Category Archives: What Will Make a Difference?

Practical teaching for pastors, leaders, students, clients, and other followers of Jesus who want to grow spiritually and serve Christ more effectively.

“What if God Let You Down?”

Dialogue with the Disillusioned: Why Keep Praying—Week 1

(15 years of suffering drawing to an end)

(15 years of suffering drawing to an end)

I volunteered to read to terminally ill children at a cancer unit once, and found that many of them were bound up at first in the hope that God would heal them. He never did. I wept copious tears each time one passed away during my stint, as I had become emotionally attached to them. The pain got to me. And He claimed to have this special caring for children? But why are we blaming him, when he is only imaginary? (Kadene, 6/7/10)

As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse don’t pray for me – your prayers will not help me pay the rent to stop being evicted or pay the bills because I am no longer able to work because of the abuse. When you have provided support for all the victims of clergy abuse then you can take time off to pray. (JohnBS1, 6/8/10)*

My heart breaks when I read experiences like these. Sincere people have been deeply hurt or disappointed by God, or they have trusted in others who represent God, and they got a raw deal. They believe that God abandoned them or seriously let them down, just when they most needed his help.

I understand all of these feelings and reactions very well. I’ve had them myself. I am convinced that I will never be able to fully understand why God seems to be very helpful in some circumstances, but does nothing in others, especially when a little help could make all the difference in the world to someone who is suffering.

For example, one of the most troubling, difficult, and faith-testing experiences of my life was when my mother was dying slowly of Alzheimer’s disease. For 15 horrific years, I had to watch her, my father, and the rest of us suffer. At first, I prayed that she would be healed, but she wasn’t. Then I prayed that God would put her out of her misery (and us out of ours), but she continued to linger on.

She was a strong Christian who helped many different people, and she and I were very close. Her death was going to be a huge loss to me. Why God would let this happen to her? Even though I should have known better, and should have asked this question on behalf of millions of others who suffer far worse horrors, I was caught off guard. I had falsely assumed that if someone was a good person or did good in the world (or was my mother), then God would spare them from extraordinary suffering. But there she was, slowly dying before my eyes. What was I supposed to think now? What was I going to do?

One day, in the midst of my angst and distress, I came to a crossroads. I had become bitter, and I was going to have choose which way I was going to go: continue in my bitterness, choose to trust to God in the midst of unanswered questions, or quit believing in God all together. When the options finally crystallized in my mind, I suddenly saw the way forward for me.

To cling to bitterness seemed just plain stupid and self-defeating. Holding a grudge against God and stewing in negative emotions was getting me nowhere and poisoning my soul.

Logically, I had to consider the possibility that God didn’t exist, didn’t care, or was powerless to help (as others have suggested). However, I had a problem with this option: My belief in God went to the core of my being, and my relationship with God had led to significant changes, meaning, and fruitfulness in my life and relationships, in spite of all of the disappointments and frustrations. Further, the existence and work of a divine being remains the most compelling explanation to me for the universe and human existence.

That left the middle option—humble myself to accept that fully understanding God was beyond my ability, and to seek whatever God offers to me on God’s terms. I can leave open unanswerable questions, and embrace the hope that comes through Jesus and the power that I experience through the unpredictable, and uncontrollable working of the Holy Spirit.

In that moment, I suddenly knew what choice I was going to make. Or perhaps I should say, it was made for me. I was given the grace to trust again in God. I accepted that I would wrestle with important questions about God, but that they need not hold me back from living by faith and enjoying a relationship with God, while I was continuing my exploration for deeper understanding.

When the light came on, I suddenly was set free from the bitterness I felt, and free to love and serve God again wholeheartedly. You might even say, I forgave God in that moment. Not that God needed forgiving, but in my own small mind, arrogant enough to think that I should be able to understand God and all of God’s ways, I needed to let go of my charges against God.

That’s what forgiveness is. Letting go of real or imagined offenses, and choosing to go on with the relationship on a new basis—sometimes with renewed hope, and sometimes with altered expectations. Either way, humbling yourself, forgiving God, and embracing what is available to you through Christ, may give you the fresh start you’ve been looking for in your relationship with God.

Scripture

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

 

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

 

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

—Psalm 42:1-6a (NIV)

If You’re Stuck….

