Background Scripture: Psalm 51:1-17; 32:3-7
Quote of the Week:
We cannot embrace God's forgiveness if we are so busy clinging to past wounds and nursing old grudges.
T. D. Jakes
Forgiveness. We like what that word means when we are forgiven, yet we often find it hard to forgive others. Dictionary.com gives a few definitions of the term 'forgive':
Have you ever wished you could go back and change the past? I certainly do. We've all made mistakes in the past that we would never make a second time, and for many, we wish we could go back and undo those decisions because of the pain we caused others. Unfortunately, until a time machine has been developed that allows any of us to do that, we really have no way to go back and change anything about our past. You cannot change where you grew up. You cannot change the family you had as a child. You cannot change the things that you experienced. You cannot change the decisions that you made, whether good or bad. You cannot take away consequences to past actions. You cannot win a game that you lost, or lose a game that you won.
While our past is important, there is a danger in living in the past. That creates bitterness and anger and we are spending our 'now' on something we can't change. What we can do with the past is look at it and find ways to accept what has happened (this doesn't excuse the hurts that may have been done to you or even those that you caused to others) but to allow the past to bind you up hinders you from enjoying the life you now have. We need to focus on the present and the future and things that we can control - be those attitudes towards others or even ourselves. Sometimes we need to stop seeing a person for what they did in their past and see them for who they are today. For many people, that 'someone' is themselves. We hang our identity on what we did wrong, how we hurt others and we don't allow the forgiveness of God to completely heal us.
For others, it is another person they hold in disregard. They only see that person for who they were and what they did (of course, some people don't change and we should keep healthy boundaries with them) but in reality, most people do change. They mature, they learn and they change the things in their life that need to be changed. I see this when I'm around people I went to High School with. People get to talking about a person who is now almost 50, and talk about the person that they were in high school, never considering that the person may be completely different today than the person they were back then. I know I am not the same person I was when I was 16, 17 or 18. But because that person hurt us or snubbed us in some way, we keep them frozen in time and refuse to allow ourselves to consider them as an adult who has also matured. Whether it was someone who was close to us, an acquaintance or even a total stranger, we can find it hard to forgive people who have wounded us deeply. Choosing to hold a grudge actually causes us more harm than the person who hurt us. I've heard it said that bitterness (that comes from having an unforgiving heart) is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. In the end, we are really the one who most damaged by the hurts we hold onto and sometimes even nurse. We like to play the role of the martyr - we find comfort in it and it's often how we choose to identify ourselves, and this is a very damaging place to live.
Thank goodness God is beyond our limited humanity (in every way) but especially in regards to forgiveness. God is always, ALWAYS, willing to forgive us when we present ourselves with a repentant heart. If you find yourself on either side of this discussion - the one holding the grudge or the one who has done the hurting, there are some steps that must be taken to have true forgiveness and hopefully you will let God speak to you through this lesson and if there is anything you need to do, you will truly think about it, hand it over to God and allow him to enable you to do what it is He tells you needs to be done.
In this week's lesson, the focal passage centers on David's reaction after he had been approached regarding his sin with Bathsheba. We remember David as a "man after God's own heart", but if you just read a few selected passages about him, you would think anything but that to be true at this point in his life. He didn't go with his army into battle. He stayed behind and his lustful eye found Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his fine soldiers. David called for Bathsheba and eventually slept with her, and then to cover things up, the plans he put in place directly led to the murder of Uriah in battle. David experienced many consequences for these sins, both at the start and throughout his life. His family suffered in many ways because of his sin. If this was all you ever heard about David, you would think that he would have been some sort of lowlife, but instead he has become known as the "man after God's own heart". If David was alive in our culture, I doubt many people would think highly of him based on his actions with Bathsheba alone, given how we tend to judge others.
How did David go from an adulterer and a murderer to a man after God's own heart? What was the change that took place within him and how did he turn his life around? In this passage, we see David coming forward to God, in honesty. He knew that God desired much more from him than he had given, and that he had followed his own will. David acknowledged that God desires truth in our inner parts - we aren't supposed to look truthful; we are to be truthful. God desires to teach wisdom in the inmost places of our lives.
