John didn't want the divorce in the first place, but his wife, Stella, was tired of being married and simply wanted out. Amazingly, Stella got custody of their only child, eight-year-old Christa.
Six years went by, and just as John was getting his life back in order, Stella decided to sue him for more child support. She really didn't need the money; her motive was simply to destroy him emotionally and financially.
Two days after he was served papers to appear in court, he received a letter from his beloved daughter, Christa, who had just turned 14. The letter, he said, was the most horrible, bitter, resentful and unforgiving letter anyone could ever receive. In that letter he was called everything but human. At first he was shocked, then angry, then absolutely devastated. He said the only thing that saved him was knowing how to make "faith choices" to give his hurts and pain to the Lord, knowing that He would take them away, heal him and give him peace. John said all he could see was "the Cross" and the Scripture that says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." This became his prayer.
After continually praying and seeking God, John decided to write Christa a response. Naturally, he wanted to justify his own position (his wife was the one who had sought the divorce, not him, etc.). But the Lord wouldn't let him do that. Instead, he wrote her a four-page letter about how to take all her hurts to God and how to forgive those that have hurt you. He wrote, "Christa, forgiveness is the only thing that will set you free to love." He, then, asked his daughter's forgiveness for all the things she had named in her letter. He continually reaffirmed his love for her and shared, "even if you want to write those hurtful things to me, it's okay because I will love you anyway." A few days later, he received a handwritten post card from Christa saying, "I don't understand it all or why, Daddy, but I love you and I do forgive you."
When the court date arrived, both lawyers commented how much Christa seemed to adore her dad. She held his hand, talked to him and hugged him the whole time they were in court. Then, a miracle happened! The court ruled in John's favor and, of course, he was ecstatic! Stella seemed so bitter and so resentful about the verdict, that John said, "one could only have compassion for her."
John finished telling me his story by saying, "You know what's neat, Nan, is our being free to love. The "choice" to take the hurts captive and give them to God is ours, but then Jesus gives us the Love we need to respond. In other words, I give Jesus the junk, He then gives me His Love. What an incredible exchange! It seems to me so few people understand this...."
It's true.Our moment-by-moment choices do determine whose life will be lived in our souls-either God's or our own!Three Choices
Like John, many of us have sufficient grounds (by worldly standards) to be angry, bitter and unforgiving over what has happened in the past and how others have treated us. How are we to handle these emotions? What do we do with our "justified" negative thoughts?
Well, we have three choices: We can either vent them to others (which many of us have done for much of our Christian lives); stuff them down in the hidden part of our soul (again, a method many of us have employed in the past); or, like John did, choose, by faith, to give them to God and be rid of them forever.
It's important to understand that we cannot hold on to negative thoughts and feelings without eventually acting out of them. In other words, undealt with thoughts and emotions do influence our actions and do control our behavior. Examples in the Bible of those who let their emotions run wild, and at times, ruin their lives, are: Esau with Jacob; David with Bathsheba; Reuben (and his brothers) with Joseph; and at various instances in the New Testament, with Peter.
Even if we try to keep our negative thoughts and emotions buried, they still will become the motivation for our future actions, whether we're aware of it or not. Burying our hurts, anger, bitterness, fears - justified or not - does not get rid of them; only allowing God to expose them and giving them to Him, does. Then, His Life can be shown forth in our souls!
Don't Bury Real Feelings
Jesus proclaims in Matthew 16:24 that we are "to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him." However, to deny in this Scripture does not mean to hide, bury, or push down our real thoughts and feelings. As Christians, many of us have been doing this out of ignorance, because we haven't known what else to do with them.
The truth is that God made us emotional and feeling people and we have no control over what we initially think. The sin does not occur until after we have chosen to keep, entertain and follow those negative thoughts over what God has prompted us to do. This is the point at which God's Spirit gets quenched and sin results.
