Encourage and Build Each Other Up

Tucked away in an alcove of pine in Door County, Wisconsin, there is what many consider a treasure. Towers of precariously stacked stones populate this short stretch of shoreline at Lake Michigan’s Cave Point County Park.

Some towers are short and dainty looking, assembled quickly by someone passing through. Other structures clearly showcase much time, effort, and of course, patience. They are miracles of height and structure, balancing at six feet or more.

I visited this shoreline on a cold and windy autumn day. There were no builders in sight, just this evidence that many had been here and worked with their hands. Carefully, I made my way around the towers and down the shore. I wondered what inspires the visitors here to stack stones? What do they gain from building? Could this process of stacking represent anything similar in our own lives? Consider this verse:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

Therefore encourage one another…

In this passage of Scripture “encourage” translates to mean comfort. The apostle Paul wrote this verse in a letter to the Thessalonians who were persecuted for their new Christian faith. Their loved ones were punished and killed daily for their beliefs. In his letter, Paul reminds them to comfort one another and to live knowing their future is secure with those they have lost.

Our problems may not be as dire as the Thessalonians, but we still understand hardship. Everyone has problems, even the people who visited this rocky beach. Perhaps they walked next to the water like I did and tried skipping stones. Maybe seeing the towers around them calmed their spirits or inspired them to build too.

Whatever issues we face, knowing we are not alone helps us cope. Our faith comforts us and helps us comfort others. As companions in faith, our presence can encourage (comfort) others through hardship with compassion, hope, and thoughtfulness.  

and build each other up,…

Throughout his letter, Paul likens the members of the church to the parts of a body. Each person or part contributes to the welfare of the whole. His request to “build each other up” means to edify or improve each other intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Our faith is always growing and in need of tending. We build each other up by praying together, discussing the Bible, and sharing how God touches our lives.

When we work with others, whether it is on faith…or stacking rocks, we soon learn people think and do things differently than we do. Comparing ourselves to others or judging them limits the learning and growth we can gain from them.

In the relaxed setting of these open waters, I imagine strangers building towers side by side. They learn from each other, share balancing tips, laugh, and cheer each other on as yet another huge rock remains in place.

It is not our job to fix or change people, but to build each other up (edify) as a community growing in a faith which benefits us all.     

just as in fact you are doing.

In this last part of the Scripture, Paul recognizes the Thessalonians for their supportive efforts. He gives them praise for holding on tightly to faith in the midst of tragic and challenging circumstances.

In today’s stressful and troubled world, confidence in our faith and purpose can become wobbly as well. We question if we are doing the right things for God and struggle to keep our balance.

Taking time to slow down and giving ourselves space to think about how we show up to love others brings meaning and purpose to our lives. For some understanding may come while on a walk, studying the Bible, or looking at the stars. For others, it may come stacking stones on a desolate shore. Paul’s words travel to all those places and more, imploring us to go a little higher.

Stacking Stones
by Jamie Trunnel

Wandering souls sometimes stack stones.
Marks of patience,
Balance,
And time free from phones.

Expressing their bliss
With careful luck.
Escaping from problems,
Or calamities which have struck.

What if each placed rock
Represented a problem someone had?
And, the stacking process made him feel…
Not so bad.

Standing back and taking a look
Put things in perspective;
Told him he had what it took.

Life could be organized
And balanced as such.
See all these other souls
Who thought just as much?

We all have problems.
We all struggle.
If we saw others’ towers,
Maybe ours would not crumble.

Standing vulnerably tall
With our problems on display,
Maybe we could all find
Peace,
Hope,
And a little less judgement along the way.

Stacking Stones is a poem from my new book Simple Wishes which releases in early September. Be sure to join my email subscriber list to receive upcoming sneak peeks of the book and other special offers!

Related Posts:

Love on Ordinary Days

A New Kind of Resolution

Judged Instead of Loved

Some Clowns Showed Me How to “BE” the Church

And Just a Note: Some outdoor enthusiasts consider rock stacks like these an unwelcome reminder of humanity. There are concerns about the natural erosion process and the habitat of insects or mammals which burrow under the rocks. This blog post is not intended to support or discourage rock stacking. 🙂

The Worry Fight

Have you fought a few rounds with worry lately? More often than we would like, many of us find ourselves in the ring trying to knock worry out. We fret about things like beauty, money, success, health, family and …. even worry itself! Gradually, worry becomes a fact of life, part of the human condition, or something we expect to come with responsibility.