I don’t know what kind of raw deal you might have experienced in your life, or what impact it might be having on your relationship with God. You may feel you have a right to be angry at God, and really good reason to reject religion or faith in God. You probably do. But how well is turning your back on God and prayer working for you?

What would happen if you chose to forgive God for not helping you when you expected or begged for help? What might happen if you chose to move toward God, instead of away from God, with all of your hurt and pain? I know you might instinctively respond, “Nothing! Nothing would happen!” However, that is not my experience. You may not experience what you want or expect, but, in time, those who put their hope in God will again know and experience his love and presence.

A Prayer

Dear God, sometimes I feel so abandoned by you. You are so silent. I feel so alone in my suffering. I cannot understand why you are not helping more. I don’t even know what to say to you anymore. Please show me the way forward. Help me to know how to wait for you and to see your presence where it may be found.

*To read the original Huffington Post article that prompted these responses from bloggers, click here, “When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.” “Dialogue with the Disillusioned” is a series of articles addressing the question “Why Keep Praying?”

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“Why Keep Praying?”

Why do you keep praying when prayers aren’t answered? Why do you keep trusting in God when your suffering does not fit with your notion of a good, loving, and caring God?

These questions, and others like them, are inspired by the response I received to my June 4th article on the Huffington Post, “When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering”. My main point was that prayer can be a great help to those who suffer, in spite of the fact that many of their prayers may have gone unanswered, and their suffering might suggest that God has abandoned them.

It didn’t take long for the negative reactions to start pouring in, principally from atheists and other skeptics. Response after response charged that prayer simply does not work, and it’s delusional to think it does. At best, praying is a “placebo.” Mostly, it is a waste of time. At worst, those who promote prayer are misleading suffering people and failing to truly help them in practical ways. At least, that’s what the detractors argue.

For example, here is what Kadene and Scott had to say:

“Prayer merely provides an avenue of hope for the marginalized and dispossessed, and keeps them servile and inert; it really doesn’t solve a thing.” (Kadene, 6/7/10)

Prayer doesn’t work, how about doing something more constructive with your time like trying to make the world a better place through actual actions and not hocus pocus. (Scott Ferguson 6/17/10)

Bloggers like these two individuals, and many others like them, seem to want Christians to face up to the “facts” of this life and to quit fooling themselves about the existence of God. The argument goes something like this: If there is so much horrendous suffering in the world that doesn’t seem to square with any notion of a just, loving, and powerful God; if God routinely does not respond to the prayers for help from those who suffer the most; and if so-called “answers” can be explained by good luck that randomly falls to believers and nonbelievers alike; why in the world would any sane, rational person keep praying?

Good question.

This summer, I’m going to raise this and other such questions for us to thoughtfully reflect on together. I not going to offer any “proofs for God”—I don’t think one exists. And I am not going to attempt a full-blown, intellectual “apology” (defense) for the Christian faith. (Countless books are available on the subject, if you’re interested.) Also, if you’re interested in my thoughts on human suffering and faith in God, you can read my lecture notes, prepared for a church group a few years ago on our Resources Page at our Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries site.

Rather, my plan here on this blog is to talk about the value of prayer in the lives of those who look at life through the eyes of faith, without ignoring the valid objections and questions of those who do not believe in God and Christ. Drawing on my own personal experience as a pastor, ministry leader, spiritual life coach, and teaching minister, I’m going offer my own working hypotheses on the presence of God in the life of Christians.

I invite you to use this series of articles to think deeply about the existence of God and the value of prayer for yourself—by considering the teaching of Scripture, drawing on your own intelligence, reflecting on your perceptions of the presence and working God, and asking God to lead you to greater insight and understanding.

To this end, here are some of the additional questions I invite you to think and pray about with me in the coming weeks:

• What if you got a raw deal in life?

• Where is God in unanswered prayer?

•  Who really wins when we pray?

•  Is prayer a cop out?

• Wouldn’t it be just as good (or, better) to answer your own prayers?

• Is prayer a con?

• How can a rational person still pray?

The series of articles begins next Monday. For now, how would you respond to Kadene, Scott, or any other atheist who insists that prayer is a waste of time? In light of all the legitimate reasons to doubt the existence of God and the efficacy of prayer, why do you keep praying?

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

To read my Huffington Post Article and some of the comments for yourself, go to When Prayer Makes a Difference in Suffering.

© Dr. Timothy C. Geoffrion, http://www.spirit-ledleader.com

Please feel free to copy or send to as many other seekers of God as possible!