Therefore, real feelings and real thoughts need to be examined, expressed and brought forth before they lead to making wrong choices that will quench God's Life in us. (James 1:14-15) Unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment will not go away on their own. They will just continue to accumulate, trigger more negative thoughts and, eventually, produce ungodly actions, unless we allow the Spirit of God to search the hidden part of our soul, expose them and unearth their hold on us.
Thus, it's important that we ask God to expose the real root causes of our negative thinking so that He can heal us from the inside out. If we simply focus our attention on the symptoms (the outward manifestations), and not the root causes, those symptoms will return over and over again. Once the root is exposed and dealt with, however, the symptoms will disappear also.
An Example: Twenty Years of Buried Hurt
Here's a classic example:
Several years ago, Francie wrote and told me that she had attended a retreat where I had spoken on this very subject. I had given a message on the importance of letting God reveal the root of our sin and self, and then dealing with it as He would have us. She told me that she had such a hard time with these principles, but she wasn't really sure why. Even after she got home, she just couldn't get the study off her mind. Finally, she decided to ask God to expose why she was so upset. "Let's see if this really works," she sarcastically thought to herself. Then she went through the steps of cleansing that I had taught.
Much to her amazement, God answered her prayer. He exposed exactly why she was so upset. He showed her that she still had tremendous resentment and bitterness towards her first husband, who had left her some 20 years before. God showed her that she was reacting to the principles I had shared, out of her past hurts (i.e., she never wanted to think about that man again).
Francie thought she had dealt with all her bitter feelings years ago. But, in reality, all she had done was bury those negative emotions, and for twenty years she had carried them around with her. After wrestling with God for some time, she decided to go through the steps all over again. Only this time, she wanted to deal with her sin and self (and the root cause) the proper way.
After sincerely going through the steps of cleansing (that we are about to learn), she said she experienced such a freedom that even her new husband that evening commented, "What's going on! You look so happy!" It's true, even our physical countenance will change when we become freed from things we have carried around for years. Francie sat right down and wrote me a sixteen-page letter telling me all about what the Lord had shown her.
A few weeks later, after I had responded back to her, I got another ten-page letter from her, telling me the most exciting miracle of all. Five years previously, she had suffered a major heart attack during an operation. Since then she had been in constant pain and on a heavy dosage of heart medication. When she made the choice to let go of her deep and bitter feelings of hate for her first husband, God supernaturally healed her heart condition. She wrote me that she had not experienced any pain nor had she taken any more heart medication. The doctor confirmed her healing and he was totally baffled. I don't believe we realize how closely tied our spiritual and our psychological well-being is with our physical bodies. Healing in one often does affect the other.
In order to be truly free of our past and be able to act out of God's Life, we must get rid of our ungodly thoughts and feelings the proper way: by allowing God to expose them, by looking squarely at them, calling them for what they are and then, choosing to give these things back over to God and be rid of them forever. (Psalm 103:12)
(If you are interested in studying further how God exposes the root causes of our problems, you might want to get Be Ye Transformed and specifically look at Chapters 11-13.)
Four Steps of Cleansing
So, what are the steps of cleansing that Francie kept referring to in the above story? All through the Bible, God tells us to "cleanse our hearts," be an open vessel and give ourselves over to Him, etc. How do we do this on a daily and practical level?
The following "steps" are not something that I have made up or simply found in some psychology book, they are the actual steps of cleansing and purifying that the priests took in the Temple of Solomon in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God. There are 52 chapters in the Old Testament that deal with the Temple and its importance. Thus, they must hold some significance for us also. I believe they are God's blueprint or the model that He has laid out for us in Scripture in order to deal with our sin and self and be reconciled to Him.
The Scriptural steps for giving things to God are: 1) Recognizing and acknowledging our own sin and self; 2) confessing and repenting of all that God shows us and unconditionally forgiving anyone else involved; 3) giving to God all that He has revealed; and finally, 4) reading His Word and replacing the lies with His truth.
Let's review the first two steps here. Then, next month, we'll explore the final two.
