All of us have experienced betrayal from unexpected enemies.
The boss who cut your unshakeable job.
The spouse who broke the resolute promises of marriage.
The friend who failed to stand up for you.
The doctor who botched that procedure.
The colleague who ripped you off.
The sibling who repeatedly lied to your face.
Whenever these things happen in our lives (and they will, in different measures), a tidal wave of emotion follows on.
Gut wrenching heartache.
Tears, and screams.
Life goes into free-fall.
Fog-clouds of uncertainty and confusion smother us.
We have no idea which way is up, let alone which way to walk.
How we react to these moments is something best not left to the moment itself.
If you are anything like me, I know that waiting until the heat of the meltdown will almost certainly result in my making bad decisions. Instead, our responses to unexpected enemies need to be shaped in advance, through wise preparation.
By this I don’t mean we go around thinking the worst of our friends, family, and colleagues! Rather, this is about placing daily rhythms into our lives that will, over time, lay down spiritual railroad tracks that will carry us through the cold chaos of crisis.
The journey to true forgiveness is never easy, but is one that is forced upon us by betrayal from an unexpected enemy. While we could list numerous stages, here are three core deepened commitments that will prove invaluable if we can embed them in our lives.
1. Deepened Commitment To My Devotional Life
It is vital that we approach our devotional lives in a disciplined and orderly way. This will mean that we slowly absorb the character and values of our heavenly Father, and those will increasingly shape our hearts and mindsets.
In particular, we must at the very least place into our daily lives two things:
(i) A planned pattern for prayer. By training our hearts to go deeper into God, this is the best way to survive the strike of the darkest of days.
(ii) Systematic Bible reading. This is the engine room for managing the heavy demands of relational turmoil. Unexpected enemies place impossible burdens on our hearts, but by becoming women and men who are shaped by Scripture, we maximize our chances of turning relational disaster into something that brings an advance for the Kingdom.
2. Deepened Commitment To Forgiveness
When you hear the stories of people who have gone through horrific situations, and have ended up able to extend forgiveness, do you ever think to yourself, “I’m not sure I could do the same?”
And, of course, by ourselves in all probability we can’t.
That is why we need Jesus in our lives. We must be Christ empowered. Because we can’t do it under our own steam.
Forgiveness is something that Christ has first gone ahead and done for us, when He offered complete and compelling forgiveness at the cross, for our act of turning ourselves into unexpected enemies of God. Instead of punishment, we received forgiveness and mercy.
And so as we recognize what forgiveness we have received — which is no cheap grace, as it cost the death of Jesus in our place — so we are empowered to live differently. His Spirit comes to live in us, and so we are enabled to forgive others — not out of our own reservoirs of goodness or generosity, but out of God’s inexhaustible supply.
When I turn to the Bible to think through forgiveness, one of the passages that comes first to mind is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15. As well as reading the text, one way to engage more deeply is through art. I was especially struck by a sculpture by Antonio Montauti, titled The Return of the Prodigal Son, which collapses into one moment of time the key moments of the younger son’s return. In my talk on this subject (details below) I comment more on this, but for now, consider this key question: with which of the four characters do you most identify?
3. Deepened Commitment To Go To The Cross
But we must also go a step further, and truly live out what it means to go to the cross with these things. At the cross, there is a death to self, which we undertake in order that love of God might come to that other person
Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-8, which describes the death to self that Christ underwent in order to come and forgive us. As we follow His example, we begin to stop talking about “my rights” and “my desires” and “my recompense”, and instead begin to think more about taking the dying side of the equation, in order to bring life to that relationship and to all the relationships that ripple out from there. And, of course, to bring life to the full into my heart — forgiveness of others is an enormous gift to oneself.
We all know that absolutely none of this is easy, and at times is unbelievably painful.
But it is the way of Christ, and the path into which we are called as committed disciples of Jesus. As we seek to try to live like this in the context of our church families, so our mission, our community, and our worship is impacted, with the authenticity of lives that are sincerely trying to live out the grace and love of the Gospel.