Proper crediting of author and source required.

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“Praying on Purpose”

Moon over Chartres Cathedral

“Lord God,

please help me

to live fully

to love deeply, and

to give freely,

so that

all those I meet today

may know and experience you

through me.”

Every morning, I pray this prayer to breathe new life into my mind and heart. The words focus my attention outside of myself. They re-orient me and motivate me. They remind me that my life has meaning in relationship with God, and purpose as I reflect the light of Jesus Christ to others.

I created this prayer several years ago as part of a coaching exercise to help me to think more deeply about my purpose. Since then, its meaning and value for my daily life and relationship with God has continued to grow.

What does praying on purpose look like for you? If you don’t already have a set prayer to help you start your day, try jotting down simple phrases that express the desires of your heart and your vision for your life.

What do you most want out of each day? What do you think God is calling you to? What words or images evoke a deep feeling within you that will open your heart toward God and send you forward with renewed energy and anticipation?

I chose “to live fully” for my prayer because I want to experience the “abundant life” Jesus envisions for me. (John 10:10) I’m thinking about a life full of loving relationships, worthwhile work, helpful service, meaningful interaction with others, and doing all the good God intends for me to do each day. This means, I’m really praying that the Holy Spirit will fill me and lead me in every possible way.

I pray to love, because when I am loving others I am closest to God. To love is also the best way to make a difference in the world on a person-to-person basis. I ask to love deeply so that my attention to others won’t be superficial or contrived, but genuine, heartfelt, and pure.

I want to give freely so that I can be more selfless, and less grasping and greedy. I don’t want to be so possessed by my possessions, but to be free to share generously. I want to be more like Jesus, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)

My prayer benefits me greatly, but the ultimate focus is not on me. I am praying that God will enable me to experience more of Jesus, and through him, more of life—true life, eternal life, purposeful life— to motivate others to come to know Jesus better, too.

I want others to see how my faith and relationship with God has come to permeate more and more of my life, and how much better my life is with God than without God. If other people can see Christ’s love, care, joy, power, peace, and purpose at work in my life, perhaps they will seek a closer relationship with him for themselves.

That’s my prayer.

What’s yours?

I pray that out of [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)

Point: When you align your prayers with God’s purposes for your life, you will experience a more intimate relationship with God and greater energy for daily living. The Holy Spirit can use your words to give you more motivation and inspiration to get outside of yourself and your own problems, so that you can live with more purpose and joy.

Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for the life that comes from being in an intimate relationship with you. Please help me to experience more of Jesus, more of your love, and more of the Holy Spirit, so that I may increasingly know you and reflect your grace and love to others.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. Please share freely with others with proper acknowledgment of source!

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“Jesus, Help Me!”

Jesus at Saint Suplice, Paris

Getting hurt, or hurting others, can happen so easily. It might occur by accident, through neglect, or, sometimes, even on purpose. None of us is immune from being hurt by others, nor are we capable of never hurting someone else.

However, we can learn how to minimize the damage we do to one another. We can learn strategies and spiritual practices to bring healing sooner rather than later.

Simple, heartfelt apologies often go a long way to heal the pain and alienation arising from our hurting one another. However, when we don’t acknowledge and deal adequately with what’s happened, the wounds can fester. We judge, accuse, blame, and can get stuck in our alienation and rage—and the problem gets worse.

Wars, suicide bombings, character assassinations, vindictive acts of revenge, and all sorts of other hateful, seriously damaging behavior often stem from not knowing how (or choosing not) to resolve conflicts peacefully and constructively.

In this week’s article, I offer some simple guidelines and suggestions for how you can deal more effectively with the hurts and broken relationships in your life (regardless of who’s at fault), from a spiritual and practical point of view. (Of course, if you want to best equip yourself, I also strongly recommend that you attend a full day conflict resolution workshop, seek help other professionals, and consult the growing amount of literature on inner healing and nonviolent, conflict resolution.)

Above all, you must take responsibility to do all you can to address the relational breakdown, while recognizing that you cannot control what the other person chooses to do or not to do. At the same time, without abdicating your responsibility, seek all the help you can get from God by asking the Spirit of Jesus to reveal his presence in your heart and mind as follows.

Situation 1. You are at fault, or you have wronged someone else.

• Imagine that you are looking directly into Jesus’ eyes as you explain what happened.