We stay in the ring, routinely fighting one worry after another, even though we know our efforts are futile. There’s no winning against worry, and we know this. It doesn’t solve anything, but tossing it around in the ring seems to make us feel productive somehow. Then, circumstances change and our current worry opponent becomes weaker. We’re ready to take off our gloves, but then a fresh worry shows up and relieves the old one. So, we stay in the ring, and we keep swinging.

One day a large, unfamiliar worry shows up in the opposite corner. This fight drags on longer than the rest. The punches surprise us. We can’t stay on our feet. Staggering and out of options, we fall against the ropes.

Where do we go from here? Have you been there? I have. I spent a lot of my life in the ring fighting worry, day in and day out. One opponent after another, I stayed on my feet. But, one day the worry was too big and too unknown. It wore me out. I spent some time hanging on those ropes, searching for a way to end the fight with worry.

I read what God had to say about worry. Did you know the Bible tells us ‘not to fear’ hundreds of times? Some sources say 365 times — interestingly, the same number of days in a year. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear God never intended us to fight with worry at all. How did he intend for us to cope?

Humbly Seek God’s Help

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 New International Version (NIV)

In Christianity, humility means to hold a modest opinion of one’s importance and abilities in relation to God. Humbly seeking God’s help requires us to overcome any barriers like pride, shame, or even ignorance which stand in the way of our relationship with him. Admitting we cannot find answers on our own opens the door for God to help. Our prayers start a relationship with him, thus serving him in one of the best possible ways.

As we grow in faith, we realize that no problem is too big or small for God. Everything that happens to us concerns him because he loves us, no matter what. We were not meant to handle our problems without his help. However, if we don’t ask him for help, he certainly lets us try (free will). God does not occasionally want our worries. He does not only want to hear about certain things. God wants every concern; he wants ALL our anxiety.

Trust God’s Care and Plans for You

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3: 5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

When worries weigh heavy on our hearts we try anything to remedy our situation – even more worrying. Urgent situations may cause us to forget to pray or to delay it. We might doubt God’s ability to help us. Or, we might wonder why God would even want to help us. Prayer can become our last resort. Trusting God with “all your heart” means trusting him FIRST, not last.

God wants us to rely on him. We cannot control or fully understand our circumstances, but God does. He has a plan for our lives, and he wants to help us find our way. Prayer provides the time we need to free our conscience and voice concerns. Do our problems magically vanish? No. But, prayer can relieve worry by rejuvenating us with God’s hope and new direction. Scripture brings us reassurance and helps evaluate decisions. We start noticing how love shows up for us in times of trouble, and we may discover how our experiences can help us love others. Trusting God, in good times and in bad, helps us discover paths away from worry. 

Share the Load

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV

Many of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible use farming metaphors. Farming was a common activity people could relate to. A yoke is a harness worn by oxen to pull a load behind them and complete work. In this Scripture, Jesus asks us to share the yoke with him, so he can help pull our burdens in life. Our troubles may not be removed, but Christ’s strength makes our load lighter and more manageable.

Sharing the yoke allows us to focus on the work we can do and leave the rest up to God. Worry only distracts us from seeing the ways God is helping. Dwelling on the what if’s stall us from walking forward in faith-filled directions. Those directions might include things like asking others for prayers and support, exploring resources, taking care of our health, seeking professional help, or enjoying God in new ways. Focusing on God’s guidance and results, instead of worry, makes us more productive in our circumstances.  

Find Peace and Rest

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT

As God in human flesh, Jesus knew what suffering lay ahead. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, he was overcome with anguish and deep sorrow regarding the agony ahead (Matthew 26:36-39). Yet, because of his faith in God’s sovereignty and good, he left willingly with the Roman soldiers who came for him.

His pure heart had never felt guilt, anxiety, or fear until he chose to become sin for us. By accepting our sin while on the cross, he endured not only physical torture, but infinitely worse, a spiritual separation from God (Matthew 27:46). Because of his sacrifice, his believers will never experience this kind of separation from God; they receive the gift of eternal life.

