Friday, December 6, 2013

Devotion for today: There is no relationship with God without forgiveness


Matthew 6:14-15: If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

We have spent the last few days taking a look at what the Bible  tells us about the need to forgive others. There simply is no room in God’s kingdom for anyone who can’t forgive as God forgives. We can’t even imagine how horrible life would be if God didn't forgive those who trespass against Him. The why do we justify our pride in feeling we are better than God when it comes to withholding forgiveness? Henri Nouwen wrote an amazing book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.’” (1992, Doubleday Press). In it he covers the issue of forgiveness from a look at the prodigal son, the older brother, and the father. Of course, in reading the book we start to see ourselves in all three roles throughout our lifetime. Here is a small section which helps to clarify the issue of holding back on forgiveness. Here Nouwen is talking about the role of the father in the forgiveness story. He has been wronged by his younger son who basically declared his father dead when he asked for his inheritance, something one gets upon the death of a parent, and by the older son, who now reveals that his love for his father had a string attached: his good deeds meant his father had to love him best – always.This is long, but you have all weekend to read it, and listen carefully to the attached song.

Nouwen writes:
Can I give without wanting anything in return, love without putting any conditions on my love? Considering my immense need for human recognition and affection, I realize that it will be a lifelong struggle. But I am also convinced that each time I step over this need and act free of my concern for return, I can trust that my life can truly bear the fruits of God’s Spirit…. It is through constant forgiveness that we become like the Father. Forgiveness from the heart is very, very difficult. It is next to impossible. Jesus said to his disciples: “When your brother wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry’ you must forgive him.”

I have often said, “I forgive you,” but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return – if only the praise for being so forgiving!

But God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive.

This “stepping over” is the authentic discipline of forgiveness. Maybe it is more “climbing over” than stepping over.” Often I have to climb over the wall of arguments and angry feelings that I have erected between myself and all those whom I love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear of being used or hurt again. It is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control. But every time that I can step or climb over that wall, I enter into the house where the Father dwells, and there touch my neighbor with genuine compassionate love….

There is a dreadful emptiness in this spiritual fatherhood. No power, no success, no popularity, no easy satisfaction. But that same dreadful emptiness is also the place of true freedom. It is the place where there is “nothing left to lose”, where love has no strings attached, and where real spiritual strength is found.

Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

-- St. Teresa of Avila

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