DO NOT MERELY LISTEN TO THE WORD, AND SO DECEIVE YOURSELVES. DO WHAT IT SAYS. —JAMES 1:22
There are some things the Bible is brutally honest about. Things we don’t get a choice about. Boundaries and borders that are marked out for us, and commands that are plain as day. But if you’re anything like me, human at all, you know that sometimes we don’t want the guidance of the Bible. We may know what the Bible says about a given situation, but we don’t want to do what it says. So, we go looking for another answer.
I’ve often asked God what he wants me to do in a particular situation, or in a particular relationship, when I know the answer is already laid out for me. But, instead of doing the thing I know I should do, I go to him seeking some other answer, something less painful, something more tolerable, something that feels like it would be better for me. Let me share one such example.
If any of you have been around here very long, you know that sports are a major part of my story, and they are a major part of how Dwell got started. I spent the first 2+ decades of my life trying to win state championships, national championships, and ultimately trying to make an Olympic team. Track and field, pole vaulting specifically, was a huge part of my life, and I regularly battled it as an idol that tried to take the throne of my life in place of Jesus. On top of that, I was a people pleaser, often struggling with elevating the opinions of my coaches to the loudest voice. Good news for me: I was the golden child. I was a team captain, always doing the right thing, severely loyal, earning honors and respect from my peers and leaders alike. Most of the time, people were proud of me, and I felt that, and I liked it.
However, during one particular season, all of that came crashing down. One of my coaches let me down. For as loyal as I had been, that loyalty wasn’t returned. I was hurt, shocked even. And more than that, I was bitterly angry. The reality was two-fold. First, I felt that I’d been wronged, but second—and probably more painful—was the reality that my idols had fallen from their throne. The thing that I had been worshiping was not able to meet my wants and needs. In fact, I felt like my idol was downright mean.
I wish I could tell you that after seething for a few days, I recognized how good and generous it was for God to allow this to happen. I wish I could tell you that I moved on to forgiveness and my eyes were opened to a clearer path. But this wasn’t the case. Instead, for years, YEARS, I chose unforgiveness.
If you follow Jesus, forgiveness isn’t an option. Our verse tells us that we shouldn’t merely be listening to the Word, and so deceive ourselves. We’ve got to actually do what it says. And the Bible tells us that forgiveness is one of those things that we just don’t get a choice about. Here are just a few verses on forgiveness:
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Don’t be bitter, instead, forgive (from Ephesians 4:31-32).
How many times should I forgive? Seventy times seven (from Matthew 18:21-22).
Jesus tells us to pray “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
And even though I knew all of this to be true, I straight up chose to disobey. Don’t get me wrong, I’d pray about my situation asking God to help me navigate it all, crying about my hurt, and pouring out my anger. (Side note: thank the Lord he wants us to come honest about what we are feeling.) My back wasn’t to God, but I’d turned a blind eye to the one clear directive God had about my situation. My pride was crushed, and my idols had been toppled. As I would be out training for pole vault, I’d imagine myself proving this person wrong. I’d “show them.” Anger actually felt good. Now, using rage as a fuel source to chase your dream is the stuff of movies, but let me tell you, it is not a good way of life. Bitterness will consume you and change you. I even did what I could to get others to be mad with me.
I can’t tell you when it happened. There wasn’t a specific conversation, or passage in Scripture I read, or sermon about forgiveness seemingly directed at me that spurred me to move in a different way. The greatest benefit of following Jesus, outside of salvation itself, is that the Holy Spirit lives in me. And despite my greatest effort to try and hold onto my right to be angry, by the grace of God, I started to see that the fruit of my anger was bitter and bad and that maybe I should try and do what God had already told me to do. Forgive.
In my heart, I made a conscious choice to forgive, and the tangled up mess in my chest slowly untied itself. On the other side of forgiveness was freedom in my own mind and body and spirit. I had no idea what holding onto unforgiveness was doing to me. It is exhausting to be mad, to always be hurt, to try and prove yourself. Forgiving allowed me instead to be renewed in my mind. I didn’t have to be angry, or feel betrayed, or need to earn anything. I could get back to the true and good things God had for me.
So can I encourage you to ask yourself this question? What thing are you holding onto? What are you fighting to protect? What do you feel like you deserve or have the right to that God ultimately says something different about? I’m gonna nudge you. Pray for God to open your eyes, to help you see the fruit in your life for what it is, and that he would give you a heart that desires him more. It isn’t easy, but it’s good, and God is with you!
Thanks for reading,
🎧 ON THE PODCAST: Are You Seeing Yourself Clearly? // April Harper