As believers, we never have to endure anything as horrific as Jesus did. But like Jesus, we must remind ourselves not to fear because we also trust God is in control and working things for good. Faith allows us to face concerns one day at a time and remain assured God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:25-34). 

Before he died, Jesus told his disciples he would send peace to dwell within his followers through the Holy Spirit. Our faith ignites the Holy Spirit to offer peace, so even in the most difficult circumstances we know we will be okay. The world cannot offer us that kind of lasting peace.

Fighting worry requires us to bring all our best moves, fancy footwork, and endurance. We’re good fighters, but eventually worry wears us out. Crawling to the ropes, we try hoisting ourselves up. Beaten, tired, and struggling, our minds run out of options.

But wait…someone is on the other side of the ropes. Offering a hand, he pulls us clear of the ring. Turn around. Look at worry now. He’s dancing around, throwing jabs in the air, and searching for an opponent. He can keep swinging. We are done. As our friend and rescuer says, “It is finished”.

When you run out of options, you run into Jesus. 

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” -Mark 6:50 (NLT) 

Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for your gentle reminders not to worry. You show love and care for me daily through your blessings, people, and opportunities. Keep my eyes open to the ways you work on my behalf so I do not take any of it for granted. Continue teaching me humility so I bring more worries to you in prayer. When I get caught up trying to fix or control circumstances, help me remember to trust your plans and come to you first not last. Help me focus on what I can do instead of worrying about what I cannot. Lead me in finding the plans you have for me. As I feel and see the way faith lightens my load, I pray my peace will also grow. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Related Posts:

Learning to Pray

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Embracing God’s Plan

Trusting God Along the Eagle Trail

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

Notice Me: Our Quest to Matter

Notice me. Two simple words. Like a broken record this phrase plays unspoken in our minds throughout our lives. During our youth, it shakes us at full volume as we search for acceptance from classmates and look for love. In mid-life, it annoyingly chants at us while we work hard to achieve career goals and possibly to raise a likable family. As we progress in years, the “notice me” noise might quiet down along with life’s demands. Or, it could ramp up as we worry about being cared for and our legacy.

Whatever phase of life we are in, it is likely that a “Notice Me” soundtrack is playing in some way. We confront a natural human desire to be noticed by our family, friends, love interests, colleagues, employers, communities, and social media.

Knowing that we matter is important to us. Our culture tells us to get affirmation we must stand out, be glamorous, and accomplish extraordinary things. We can easily get off track and become consumed by quests to be noticed.

Do you find yourself getting caught up in the rat race for attention and acceptance? Do you feel torn about how much to promote your work, family, or volunteer efforts? After all, sometimes being noticed can bring good things, not only for yourself, but for others and for God. How do we figure out where our boundaries are?

Lately, I found myself wrestling with these questions as I worked through a decision in my life. In thinking about what to do, this Scripture verse came to mind:

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

This Scripture is part of Paul the Apostle’s letter to Thessalonian Christians. In this portion of the letter, Paul’s words are written as a guide on how to live a life that honors Christ. He lays out three goals for Christians to pursue:

Live a quiet life…

A quiet life, huh? Most of our lives are brimming with physical, mental, and emotional challenges from ourselves and others.

In Paul’s time, life was also anything but quiet. The Thessalonians faced constant threats of being persecuted for their beliefs and many died young. Their lives were full of worry and sadness.

So, what did Paul mean by a quiet life? Obviously, then and now, most people cannot leave their daily lives behind to inhabit a peaceful tropical island. And, most would not stop pursuing their goals even if it meant things quieted down. Ups and downs and turmoil continue to be part of life. So, when we can’t change our circumstances, we change how we react to them.

We set limits on our involvement in drama and aspire to live peaceably with everyone. Providing ourselves enough time for rest and thought helps us not overreact in situations. Exercise, healthy food, and personal care cultivates an environment for calm virtues and an even-temperament to grow.

Spending time with God hushes the world around us and motivates us to take care of ourselves. In quiet moments God can help us discover how to handle our relationships and what our energies should be applied to. The world around us will not provide a quiet life, but spending time with God helps us create one. 

