It was a beautiful spring day. Praise music drifted from my car speaker, and I didn’t have a care on my mind…until I stepped from the car. Standing with my hand on the gas hose, my thoughts took a wayward, and very unexpected turn. Out of nowhere, a memory resurfaced, bringing with it a surge of anger.
Dazed, I finished filling my tank, got back in the car, and tried to make sense of the situation. I’d forgiven this person long ago. Lord, don’t you remember all the prayers I sent out? Don’t you remember the tears I shed? Don’t you remember my surrender?
At first I felt defeated. Maybe my forgiveness hadn’t been genuine. So I poured my heart out to God once again, asking Him to remove this sudden surge of anger, committing myself, yet again, to forgiveness.
Since then, I’ve talked with others recovering from emotional pain and they’ve often shared similar scenarios. After fighting against it, ranting and raving, telling God how unfair the situation is and how He needs to send lightning bolts from heaven to set this offending person in their place, they surrender with a humbled, broken heart and trembling hands. Then freedom washes over them as God surrounds them with His love and they go about their day, only to be blind sighted a week, month, maybe even years later, when old emotions re-surface.
The truth is, forgiveness is not always a one-time event. Nor does it always begin with emotion. In fact, in my experience, it never starts with emotion. It begins with a rational decision to forgive, a teeth-gritting commitment followed by a desperate cry to God for help. But as we continue to draw near to Him, determining to forgive and surrendering our hurt, angry and bitter thoughts to Him, He begins to align our feelings to match our commitment.
But while God’s working to bring us wholeness and freedom, our adversary the devil’s devising counter measures to keep us in bondage and isolation. The last thing Satan wants is unity, but he probably won’t attack you when you’re in the middle of prayer. No, he’ll wait until your caught up in life to bombard you because then, just maybe you’ll be surprised enough to give in.
Satan is a thief and destroyer. He wants to rob you of your joy, your victory, and your peace. He wants to destroy you and your family. (John 10:10) The minute you take a step towards wholeness, Satan begins scheming how he can steal it from you. But here’s the good news. If you are in Christ, he can only work by your permission–he can only wiggle that foot into the door of your heart if you give him a foothold. Satan wants to destroy you, but Christ, who defeated Satan on the cross, came to give you life. Each day, you have a choice to grab one or the other. You grab onto life by drawing near to Christ in surrendered obedience, regardless how you feel. He takes care of the rest.
James 4:7-8 is one of my favorite verses, one I claim as a promise. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
When I resist the devil he flees from me. Stop and envision this for a moment—Satan fleeing, running fast in the other direction—from you. Now, envision the second part of this verse—God surrounding you. The Creator of the universe holding you in the palm of His hand. The Bible promises me, when I draw near to God, He draws near to me. Whether I feel His presence or not, this verse promises that God meets me the moment I turn to Him. James 4:7-8 is a recipe for victory, but to be victorious, I need to take hold of this promise and put it into action.
That day at the gas station, for a moment, I hovered between abundant life and defeat. Initially, I grabbed onto those bitter thoughts I once fought against with such determination. I held them, worked them, analyzed them…and quickly spiraled into increased anger. But luckily, God is bigger and never removes His lovingly watchful eye. As I sat in my car, oscillating between bitterness and surrender, He gently spoke to my heart, reminding me of His better way.
So, once again, I turned my pain and anger over to Him, asking Him to remove the negative emotions clouding my heart, replacing them with His goodness and love.
Then I prayed for the person who’d hurt me, which, I believe, is where the true power of forgiveness comes. Even if your prayer begins with gritted teeth.
I normally go through a series of steps, as I alluded to in an earlier post. First, I take my thoughts captive and refuse to dwell on or work the injustice in my mind. I tell God, openly and honestly how I feel, reminding myself that He understands. That He cares. Then, I ask God to remove my anger and bitterness and heal my wounds, surrounding me in His perfect love. (For it is His love, filling our deepest need and soothing our deepest wounds that heals us.) Then I pray for that person as I would for my own child, trusting God to align my emotions with my choice and prayer.
Come back tomorrow when Ane Mulligan shares an example of how this worked in her life–of a time when her forgiveness started with a choice and was followed by emotional release.