Reflections about the Grace

godspeedContinued from here.

While I have paid heavy costs over the past year for following God, His grace has abounded. The day after I was fired, I learned that I was inheriting a sum that came to exactly one year of net pay plus 10% for the tithe. I called this my divine severance package.

I was only unemployed for two months, and I had my initial interview the next business day after being fired. I had never interviewed for a ministry position before and did not know what to expect, but God guided me through the process. I wasn’t sure how to address questions about my former employer, but those questions never arose. My current employer is aware of my having been fired from my previous position and does not appear to care at all. When looking for grace, one cannot find someone with more grace in their hearts than people who invest their time in extending grace to those in prison.

I have never enjoyed a position as much as I do leading this prison ministry. Most of my professional experience has been in Corporate America, where I was trying to make rich people richer. As the executive director for a statewide Christian prison ministry, my focus is leading others – volunteers and inmates alike – to God. I have the blessing of working with people who love God and others – and particularly inmates. We spur one another on toward growing in our faith. We open our meetings with prayers and devotions. I cannot put into words the blessing of spending my days at work glorifying God and accomplishing His purposes.

One aspect of professional ministry I did not anticipate is the level of spiritual warfare I would have to deal with. Pray daily for everyone you know in professional ministry because you have no idea what they go through on a daily basis. Tasks that were easy for decades in Corporate America suddenly became onerous, not because I suddenly “forgot” how to do them but because the enemy had no reason to interfere with me making rich people richer. God’s grace even covers this dynamic because every day, I must lean on Him and trust Him to move the ongoing stream of barriers that arise so frequently that it’s almost comical.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling by the word, “Godspeed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extending Grace that has Not Been Extended to You

i_forgive_youContinued from here.

The final piece of the challenge of trusting God amidst deep emotional pain is to keep doing things God’s way, even when you see no results whatever. This includes forgiving the people who judge you in your brokenness. Perhaps one of the most difficult of God’s commands is to forgive someone as he or she continues to inflict pain on you, and yet that is what Jesus did. While suffering and dying on the cross, he prayed for his enemies:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” ~ Luke 23:32-34

When people judge you in your woundedness, they truly do not know what they are doing. They don’t understand the iron in your soul. They have no comprehension of the energy it is taking you simply to get out of bed in the morning and put forth even a mustard seed of faith that God will come through for you in your pain and brokenness. While it is natural to want to hate them – or at least resent them, choose to forgive them instead. Do this even as they continue to inflict pain on you, just as the soldiers continued to inflict pain on Jesus as he was dying on the cross. I know this is not easy, but it is the way through the pain.

This season of pain will eventually end, even though it feels eternal. The choices you make during this season of pain will determine the degree to which you are refined through this fire. Learn the lessons God is teaching you through this extremely painful season. Some lessons can only be learned through suffering, such as patience and perseverance. These lessons are leading you to maturity and completion and are the very tools God is using to lead you to a state of not lacking anything. You are already paying the cost, so learn the lesson. Let “I will trust you, Lord” become your battle cry – your lantern shining the way out of the pain. When you can see nothing but your own pain, make the decision to trust God, and you will find your way out.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a halo and angel’s wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Loving God More Than You Hate the Wrongdoer

i_love_you_moreContinued from here.

I have lived both the options of judgment and intercession. For decades, I lived in judgment against my childhood abusers and suffered in bondage to my bitterness. From 2013 through 2014, I prayed daily for my childhood abusers and gradually experienced healing and release from that bondage. I refuse ever to go back. I know the heavy price I have paid to live in unforgiveness, and I will never choose that path again. The cost is too high.

That’s not to say I don’t get tempted. I still do. For example, as a mother of a 17-year-old high school student, I was tempted just as much as everyone else in the country to think hateful thoughts about Nikolas Cruz. However, it all boils down to one question for me: Do I love God more than I hate the other person? If I do, I will obey God and pray for that person. And that is what I am doing – I am praying for Nikolas Cruz every morning, not because he deserves it but because I love God more than I am sickened by what he did. I refuse to sit in judgment on Nikolas Cruz, even though it is socially acceptable to do so, because I choose, instead, to intercede in prayer for him out of love for and obedience to God.

I am also mindful that I will be judged in the same way I judge others. And God does not judge based on the actions: he judges by the heart, which is a much higher standard. I know the evil thoughts I had toward my child abusers. I stand before the Father guilty of murder based on His standards. Thus, I am wise to heed His warning about not judging a school shooter when I, myself, am a mass murderer by God’s standards. As I judge Cruz, I will be judged. I choose God’s way.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying a large heart that says, “I love you more.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Judgment or Intercession

praying_for_you

Continued from here.

One reason it’s so difficult to obey God about forgiving others, despite God forgiving us so freely, is because we let our feelings and emotions drive our behavior. Obeying God is a choice, and it does not feel natural to choose to behave contrary to our emotions. Your emotions will follow your thoughts. When you choose to obey God and align your thoughts with Him, your feelings will eventually follow, which is why our hearts become tender toward those we pray for.

When someone wrongs us, we have two choices: judgment or intercession. We cannot simply ignore the wounds that the actions of others inflict upon us or those we love. Being wounded causes an emotional reaction, and we get to choose how to behave amidst the sea of emotions. Our flesh will always drive us toward passing judgment on the other person, which God tells us not to do. Rather, God tells us to intercede for that person in prayer, which is what both Jesus and Stephen modeled for us. This isn’t easy, but it really is that simple.

