Next Steps

There are always things that will try and get in between you and your relationship with God. Here are six of the biggest culprits:

1). Relationships – There may be a relationship that you’re in that’s getting in between you and God. You know it, those close to you know it, but you’re unwilling to give it up.

2). Pride – It may be something as simple as the fact that you think you know it all and you can’t bring yourself to admit that you need anyone or anything, including God. God may be asking you to humble yourself but you’re unwilling to. Pride was the sin that caused Satan to fall from heaven.

3). Money – God may be asking you take a step of faith and trust him with your money, to give to others, to give to charities, to give to the church, whatever. But if you’re unwilling to trust God with your money, then it’s getting in between you and God.

4). Addiction – This is rampant in our world today, and Christians are not immune by any means. Whether it’s an addiction to alcohol, pornography, prescription drugs, even something as seemingly harmless as video games or social media, too many Christians allow their addiction to come in between them and God.

5). Comfort/leisure – This is a nice way of saying that some of us are just lazy. God may be asking you to do something, to step up, to get involved, to serve, but you’re unwilling to because that would mean that you would have to do something, and you’re goal in life is to do as little as possible. Your comfort is getting in between you and God.

6). You (power/control) – At the end of the day, all the other items point to this. Who’s really calling the shots in your life? Who’s really in control? You or God? If you say God’s in charge and yet you end up doing whatever you want, you’re lying to yourself.

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, Father,forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:33-34

If you want to learn to truly forgive like Jesus, here are three essential steps you need to take:

1). Pray for them. If you want to start where Jesus started, you need to start with prayer. In the hours before Jesus was arrested, we find him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus wasn’t just praying to kill time before Judas showed up, Jesus was praying to prepare himself for what was about to happen. In fact, Jesus taught this. Look what he taught earlier in his life:

28 Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28

He says it again in Matthew 5:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44

If you want to start down the path of true forgiveness, it always starts with prayer. Now, praying for them doesn’t just mean praying judgement on them. If you truly want to forgive someone, your prayers can’t always be: give them warts and really bad dandruff.

You need to begin to pray for their souls, pray for their redemption, pray for God to move in their lives. That’s the first step. Pray for them.

2). Focus on how much God has forgiven you. When Jesus asks God to forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing, Jesus has perspective. Perspective is a powerful thing and can give you the power you need to forgive someone.

If a one year-old could talk coherently, they would most likely be incredibly upset with their parents for taking to the doctor and getting shots. Think about it from their perspective. Here they are, a helpless baby. Their ‘supposedly’ loving parents take them into a cold, sterile room and allow a random stranger to stab them and puncture them with sharp objects and inject alien substances into their already frail bodies. Seriously? How is that love?

As parents, that’s love because vaccinations save them from a more horrific disease later on. It’s all about perspective.

When we struggle to forgive, many times its because our perspective is too small. We’re focused on that one act of betrayal and the hurt that goes with it. We focus on it until it consumes our world and begins to blot out the sun.

When we focus on how much God has forgiven us, we gain perspective. We remind ourselves just how many times we’ve hurt others and how God continually forgives us. That’s the whole point behind the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18.

3). Choose to put the poison down. If its still difficult to forgive someone because of the hurt they caused you, then think of forgiveness in purely selfish terms. Forgiveness isn’t you condoning their actions, in fact forgiveness doesn’t have to be about them at all. Make forgiveness about you. Don’t just forgive because they deserve it, forgive because you need it.

When you choose not to forgive, when you choose to hold onto unforgiveness, that unforgiveness turns into bitterness, and that bitterness is a poison that will destroy you and everything you love in life. So think of forgiveness simply as you choosing to put the poison down.

I love this quote from author Anne Lamott, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.

That’s some of you right now. You’re mad and angry at people that aren’t even here. Maybe they’re out of state, maybe you haven’t talked to them in years, maybe they’re already dead. But you’re still holding onto that anger and bitterness. Bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.

The sad reality is that the person you’re bitter at probably couldn’t care less what you think, that’s why they hurt you in the first place. But that anger and bitterness has to spill somewhere, so you’re immediate family, your spouse and children, have to suffer the effects of the poison you’re spewing out everywhere because of unforgiveness.

Choose to put the poison down. That’s what true forgiveness looks like.

Growing up in church, I went through a Bible study called Experiencing God and one part of it always stuck with me: how God speaks to us. Even as a faithful church-attending Christian, the whole idea of God speaking to me and how He would actually go about doing that was a bit vague and nebulous.

In his Bible study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby listed four ways that God speaks to us, and I’ve seen no reason to change those ways over the past two decades. Here are four primary ways that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit:

1. Bible. This is a natural place to look for God’s will, because God’s written revelation is contained within the Bible. The more you consume the Word, the more you’ll get to know the mind of God. The Holy Spirit will take the words of Scripture and make them come alive in you through conviction and application. God speaks to you through the Word.

2. Prayer. Prayer isn’t designed to simply be a monologue where you give God your Christmas wish list of all the nice things you want Him to do for you. Prayer is a dialogue, and as you develop your prayer life and cultivate the discipline of stillness and listening, you’ll sense the Holy Spirit impress words and answers to your prayers while you’re still praying. The Spirit speaks to you through prayer.

3. Circumstances. Sometimes God literally slams doors in our faces, and sometimes he opens them wide enough where it’s obvious that His hand is at work. A Christian employer in town had been searching and interviewing people for a key position in their organization for two months to no avail. This employer spent the evening in tears and prayer, asking God to send the right person. Literally the next day, the perfect fit walked in and submitted her resume. This applicant had also been searching for the right employment for months. God used the circumstances to speak clearly to both sides as an answer to their prayers.

4. Other Christians. Many times God speaks to us through the church. Proverbs speaks to us time and time again about the need for wisdom and wise counsel. God has strategically placed other Christians in your life, and many times God will use them to speak truth and direction to you. Lean into those relationships and allow them to guide you in the right direction!

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is one of the most remembered stories of Jesus for a reason, because it’s such a brilliant story. Jesus starts with something everyone can identify. A man, most likely a Jew because he was coming from Jerusalem, was on a business trip and got mugged. It was a rough and tumble world and everyone had a fear of that.

Well, here’s where it gets interesting: two religious people walk by this man in his distress. Now, you would assume that these two would stop by, but they don’t. Now, in their minds, they have good reasons. Perhaps it’s because they have responsibilities and people waiting for them, and they can’t be late.

One big issue would have been ceremonial cleanness. If they stopped and took time to help him, it could have made them ceremonially unclean and could have impaired them from participating in all the religious rituals of the temple.

But I think the most likely reason they passed by and didn’t help was fear. Fear is the surprising reason why so many of us struggle to love our neighbors. And the person who I got this theory from, interestingly enough, was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech he gave the day before he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

He said he’d been to Jerusalem and had traveled the road Jesus mentioned. There’s a sharp elevation change, lots of curves, lots of places to be ambushed. It came to be known as the Bloody Pass. So Dr. King suggested, and I agree, that a main motivating factor could have been fear. Fear that there were other robbers waiting to ambush them if they stopped to help, or perhaps fear that this man was just playing dead, and he was a robber himself.

How many times does fear stop us from loving our neighbor? Fear of what what we’ll be asked to sacrifice, fear that we’ll be obligated to help longer than is convenient for us, fear of going without if we give what we have to others. How often does fear keep you from loving your neighbor?