A Prayer for the Church

God, be with our church, with those who are called by Your name. Help us to realize that You are the most important thing in our lives, and that You and You alone have the power to change people’s hearts. Help us to realize our calling to love the lost, heal the wounded, both in body and in spirit, feed and clothe the poor, encourage the broken-hearted, and in all we do, to guide those around us to You. Let us see beyond the actions, beyond the anger and the hatred and the skepticism of all who reject You; let us see as much as You allow us to of their hearts, that we may know their pain and have only compassion and love for them, as You had love for us. Give us wisdom in dealing with people and with situations in life; only You know what is to come and what is truly best for us. Let us accept Your judgments and Your answers to our prayers, even when that answer is not what we want to hear.

Help us, Lord, to ignore those things that don’t matter that we might live in peace with each other, not striving to outdo each other in any way, but striving only to serve you with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Teach us humility and contentedness, teach us patience and mercy, teach us faith and love, but first, Lord, give us the courage to pray for these things in earnestness, for we know that You will always answer prayers for things that are in Your will for us. Help us to understand Your ways, that You often teach us love by giving us difficult people to love, that You show us how to be patient by letting us want things immediately. Help us to grow, Father, that we might be closer to You.

For our church, Father, please strengthen our faith. Show us that Your Word is still alive today, that it is not void or outdated or false. Show us our sins, and then show us our hearts that cause us to commit these sins. Most of all, change our hearts that we may seek You first above all things. Help us to be different from the world, let them see that You do change people, and that what we have is something they need. Give us the strength to weather persecution, to not only endure, but to praise You when it comes that we are counted worthy to suffer for Your glory. For it is always, Lord, about Your glory, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor forever.

Let Your will be done in our lives.

Amen.

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Take it All

burden

Take it all, Lord, far from me

My life I entrust to You

I will serve, Lord, faithfully

In all You would have me do

There’s just one thing I’ll keep back

And the rest is Yours, I swear

For there’s one thing I still lack

And it’s hard for me to bear

I’m sorry, Father, for my sin

I will try to clean this mess

I cannot, Father, let You in

Until my heart’s looking its best

Thank You, my King, for giving

Me a love so pure and true

And now, my King, I’m living

To seek it ev’rywhere but You

Take it all, Lord, far from me

What is best for me You know

I will give, Lord, willingly

All the nothing I’ve let go.

How to Release the Pain of Betrayal

Today, we’re going to tackle grudges against other people. Everyone has things they hold on to from growing up. Most of them come from their parents or siblings. Some come from a teacher or childhood friend. As we grow, we collect events that have shaped us for better or worse. We gather up these memories and let them tell us who we are as people and what our worth is. Did that boy tell you he loved you just to get in bed with you and then dump you, causing you to either forsake men or try too hard to please them? Did your teacher tell you that you were stupid and you believed her and so never excelled in school again? Did your father never pay attention to any of your accomplishments and miss all your big moments, causing you to be a hard-driving, achievement-oriented perfectionist?

We take these rejections and betrayals and let them determine our value. Think about most of your grudges, especially your deep, long-standing ones. They’re not against the teacher who gave you a D when you thought you deserved at least a C or the cop you pulled you over for a ticket. Most of them are against the people who knew you and rejected you, who abused your trust and made you feel badly about yourself. If these people hadn’t made you feel badly about yourself, you wouldn’t hold the grudge against them.

Here’s the good news: it’s your fault. If you have a grudge against someone for how they made you feel, it’s on you for letting them make you feel badly about yourself. Nobody can make you feel you are worse than you already fear you are. This makes grudges a question not of fault, but of identity. If your identity is in who you are in Christ, in your status as a son or daughter of God, then it will not matter what anyone else thinks of you. If your grudges are there because you’ve decided to let others control how you feel about yourself, then changing how you feel about yourself can erase those grudges.

I know, I know, it’s not as easy as saying, “I’m a son or daughter of God, so everyone’s forgiven. Yay! Happy day!” Some of these hurts go deeper than you have even explored. I’m an introspective person by nature and I have spent countless hours analyzing myself and relationships with those I am close to, yet when I started analyzing some of the deep hurts in my life, I found that the things I had always blamed were just part of the puzzle. The actions I had found so offensive were not the entire reason for the grudge; it was the reason behind those actions, things I hadn’t even considered consciously at the time, that really offended me.