Mind your own business…

The preoccupation humans have with each others’ lives began long before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nosy neighbors, gossiping acquaintances, preachy know-it-alls, and better-than-you busybodies have always existed. Social platforms are just new tools of the trade.

Not minding our own business starts innocently enough through curious conversations and pre-conceived notions. The subject arises again, maybe while chatting with someone at work or at a coffee house. We just thought others should know. Or, we want to get another opinion. Then perhaps, we do a little more Google investigating and justify it to ourselves.

The process is so subtle, so sly that we may not even notice it happening. But, it does. Our curiosity, our enthusiasm to be in-the-know, and our simple unawareness overtakes us. We slip quickly down the slopes of boasting, gossiping, obsessing, comparing, judging, envying, etc. It’s not a fun fall; we feel it in our gut.

Paul warns the Thessalonians to mind their own business. God crafted us uniquely for specific purposes. He does not compare us. Each of us has the capacity to love God and to love others in different and amazing ways. If we are always preoccupied with everyone else, then we cannot discern what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in us. Rather than focusing time and energy on the lives of others, God asks us to devote ourselves to learning from him and helping his plans unfold in our lives.

And work with your hands…

At the time Paul wrote this letter, some Thessalonians mistakenly believed that Christ’s second coming would be immediate, so many of them became lazy and relied on others to fulfill their needs. Manual labor was also often avoided because the Greek culture deemed it an unworthy cause. So, Paul reminds his audience to put their hands to work for whatever cause God has called them to. Respect from others is not earned by remaining idle.

Paul’s lesson applies to our lives today also. The work we can do for God waits in our careers, our homes, and elsewhere. It might involve the use of our hands literally, meaning we actually build, drive, cook, draw, write, dig, etc. And, it might mean the work of our hands metaphorically, as we brainstorm, crunch numbers, manage teams, make decisions, help people, etc.

Whatever the effort, our mission should be to think about what God wants to do through us. How has he gifted us to love and serve others? While working for him we need to mindfully consider our motivations. Are they self-serving or God-serving? By demonstrating God’s love in action, we will naturally draw others closer to him.  

Do you see a pattern emerging from understanding this Scripture? In helping the Thessalonians learn how to live Christ centered lives, all three of Paul’s goals focus on one thing – stop seeking the world’s attention and start inviting God’s attention.

Spending time with God builds a quiet life. Exploring our own personal instructions from him helps us keep everyone else’s business in perspective. And, displaying God, his love, and his good causes to the world is the quest that matters.

Let’s hit pause on the distracting “Notice Me” soundtrack playing in our heads. Then, let’s crank up the volume on “Notice Him”. It is such a better tune. Press on in faith my friends.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for watching out for me and calling my attention to the slick spots in my life. There are times when life sweeps me away in dangerous currents of things like judgement, worry, and envy. Help me rise above all the forces battling for my attention and see the ways you rescue me. Teach me how to build a quiet life for myself in the time I devote to you. Remind me to direct more energy toward the things you are doing in my life instead of evaluating the lives of others. Guide me as I strive to reveal my love for you every day through the work that I do. May the people I meet notice you instead of me.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen  

Standing Out
by Jamie Trunnel

When is the last time you stood out?
When you felt loved without a doubt?

This world, it is a fickle place.
There’s no rest from its race.

Be better, be smarter, be wiser they say.
Then, we will applaud you at the end of the day.

God says let me help you
Build a quiet life.
Spend time with me,
See how peace conquers strife.

God says avoid busy chatter.
Trust what I can do.
Mind my promises,
Listen for a word or two.

God says your hands are my tools.
Work for my glory.
Others will respect you
And, be drawn to my story.

God says I know the last time you stood out.
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today.
I love you,
There is no doubt.

 

Other related posts:

How to Perform for an Audience of One

Judged instead of Loved

Love on Ordinary Days

Embracing God’s Plan

Good books related to this topic:

Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Print.

Ehman, Karen. Keep It Shut. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Lucado, Max. Great Day Every Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012. Print.

*Note: All photos with the exception of the flowers/fence photo are courtesy of Pixabay.

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Around four years ago, long before I recited a single Bible verse from memory, I pulled into a parallel parking space downtown for an appointment. While lining myself up with the car in front of me, I noticed its personalized license plate read PSALM23.