• Prayer: “Jesus, please listen to how I think and feel about this situation. Please show me where I have been wrong, and how I have hurt [this person]. How can I keep from making the situation worse? What can  I do to make it better?”

• Constructive response to the one who has been hurt : “I am sorry that I have hurt you. Can we talk? How can I make this situation right?”

Situation 2. You have been wronged by someone else.

• Imagine Jesus holding your hands or with his arm around you, compassionate, caring, and helpful.

• Prayer: “Jesus, please give me courage and strength to acknowledge how I have been wronged. How may I respond to this situation in ways that best serves your purposes and honors God? Please give me an ability to forgive and even to love [this person] regardless of their response to me.”

• Constructive response to the one who has hurt you: “I have been deeply hurt. I need to talk about what has happened for my sake and the sake of our relationship. I want to seek healing and reconciliation where possible. Can we talk?”

Situation 3. Both you and the other person are clearly at fault.

• Imagine you are standing with Jesus, and the look on his face is one of compassion, integrity, and willingness to help.

• Prayer: “Jesus, please help me to find a balanced perspective, fairly assessing both the part I have played and the part [the other person] has played in the relational breakdown. Please give me courage and strength to face my own failings, to stand by my own perspective of how I have been wronged, and to know how to go forward from here. ”

• Constructive response to other person: “Please tell me how you have been hurt by me. Please listen to my feelings and experience, too. Let’s be honest with one another, forgive one another, and find a way to rebuild our relationship.”

Situation 4. No one seems to have sinned or deliberately done wrong, but there is great regret, hurt, and/or grief.

• Sit with the wise rabbi, who clearly has the ability to give needed guidance under painful and difficult circumstances.

• Prayer: “Jesus, please help me to sense your strong, gracious, loving presence. Please help me to forgive myself for what went wrong. Please show me the way forward and walk with me.”

• Constructive response: “I’m sorry for whatever ways I hurt you. I did not mean to cause you suffering. What can we do to make this situation right, or at least go forward from here?”

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

The Point: Asking Jesus to make his presence better known to you in the midst of the unresolved relational pain or conflict is different from asking God to fix the problem. By all means ask for relational miracles and for God to change the heart and mind of everyone involved. However, don’t abdicate your own responsibility. Ask Jesus for wisdom, grace, strength, courage, and opportunity that will enable you to do everything within your power to make things better or right…with God’s help.

Prayer: “Loving Lord Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace. Please give me the grace to face my pain and the pain I have caused others, and show me the way forward from here.”

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“One Way Love”

Jesus carrying his cross

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about the power and importance of love when loving doesn’t come easily or we’re not sure what to do—“Simply Love Them” (Dec. 21), “When Loving Gets Tough” (Jan. 4), and “A Harder Kind of Love: Forgiveness” (Jan. 11). Perhaps the most difficult kind of love to offer, though, is what we do for others with no expectation of return.

I’m not talking about anonymous giving or unrequited romantic love, but the arduous, self-sacrificial love shown to those who cannot, for whatever reason, return our love or show appreciation. They may have dementia, be mentally disturbed, or even be our enemies. In such cases, our loving is entirely one way, and we may easily feel overwhelmed or utterly inadequate to rise to the occasion.

In 1988, I first knew something was seriously wrong with my mother. It took three years for us to have a firm diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly fifteen years before her breathing finally stopped. In between, each day on the long journey felt like a little death, as everything I knew and loved about her kept slipping away from me bit by bit.

Watching her slowly degenerate, lose her dignity, cease functioning, and become completely incapable of communicating with us was horrifying. The sense of loss cut like stab wounds, inflicted over and over again.

Alzheimer’s is a wearisome, disturbing, and heart-wrenching disease. Usually, long, long before the victim succumbs to death, loved ones have the responsibility of caring for someone who no longer knows them, let alone is able to offer them the same kind of love and relationship they have known.

So, what does it mean to love under such circumstances?  Warm feelings are often replaced with shock, anger, revulsion, depression, or all of the above. Natural motivation to reach out can wane over time as weariness sets in, especially when nothing comes back. I’ve seen heroic spouses, children, or siblings carry on year after year, but so many others cannot seem to handle the horror of the disease or the pain of the gradual loss, and they disappear.

