Only four more days until Christmas! Santa’s coming! We are full throttle. Cleaning house. Shopping for last-minute gifts. Wrapping. Unwrapping. Preparing room for guests. Hustling. Bustling.
Christmas movies stream on every channel. (“I like to WHISPER too”). Holiday tunes play. “Joy to the World” reminds us to “let every heart prepare him room.”
Have you prepared room in your heart for Him – the most important guest of all? What does it even mean to prepare Him room? If you are like me, you might need to evict a few tenants of the tenement of your heart to create space.What residents have signed long-term leases? Bitterness, resentment, hurt, guilt, shame, hatred. Are these shiftless vagrants squeezing out the solid, salt of the earth lessees who are the joy of every property manager? Love, kindness, compassion, empathy, generosity.
Preparing Him room is about serving eviction notices. I’m serving notice on bitterness and resentment first. Once they are driven out, their freeloading cousins – hurt, guilt, shame, and hatred – should follow close behind.
To: Bitterness and Resentment
Address: My Heart
You are hereby given notice to evacuate My Heart on or before the 25th of December 2017.
Wow! That felt good. All done. If it were only that easy.
Forgiveness is the key to evicting bitterness and resentment, but it isn’t always easy. Beneath what shadow does forgiveness lurk when the other man/woman comes to light ? Where does forgiveness veil itself when the person you trust violates your trust – or worse? Where is forgiveness entombed when a careless driver forces you to bury a young life taken too soon?
Forgiving the unforgivable – why bother? Why do the unforgivable deserve my forgiveness? Well, they don’t (from my limited perspective) but that isn’t the point of forgiveness. God calls us to forgive and his intent two-fold. First, forgiving brings peace to the forgiver moreso than the forgiven. More importantly, as we follow Jesus’s example of letting go of trespasses, we are drawn closer to God.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” (Unknown) Said another way – Fighting back forgiveness only leads to fatigue. (David, Psalm 32:3-4, author’s interpretation). Forgiving releases the weight of bitterness and resentment that zaps us of our strength. Seeing the eviction through makes room in our hearts for what really matters.
Recognizing what forgiveness doesn’t mean clears a path (or at least a step) toward forgiving the unforgivable. Here’s what it does NOT mean:
- Releasing from justice and/or consequences
In fact, God hates injustice. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (NIV). When we forgive others as God has forgiven us, we step aside, relinquishing control to God, so that he can fulfill the promise to exact justice. When we try to play the roles of judge, jury, and executioner, we just get in the way.
Forgiveness is a whole lot about moving our butts off God’s throne. Leave justice to the only one who can exact perfect justice.
That’s easy for you to say, you don’t know … Even if I don’t know your particular brand of hurt – there are some amazing examples of extreme forgiveness out there to guide both of us. Whatever you are currently going through, I’ll bet that you haven’t been stoned to death as a martyr (I can attest that all of my stonings have been figurative up to this point). You know what Stephen said as stones pelted him literally to death? “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60 (ESV).
Forgive them? Crying out in a loud voice? Not even a weak whisper? You’ve got to be kidding me? Who does that? Not I, but I need to follow Stephen’s example.
Not convinced? Me either. This stuff is hard. Here’s another example straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ, himself – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (ESV) What? He’s nailed to a cross, hanging by the sinews of his tattered hands and feet. Where does he find the strength to seek forgiveness for the Roman soldiers who were taunting him rather than just allowing him to die in “peace?” His strength came from the One to whom he cried out – God, our Father. And, that is the only source for the kind of the strength required to forgive the unforgivable. Don’t know about you, but I don’t possess that kind of strength on my own.
But … what happens when our anger toward God is the padlock bolting the doors closed from the inside out – trapping bitterness and resentment on the inside? How can we turn to a God who permits the other man/woman, the violator, the cancer, the disease, and the dangerous driver to exist? What kind of God is this?
I’m not proud to admit how I’ve struggled mightily with this question at times. How can I turn to God when he allowed my step-brother to be murdered on a school bus in front of so many innocent children; my brother to die from a congenital blood disorder leaving behind a wife, two small children, and me; cancer to ravage my daddy’s body in his 50s before he had a chance to see my children grow up; a reckless driver to steal my daughter from me on the back roads of Mississippi; and so much more?
The answer isn’t always easy, but it is simple – I must accept God’s sovereignty. I have to move my keister off God’s throne.
If I am to evict bitterness and resentment permanently and to renovate the shabby slum of my heart into a shining high-rise where the worthy tenants of love, kindness, empathy, and generosity may reside, I can’t go it alone. I need a renovation expert with the vision to see the whole picture. I must acknowledge the almighty dominion of an all-knowing God.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV) We simply can’t see the full picture. We see only a part. We can see but one pixel amongst the infinite pixels that organize to illuminate the entire picture. We can only see the “me” and the “my” parts. God not only sees the entire screen – he is the artist, the maker, the creator. What artist creates for the purpose of destruction? Artists create with the intent that the final masterpiece brings joy to those who experience it.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) God’s masterpiece is the eternal. We won’t have a full view until our eyes are opened to his full glory.
So how do I get my behind off God’s sovereign seat? I must trust in his goodness. I have to trust that his ultimate masterpiece is intended for good – even when the soft sweeps of a sable brush blend with the sharp blows of the edge of the palette knife.
I must trust the artist. I must trust the plans that he has for me – even when they do not feel prosperous at the moment. Even when my eyes only see the “me.”
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV)
How do we trust him? We build our relationship with Him. We turn over the keys to the tenement and make Him the property manager of our hearts.
The Yuletide tune reminds us “let every heart prepare him room.” So – we prepare him room – even when our hearts aren’t perfectly in it. After all, God is bigger than our broken hearts. He’s bigger than our bitterness. He’s bigger than our “why.” He’s bigger than me.
Just as Jesus asked the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers, all we have to do is ask. God will heal our hearts, remove our bitterness, and prepare room to forgive those who have trespassed against us.