Being a Scripture newbie, I did not know the words of Psalm 23 off the top of my head. I wondered why this person thought it was significant. What would inspire someone to take the steps necessary to display it on their license plate? I don’t see too many Bible verses on license plates. Do you? My curiosity piqued, and I pledged to look the verse up later.

Upon reading the Psalm’s first line, I instantly recognized its familiar words. I have since learned that it is one of the most popular and reassuring pieces of Scripture found in the Bible. It is often repeated by Christians in hospital rooms, in song lyrics, at funeral homes, and during prayers. These poetic words written by David, soothe and comfort the hearts of those in need:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.     (Psalm 23, New King James Version*)

I know these words ring familiar with many of you. Perhaps, some of you know them by heart. I am working on that, but what intrigues me right now is learning the deeper meaning behind them. Let’s take a closer look:

The Lord is my shepherd

The very first line is a powerful statement about who can guide us through life. The author, David, a former shepherd himself, likens his trust in following God to that of the sheep who follow their shepherd. If we spend our lives worshiping lesser gods such as wealth, success, addictions, relationships, or vanity we end up carrying heavy burdens. If we work too hard at controlling life, then we become disappointed when it doesn’t follow our plan. We need God to carry our burdens and to guide us like a shepherd in this world we cannot control.

I shall not want 

All the stuff we buy cannot go with us when we die, and it does not define who we are in God’s eyes. We easily find ourselves getting caught up in acquiring the latest and greatest things. Practicing gratitude is one way we can help ourselves feel more content and worry less about what others think of us. By living a life under God’s care, we know our needs will be met.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters

Did you know that sheep have trouble falling asleep? I find this ironic since many of us count sheep when we cannot sleep. But, it’s true, and David refers to it here. The sheep rely on the shepherd for the right conditions to rest. He prepares their pasture, eases stress in the flock, and wards off predators.

Sheep trust their shepherd to lead and help them. They don’t look too far ahead; their only concern is the next step. Like sheep, our worries make us restless. When God is our shepherd, we trust him to handle worries, direct each step, and lead us to peace and rest.

He restores my soul

From time to time, sheep lose track of their shepherd. They find themselves confused, stranded, hurt, or scared. We can easily relate to the hopelessness of the lost sheep. Tensions escalate within us when we make mistakes or when life gets hard.

When shepherds hear a lost sheep cry out, they come to its aid. Upon seeing the shepherd, the sheep’s fear decreases as it senses a return to safety and security. Although not yet safe, the lost one feels better in the presence of the shepherd. No longer alone in trouble, the sheep knows it can rely on the shepherd. The same is true of us. When we are in a mess and uncertain if more trouble lies ahead, traveling with the One who knows the way gives us hope. God restores the soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake

 What is righteousness? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Can we call ourselves righteous? No, none of us can. Jesus was the only human who did not sin. Yet, he chose to die as a sinner to cover our debt with God. By doing so, those who believe in him are made righteous (free of sin) and given eternal life. Striving for a righteous life leads us to confess, ask forgiveness, and continually turn away from sin. The righteous path teaches humility and love; it helps us find our honorable purpose for God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me

The shepherd comforts, steers, and adjusts the path his sheep follow using his tools – the rod and the staff. The sheep trust him and look to him first when they need help. Can we say the same about our Shepherd?

Like the shepherd with his sheep, God travels with us through the hardships of life and death. Tools like fellowship, worship, prayer, and his Word can comfort and lead us through dark days. Difficult seasons strengthen our relationship with him. Whatever valley we are in, he has a plan to deliver us from its evil. His love is always for good. David’s words reassure us we are never alone in trouble, grief, or death.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over

Shepherds in David’s day moved their flocks through the valleys and countryside to reach greener grass. Upon arriving at a selected location, the shepherd cleared a suitable pasture or “table” for his sheep. He removed thorny brush and poisonous plants. And, he looked for predators and dangerous snakes that could harm his sheep.

Placing an oil repellent on the heads of the sheep helped the shepherd keep insects and snakes away. Also used during mating season, the oil caused the horns of dueling rams to slide off each other’s bodies thus preventing injuries. If sheep were wounded by a bite, a horn, or pasture thorns, the oil served as a healing balm. Now, that sounds like an “essential oil”, right?!   

