As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I’m learning to open my heart to the seasons of life and to surrender to that which He desires to teach me with each new season. Having battled cancer over the past year and a half — a life-changer for sure — I feel Him calling me now to transition from a season of militancy, strife, and vying for mortal existence, to a season of calm renewal, of openness and vulnerability, and of contemplation of lessons learned.
Looking back over my life from the perspective of a cancer survivor, I see too much rage and ruin. I see too many broken hearts and shattered dreams — people who should have been loved by me, but who were hurt by me; people who should have been fueled with a greater spiritual fire through their acquaintance with me, but who were, instead, left sidetracked and discouraged.
One can, of course, in light of lessons learned and growth experienced, determine to do better in the future; to take greater responsibility for the emotional, spiritual, and even physical welfare of the precious hearts that God permits into our lives. But, I think, it would be cold and irresponsible to simply forget about those people who I’ve hurt along the way; and to just move on without any thought or concern for their continued well being. Genuine penitence requires more of me than that, I think. And, it’s not just their continued well being that this season of reflection brings under review, by my own as well. My heart, I feel, is that much more empty, and my soul is lacking, to the degree that I persist in refusing to take responsibility for, or do anything about, the people I love — and who once loved me — but who have been hurt by me somehow, somewhere, along the way.
I tell my students, when they sometimes come to me with hurting hearts because they feel as though they’ve let God down by sinning and falling short of His glory, that repentance is not just a one time thing, but a daily walk of life. I try to reassure them with Jesus’ words, when He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4, NASB). If Jesus would tell His disciples something like that, don’t you know that God is ready, willing, and capable of forgiving us over and over and over again as He watches us struggle with the sin in our lives. But, I am also quick to point out to them that a trite, haphazard “I repent,” with no real intention of surrendering to the will of God in the matter, is an abuse of God’s grace; and the Bible warns us against those who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4, NASB).
I sometimes tremble at Jesus’ statement concerning those very “religious” people who will stand before Him on that great and glorious final day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But He will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23, NASB). Cloaking our selfishness and rebellion in the garbs of religious fervor and Christian service does not fool God. The Lord knows those who are His. On the other hand, it is not just sin, in and of itself, that condemns any person. The Apostle John reminds us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB). There is never a moment when any one of us can claim to have no sin. The Bible teaches that “… all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB).
And so, we need to live in a perpetual state of repentance and with the mindset of continual confession of our need for forgiveness, God’s grace — the blood of Christ to cleanse us, the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. And we are assured of that grace; for we are told that, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB).
But it is not just God’s forgiveness that my heart craves — although I want and need that most of all — but also the forgiveness of others; those who I have hurt along the way. My heart often aches for the renewal of relationship, for the rekindling of love’s fire, with certain people who were once so much a part of my life, but who have been lost to me — yet remain precious to me. Even in our sophisticated, high-tech, globally connected world today, just finding someone who seems to have vanished from our radar sometimes seems an insurmountable task; let alone actually contacting them and begging their forgiveness. And, you know, I wouldn’t blame them or hold it against them if that “forgiveness” was long in coming. I know I don’t deserve it! And, I guess, I may have to be prepared to, somehow, move on without it — accepting that as the consequences of my own foolish behavior. But, I simply must attempt to seek it. My heart will allow for nothing less.
Of course, I must also keep in mind that, not only do I need forgiveness from others, I must also be ready to give it. I remember Jesus’ teaching concerning this matter when He taught us to pray, “… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mathew 6:12, NASB). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul reminds me that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (I Corinthians 13:5, NASB). And the Bible warns, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NASB).
Don’t you know that it pleases God and makes Him smile when His children are good to one another; when they take care of one another. In essence, this is what it means to, as Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34, NASB). Or, as the Apostle John says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” … “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I John 3:18,23, NASB). I think of Jesus story of the prodigal son, and how his father so rejoiced at the homecoming of his long-lost boy. When two hearts that have been estranged, or even just separated by time and distance, find one another again, and “forgiveness” is truly sought and authentically given, love is rekindled in the beauty, power, and holiness of the Lord; what a time of rejoicing — and God smiles upon His children!
Forgive me for hurting you,
~ Philip ~