So often, we look at the external lives of people, which can be very dangerous to do. There are those who always appear to be in the right, yet truthfully they may be far from God. Then there are others who have made public mistakes and are described by those events, yet they are inwardly seeking God. We can't know the heart of man, only God can do that. Therefore, we need to be very careful about how we analyze and label people - based on the external things we see.
David knew that he was guilty and stained by his own sin. He asked for his transgressions to be blotted out and his iniquities to be washed away. David asked for cleansing so that he would be clean, and washing so that he would be whiter than snow. We know that God can truly wash away our iniquities and cleanse us from our sin. The guilt he felt caused him physical anguish and I am sure he dealt with major bouts of depression. When someone who has been called by God has been steeped in sin, it impacts every fiber of their being. David said that it felt as if his bones had been crushed by God.
David asked God to hear joy and gladness again, and that his crushed bones would even rejoice. David asked God to turn His face from David's sins and blot out all his iniquity. We are so fortunate to serve a God of many chances. He deals with us in a way that is much more favorable than we should be. The Bible says that he puts our sins as far away as the east is from the west. We tend to put our sins in one pile and move them to another, which is one of the reasons why we deal with guilt and addiction to sin.
Isn't it amazing to realize that we tend to record other's failures? Often, when we blot messes on clothing, it results in a stain. Sometimes, we look at others and all we can see to think about is the stain that they have. Have you ever considered the stain that others see when they look at you? Often, we look at ourselves and see the remnants of the stain of sin. On our own, it is impossible to get a truly clean slate, especially when we are dealing with others. In fact, some people excel in the art of forgiveness without forgetting. If you hang onto the offenses of others to use at a later date, have you really forgiven them?
Our transgressions are known to us and our sin is always before us. As long as we hang onto sin, it begins to weigh on us. The guilt of sin can tear us down over time. We all know this feeling, as we have all failed and have all at some point tried to hide our sin. Our sin is against God and we have done evil in his sight. We like to measure our sin in terms of human terms. We give high scores for 'bad' sins and low scores for 'little' sins. We tend to have a large gray area, but we need to realize that God sees any sin as sin, however large or small. God's standard is truth at the core. God has every right to judge and since we know we have sinned, we would have no defense. If we got what we really deserved, transgressions would not be blotted out, but emboldened. It is only because of His unfailing love and great compassion that He offers forgiveness at all.
At many different points in my life, this verse - "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" has been my lifeline to God. I know what I have deserved, but I know what God continues to do in the lives that turn back to him and want to follow him. There are so many people that have fallen and on their own, will never get up. It matters little how far you have fallen, or even what you have done. Yes, God desires that you turn from your sin, but He is more than willing to offer forgiveness to those who truly seek him.
The passage says "I will be clean" and "I will be whiter than snow" and "I will hear joy and gladness" and "I will rejoice". When we confess our sins, we know that God is faithful to forgive us of our sins. He will give us a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. We can't make ourselves clean and we can't make our hearts pure on our own. Philippians 2:13 says "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." The most dangerous position that a believer can put him or herself in is to live their lives with God's presence and Holy Spirit apart from him or her. In God, we have peace, joy and comfort. On our own, we have unrest, sadness and discomfort. It doesn't mean that we won't have good times in life, but there will be something big missing. What we need when we have sinned is a restoration of our relationship with God. Once that is restored, we have the joy of our salvation, along with a spirit that is willing to be sustained by God.
The prayer should be for the Lord to open our lips and let us speak of Him. In no ways as we share are we trying to buy God off, but we should have a spirit that is submissive and a heart that is contrite. We can never approach God based on the things that we have done and what we have given. God is not impressed with the things that we do for Him, but in a heart that seeks Him. That heart will often express itself in deeds of righteousness, but not in an effort to buy God off. God wants you, not the things you have or the things you do. When you reach the point of your own brokenness, realizing you can't continue solely under your own power, you are right where God wants you to be.
In this passage we see a very poignant example of the impact of sin that has not been confessed. David writes that when he was in sin and kept silent, his bones wasted away through his groaning all day long. Day and night, the hand of God was heavy on David and his strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. How is your life impacted when you hang on to your sin? You may see all of the ways that people try and protect their position which only serves to make the situation worse. When you take a step back, can you see how you and I tend to do the same with God?
