I would like to think that I’m a winner because of the things I do. I enjoy when I do well at participating in a sport, video game, board game, etc. We are all born with an innate sense of winning at everything we try. My wife and I are competitive people, just usually in different areas of life. She possesses the motivation and ambition to be successful in business, and at the same time to be successful as a wife and mother. There’s nothing wrong with desiring success, I am not saying that by any means. However, when we associate winning with being right all the time, by making other people succumb to our “amazing” wealth of “knowledge” and forget that they are the same as we are, we begin to lose…gratuitously. Let me explain what I mean.
As a believer in and follower of Christ, I prescribe to a certain set of beliefs outlined in scripture. The most important of these beliefs is that I love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, and mind. The second, which is similar, is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:37-40). Most of the time, we have no problem claiming allegiance to God, and maintaining the first of these two commandments. The second is where the wheels begin to fall off for most of us. We love people and generally our actions reflect that. But what happens when people fail us? What happens when they don’t quite live up to the standard that we expect them to? What happens when that failure involves us directly, and even more so when it is detrimental to our comfort or satisfaction? Do we immediately overlook their “shortcomings?” Is forgiveness given as quickly and freely to them, by us, as we would give ourselves? Ponder that thought for a moment…no really, how often do we not forgive ourselves for falling short of expectations? When it comes to holding ourselves accountable, we are the kings and queens of justification. Suddenly, our sins become minor offenses, and we can quickly say a prayer and “repent,” and move along to the next duty in our day. But, for shame, if someone doesn’t quite live up to the standard we expect them to. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying these things, my ears are burning and my stomach is in knots thinking about how often I’ve failed to live out this command of forgiving. I have forgone distributing forgiveness to those who honestly didn’t know they had offended me. Even if they did know they had offended me, how long have I clung to that frustration and bitterness toward that person? At the same time that I’ve clung to that mess, I’ve expected people to overlook my stupidity, inconsideration, and just outright disrespect. As my friend Jack Robertson would say, “Uh, hello!”
Until the past couple of years, there was bitterness and anger that I held onto, toward people that I went to junior high and high school with. That’s been 12 stinking years, for crying out loud! When I looked back at why I was so angry and bitter, I began to realize the offenses were really petty and, well, junior highish. My lack of being able to forgive these individuals clouded my ability to realize that they were, in fact, human. How was I any different? The exact same things that I had carried with me for so long, were things that I was guilty of doing to people myself! I have seen some of these former classmates on Facebook, and through other avenues, and God has drastically changed their hearts and moved them to follow Him! Praise God that He has changed their hearts! Was I able to recognize this? Um, no. Why not? Because I hadn’t let go of my anger and bitterness yet. I wasn’t able to comprehend and rejoice with them in their salvation because I was still losing. I was losing when my heart was embittered toward them because they had been a teenager, acting as some teenagers do.
Psalm 103:8-10 says:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry with us forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (HCSB)
Well dang, I feel like a jerk. I am supposed to be setting the example of God’s standard for one of His followers, and I can’t even get over someone picking on me in junior high. Pretty sure the persecution the disciples went through made my aggravation seem pretty minor. Let’s take a look a little bit farther in this chapter, Psalm 103:11-14 says:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.” (HCSB)
Basically, what I take from this passage, is that when I don’t forgive as my Father in heaven has forgiven me, I am losing. Not only am I losing, but I am failing. The absolute beauty in this though, is that He has taken our transgressions completely away when we give our lives to Him. Now, we have the opportunity to do the same to those who have sinned against us. Am I saying that we need to search every single person out who has offended us and inform them of the “great grace” we’ve performed for them? No. We are never taught to go make a point of telling someone we have forgiven them, it is completely an issue of our heart being obedient to our Father. We are commanded to forgive them. We are also called to forget. You’ve heard the phrase before, “I’ll forgive them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me.” This is an attitude that the world has birthed that has none of the characteristics of Christ. He took all of our sins, forgave them, and took them away forever. When we give our lives to Him, that sin is g-o-n-e.
They say that elephants are very smart creatures that never forget. I don’t want God to be an elephant when it comes to my sin. Fortunately, because I have that eternal salvation through His son’s death on the cross, He’s not an elephant. He has forgotten my sins and taken them away as far as the east is from the west. Spend a minute thinking about that analogy for a second. The east never catches up to the west, just as our sin will never be brought up again when we have repented from that sin. Because of the example of God’s forgiveness, we can choose to win when we forgive others.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says,
“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (HCSB)
We don’t get to tell someone to apologize for their actions (unless it’s your child), but we get to choose to act as Christ and forgive them for it. As Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North explains in the video below, we can choose whether or not we want to be winning or losing. I have to make a daily and conscious decision to grant forgiveness to those who I feel have wronged me, even more so when they may not have realized they did so. Don’t be an elephant.