And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
Mt. 6:12 NKJV
I’ve heard Martha say (many times), “It’s all relinquishment.” I understood her, but only a little. That’s part of a pattern with me (and probably more than a few others). I grasp a spiritual principle, like forgiveness, and move on – only to find myself coming back around again. But each pass goes a little deeper and I find that I see a little farther each time. So when I recently heard Martha talking again about relinquishment, I was grateful to see something new.
To relinquish is to yield, “to give over possession or control of” something (or someone). And relinquishment really IS the entirety of the Christian life! It’s permanently on my “To-Do” list until I leave this world. But what I saw in a whole new way was the role of forgiveness in relation to relinquishment.
Forgiveness is to relinquishment as phonetics is to reading—the foundational first step. God perfectly incentivized the principle of forgiveness. I am forgiven only insofar as I forgive. If I refuse to let go of hurts or offenses, then the hurt and offense that I’ve inflicted on others will be held against me. It’s so perfect! If we don’t grasp and put into practice the principle of forgiveness, then we go no further. It’s done. Over. Forgiving others is the very LEAST that is expected of me. I’m not doing anyone a favor by forgiving them, I’m simply making sure that I’m not sent back to the starting line.
Forgiveness is the first level of surrender, of yielding, that we experience when we’re born again. It isn’t easy to let go of hurts, especially the BIG hurts, so God is kind to show us the big hurts that WE have looming over us. It isn’t noble to forgive. God really had to pound that one into me, because I felt very much like a longsuffering martyr for giving up my right to payback, snide comments, or just plain superiority. What a true paragon of virtue I am! That lasted until I was willing to look at the truth of my heart and begin to see my life as God saw it. Far from noble, forgiving is the most selfish thing I do. I can’t bear the weight of my sin, so I forgive. Simple as that.
Thing is, I realized that the deeper and higher relinquishment that God calls us to will never come without the foundation of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the principle that God uses to break us in, to bring us to the place of spiritual maturity such that the deeper, harder surrenders can begin. We learn to let go of the pain, to surrender to the story written on our lives, so that God can take us past the starting line and into the destiny He has for us.
Almost every day brings something new (even if it’s old) for me to forgive. Just last night, I stumbled across a ministry website and the pastor’s bio caused me to erupt in a fountain of rage. If he’d been standing in front of me, I’d have grabbed the biggest Bible I could find and done my best to beat him to a bloody, puling pulp with it. “How do YOU like being beaten by the Word, you diabolical dung heap?! Ich hasse dich!” Now, it’s pretty clear that a button of mine was pushed, but God didn’t push it so that I could count to 10 and walk it off. He pushed to show me a hurt that I still hold. So I let Him show me what I hadn’t yet seen, and came back around to the well-worn square one of all my dealings with the Father. Would I forgive? Or would I throw my life away to nurse an old wound in rage and bitterness? Not much of a choice, maybe, but it IS a choice.
I take heart after every such dealing because I see it as a kind of training, a practice-ground to learn on before the bigger, bloodier and scarier battles are waged. We are prepared, one day at a time, for all that God requires of us. And I find it comforting to see forgiveness in light of this preparation.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.