Joyce Meyer helped me with this. In one of her sermons, she pointed out that if you know you are going to forgive someone in obedience to God, it makes sense to go ahead and do it right away. For example, I have decided in advance that I am going to love and forgive my husband no matter what he does. So, any energy I put forth toward being annoyed with something he does is only going to make the process harder for me. Since I know I am going to forgive him, why wait? I can choose in that moment, even while he is doing something that I don’t like, to extend him grace and mercy and not to judge him. Again, it’s simple – it’s just not easy.

Whenever someone wrongs me or others, I have a choice: judgment or intercession. If I am tempted to think something negative 100 times a day, I can turn that into 100 prayers in a day for that person. This is what Jesus and Stephen modeled, and this is how I will react to others harming me if I want to be a disciple of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kneeling by her bed in prayer under the words, “I’ll pray for you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How Do We Extend Grace and Mercy While being Persecuted?

struggle_is_realContinued from here.

Please do not ever assume that anything I write about on this blog comes easily to me – it doesn’t. To quote a wise pastor, before I step on your toes with my message, God has first clobbered me with it. I lived for decades with a huge harvest of the fruit of bitterness, and I was miserable. No matter how many times I prayed for God to heal my emotional wounds from years of childhood abuse, I remained in bondage to my pain. I grew to realize that while the child abusers were responsible for the initial wounds, **I** was responsible for the wounds continuing to harm me decades after the abuse stopped. My refusal to forgive my abusers kept pouring salt into my wounds, preventing them from healing. Unless and until I chose to forgive them, I would spend the rest of my life in heavy emotional bondage.

Jesus never allowed his anger to take root and grow bitterness. Don’t assume this was easy for him. We only need to read the account of the Garden of Gethsemane to see that is not the case. What did Jesus do all night? He prayed. Prayer is the key to extending grace and mercy when someone is harming us.

Don’t think that spending the night in prayer was easy for Jesus. He was in so much anguish that he actually sweated blood. While I have never sweated blood, I have experienced other physical reactions as my flesh and spirit collided, such as when I began the process of forgiving my childhood abusers. Unlike Jesus, who knew to pray for his enemies as they harmed him, I started my own prayer journey in a sea of bitterness, and I need much longer than one night to pray my way out of it.

When your sinful nature tells you to begin obeying God “later,” don’t listen. The time to obey God is always right now. While immediate obedience might cost you one night of sweating blood, it can spare you decades of pain and bondage.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hand in a fist and saying, “The struggle is real.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

When is it Time to Extend Mercy and Grace?

whenContinued from here.

When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin and you repent, how quickly do you want to experience forgiveness? I am guessing that, like me, your answer is IMMEDIATELY! Once God makes me aware of a way I have wronged Him or someone else, I feel “off” and immediately throw myself before God in repentance. One of God’s greatest blessings is immediate forgiveness and restoration, no matter how far I have strayed from God’s ways. Jesus already paid the price for my wrongdoing, so justice has been served as he, who was innocent, suffered and died to enable me to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12), despite having just wronged someone.

As soon as I repent of my wickedness and return to God, the Father sees me, is filled with compassion for me, and throws his arms around me in reconciliation. How blessed I am not to have to wait a week, a month, or a year for God to work through His emotions before he will extend me grace. May I never take for granted the heavy price Jesus paid for me to experience this level of grace.

And yet, in our flesh, we don’t want to extend the same grace to those who wrong us. We want to wait until we have had time to process our feelings … or until the other person proves that s/he has changed … or until the wounds that have been inflicted upon us have healed. In the meantime, we plant seeds of anger into fertile soil of righteous indignation that produce the fruit of bitterness, even though God tells us to “get rid of all bitterness” (Eph. 4:31). The way to avoid growing the fruit of bitterness is choosing forgiveness and extending grace as soon as the wound is inflicted. It’s not easy, but it really is that simple.

How do we choose forgiveness and extend grace as the wounds are being inflicted? In the same way that Jesus and Stephen did: by praying for our enemies.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a pocket watch and asking, “When?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Doing Justly while Loving Mercy for Others

forgive_youA reader told me that I should not have used Nikolas Cruz as the example in my last blog series on not judging others because it is too soon – the emotional fallout of what he did is still too raw. I responded that is exactly why I chose him. After all, Jesus interceded for those who crucified him as he was dying on the cross, laboring for each breath. Likewise, Stephen interceded for those who stoned him to death as he was being stoned. Considering both modeled interceding in prayer for the wrongdoer as they were experiencing the pain of the wrongdoer’s actions, I firmly believe it is never too soon to apply God’s instructions in our lives. This blog series will focus on the timing of forgiveness, interceding for wrongdoers in prayer, and judging others.

G.K. Chesteron said…

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”

I heard this said in a slightly different way, which stuck with me:

The innocent cry out for justice while the guilty cry out for mercy.”

When we are the wrongdoers, we seek mercy, and songs like the Sidewalk Prophets’ Come to the Table resonate deeply within us as we experience grace. We know we don’t deserve the grace that has been extended to us and deeply appreciate being spared the penalty for our wrongdoing. However, when we are innocent, we cry out for justice. We want to see the wrongdoer punished. We look at our wounds and scream for vengeance. This is our sinful nature’s worldview: mercy for me, but justice for you.

God’s worldview is the opposite: it is actually justice for me and mercy for you:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8

I am to behave in a way that is just toward others while, at the same time, extend mercy to you when you harm me. This is the polar opposite of our sinful nature, which makes this very difficult to do. In fact, we are only able to live this way by depending upon God, loving Him more than we hate the wrongs that are inflicted upon us and those around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angel’s wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]