In any long-term relationship, there are many occasions for disagreement, conflict, and hurt — things that can damage or end relationships. This is true of those following Jesus and those who have not yet started following Jesus. One might think that inside the family of people following Jesus there wouldn’t be conflict, since all of us stand on the common ground of having been forgiven by God, and were told to forgive others as we have been forgiven. But people who follow Jesus have feelings just the same as those who don’t, and those feelings get hurt some times.
There are those in the faith who advocate suppressing your hurt feelings as a strategy for being more like Jesus. Good luck with that! Suppressed hurt feelings tend to bubble over in unexpected and undesirable ways, generally causing havoc for those who get bubbled upon, as well as for the bubblers. I do agree if the offense is small and it caused no real damage to the relationship, it is often wiser to overlook it. This is called “forbearance”. However, for those offenses that we have difficulty shaking, we can’t simply forbear, we have to do something about.
I’m pretty sure Jesus would not recommend stuffing our feelings. His comments in Matthew 18 suggest that He wants us to talk to the person who hurt us, for the purpose of restoring the relationship. I have heard some really bad teachings on Matthew 18, which spent a whole lot more time on punishing the other person. But if you read Matthew 18 as anything but a desire by Jesus to restore relationships, then you are reading it incorrectly.
“Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” Ephesians 4:23 (NLT)
Let me get to the bottom line on what I share here: God wants you to do great things — with Him, NOT for Him.
In the hours before he was arrested and ultimately crucified, Jesus spoke to his disciples about things that were both near to his heart and important for them to know so that they might remain strong in their faith without him by their side. Perhaps that is why John chapter 14 to 17 are among my favorites, and especially John 15. I have written extensively about the concept of abiding in Jesus that is presented, and how abiding is the primary way to have a life that is both personally fulfilling and pleasing to God. As I read through that chapter recently, I realize that I had perhaps missed a second major theme in that chapter. That theme is “fruitfulness”.
The word “fruit” appears almost as many times as the word “abide”. The two concepts are intertwined, though they appear independently of each other, as well. One clear example of the two being intertwined comes in John 15:4-5. It says,
4“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (ESV)
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” Psalms 34:1 (NIV)
Sometimes I feel like the Lord prompts me to go to a particular chapter in the Bible, because he wants to say something to me from that passage that will either speak to my current circumstances or will teach me something about himself or the life of faith. On silent retreat a few weeks ago, I felt like I heard him say to turn to Psalm 147. I said to myself, “Well, that’s probably not the Lord, because I’m pretty sure there’s nothing really interesting there.” But I turned there any way, just in case. And in reading it, verse 11 especially popped out. It says
The Lord takes pleasure in those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy and loving-kindness. (Amplified)
Skip over the word “fear” for now, because it evokes negative reactions in most of us, and to understand it properly, it will distract us from what the Lord is really saying here. This verse says that if we really believe in and rely on his goodness and kindness towards us, this attitude in us actually brings joy to God’s heart. We put a smile on God’s face because of how we trust him to love us and care for us.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 (NIV)
I believe that Jesus is calling out to people today, almost pleading with them to come into a very close relationship with Him. The way to Jesus is meant to be so simple that no one would be prevented from coming to Him, and no one would feel like it was too difficult to find that deep relationship. Unfortunately, many have decided that what Jesus said was too good to be true, and have tried to complicate it. Organized religion has sometimes misrepresented Jesus, making Him to be a God whose primary focus is on judgment and condemnation. Even people who genuinely love Jesus can make it difficult for themselves, by putting additional burdens of performance on themselves, or by unnecessarily choosing to continually carry a heavy load of guilt or shame. But the very words of Jesus speak against this. We can read His appeal to those far and near alike in Matthew 11:28-30.
28Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (NLT)
We need to take Jesus’ words seriously, when he says that he provides rest for us, and that his way is easy (or light). He says a lot more than that in these few simple verses, and it would help us if we unpack them a little bit.
[Moses said] “‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people”… You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you…'” Exodus 33:12-13 (NIV)
I was thinking intently about the theme verses for a Chrysalis team I served on, trying to understand what they were telling me. (Chrysalis is a ministry to young people between the ages of 15 and 24, with chapters in many states and around the world.) The verses chosen by the leaders of the team were Hebrews 12:1-3, and in the NIV they read
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
I don’t know about you, but when sentences are long and have a lot of commas and parenthetical expressions, it takes a while for their meaning to get to my brain. Probably because of that, it took me some time to break it into pieces so that I could grasp what it was saying. As I thought about what “the joy set before him” meant, it felt like the Holy Spirit spoke to me in my heart and said, “You were the joy set before Him”. Something deep within leapt with joy, while at the same time bringing tears to my eyes. Can it really be? When Jesus faced opposition and in His flesh felt like giving up, did He think of me, and that gave him hope?
“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)