How do we give things over to the Lord and leave them there? This has been our topic of discussion for the last two months. We briefly talked about the four essential steps to doing this: 1) recognizing and acknowledging the negative thoughts that we have just experienced; 2) confessing and repenting of them; 3) giving all that God has shown us about them over to Him; and, finally, 4) jumping into God's Word and replacing the lies with the truth.
In last month's article, we explored in depth the first essential step, which is to recognize, acknowledge and experience the ungodly thoughts and emotions that we have just experienced. This month, we want to explore the second step in dealing with our sin, which is to confess and repent of all that the Holy Spirit has shown us and, in addition, unconditionally forgive anyone who has wronged us.
Confession is simply "owning" our negative thoughts and emotions and acknowledging that what we have thought or done, either ignorantly or knowingly, has quenched God's Spirit in us. Because it's sin, we must, therefore, confess "ownership" of it.
Repenting is simply choosing to turn around from following what our negative thoughts and emotions are telling us and, instead, choosing to follow whatever God has shown us. Repenting means we are to stop looking at and pointing to the other person and begin looking at and pointing to ourselves.
This critical step of confession and repentance is our own responsibility. As 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, [then] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This is the step, however, that many of us have left out when we have given things over to the Lord. Certainly, we've given our hurts to God, but most of the time, we've forgotten to admit our own part in the problem. And this is why so many of the things we've surrendered to the Lord often do come back. If we don't do our part of confessing and repenting of our sin and self, God is hindered from doing His-taking our sins away "as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)."
"I Was Taught to Fall Apart"
Listen to what a young woman wrote me a few years ago: "I was never taught how to handle conflict in Christ. I was taught to fall apart and cry myself to sleep, etc. I was always missing Step 2, confessing and repenting of my own sin and self. Oh yes, I would take every thought captive and put on the Mind of Christ. But, I would forget the most important step of all, which was putting off all the junk. And," she says, "there certainly was a lot of junk in there!"
She is right. Most of us often do forget this important step of confession and repentance, which is again why so many things come back. When things we thought we had dealt with return, the enemy, of course, is right there on our shoulder to convince us that God is not faithful. After this occurs over and over again, we begin to believe him. What God means for good (He is stretching us in order to strengthen us), the enemy always tries to twist and use for evil (his goal is to destroy our relationship with the Lord). God wants us freed from our sin and self and that occurs by daily confessing and repenting of it. Once we begin to do this, the things that we have surrendered to the Lord will not come back again, because God really will have taken them "as far as the east is from the west."
An Example: "I Confess I Am Depressed"
Before I learned how to walk this message, I used to give my feelings of discouragement and depression over to the Lord and ask Him to take them away. But nothing ever seemed to happen, which, of course, made me feel even more depressed because I assumed that God didn't really care. Now, I realize that I was the one at fault. I had omitted the most important step of all. I hadn't acknowledged or confessed that my depressed feelings were sin because they were "not of faith (Romans 14:23)." I also had not chosen to turn around from following them. The correct course of action is to make a faith choice and say, "Father, I confess that I am depressed (i.e., I "own" these thoughts and emotions). I have chosen to entertain these feelings rather than give them over to you and this has quenched Your Spirit in me. It's sin and I now choose to turn around from following what these thoughts are telling me, and choose, instead, to follow what You want me to." We cannot simply say, "God, help me with my depression," and somehow expect Him to automatically take it away. It doesn't work that way! We must first confess our responsibility in the situation. [Now, I am assuming that the depression we are experiencing is mental or emotional, not chemically or physically induced. The Lord has personally shown me that if my depression is physically induced (i.e., chemical imbalance, menopause, etc.), then there's a physical answer; if it's spiritually prompted (emotional, etc.), then faith choices will work.]
Confessing Ownership of Our Sin and Self
Now, if we have caught the negative thought when it first came in and we have not entertained it or mulled it over, then we have not sinned (not quenched His Spirit) and we can skip this step of confession and repentance. Once we give that negative thought to God, we can again walk by faith. If, however, we have held on to that self-centered thought for a while, mulled it over and entertained it, then we do need to confess it as sin because it has already quenched God's Spirit. We need to confess "ownership" of it and then simply change our mind about following it.
Something else important to emphasize is that we are not responsible to change our own negative feelings. We, unfortunately, cannot do that. Our only responsibility is to put in charge the Person who can change our feelings, and that's God. And, we do this by confessing we own the emotions and then, by faith, choosing to repent of them. After that, it becomes God's responsibility to change our feelings by aligning them with our faith choices. And, you will see that He is always faithful to do this in His timing!
A part of this second step of confession and repentance is that we must also unconditionally forgive others for whatever ill they have done to us. Unforgiveness is one of the many things that quenches God's Spirit in us and, if we hold on to it, it will hinder God from working in us and through us. Therefore, the way we release God to work in our situations is by unconditionally forgiving (or releasing) the other party, whether or not they have asked for it! (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:35) Now, don't misunderstand me, we are not pardoning them. We don't have the right or the authority to do that. That's God's responsibility. When we unconditionally forgive them, we are simply releasing them to God, so that He can then judge them righteously, and also so that our response to their sin won't become a stumbling block in us.
