Strong People Forgive, Weak People Seek Revenge!

Who do you want to be – the one who is quick to forgive and slow to anger? Or the one who holds a grudge and lives with stress and without peace? Forgiveness is never easy. Indeed, forgiving the one who caused us pain can feel more painful than the wound we received. It is natural to get angry, holding offense against people who wrong us. Likewise, there are some people who are unable to forgive themselves. Because they choose not to let go of their former immoral actions, they can’t get over their past. I like how the theologian Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was YOU.” Whether we are forgiving ourselves or others, forgiveness will set us free. How can we do it? Let’s take a look at what God revealed to me in the area of forgiveness.

It is typical of human nature that we even get angry with God at times. We think He should be there for us when we face unfortunate circumstances. We may think, “Why is God allowing this suffering to besiege me?” Then, acting as a rebellious child, we convince ourselves that we have a reason to hold a grudge against Him. Similarly, we treat others in our lives with the same unforgiving spirit.

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Some people may think that forgiveness is a form of weakness, saying, “Why let an undeserving person win the battle?” On the contrary, forgiveness is an act of strength – a state of maturity in grace. It is obedience to God’s will. If God has forgiven us, who are we not to forgive others? Having said that, we cannot forgive by our own effort. We may try and try for many years, finally realizing that we are unable to just “get over it”.

There is a gift attached to forgiveness. This God-given gift is Peace – the peace that no one and nothing on earth can give us. If we ask the Lord with a childlike heart, He will bless us with His gift of peace, which surpasses all of our understanding. Once you taste this unfathomable harmony, you will understand the peace of God. With His help, you are able to pardon someone not because she/he deserves it, but because God commands it. We let the person go, thereby releasing ourselves from the bondage of restless feelings. Similarly, when you forgive yourself, you are released from the prison that you have built for yourself with your own hands.

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)

We all struggle from time to time with discouragement and outrage. If you read my previous post about “Hatred and Betrayal”, you’ll remember my unpleasant experience of conflict with an individual. After that painful encounter, I had a hard time getting over my distress and hurt. In fact, I carried the pain of it with me for a couple of months. I’m just as broken as everyone else, making mistakes daily. I hate contentiousness and the uncomfortable feelings it produces. I try my hardest to look for answers to life’s hard questions in God’s Word and in His signs. Of course I prayed about this matter day and night, asking God to forgive me and give me the power to forgive the other person. If you look up the meaning of forgiveness in the Bible, it’s described as a “release” or a “dismissal” of someone or something. Then it explains how God has forgiven us through the death of Jesus on the cross, providing the blessing of abundant and eternal life to whoever believes in His teaching, death and resurrection.

I continued to seek God’s word to learn to forgive. This is what I discovered from Jesus’ teachings concerning forgiveness.

(Matthew 18:21-23) “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”

Because of the pain and raw emotion that I felt during my time of unforgiveness, my desperation for peace of mind grew deeper. I noticed that a particular bible verse (Matthew 18:21-23) seemed to be popping up everywhere – in church sermons, Bible study, on Christian radio, and during my devotional time. The Lord was urging me to forgive those who had hurt me. But my initial response to Him was, “No, Lord! I am tired of forgiving them repeatedly. How many times do you expect me to forgive someone who hurts me?” I was carrying the heavy weight of unforgiveness on my shoulders constantly. Finally the Lord showed me a bold sign. One afternoon I was at the grocery store. When I got to the cashier, the lady at the register handed me my receipt, saying, “Today is your lucky day! You should go and buy a lottery ticket”. I said, “How so?” She said, “Look at the total on your receipt.” I couldn’t believe it! The total was $77.77.

I immediately grasped the significance as God reminded me of the verse which had been so noticeable in recent days, the one telling me “Forgive everyone not seven times, but rather seventy-seven times.”

Beyond any doubt, the Lord graciously hit me with the bold numbers. He was telling me, “Let go and let Me take care everything.” So, by His grace and mercy, I completely let go and let God….

My struggle faded away after that day. From my perspective, my relationship with those involved in the confrontation immediately improved, all because I got out of the “wrestling ring”. I don’t know how they felt, but as for me, I truly felt the peace of God deep within. I kept returning to His word, and when I read what the Lord commands us in (Leviticus 19:18), I was even more comforted (especially with the ending words).
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I AM THE LORD.”

God reminds us that He is the Lord, not us. If we don’t forgive and let go of our malice, we are acting as God and judging others. WOE UNTO US! We are setting ourselves up for a hard fall.