We must recognize and acknowledge the negative thoughts, emotions and desires that have just occurred. We are not to vent these thoughts or feelings, nor push them down. We must get alone with God and give them to Him. In this first step, it's important to try and describe to the Lord how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Ask Him to expose any "root causes" for our ungodly thoughts, emotions or actions. The more open and honest we can be in expressing how we feel, the easier it will be to confess these things to the Lord in the next step.
One woman asked me not too long ago if we should really let God know our real feelings. "Does God want us to do that?" she asked. I told her that God made us and that He knows everything already. He just wants us to acknowledge it. David, in Scripture, is a perfect example. Even though he was called "a man after God's own heart," we read how David continually expressed his real thoughts. (Read: Psalm 55:15 and Psalm 109:5-20). If David could express himself in this graphic and explicit way (and God still called him "a man after His own heart"), then we certainly can be honest with God.
Describing and naming what we are feeling is critical, because we can't give something over to God if we really don't know what it is. This is why we must call our feelings for what they are: "I am angry; I am resentful; I feel betrayed; I am fearful." Experience those thoughts and feelings. Cry, scream, or yell if you want to. (Remember, we are only doing this to God alone.) This will not only help us understand what we are genuinely feeling, but also what exactly we are to give over to God in the next step.
An Example: "Give Me Your Real Feelings"
Several years ago, I spent some time with a woman who "in the natural" I really did not care for. Now, at the time, I couldn't admit the truth to myself, because everyone else absolutely adored her. However, whenever I talked with her, I could feel the phoniness welling up inside me and I would always lose my peace.
Finally, I went to the Lord and asked, "Why am I having such a hard time with this person? Is it me? What's going on? Everyone else loves her." God said to me, "Nancy, you don't like her. Admit it. It's okay. Because," He said, "I love her. And if you will just give me your real feelings about her, I will give you Mine." So, I did just exactly that. I confessed that I really did not like her, but I chose to give those feelings to Him, and He faithfully gave me His Love and His compassion for her (i.e., we "exchanged lives"). The freedom to be "me" returned and I was able to love her with God's Love.
In Psalm 34:4 David declares, "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered (freed) me from all my fears!"
The second step in the cleansing process is that we must now confess and repent of everything that the Lord has shown us. All that is unholy, unrighteous and "not of faith," we must admit is sin and choose to turn around from following it. Confession is simply "acknowledging our sin and self." Repenting means "turning around" from following that sin and self, and choosing instead, to follow what God has told us to do. (Just asking God to forgive us is not enough; we must first confess that we have sinned, and then repent of it.)
Recently, I've read some fabulous books about relationships, which eloquently tell us all the things we can do to improve our love relationships with others, but many of them neglect to share the importance of confession and repentance in that process. Without doing this, nothing will ever change! Confession and repentance are our own responsibility and, really, the key to a changed life.
Psalm 32:5 says, "I acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid...I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."
A part of this important second step is that we must also unconditionally forgive anyone else involved in our situation. Since we have asked God's forgiveness for our sins, we must now unconditionally forgive others of theirs. Unconditional forgiveness simply means releasing that other person into God's hands. It doesn't mean we are pardoning them - that's not our responsibility. We are simply releasing them into God's hands so that Hecan judge them righteously.
An important point to remember here is that just because we choose to forgive someone, it does not necessarily mean that we'll be able to trust them fully again. God desires that we, by faith, choose to forgive them (or release them to Him) so that He can deal with them appropriately. But this does not necessarily mean we are to expose ourselves to them as we did before.
Remember Joseph in Genesis 50: He unconditionally forgave his brothers for trying to kill him, but he never really trusted them again with his life. He forgave them and released them to God, but at the same time, he used wisdom in his future dealings with them.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can extend that same unconditional forgiveness to others. 2 Corinthians 2:10 confirms this, "to whom ye forgive any thing...[forgive] it in the person of Christ."
The question is: Whose life will be lived in your soul?
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To be continued next month: Part 2 of "Whose Life will be lived in your soul?" This article has been excerpted in part from Nan's book Against the Tide: Getting Beyond Ourselves.