An Example: Joseph
A perfect example of this is Joseph in Genesis 45. You remember the story. Joseph's brothers were so jealous of him that they tied him up, threw him into a pit and left him there to die. Some Midianites traveling to Egypt came along and the brothers decided to sell Joseph to them. He was taken to Egypt and there spent 17 years in captivity before God, through a series of circumstances, supernaturally released him. Eventually, Joseph, again by God's intervention, became ruler of Egypt.
Scripture makes it very clear in Genesis 45 that Joseph unconditionally forgave his brothers long before they ever came to him and repented. They didn't ask Joseph's forgiveness until later in Genesis 50 and, only then, because they had gotten caught and were afraid Joseph would retaliate. By unconditionally forgiving his brothers, Joseph not only remained a cleansed and open vessel before God, but he also trusted that God would judge them righteously. The same is true with us.
Jesus gave us His own example of forgiveness: in Luke 23:34, as the soldiers were crucifying Him, He said, "Lord, forgive them; for they know not what they do." We must do the very same thing, trust that the Father knows the whole true story, and that He promises to be our revenger, to set things right in His timing and His way.
Two Parts to Forgiveness
Thus, there are really two parts to forgiveness: first, our relationship to God; and second, our relationship to the other person. The first reason we must unconditionally forgive is because God commands it in Scripture. Mark 11:25-26 teaches, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have anything against any: that your Father also, Who is in heaven, may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father, Who is in heaven, forgive your trespasses." In other words, we forgive, because God has forgiven us. The second reason we are to forgive is to reconcile with the one who has sinned against us. When we choose to unconditionally forgive that other person, we will be clean before the Lord and, not only will our relationship with Him be reconciled, but He also promises to give us His unconditional Love for the others involved.
An Example: German Pastor
Here's an incredible, true story of how this works. In the mid-1930s, a dear, sweet German pastor was abducted from his church. Suspected of harboring, abetting and aiding Jews, he was immediately taken to prison and put in a five-foot cell. There was no hearing, no trial - not even time to let his family know what had happened to him.
For weeks, this gentle pastor asked the prison guard outside his cell door if he could use the pay phone at the end of the hall to call his wife and, at least, let her know he was alive. The guard, however, was a contemptible man who hated anyone and everyone that had to do with Jewry. He not only would not let him use the phone, he also determined to make the pastor's life as miserable as possible.
When the meals were handed out, the sadistic guard purposefully skipped the pastor's cell; he made the pastor go weeks without a shower; he kept lights burning in the pastor's room so he couldn't sleep; he blasted his short wave radio hoping the noise would break the pastor's spirit; he used filthy language; he pushed him; he shoved him; and, when he could, he arranged for the pastor to have the most difficult job in the labor gang.
The pastor, on the other hand, prayed over and over again to avoid letting hate and unforgiveness consume him. He prayed instead to be able to forgive and love this guard with God's Love. As the months went by, whenever he could, the pastor smiled at the guard; he thanked him when his meals did come; when the guard was standing near his cell, the pastor told him about his wife and his children; he even questioned the guard about his own family and about his own goals and ambitions; and, one time, he even had a chance to tell the guard about God's Love. The guard never answered a word, but, obviously, he heard every word.
After months of unconditionally forgiving and loving this sadistic guard, God's Love finally broke through. One night, as the pastor was again quietly talking, the guard cracked a smile; the next day, instead of being skipped for lunch, the pastor got two; the following evening, he was allowed not only to go to the showers, but to stay there as long as he wanted; the lights began going off at night in his cell and the radio noise ceased. Finally, one afternoon, the guard came into the pastor's cell, asked him for his home phone number, and he, personally, made the long-awaited call to the pastor's family. A few months later the pastor was surprisingly released with no questions asked.
The only way we can genuinely love those that have betrayed, hurt or wronged us, is by unconditionally forgiving them (or releasing them to God) as the above pastor did and becoming an open vessel for God's Love. If we don't do this, Scripture tells us exactly what will happen - the enemy will get an advantage in us. (2 Corinthians 2:11) Now if that other person comes to us and asks forgiveness, then our relationship with him has a good chance of being healed and it's possible (but not always the case) that we can end up even closer than before. If, however, that other person never comes to ask forgiveness and never repents, then there will be a breach in our relationship and only God's wise and strict Love can operate.
However, the Bible exhorts us to still love him, still be an open vessel for God's Love and still give ourselves over to him. Luke 6:27 even goes so far as to say that we must "Love [agapao] our enemies." Now this does not mean that we should put ourselves in harm's way again, but simply love them from a distance with God's wise, strict and merciful Love. (See The Way of Agape, page 45-46). Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can extend that same unconditional Love and forgiveness to others.
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