Unfortunately, some cultures delight in revenge rather than forgiveness. They might seem like some of the nicest people on the planet, yet when it comes to forgiving and letting bygones be bygones, they refuse. They respond with evil for someone’s mistake or immaturity, saying, “I will do this or that to put ‘so and so’ to shame”. Is that the way a mature person handles someone’s wrongdoing? It is natural to feel angry and anger is not a sin. But what we do with our anger may lead to sin. If you think carefully, you will see that revenge brings out the worst in you and lowers you to the same level as your offender.

I don’t get it. How can revenge ever hope to resolve the pain that was caused consciously or unconsciously by someone? Again God says in (Colossians 3:13) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

This is how I now see forgiveness vs. unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is a poison that will eat us from the inside. It harms our physical, mental, emotional, and relational self. On the other hand, forgiveness brings health, unity, and harmony to our homes and our communities. Now more than ever, we need forgiveness in the world. Not only will it build a strong self, it will also grow a yielding and harmonious community.

After all, forgiveness is an expression of love, mercy, and grace, helping us to move forward. It is a decision to not hold something against another person, despite what she/he has done to you. It means resisting the desire to pursue revenge, and instead seeking to make things right.

Here is the most important question for you – Have you experienced God’s forgiveness in your own life? If you haven’t, or if you are on defense, ask Jesus to come into your heart and life. Surrender yourself to Him. Then pray for the person who hurt you, that they will realize their own need for God’s forgiveness and give their life to Christ. Then, not only you will witness God’s power, but also the world around you will begin to change.

“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 11:25)

If you agree to the verse above, say, “Amen!”

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Hatred and Betrayal!

It is so true! I have heard it said that God is the kind of teacher who gives the test first, and then follows up with the lesson. When I read and watched the movie about the life of Joseph, I was moved to tears by his story of hardship and injustice. At times, we may find ourselves facing similar affliction and hatred, because of our beliefs and faith. Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

Joseph is an important figure in the Bible’s book of Genesis. His life story is a heartbreaking story, but one with a victorious ending (God’s story always has a good ending). God showed His mighty power through Joseph’s life. Joseph faced much turmoil starting at a very young age. First his brothers planned to kill him, then they sold him into slavery. How could his own flesh and blood betray him? Sadly, jealousy can blind people to the point that they deny their own family.

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Joseph was hired as a slave in Egypt, in the palace of Pharaoh. Time passed and as a result of his hard work, his master Potʹi·phar’ gave him a higher position, putting him in charge of the palace. Joseph grew up to be a very good-looking man, and Potʹi·phar’s wife wanted him to lie down with her. But Joseph knew it would be wrong, and refused her advances. Potʹi·phar’s wife became very angry. When her husband returned home, she lied to him, saying, “That bad Joseph tried to lie down with me!” Potʹi·phar believed his wife, and became very angry with Joseph, having him thrown into prison for seven years. As Joseph endured life in the dungeon, he continued to believe in God and remained hopeful. He gave the other prisoners hope, telling them that their predicament was one of life’s tests and that they must turn to God in faith and trust His promises for their deliverance.

“According to your faith let it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29)

Without faith, the core of our hope will crumble. Because of Joseph’s steadfast faith, he had the enduring hope that God would always be with him, even in the midst of adversity, and that He would bring him deliverance. His abiding faith caused him to have compassion toward His family, especially his brothers. In spite of what they did to him, he never hated them. How could he? He was always aware of God’s presence with him at every moment of his life. He was certain that God was dwelling in the depth of his heart, leaving no room for hatred. Therefore, God rewarded him with a prosperous life and a great legacy (his name and the story of his faith is included in one of the most popular book of the history – the Bible).

Similarly, Jesus knew betrayal firsthand. The most deceitful, mendacious, and despicable betrayal of all time was perpetrated by one faithless man, Judas, who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver. Judas was one of the twelve followers of Jesus and had been taught by Him. Judas had a closer relationship to Jesus than some of the other people in Jesus’ inner-circle. But when he was deceived by Satan, Judas arranged a signal with the Jewish authorities – the person whom Judas kissed that night was to be arrested and taken away. That is how Jesus was betrayed with a kiss on the cheek.