As our Shepherd, God prepares a place for us at his table. He invites us into a relationship with him. He does this in the presence of the world’s evil and in spite of sin. He loves us, forgives us, and keeps calling us back when we wander away. Anointing our heads with oil is symbolic of his loving protection and peace. Through prayer and relationship, we see how he soothes wounds, heals hurts, and offers understanding. The cup of our lives runs over with God’s blessings, goodness, and grace.    

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever 

David ends Psalm 23 with a sure and firm statement of belief in God’s promises. His goodness (loving nature) meets our needs. His mercy forgives our sins. He pursues us with these offerings our entire lives. Our free will allows us to decide whether we pursue him. In his care, God guides, provides, protects, and comforts us our whole life through. Ultimately, he brings us home to live with him forever.     

The meanings found in Psalm 23 offer comfort in knowing that God is always with us and always working for our good. There are happenings in this life that yank hard on our heartstrings. Illnesses, addictions, deaths, financial struggles, relationship issues, and the ongoing terror attacks can make us stumble unexpectedly or leave us lost. When these problems go on indefinitely or happen repeatedly, we question when and if we will recover.

Psalm 23 is a lifeline in those troubling times. Keep it close beside you. Write it on a notecard, memorize it, or save it in your phone. When trouble comes, you will be prepared. Pull out Psalm 23’s reassurances and pray them often. Let David’s words of wisdom encourage your heart to further strengthen your relationship with God. Always keep an eye open for license plates presenting Scripture. You never know what you might learn. Press on in faith my friends.

 

Prayer for the Week:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.  (Psalm 23, NKJV)

Related Posts:

Resources:

  • Lucado, Max. Traveling Light. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
  • Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

* Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Forgiving Others: the rise above resentment

I count three pairs of little feet. Encased in muddy rain boots, they are stomping in a creek next to the path where I walk. Their mother, notably unconcerned about the clean up to come, smiles and cheers them on from the sidewalk.

Later heading home on my walk, I see them again swinging at a park playground. This quartet of chipper voices is clearly seizing the day and enjoying each other’s company. Listen in:

The older brother says, “Take off your boots, Madeline, then you can go higher! That’s how mom helped me. She took one off and it felt much more comfortable. So, I kicked the other off, and I could go so high! Then, you just start pumping, like this, Madeline. See?!”

This sweet brother’s instruction about how to swing unencumbered made me chuckle. Then, it got me thinking about how much higher we might swing in life if we removed our mud laden boots.

Like these three children burdened by their boots, we find ourselves weighed down by hurts, resentments, anger, and even hate. Grudges are difficult to budge. Hurts accumulate and stick to our souls (or soles) like thick mud, pulling us down. What toes don’t love feeling the freedom found swinging high in fresh air? What hearts don’t long to soar peacefully? But, how, oh how, do we get there? How do we forgive and rise above resentments?

1. Recognize Our Hurt

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation (NLT)

Forgiving others first requires us to recognize the emotions that are harming us. Anger, resentment, hurt and hate bubble up inside of us, often unexpectedly, jeopardizing our peace, harming our health, and pushing away those who try to love us. Experiencing our feelings without judging or berating ourselves helps bring acceptance to whatever situation caused them.

When we are hurt by others, we often feel isolated like no one understands our side of things. But, God knows and cares about everything we endure. He is a confidant, a ready and willing listener for any topic, especially our struggle to forgive. He can handle raw honesty and painful feelings; he wants us to give it all to him. Allowing painful feelings to surface in our time with God moves us closer to forgiveness because it helps us feel heard and understood.

2. Redirect Bitterness to Goodness

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version (NIV)

When we feel the sting of someone hurting us, it’s easy to get wrapped up in understanding why or seeking revenge. But, Scripture tells us to remember that God has our back. He reworks the harm done by others for our good.

Consider the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:1-50). Over his lifetime, Joseph suffered through many acts of injustice. He was discarded by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and spent years prison. He could have easily given up and viewed the situation as hopeless. Instead, he viewed every situation as an opportunity to be a positive example for others and shine light on God. Time and time again, the people in Joseph’s life witnessed God working through his trials. His gift of interpreting dreams allowed him to assist a king and eventually placed him as Egypt’s second-in-command. Through that position, he was able to reunite with his broken family and find emotional healing.