David acknowledged his sin to God and did not cover up his iniquity. He no longer tried to hide his sin, but confessed his transgressions to the Lord. When you confess your sin to God, He forgives you and the guilt of your sin is removed. The amazing thing to realize is that things are worse with your relationship with God as long as you try and hide your sins (which He already knows about) and they become much better once you confess them. It is truly pointless to hang on to our sin.
God truly forgives. Recalling our past failures may very well help us safeguard against similar failures in the future, repeating sin in our lives. We may hang on to what we've done, but God is able to move past it. It really doesn't matter what you've done, as long as you are willing to turn to Him and confess it. This doesn't mean that you are free from any consequences either - and the depth of those consequences will vary with the sin that occurred. With that said, sometimes the reason we 'hang on to our guilt' is not because of our refusal to let it go, but because someone else doesn't want us to. They find power in reminding you of what you've done and they wield that 'guilt' like a weapon, manipulating you to do as they want because you hurt them. In those situations the person doing the 'guilting' is the one in the wrong and by doing so, they are now sinning. Those are caustic situations that often times need professional help to stop the endless cycle that has become the norm for handling life. In a book titled, What's it Like to be Married to Me, by Linda Dillow, they talk about all kinds of hurts that occur in marriage and discuss healthy and damaging ways marital 'sin' is handled. They discuss affairs, abuse of a child and other issues. They highlight the things that couples (specifically the wife) did, that offered true reconciliation of their marriage and they also discuss the destructive actions that sealed that marriage for failure and ultimately divorce. The one key - was not just forgiveness - but the importance of not continually bringing that sin up again. Sometimes a child is hurt by something a parent has done, and they hold onto that hurt and refuse to ever let the parent off the hook. They manipulate that parent by bringing up time and time again the thing that was done, as a means to keep the parent full of guilt, and thus get them to give or do what it is they (the child) want. Friends can do the same things to each other. Using someone's sin against them in the form of 'guilting hem' happens every day. And often times the one hurt refuses to see their role in the continued destruction of the relationship that they say they want to heal. In the end both parties have a significant role in reaching a healed relationship (if that is really so desired).
It is never just one party's responsibility to make things right. A healthy and vibrant relationship requires both parties to be willing to set aside their hurts and invest in the rebuilding of the relationship. This means they are both 'feeding' the relationship and have put aside the mindset that things will be ok as long as the other person does all the 'mending'. It means a willingness to share in the responsibility of the health of the relationship and a refusal to fall back into the blame game. It means giving up our 'right' to have things our way and instead, doing what's best for each other (or the group). In other words, healthy restored relationships don't have one party calling the shots and telling the offender what they have to do to make things right. Instead, both the offended and the offender stand on equal footing and take equal responsibility for how things go forward and for moving forward with the future in mind and not a re-telling of the past. The focus is on what can be, not what was. One last word on this subject - if you have been so badly hurt by someone and cannot find it within yourself to truly forgive the other person, even if they have done all that can be done from their end, then you must release the other person and let them move on with their life and you must move on with yours. This doesn't make you a bad person or an ungodly person. I think on some level we have all been in this place, regardless of the nature of the relationship. But it is not God honoring to stay in this relationship and continually punish the offender, when it is you who cannot (and maybe rightly so) get past the offense and the subsequent hurt. The inability to forgive others and move on becomes an issue all to itself, which will eventually lead others to seek forgiveness from God themselves.
You may recall the story from Matthew 17, where a king was settling all of his accounts with his servants. One of them owed much more than he could ever give, and the servant begged for patience in repayment. The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. As the servant left, he found another servant who owed him a lot less, and refused to forgive that debt and had his fellow servant thrown in prison. When the master heard of what happened, he explained how the servant's debt had been forgiven and that he should have also shown mercy on the other servant. In anger, the master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he could pay back all he owed, which he never could do. Jesus said that this is how the heavenly Father will treat each of us unless we forgive our brother or sister from our heart.
When you confess your sin, God will forgive you. Who do you need to forgive? This great song by Matthew West helps us understand the need for forgiveness (both to forgive and to be forgiven).
It's the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don't deserve
It's the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…
It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It's always anger's own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It's the whisper in your ear saying 'Set It Free'
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Help me now to do the impossible
It'll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it's power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me