Jeremiah 17:9-10 says it like this…
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Well, God understands. He also tells us in Jeremiah 31:33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Pretty awesome how He works that out right?
So we are powerless to change our own hearts. We only need to surrender and trust God. He makes this promise in Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
I look at my life on a timeline in regards to how well I loved my neighbors, and I am happy to report amazing progress, (Ok, admittedly the Walmart thing was a backslide) but I do look back with regret at the early years.
You see, my definition of love was not the biblical definition. Mostly it meant comfort for me as I put forth the least effort possible. When it came to my family, if they didn’t see my point of view, I was irritated. I was judgmental and even hostile at times. Hard to believe, right?! But seriously, my focus was on me and not on God and certainly not on the wellbeing of others.
As the holy Spirit worked on my heart, I became less callous, more understanding and better able to love people even when we were in disagreement.
Oftentimes, unforgiveness or unmet expectations are the reasons we find it difficult to love others. Can I love someone when I hang on to rage and resentment? This is a recurring stumbling block for me in my Christian walk. Bitterness and grudges have no place in a person’s life. Harboring animosity toward another stands to eclipse the light of Jesus. Our goal should be to let our light shine; His light in us. Feelings like resentment and anger prevent others from seeing His radiance in us. So what do we do?
Forgiving someone does not mean you must return to the same relationship with them. In fact, in some cases it would be a bad idea. It simply means that you recognize we are all sinners, and we are all broken in one way or another. Forgiving someone requires a humble and gracious attitude. Forgiveness frees us to love the person in a different capacity, a love that may involve prayer and empathy instead of daily interaction.
The chains of unforgiveness are heavy and serve no purpose. With prayer and acknowledgement of our own sinful nature we can break the chains. Allow God to work in the other person’s life. Lose the desire to prove that you are right and they were wrong, and that your anger is justified. You may be right. You may have been deeply hurt and damaged by another. But the sooner you run to Jesus for validation instead of winning in your own mind, the faster you will regain peace.
God tells us in Colossians 3:13 that we must forgive if we are to be forgiven. We somehow feel entitled to hold on to grudges, but when we really know Jesus, the path to forgiveness is pretty smooth and straightforward. He makes a way for us to be freed from the bondage of unforgiveness. He promises an eternity with him in heaven when we do not deserve it. How much less have others sinned against us and yet we hang on. Jesus paid it all.That means He died for their sins, too. So when they repent, they are just like us. No worse and no better a Christian. And of course their repentance is not something we can accomplish. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to prompt a person to come to Christ. We can only plant the seeds and pray. How many seeds are we planting while we hang out in the mire of unforgiveness? Not many.
Matthew 18:21-22 gives us a perfect illustration. Again, it’s so clear….
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Let it go, Christian. God’s got it. He’s got you, too. Love and forgive. Trust and obey.
Father, forgive me when my heart is hard and unforgiveness creeps back in. Search me and change me. Replace my hardened heart with a heart of flesh, and give me eyes to see others as you do. Amen