Recently I spent some time looking back over my journal. I started reading entries from May of 2007. May is when Heath graduated from seminary and accepted his first senior pastorate. We moved from the Delta in Arkansas to Northwest Missouri. We spent 9 months in a church that made life miserable for us. Those who know us, and our story, would all agree that we went through a very difficult time. To sum our experience up briefly: it was the most unloving, inward focused church I’ve ever been a part of in my life. When you hear, “I don’t care what’s Biblical” during a deacon’s meeting, you know you’re in trouble!
It would be very easy to dwell on all the negative experiences and people we encountered during our time serving that congregation. It would be easy to get stuck in a rut of un-forgiveness and bitterness, and forget about our calling into a life of surrendered ministry to Christ.
While looking through the previous 14 months of journal entries, I see people who came to Christ, people who followed the Lord in baptism, I see a young couple’s Sunday school class growing (spiritually and in number), I see relationships with non-believers built, I see friendships made that will continue over the distance, and I see a married couple who grew closer to Christ and one another (Heath and I).
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Verse 18 really shouts out at me, “give thanks in all circumstances.” A former pastor of ours, preached on this passage one Sunday and he helped me learn that I don’t have to thank God FOR my circumstances, but I do have to give thanks IN it.
I’m not going to thank God for the mean people or the difficult circumstances, but I am going to thank Him for all the lessons learned, and for His faithfulness to me.
When we face difficult circumstances, we have two choices to make: respond with godliness or ungodliness. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” If you’re not responding with godliness in your current circumstances, perhaps you are not spending enough time with Him, and increasing your knowledge of who He is and what He is able to do in your life and through your life.
Allow me to be transparent here. There were times I was extremely angry at a certain antagonist in our former church. There were Sundays I did not even want to go to church because I would have to see this man. But, that’s when God gave me a burden to pray for him. God led me to read Matthew 5:43-48 (loving and praying for your enemies), Romans 12:21 (overcome evil with good), Acts 7:60 (forgiving those who persecute you).
A journal entry from June 27, 2007: “How Lord? Show me how I can show this man love? Even though he has hurt us and is trying to destroy us – people were arresting, and beating, and even killed you – and yet you cried out for the Father to forgive them (Lk. 23:34). May I be like you, Jesus. I need you to fill and consume me. I need you to give me courage and wisdom. I need you to SHOW me Your ways.”
How could I NOT forgive, love, and pray for whom I call my “enemies” after all Christ went through for me? Compared to Christ, I’ve endured very little.