The important thing is that no matter how harsh the rejection, no matter how undeserved the abandonment, I wouldn’t have been offended if I truly saw myself as God sees me.

Jesus was not the peace-sign-flashing, robe-wearing hippie some people have made Him out to be. He got mad. He chased people out of the temple with a whip, turning over their tables and making a huge mess. He called the Pharisees white-washed tombs, hypocrites, blind guides, and a brood of vipers all in the span of 21 verses in Matthew 23. He grew frustrated with the disciples on several occasions for their lack of faith. Yet in all this, He was never once angry that people refused to fall down and worship Him, as was His due. He was humble when they called Him names, spit on Him, and beat Him. He did not lash out when they were whipping Him and nailing Him to the cross. And He went out to make peace with Peter after Peter had denied Him three times in the course of just a few hours and then run away. Jesus had a perfect knowledge of who He was in God, and therefore, there was never a reason for Him to be personally offended.

A secondary aspect of this is how you see other people. If you think the worst of people, that’s often what you’ll see. People can be phenomenal at finding evidence to support their conclusions. We do it with everyone we hold a grudge against. When you have something against someone and then see them walking toward you with a smile, your first thought is, “Oh, crap. What do they want now?” isn’t it? It doesn’t matter whether what they ask of you is completely reasonable; you don’t want to do it and you think they have some ulterior motive. You’ve already found them guilty without giving them a chance because you have something against them.

You don’t really even have to have a grudge against this particular person to do this, either. At my last job, I had a grudge against the salespeople based primarily on the actions of two of them. I didn’t like how they seemed to care about money more than anything else, despite making more than just about anyone in the company. It made me view each successive salesperson we hired in the same light. I was just waiting for them to ask about a commission so I could lump them in with everyone else. When they did, I ascribed to them the same label and faults as I had to the other salespeople, however unjustly.

Now, to be fair, if someone has deeply wounded you, it is right to be wary of trusting them again. If you’ve been abused, don’t go back to that person until you’re absolutely sure they’ve changed. That said, it’s not really forgiveness if you’re constantly assuming the worst about people. For example, if you believe all men are liars or all women are conniving and manipulative, then you have a grudge against someone that you need to address. It’s true and fair to say some men have lied and some women have manipulated, but to apply a label that those people in particular can never shake is unfair, much less applying that label to the entire gender.

There are other reasons we carry grudges, though. Someone may have hurt a loved one, for example. For this, I would ask why a hurt done to this person is worse than one done to someone you don’t know? Is this person more valuable simply because you know them? Because you love them? God loves everyone equally. It’s God’s opinion that matters and He decided to let this happen. It may be very hard to accept, especially right after something terrible happens, but God is still a good God and has a plan for everything He allows to happen, even though we will often not see it at the time. There is a purpose, and you have to trust that God will work it out for your good and theirs (if they’re Christian) in the end.

As for the person who did the harming, Jesus forgave those who had whipped Him, beaten Him, pushed a crown of thorns on His head, nailed Him to a cross, and were spitting on Him and mocking Him as He died for their sins. Unless the wrong done to you is worse than this (and there’s no way it could ever be), you are commanded to forgive as well.

Or perhaps you hate injustices in general. You hear about Joseph Kony and get furious with him over what he’s done. While he certainly should answer for his crimes, your grudge against him serves no purpose. It only serves to give you a burden and feed your hate.

Perhaps more importantly, this goes back to the fact that killing a cockroach is a lesser offense than spitting in someone’s face. Whatever Kony or anyone else has done, the penalty is and should be less (from human hands) than what you should have gotten from God for every time you’ve chosen yourself over Him. Remember, all of our sins are primarily against God, not each other.

Some people develop grudges against others for sins they hate, even when those sins aren’t done against them. Usually, the sins I develop a grudge over are the very ones I wish I was committing. My roommates at one house professed to be Christian, yet two of them were sleeping with their fiancées almost every night. My anger was based more on jealousy since I wanted to have sex but had been saving myself for marriage (and made it, too, with just a few hours to spare J ). I was seeing God’s laws as restrictions rather than as rules that are for our best interests.