In those days a kiss on the cheek was a common greeting, as it is in some cultures today – a sign of deep respect, brotherly love, and honor. Jesus already knew who would turn him in that night. It all took place just as He had predicted. Jesus didn’t get angry or bitter, He even called Judas His friend. Judas’s action illustrated (Proverbs 27:6), “ Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

What really stunned the other followers, was how Judas used such a devoted expression of love and respect (a kiss) to betray Jesus. The betrayal itself was prophesied hundreds of years before its fulfillment (Psalm 41:9)
“Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me”.

I remember distinctly, how the Lord spoke to me through the verse above early one morning. I will never forget it. When our kids were younger, I use to go to the gym at 5:30AM before I dropped them off at school and went to work. One morning, as I got ready for the gym, I went to get my bag from the hallway closet. As I reached down to get it, I heard the Lord saying in my heart, “Read Psalm 41”. Then I heard myself saying, “Psalm 41”. Since I was still halfway asleep, I repeated it for a second time, “PSALM 41!?”

At that point I was awake and it dawned on me that the Lord must want me to read this particular Psalm. It may or may not have been a chapter that I had read before, I didn’t remember. I put my bag down and quickly opened the Bible to Psalm 41. I was astonished at what I read! I felt that God was warning me to be on the lookout as I read verses referring to someone lifting up his/her heel and rising up against me. At this point, I was a few years into my journey with God. I didn’t know what to do, except to pray. Later on, I learned that God tests us first and then teaches us a lesson. After all, He is that kind of teacher.  Also, I was taught that life is not about who is real to your face.  It is about who is real behind your back.

Exactly a month later, an unpleasant encounter happened just as the Lord had warned. Never had I faced such a verbally warlike situation. I was not spiritually mature enough to handle it, and it was the most painful moment of my life. The words exchanged between me and the other person not only hurt me, but hurt everyone who was there. Although I apologized for the words that I had said in anger, I faced animosity and hatred for awhile. Through all that happened, I never stopped loving them or praying for them. I remembered my Savior’s first command – to love one another and pray for each other. I believe God is with us through thick and thin in life whether we feel His presence or not. He sees all and hears all. The verse below encouraged me to hold on to God’s everlasting hope and be persistent in prayer. I saw the result of being patient in affliction through God’s promising word. It took awhile, but God made everything beautiful again in His time. I’m so grateful and praise His precious name.

The Lord says in Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

This is such an important concept to God that peace with Him and peace with others are entwined. We cannot know peace with God unless we are at peace with one another, and we cannot truly experience peace with others unless we are at peace with God. The lesson for me to learn was not only how to handle conflict, but also how to forgive others who hurt me (I will write more on forgiveness in a future post).

It’s vital to keep in the forefront of our minds that “God is always with us”. It is written 365 times in the Bible! Since God’s word so clearly states that He is with us, how can we hate someone while in the presence of God? That is impossible! There is no place for enmity and betrayal in the company of Almighty God. If we consider ourselves a godly person, then we can not look at someone else with a heart filled with treachery and malice. After all, how can abomination, dishonesty and malicious thoughts fit into a godly person’s character?

The Lord says, “Leave your sacrifice there at the door of the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God ” (Matthew 5:24)

What would it take for us to understand this one thing that the God of universe clearly tells us, “Don’t bow before Me, till you patch up things and get rid of the hatred, doubts, and jealousy? Make a way for Me that I may bless your life”. Ultimately Our sacrifices mean nothing to God, until we cleanse our hearts and resolve our conflicts with others. Although we may want to strike out at the betrayer, God’s word says that instead, we must take our case to Him and wait patiently. He then teaches us how to keep our eyes on Him and make room for love and compassion in our hearts in relation to others, in spite of our differences.
Again in 1 Peter 3:9, He says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Your betrayal or mine may not be as horrific as Jesus’ or Joseph’s betrayal, but it is still betrayal and when it happens, we are overwhelmed and crushed by it. The powerful key in overcoming the bitterness of any betrayal and animosity is our God-given gift to forgive. It can only be done through His power and strength, which allows us to forgive and move on. As soon as we choose to forgive someone, not only do we give that person a gift, we also give ourselves a gift – the gift of freedom from pain and resentment.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

I repeat the verse above to myself whenever I face difficult circumstances. I know with confidence that whatever God’s will is for me, He will either give me the strength to do what He has called me to do or He will change my circumstances.

If you will say this verse in the name of Jesus Christ in time of difficulties with firm faith, you will victoriously overcome any fear, anger, pain, or hurt, and you will be able to forgive your betrayer.