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Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Secret Poison in the Ministry...

At times our expectations tend toward believing that we shouldn’t have to go through hardships or major difficulties. Perhaps we were sincerely trying to follow His will and our circumstances actually become worse: we lose a job, a ministry, a loved one dies, or some other tragedy, and it seems like God left the picture, failed to help, or just didn’t care. It just doesn’t seem fair. These difficulties are frequently connected to the people around us. 

Often those new in the ministry soon find that situations and people are not exactly what they thought they were. People, once respected, say and do things that cause hurt, sometimes with a seemingly reckless abandon. Sometimes this hurt comes from those closest to us, and the deepest pain comes from those who are closest to us.

How the Poison Begins...
If we are not careful, we will begin to harbor a resentful attitude born out of our hurt. Since we “know God is good,” we may give an outward acceptance of the hurt, but inwardly resentment settles in our heart.  The resentful attitude is often reflected in a suppressed anger that masquerades as sarcasm. Sarcasm can be a light-hearted poke at one’s own weaknesses: “I would never go past the speed limit...I’m too busy on the phone to pay attention to the signs.” However, there is another level of sarcasm that is intended to be humorous or witty on the surface, but underneath the surface is suppressed anger and resentment. The focus of this kind of sarcasm generally is veiled humor making light of or cutting down another person, group of people, church, institution, or business. It is this kind of sarcasm that can poison the spirit of an individual and spread to an entire worship team, church, or group.  For example, I once read a review of a concert pianist in which the critic stated: “The artist displayed the full range of emotions from ‘A’ to ‘B’.”  Obviously, the critic wasn’t too impressed with the performance and couched his comments in sarcasm.

What We Can Do
How do we deal with these issues? Without trying too sound simplistic, we need to start at the beginning: We need to identify the past hurts, offenses, disappointments, etc., and admit the deep feelings we have of resentment, anger, or bitterness and confess those to the Lord. We must be honest with God of our doubt of His doing the right thing, our confusion of the outcomes, and lack of faith and trust in His love.  We then need to recall how He has provided, helped, moved in the past, and how He saved and redeemed us. We need to confess renewed faith in His love and His plan for our lives and thank Him for all He as done; praise Him for who He is. This may be a repeated task each time that feeling of irritation or anger rises up inside of us. We will either reinforce a godly response or allow the sarcastic remarks to continue, refusing to deal with the cause and allow the situation to worsen.

Learning to Forgive
We need to forgive those who have offended us. What does it mean to forgive? First, let’s look at what forgiveness is not:
– Forgetting [We are not commanded to forget; in the case of abuse, it may not be safe to forget, but we are commanded to forgive.]
– Pretending that unacceptable behavior is acceptable [It is not ignoring the offense.]
– No longer feeling the pain or grieving
– Automatically trusting [Just because we forgive does not mean that we automatically place ourselves in a dangerous situation.]
– Lack of consequences
– Reconciliation [In reconciliation, the offender admits to the wrong and repents, that is, turns away from committing the offense again. A person can forgive the offender, but if the offender fails to confess and repent, reconciliation cannot occur.]
What IS forgiveness then?  Forgiveness is: Giving up the perceived right to get even; giving up the attitude “You owe me;” a canceled debt.

Forgiveness is a releasing of the consequences of what should happen into the hands of the only One who knows all there is to know about the situation and circumstances. We forgive by an act of the will, not whether we feel like doing so; it is an act of obedience, not a feeling. It is very doubtful that you will “feel” like forgiving. We do not wait until we “feel” right; we respond right and our feelings will catch up.

Forgiveness is first something between you and God; you forgive without telling the person who offended you that you have forgiven them. Of course, if they have asked you to forgive them, you respond with a “yes,” or a clarification -if necessary- of what the true offense was. But, unless they ask you to forgive them, telling someone that you forgive them only complicates the issue, and puts you into the role of the convictor, which belongs to the Holy Spirit.  We are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” which does mean that we go to the person that offended us and say, “I was offended when you... naming the offense.” But no matter what their response is, we are still commanded to forgive.

We also need to seek forgiveness from those we have offended. We should not say, “I know I offended you, but you offended me as well...” We ask confessing the attitude that caused the offense: not, “forgive me for gossiping about you...” [the first thing they will want to know is what you said], but “forgive me for a lack of love” [the attitude which was behind the action].

Forgiving [Matthew 18] and seeking forgiveness [Matthew 5:24] are an important part of worship and maintaining the right relationships within the Body of Christ. Sarcasm is a “red flag” that we may need to do some forgiveness work. Learning how to have victory over sarcasm helps us become leaders that reflect God’s nature and character.

Making sarcastic comments just didn’t happen overnight, nor will it stop overnight. We must first recognize the behavior as a problem, deal with the causes, then commit ourselves to thank God for His love and work in our lives and realize that He is concerned about the development of Christ’s nature in our lives.  Suffering and difficulty become the training ground in which we grow in our understanding of Who He is. It is in sickness we grow to know Him as Healer; loneliness, as Friend; insecurity, as Rock and Refuge, etc. 

God grants us grace to respond correctly when we are offended. We are commanded to forgive, that is, to release to God the vengeance we want to give the offender. As the Scripture says, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” — we are not in a position to know all the circumstances, nor God’s future plans.   Responding rightly will help us avoid falling into the sarcasm trap.