance of praise. Praise allows me to start any conversation from a perspective beyond myself. I do not claim to have divine insight, but what I do have is acknowledgement of the divine as the basis for my behaviour. Linking praise with fasting is natural because as we’ve seen fasting is desperately seeking God and one way to express that desperation is reminding yourself of who He is as revealed in His Word. This reminds us that despite our best efforts we are always scratching the surface of knowing the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal and loving One. That desire though is ultimately fulfilling as nothing else can be as we engage with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
The splendour of engaging in relationship with God and learning more about Him is how He highlights issues about us. The nature of these revelations is not for shame and embarrassment but for realisation of some very real things about us and out complete dependency on God to define us. Sometimes for as much as I love God He desires holiness in me and so uses opportunity after opportunity to uncover some real dark issues about my character. That goes back to the question of whether you’ve checked yourself lately.
You know I used to console myself that although there were one or two faults I wasn’t that bad. Jesus loved me and that’s all that mattered. The issue of holiness puts things in a different light. Even recently I saw just how my character is in desperate need of God’s love. My capacity for being judgemental and having a proud approach to situations and people is disgusting but acceptable because it’s done in a sophisticated style. It’s done through sarcasm or biting quips and one-liners. It’s done through behaving in a way that gives others the impression that they are stupid or of little value. It’s done by believing when I get angry and annoyed that people no longer have the worth they did. It’s especially expressed when I feel hard done by. I can sympathise with Paul who expressed how wretched he was because of the struggle that goes on inside.
The best example in which the uglier aspects of my character are seen is in the issue of forgiveness. When I feel as though someone has slighted me that’s something that I can get over, but when someone offends me the hardest thing in the world is to forgive them. It is so easy to remember the wrong they did, the immaturity they showed, the carelessness, the stupidity, the hurt and pain, loss and at times perceived personal devastation. That sense of betrayal hits at the core of my being. In that very transaction I become everything that I loathe the most to justify my feeling of injustice.
I am good at recounting all the evidence in my favour and against the guilty party and how that then makes it only fitting that they pay for the greatest crime of all – hurting me to such an effect. As I get wrapped up in myself room for the character of grace and mercy is scant and that means little room for God. Little room for God is every room for the other guy and before you know it things get ugly and whenever I think of the person and the incident the vile, bile upsurges from the gut. Now that would be bad enough but it also disfigures my personality.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:33, 34)
This is where the character of God comes into His own and the deliverance aspect of His personality comes to the rescue. This is where the cross becomes all important. In the cross I am reminded I have no right to be offended. Now of course just because I don’t have the right doesn’t mean I cannot do it, it just means I do not have the right. I do not have the right, because when the one Man who would have every right to be offended had His opportunity to be offended His response spoke of forgiveness. His response spoke of mercy. His response spoke of reconciliation proving once and for all that love conquers all. I am a recipient of that love because if anyone has the right to be offended He does every time I betray Him in sinning. Every time I hurt the relationship in the betrayal of sin and self-seeking rather than honouring the relationship we have. He has the right to be offended, but He continues to express those same traits of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Not only does He express it, but then He enables me to be able to express that to those who have wronged me. Despite my efforts at justifying holding a grudge and staying offended, despite me having the file that shows how right I am and how wrong they are, in the name of love I have to destroy that file and rather look to retrieve whatever I can from the relationship. What is more important my sense of being right or my sense of restoring relationship?
This is not about excusing wrong or failing to challenge dangerous behaviour. What it is about is choosing moments to help people grow and doing it from a position of mercy and grace rather than the heavy-high-handed position of piety that it’s easy to take especially when I’ve been bruised and hurt.
Now this takes time, the hurts are real, the pain is great, but God’s grace and forgiveness of me is greater. There is nothing that any individual could do to me that the accumulated sins of humanity could do to the Son of God and what I do in sinning. Releasing them in forgiveness works in a smaller way to the effect Jesus gives all the time in being true to His promise that if I confess He is faithful to forgive and cleanse. Now even if the wounding party is oblivious to their position, it is my responsibility to follow the Way of the Master.
It is a responsibility I am able to exercise only because the Son has given His Spirit and as I am filled with Him, I am able to exercise His gifts and produce His fruit of which are qualities that give no room for such bitter, negative things as keeping offense. That is thus the prayer I have as God shines His light in my character and replaces the dross with His Son’s righteousness and takes me along the paths of character formation that reflects His own.
In all this the truth is, Jesus loves me and that’s all that matters.
(See also Matthew 18:21-35)
For His Name's Sake