Even if your anger is not based on a sin you wish you were committing, why do you believe it is your place to change others, particularly non-Christians? Yes, we are called to confront other believers, but only in love, not because of a grudge. For non-Christians, Jesus never demanded that others be perfect before He accepted them. There’s an old story about a pastor who was fishing and talking to God about how he wanted to bring more people into church and get their lives right. God’s response was, “You catch ‘em, I’ll clean ‘em.” As Christians, we’re called to walk in love, not vindictive self-righteousness. It is God’s place to work on people’s hearts, not yours to judge them.

Lastly, some of you may have grudges against people not for any sin, but for being a general annoyance. It might be someone at the office who doesn’t seem to know when to end a conversation or the barista who always messes up your order. You have to let go of these things, too, and you might even owe the person an apology. What they did is not wrong; what you’re doing by holding a grudge is. The Bible does give us some groups of people we should avoid, but “those who getteth thine goat” isn’t among them. Let it go and, if you need to, ask God for patience and perhaps an opportunity to tactfully bring it up.

Whatever the offense, God’s way of handling all of these is to help you be so strong in who you are in Him that not only do you have no feelings of resentment or rejection when you’re mistreated, but that you see other people the same way He sees them. This will be hard to hear and harder still to understand, but God loves Hitler, you, and John the Baptist equally. It’s undeniable that John the Baptist did far more for God’s kingdom than Hitler, but God’s love isn’t based on works. It’s based on our being His creation, each of us a unique bit of art, a child who has become lost and who He’s eager to see return to Him.

This is how we’re to see others. When we do, we will lose the grudges we hold against them far more easily because we’ll realize that those who are hurting us are injuring themselves more deeply. God loves them and wants them to be free of their pain as much as He wants you to be free of yours. Even knowing that most of each sin is against Him, He loves them, and you should, too.

God: The First Grudge to Go

The first grudge you need to let go of is the one you have against God. How do you view God? Do you feel He’s let you down in the past, that praying is like rolling the dice? If you don’t have faith in Him to always do what’s best for you, it’s very likely you are harboring a grudge against Him.

Consider Adam and Eve in the garden. They were sinless until the serpent gave them something to hold against God. He had held out on them, and that was something they didn’t like, so they briefly had a bone to pick with God, a bone large enough that they disobeyed God and changed the course of humanity.

What makes this particular grudge curious is that you can’t forgive God because He’s done nothing wrong to you. He’s never sinned against you, hurt you, or plotted against you. There’s been no betrayal or abandonment. God is the only one you’ve ever gotten close to who hasn’t done anything bad to you at all. He’s always been on your side and His mercies are new every morning. He forgets our sins willingly and protects us.

Also, God doesn’t owe you any sort of explanation for what He does. He is bigger than the Universe He created, more powerful than you can hope to fathom, and infinitely wiser than all of the people who have ever lived combined. Who are you, that He should be mindful of you? (Psalm 8:4) It’s not wrong to seek to understand why things are happening to you, but some Christians get this attitude that God owes them an explanation, that He somehow serves them. It’s the most arrogant attitude possible. All you have earned from God is eternal separation from Him; the salvation He’s offered, much less anything beyond that, is a gift, given solely because He’s decided to love you.

If you are angry at God, you are actually sinning against Him because you are unjustly accusing Him of being anything less than holy, loving, and righteous. Not only are you questioning Him when you don’t have and could never earn that right, you are judging Him and finding Him unworthy. You need to not only let go of your grudge against Him, but apologize for having a grudge against Him in the first place.

Of all the grudges you carry, the most important one to let go of is the one against God, even more important than the grudge you carry against yourself. The reason is that though you can love someone you have a grudge against, you can’t want to draw closer to that person. You don’t want to be around someone you’re angry with or someone you don’t trust at all. The only way to want to draw closer is to let the grudge go.

You need a strong relationship with God, not just because He is the most important relationship in your life, but because it is only when you are close to Him that you can have enough faith in how He sees you for it to transform your life, which is necessary if you’re going to forgive anyone else.

So why do we carry grudges against Him? Because our understanding is limited. When I was young, a well-meaning pastor said that if we were righteous, God would answer our prayers. I did my absolute best, but most of my prayers went unanswered.

When it didn’t work, I took the promises of God to be a load of bunk. I stopped praying, stopped reading the Bible, and stopped paying attention in church. When I got to college, I rarely went to church. There was no desire to draw closer to God because I didn’t think He heard me or cared about my family. I reasoned that if my prayers were falling on deaf ears, why should I get to know the Being ignoring me?

