Advent Devotionals: Thursday, December 3

FORGIVENESS OPENS THE DOOR TO DEEP LOVE
“The great surprise about Jesus’ invitation into the kingdom community was that it was addressed precisely to those who were most clearly not “kingdom people,” to those in whom the maladies of disordered love were most evident.”
(Chris Webb, God Soaked Life)
Matthew 5:43-48, Matthew 18:21-34, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

“What is the condition of your soul?”
This is a question often asked in the ministry of soul care. Or put a different way, “What is your soul saying to you these days?” These questions used to always stop me in my tracks. I would question, “My soul! How would I know the condition of my soul?” I am happy to say that today I love these questions and often use them as a quick self-check.

But it is interesting how common that kind of response is. In our culture we go to great lengths to take care of our bodies with exercise and nutrition, we take courses and study to keep our mind engaged and healthy, we seek counselling when we sense our emotions are in trouble. But what about our heart and our soul?

In terms of our heart, we immediately think of that muscle that pumps blood and life into our arteries and veins every moment of every day. When we begin to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain, we make an appointment with the doctor to make sure everything is okay. Symptoms are a gift because they tell us that something is wrong.
When it comes to our soul though, what are the kinds of symptoms that tell us our soul is in trouble? We need to pay attention to symptoms such as negative thinking, lack of playfulness, anxiety, resentment, anger, and feeling overwhelmed because they indicate something deeper is going on and needs to be addressed.

Going back to the analogy of our heart, when we present our symptoms to the doctor, we are sent for testing to get to the root of what is causing the symptoms. In the same way, we must do this for our soul. Is your soul tired? Do you feel discouraged? As we probe a little deeper, keeping in mind this is a good exercise to do in the company of close and trusted friends, one of the primary culprits of a soul in distress is unforgiveness.
A surprising thing about unforgiveness is that even though it might be directed toward one person, it almost always ends up affecting all our relationships. The tentacles of unforgiveness are far reaching and run deep.

John Arnott, in his book “Forgiveness” writes,
“Negative things in our lives can block us from going out in love to serve others. Our thoughts and our words can hinder us from moving freely in the grace of Christ.”

Is it fair to say the task of forgiveness is often viewed as punishment, as though we are conceding to the other person. This feels especially true if the other person never acknowledges that they have hurt us. In Jesus’ kingdom, however, the opposite is true as forgiveness provides freedom to both parties. The wounded party is held hostage by refusing to forgive, plagued by mistrust, anger, and an inability to love others wholeheartedly.
This is why Jesus teaches so much about forgiving others. The kingdom Jesus announced is a kingdom that embodies a community of love. The way of Jesus lives out right relationships. Therefore, the healing of relationships is paramount.

When we enter into God’s kingdom, the ministry of reconciliation becomes ours. Jesus calls us to keep short accounts with people, resolving issues quickly and honestly with grace.
When Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven, he is basically saying never stop forgiving. We are to cultivate a generosity of forgiveness. This is for the sake of ourselves as well as others and it is for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is not easy. When I say we must forgive, I am not trying to be flippant or insensitive. Some of us have been deeply wounded in so many ways such as betrayal, abuse, or neglect. Often the people who have wounded us have little remorse or no desire to work things out. Forgiveness is difficult work and requires great courage and strength. But this is part of kingdom living. Jesus said we would have to take up our cross to follow him. But he asks us... no.. he invites us into the ministry of reconciliation because it is just so good, bringing healing for us and for others. Unforgiveness will eat away at our soul, slowly consuming us with bitterness and resentment and we will lose sight of ourselves and what it means to love and be loved.

Forgiveness opens the door to healing and deep love. Abundant life awaits us on the other side.
I am reminded of the song written by Don Henley from the band The Eagles as he reflects on a broken relationship and how to recover from it. In the end, it looks like he figured it out.

REFLECTION:
“I've been tryin' to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore” (The Heart of the Matter, Don Henley)

1) How have you dealt with conflict and resolution in your family or community in the past? How does Jesus’ teaching challenge you in this area?

  1. Do you have any unresolved conflicts that should be dealt with? How might you go about the ministry of reconciliation with these people?
  2. What is the condition of your soul these days? Is there any underlying unforgiveness that needs to be addressed? If so, will you talk to a trusted friend and bring the situation to God?“
  3. Our Father in heaven hallowed be Your name,
    Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    Forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever.
    Amen.”

PRACTICES:
  1.  Morning Prayers of praise and gratitude. (Suggestion: Write out your prayers)
  2. Evening Prayers - Examen.
  3.  Pray the Soren Kierkegaard prayer (Dec. 1)
  4. Scripture Reading as assigned above. 


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