Interestingly, throughout Joseph’s trials he did not dwell on asking God “why” when hard things happened. Instead, he accepted what was. Then, he redirected his attention towards looking and listening for the next opportunity God presented. In doing this, Joseph was always seeking the good he felt God had in store for him.

Following Joseph’s example, if we refuse to rehash our hurt repeatedly, then we free ourselves to discover the good God has planned. We try to see our pain from God’s perspective. For example, we may discover God using our hurt to bring us closer to him, to teach us how to help someone else, to prepare us for something ahead, or to reveal a new purpose in life. Redirecting thoughts away from bitterness and putting them towards looking for God’s goodness prepares our hearts to forgive. 

3. Respond with Love and Prayer

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Matthew 5:44 NIV

When our emotions are redirected towards God’s good works, our hearts become prepared to respond with forgiveness. The Bible teaches us not to retaliate and punish those who treat us poorly. Rather, we are to love and pray for those who hurt us.

Undoubtedly, showing concern for people who inflict pain upon us can seem difficult. However, if we keep our hearts full of bitterness, it is truly impossible to love others as we love ourselves, which is the second greatest commandment. By not working at forgiving others, we essentially distance ourselves from God.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins so we could live eternally with him. Even on the cross, he forgave those who crucified him and those who stood by watching him die. (“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 NLT) Considering this great sacrifice for a world full of sin (including our own), how can we withhold forgiveness from others? Isn’t it hypocritical to ask forgiveness for ourselves and not offer it to others, especially since we are called to model our lives after Jesus?

Praying for the people who we are trying to forgive helps us release our anger and resentment to God. Surrendering control and trusting the situation to him, takes the focus off of them, and helps us learn more about ourselves. We can ask God to teach us something through the process of forgiveness and to work on strengthening us in the fruits of his Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Offering love and prayer to forgive others helps us model our lives after Jesus, ultimately bringing a closer relationship with God.  

4. Make it “Right” in our Hearts

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 NLT

When we are angry and hurting, our human nature eagerly jumps in, ready to deliver justice. We feel the need to retaliate, prove someone wrong, or explain our side of things. Scripture, however, warns us against playing judge. Only God truly knows a person’s heart, and he is the only one with the authority to judge (1 Corinthians 4:3). Forgiveness cannot be based on whether someone deserves it. Forgiveness is given solely because we, ourselves, have received it.

We make things right through forgiveness by placing trust in God’s judgement of the person and the situation. Obviously, reconciling with those who hurt us would be ideal, but that may not always occur. We can hope for reconciliation, but there are circumstances and people in the equation that we cannot control. We have to trust God with those unknowns. What matters is that we continue expressing a sincere desire to forgive, then God will help our hearts get to where things feel right.

5. Release Pain

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. Psalm 34:14 NLT 

Forgiveness is hard work. It takes time and patience and strength. It requires us to recognize what has happened to us and accept it. We redirect our thoughts to the opportunities God presents which bring goodness from our pain. By focusing on God, we can respond to our hurts positively through love and prayer. Continuing to express our desire to make things right through forgiveness opens the door for God to heal our hearts. As we seek and work to maintain our peace, he helps us release pain with forgiveness.

God is always ready to help us rise above our resentments. He knows our boots get muddy in this world. If we were at the swings, I bet he’d ask us to have a seat and stick out our feet – to count on him to pull off those heavy boots. He would give us a push that is “good”.

As we rise high above resentment, we, too, would shout out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, “It is much more comfortable. See?!”

Prayer for the Week

Dear God,

Thank you for the blessings and opportunities to model your love this week. Help me flow through my days free of judgement and full of kindness. Guide me to accept the people and situations that are hard for me to understand. Keep my attention focused on the ways you are working good through these struggles. Lead my heart in love and prayer for those who hurt me, and work with me to make these relationships feel “right” in my heart and in your eyes. As I move towards forgiving others, help me rest easy in your peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources

  •  Idleman, Kyle. Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story. Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Find Grace is Greater on Amazon.

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