This developed into a deep hatred of God. It wasn’t just the things I had prayed for growing up, it was being in my mid-20s without ever having a girlfriend while my friends seemed to be in a new relationship every couple of months. It was people in my company getting promoted faster than I was, despite not working as hard. I felt He’d let me down not just by ignoring my prayers, but by making me a complete failure.

It wasn’t until five years after I graduated college that I began to slowly change, to start opening up to God again. Once He started chipping away at my walls, I knew that there was a lot of growing that I had to do. I was a stubborn student and my heart deceived me more times than I can count.

Yet God was with me through all of it. He never left me, never stopped loving me, and never stopped leading me. With endless patience and unwavering grace, He kept drawing me closer little by little, teaching me something whenever I asked Him to, even when it was a lesson He’d taught me dozens of times before.

Through this teaching process, my anger at God lessened somewhat, but my love for Him didn’t increase much. The grudge was still there, even if the fury of it had somewhat subsided. Despite all the abuse I piled on Him, He never failed to be there for me. He loved me in spite of myself, and it was realizing this that finally helped me let this grudge go and start loving Him again.

There are still a few areas where my trust in God is not as strong as it should be. I still worry about finances from time to time and I still let some things upset me that shouldn’t. These are signs of a lack of faith in God’s goodness (since I have complete faith in His power), which are likely related to a hidden grudge that I have not fully explored. There is something in my past that still whispers that God may let me down like I believed He had.

There are two reasons I mention this last part. The first is that getting rid of this grudge against God is a very deep and potentially long process. It is not enough to say, “Oh, God hasn’t done me any wrong, so I trust Him completely now.” It’s incredibly unlikely that you will trust Him in everything after just that.

Instead, examine the areas of your life carefully, one at a time. For each, ask whether you’re trying to make it on your own or trusting God fully. Be brutally honest with yourself. For every area you find where you haven’t given yourself over to God, ask why it is difficult for you to trust Him completely. The answer is almost certainly some instance where you feel He let you or someone else you know down.

A second reason may be that you aren’t used to relying on God; it may be more of a lack of knowledge about who God really is rather than a grudge against Him. The same lack of faith can still be a problem, however, if you feel abandoned in a particular area. For example, if your father ran out on you, leaving your mother to support the family alone, it may be difficult for you to trust God with your finances because you remember the hard times your family had. Feelings of mistrust from one party can be applied to another, but when we apply them to God, we sin because we are indirectly accusing Him of being no better than the person who harmed us.

Instead, we need to think of all the times He’s been there for us, even before we became Christians, and learn what the Bible says about His faithfulness and goodness. Only when we have let go of our grudge against Him can we trust and love Him the way we should. We need to trust Him so we can believe what He says about us, and we need to believe what He says about us so we can forgive ourselves and others.

The Grudge List: Your Path to Forgiveness

Today, I’m going to give you a very useful tool to aid you in forgiving everyone. First, though, let’s talk about what sin is. Sin is any thought you dwell on or any action that is against God’s will. God created the Universe and all that is in it; therefore, it is His rules we are under. It’s not a sin to be tempted, to have a thought flit through your head, but it is a sin to dwell on it and imagine yourself giving into that temptation.

We can wrong others, but even then, our sins are 99% against God. Imagine that you had a golden retriever puppy named Goldie (because you’re so original with names) and someone, even a good friend, comes over and kicks your puppy. Not on accident, just being a jerk. Even thought the dog is wronged and nothing was done directly against you, you still take offense because you care about Goldie. She’s yours, and so the offense done against her is taken personally as one against you.

How much more so do you think God takes it when we wrong His sons and daughters or even non-Christians, since He loves us all?

Also, when we wrong each other, we’re breaking God’s will because He tells us to love each other. This makes our wrongs against each other sins against the Creator of the Universe. Just as stepping on a roach is a lesser crime than spitting on another person, so is anything we do to each other compared to the crime of disobeying Him.

I mention this because we all need to be forgiven of our sins. There are no perfect people on this earth, so we all need forgiveness and grace. And, as I wrote yesterday, God will only forgive us if we forgive others.

But not all of the things that we take offense at are sins, are they? There’s the woman who gets in the express checkout lane with 19 items instead of 15, the coworker with the annoying laugh, or the guy with no social skills whatsoever. These things may get on our nerves, but they’re not sins. We need to let go of these grudges, too.

So, how do we let them go?

The best way I have found is by using what I call the ‘Grudge List.’ To make one, start by writing down the names of everyone you can remember. I recommend going by periods in your life (grade school, high school, early 20’s, etc.), then by location (church, school, work, neighborhood, family) so you don’t miss anybody. If you remember a person, but not their name, write down enough of a description so you can remember them when you go through this list.

Next, go through each name on this list and think about the person for a moment. If you have any negative feelings about them, write their name on another list. This is the beginning of your Grudge List.

On your Grudge List, for each name that made the cut, write down all of the offenses you can remember and how they made you feel. Resist the urge to sum up; be specific so you can let go of all the wrongs done to you. It will take time, but it’s better to do a thorough cleansing than a light rinse. Don’t be overly nice here, either. They won’t read this unless you show it to them, so say what’s really on your mind. You can lose the benefit of this exercise by not being completely honest.

Next, write down your own sins against the person. I highly recommend this because it will let you see that you were wrong, too. Don’t put in any statements like, “I wouldn’t have done this if you hadn’t started it,” or, “It may not be as bad as what you did to me, but…” This is the time for you to just admit to yourself that you were wrong, regardless of who started it. You’ll be able to see the argument better from the other person’s point of view, too. Doing this will help ward off the pride that is sure to fight you.

Finally, write a statement of forgiveness for each person. Keep out language such as, “You may have cheated on me, but I have someone way better now, so I can finally forgive you.” Your forgiveness can’t be based on what’s happened in your life since the event; in fact, that’s part of the point. You have to forgive based on what Jesus did for you 2,000 years ago. Forgive because you’ve been forgiven of so much more.

Doing this once probably won’t get rid of all the negative feelings you have against everyone, so you may have to keep going through it. Each time you do, though, it should get a little easier. Some of the minor grudges you may be able to cross off immediately, some may take months (and might still pop up years after you thought you’d forgiven them). Just have patience and keep reminding yourself of what Jesus has done for you…if you forgive as He’s forgiven you.

Why We Should Forgive and Why We Must Forgive

One of the biggest barriers to having real self-confidence is holding on to grudges. Most of us have grudges against God, ourselves, and others and we need to let them all go before we can enjoy the confidence God wants us to have. All this week, I’ll be posting on forgiveness, starting with why we should forgive and why we must forgive.

There is a quote attributed in a variety of forms to various people that reads, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” When you hold a grudge against someone else, you’re doing far more harm to yourself than to them.

Unforgiveness will affect you negatively in several ways:

1. It will take your time, energy, and focus off of God and the things you should be focused on. There was one woman I was interested in during college who gave me a rather harsh, public rejection. I replayed over and over in my head what I wish I’d said for years after, getting angry again at both of us. That time could have been better spent doing almost anything else: reading the Bible, praying, writing, editing, working out, or even sleeping. All my grudge did was waste time and make me angry.

Think about your grudges for a second. How much time do you devote to them? Are you daydreaming of getting even? Are you seething? Do you automatically get angry whenever you’re around that person?

This is neither healthy nor productive. It is stealing time and energy away from God, your job, relationships, family, and other important things in your life. And honestly, would you rather think about something that makes you happy or something that makes you miserable and angry?

2. It will prevent you from moving forward in the relationship in which you have a grudge. You cannot want to grow closer to someone or love them more deeply when you are angry with them. You have to let go of that grudge for the relationship to become closer. This is true of all relationships, whether with other people, God, or even yourself. You cannot force yourself through this barrier by spending more time with that person, either. Trying to force it will only deepen the grudge because your mind will keep turning back to it. The only way to deepen the relationship is to forgive that person.

3. It will get in the way of future relationships. When we hold grudges, it’s very difficult to only be angry with the person who wronged us. You’ve heard this before when your friend breaks up with someone and decries all men or women or when your boss upsets you and you vent against bosses in general. We tend to stereotype people and get mad at the lot of them, rather than just the ones with whom we’ve any right to be angry. When we do this, we make false or unfounded accusations and these get in the way of building healthy, solid relationships.

4. As Christians, we are called to be one body. Ever wake up in the middle of the night, stumble toward the bathroom, and find furniture with your toe? It hurts, but do you cut your toe off so it won’t happen again? Of course not!

Why, then, do we not do this within the church? When we refuse to forgive each other, we act like the world does. If the Gospel we’re bragging about isn’t enough to make us radically different than everyone else and help us rise above the petty concerns that so much of the world is bogged down in, then how can we expect them to want to become Christians?

Moreover, those in the church are our brothers and sisters. They should be people we love and always forgive. In Matthew 18, Peter asks how many times he’s supposed to forgive his brother and offers seven times. Jesus says it should be seventy times seven. That’s not a literal number, but Jesus was telling him as often as Peter’s brother sinned against him, Peter should forgive him.

5. Unforgiveness is an indictment of our faith in God to fix whatever mess we’re in. God doesn’t just let us suffer for the fun of it. He doesn’t allow things to be taken from us because He’s asleep on the job. He allows these things for a reason. When the New Testament apostles were beaten and imprisoned, they weren’t given fine new houses and bags of gold, but they were given something even better: a deeper relationship with God. They piled up treasures in Heaven as well, but even on earth, they got something that no earthly treasure could buy them.             God does not allow things to be taken from us unless He intends to give us something better. Even when He’s taking things from us as a chastisement for our sins or because they’re not good for us, the end result is taking something from us that was between us and Him. We get more of Him, more of what we desperately need. When we refuse to forgive, we’re telling God we don’t believe He’ll work all things out in the end for our good, meaning that the person who hurt us is more powerful than His ability to restore us.

6. Lastly, it is arrogant to put yourself above God. In the United States, the President has the power to issue a full pardon to anyone. Imagine a murderer in Texas is on death row and the President issues such a pardon. The man’s crimes are all exonerated. It’s as if he hadn’t even gotten a speeding ticket. Then some guard decides to punish this guy anyway, so instead of freeing him, he hauls him off to the execution chamber and injects the shot himself. He is no longer a government-sanctioned executioner, but a criminal himself, guilty of murder. Why? Because that man on death row, whatever he had done, had been pardoned and is now deemed innocent. The President’s forgiveness of him matters more than that guard’s opinion or even the facts of the case.

When we hold a grudge against other people, we’re essentially telling them they owe us for something that God has already forgiven. That puts us above God, saying that our opinion of their wrongdoing is more important than God’s opinion of it. We put ourselves in the Throne of Judgment, which is God’s place alone. And then we further profane it by using it to judge others according to what they have done to us rather than with God’s mercy and a remembrance that all sins are done primarily against Him.

Not only that, we’re saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to wash out that person’s sins because that person doesn’t have our forgiveness. Think of the preposterous arrogance of this: Jesus, part of the Trinity, God Himself, is not powerful enough to wash out someone’s sins, but the forgiveness of you, a fallen, weak, petty human is? You not only set yourself up as God when you don’t forgive, you trample Jesus’ sacrifice as not good enough.

All of these are reasons that we should forgive. Are they the reason we must forgive, though? No. The reason we must forgive goes even deeper.

We must forgive because the Bible commands us to.

There are two basic commandments that Jesus gives: Love the Lord with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. As part of the Lord’s Prayer, He gives us a commandment that’s part of the latter. He says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that He specifically highlights afterward. It’s that important.

Why does He grant leniency for loving Him and loving others (what else can we call the forgiveness of our sins?), but doesn’t grant leniency for forgiving them?

The answer is because “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. The key phrase in this discussion is “through faith.” You have to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to wash out your sins. If you do not believe this, then it will not work for you.

Here’s the issue, though: Jesus didn’t die for just you. He died to offer Himself as a sacrifice for everyone. Anyone who believes in what He did can take advantage of His sacrifice. It is the ultimate one-size-fits-all gift. This means that the same gift was given to you as was given to everyone else, and accepting this gift is based on faith. If you do not believe it is enough for someone else’s sins, then it is not enough for your sins, either.

Read that last paragraph again…slowly. When you refuse to forgive someone, you’re not just saying that the offending person needs your forgiveness to really be forgiven; you’re saying that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse that person, which means that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse you. You are dooming yourself by your own unbelief, by your own unforgiveness. His blood is either strong enough for everyone, or it’s strong enough for no one. You must decide which of those two options you believe because there is no third option.

6 Steps to Changing Your Heart

What I’ve said the last three days sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Just change how you look at things and watch your confidence skyrocket. It’d be great if it worked that way. Here’s the bad news: your heart is going to fight you every step of the way on this because it is selfish to the point of self-destruction. It is incorrigibly deceitful and vain. Your heart demands that you worship yourself.

Sound a bit melodramatic? Consider why Adam and Eve fell. They were told they could be like God. They wanted that power and, once the thought was implanted in their mind, they started feeling inadequate. If they could be like God and weren’t, then something was wrong, something they had to fix so they could have what they should have. Their hearts were more concerned about their value than God’s glory.

Ever get angry with God over a traffic light or not finding a parking spot? Have you ever gotten mad at Him at all? If so, then you’ve done the same thing. In fact, if you’ve ever sinned (and you know you have), then you’ve chosen your will over His and so worshiped yourself. All of the things you’ve made gods in your life – money, a job, sex, a relationship, looks, an achievement – are really just means to make you happy. More self worship.

If knowing God and putting aside our pride require changes in our hearts, yet our hearts are so wicked and stubborn, how can we change our hearts? 

Of ourselves, we can’t. We need His help. There are six steps to changing our hearts:

1. Since we can’t do it ourselves, we need to pray for His help. Be open and honest in this prayer. Lay your struggles at His feet. There’s no shame for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1) and besides, He knows everything you’re going through anyway. I’ve never had any prayer answered faster than prayers for God to help me grow.

2. Praise and worship God. This can be through songs that glorify Him or just telling Him how much you love Him and how great He is. It’s not that He needs this; it’s that you need to do this. You were created to give Him glory. When you do, you remember how small you are compared to Him, which magnifies the greatness of His love. To have a true image of God, you must start with an attitude of praise and worship.

3. Focus on all the times He has been there for you. For me, I didn’t know why my life seemed so random. I couldn’t go to the college of my choice, so I went to a different one, where I was put on a floor with a guy who later got me a job in Virginia. When I moved out there, one of my roommates went to a certain church, where another one of the guys threw a Christmas party where I met a girl who…ummm…inspired me to start going to church, where I met friends that help me fall in love with God again. Also, the money I saved enabled me to write for a while and God provided just enough to get me through. You see, God was looking out for me the entire time, even when I was running from Him and angry at Him.

You may be able to look back at your life and have a similar realization or you might be in the midst of something. Either way, God has you, even if you don’t understand why life’s so hard right now, even if you don’t feel He’s anywhere near, and even if you’ve been running. He has you.

4. Develop a fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We need to have more fear of God, not that He’ll smite us (even though He has the right to), but in a sense of reverent awe. We don’t compare to Him, not even all of us combined. This rock we live on is a tiny speck compared to the solar system, which is a tiny speck compared to the galaxy, which is a tiny speck compared to the Universe, which is infinitely tiny compared to God, Who created it all with His words. Knowing that God is love without knowing that He is omnipotent leads us to be condescending and flippant. “Yeah, I sinned, but He’ll just forgive me,” or, “Hey, God, do You not care about this light?! I’M LATE FOR WORK and it’s all Your fault!” He is love, but He is also so holy that He sent His own Son to die rather than impugn His righteousness. If He’d forgiven our sins without sacrifice, He could not be holy anymore because He would have gone back on His word. His love without considering His unbending holiness means nothing. He deserves an eternity of praise just for being God, even more so for being a loving, compassionate, and merciful Father.

5. Pray and fellowship with God often. Imagine that two people wanted to get to know you over the next year. One read everything you’d written and everything written about you. The other had meals with you, talked with you daily, and was a good, close friend. Which one do you think knows you, the real you, better at the end of that time? The friend, right?

I don’t discount at all the works of people who make Bible commentaries or who study Scripture and the root words of verses. Those things are instructive and very valuable. But there is no better way to know God than to spend time with Him.

6. See the similarities between a relationship with God and a relationship with other people. If you’re married, was your wedding the day after you met your spouse? Probably not. It takes time to grow a relationship. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, especially after the initial week or two of excitement. Sometimes, you may not want to worship God or pray. Do it anyway. Keep working on that relationship. Just as two married people have to keep working on making their marriage strong, so you have to always work on your relationship with God. If you’re not growing closer to Him, you’re drifting away. There is no neutral.

And, as a bonus, 7. Just accept the gifts and relax already. 🙂