My nearly fifteen-year journey with my dying mother taught me many things about such one way love that may help you, too:

• It’s OK to be angry and upset. Don’t minimize your distress or rush to look for silver linings. If you really loved the person from your heart, seeing their demise or struggle will be extremely painful. To feel and express your emotions is human, and may provide the energy you need to find ways to cope with the tragedy.

• Don’t try to be a hero. Get support, get a break when needed, and get help. My father probably shortened his life trying to care for my mother too long in his own home. For most of us, providing love for sick or troubled people can be the most taxing and troublesome ordeal of our lifetime. Don’t try to do it alone.

• At the same time, don’t run away. Resist the temptation to cope by neglecting the aging person. You will be sorry later on if, when the loved one is gone, you didn’t do what you could have done to be there for them.

• Separate your own anguish from that of the one who is sick or dying. They have their own psychological, emotional, and spiritual grappling to do, you have yours. Let the pain and cognitive dissonance you are experiencing be a catalyst for your own growth.

• Choose to love them in action, even when you don’t feel love. Insist on their proper care, whether you are one of the actual caregivers or not. Advocate for them continually. Check on them frequently. Look after them as you would a newborn baby who poops and cries a lot, yet is too young to even smile in return.

• When the one you are committed to rebuffs you, hates you, acts violently toward you—as can easily happen in cases of dementia or other mental illness—the example of Jesus may help. When he was rejected and literally crucified by those he sought to love, his attitude was gracious and kind. His prayer was, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

• It’s OK to ask your questions of God. My mother’s illness made no sense to me, because I was living under the false assumption that faithful Christians serving Christ’s purposes would somehow be spared from such tragedies. Being honest with my questions and seeking better answers was extremely helpful to me. Re-thinking my assumptions about God and about the meaning of life and human suffering have helped me to mature and to draw closer to God than ever.

“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV)

The Point: Hanging in there with those who are no longer able or willing to love you in return can be one of the hardest tests of your commitment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet choosing to do so can make all the difference in the world to the kind of person you become, and to the beneficiary of your love as well.

Prayer: “Loving Lord, thank you for the depth of your love for me. Please teach me how to draw more fully from your love, so that I can persevere better in loving others. Help me to release my own expectation and desire for reciprocity or reward from caring for hard-to-love people, and to look to you instead for the comfort, peace, hope, and love that I need and crave.”

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A Harder Kind of Love: Forgiveness

Rwandan women learning to forgive

If loving others can be really hard sometimes, forgiving those who hurt us deeply can seem almost impossible at times.  Yet, forgiving others is not optional for Christians, and is perhaps the greatest expression of agape love we can show.

If you are struggling with your feelings toward a hard-to-forgive person, here are 10 points to consider that may help.

1. Forgiving others doesn’t mean that you are saying that what happened to you wasn’t terrible or wrong, or that you will enable their abusive behavior by not calling them to account. Rather, forgiveness means that you no longer want to stay stuck in your anger. You want to stop being fueled by harsh, resentful, or vengeful feelings. Holding on to your anger isn’t going to make things right; it’s only going to make you sick.

2. Forgiveness means that you stop hoping something bad will happen to “pay them back” or “to make them suffer” for what they did. Instead, you begin praying that God will work in their hearts and minds for good, remembering that “God’s kindness leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4) and that Jesus said, “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

3. When you forgive others, you stop holding the offense against them. You decide that you are not going to demand that they “give” you something (an apology, repayment, suffering, or some other kind of “payment”) before you will treat them with agape love, as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Instead, you choose to be patient, kind, and unselfish; and you refuse to punish them by treating them rudely or vindictively, because you want to be a person of love, regardless of what they have done or have not done.

4. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that you will put yourself in a position to be hurt by them again. You need to know whom you are dealing with and what to expect from this person, so that you can set boundaries for your own well-being and that of others who may depend on you for safety. Limit their power to hurt you by not expecting kindness, goodness, or fair treatment from those who cannot or don’t want to love you in return.

5. Forgiving others will set you free from being a prisoner to the past, if you begin to discipline your thinking:

• Stop ruminating over what has happened. It’s not helping you.

• Stop trying to make sense of senseless behavior. It’s not possible.

• Learn whatever you can from what happened, and then stop going over and over the failed or dysfunctional relational dynamic. Such internal churning will wear you down, and give you nothing in return.

• Maintain at least a neutral attitude toward the person who refuses to apologize, or is unwilling to seek healing in your relationship.

6. Remember, the future lies before you. Grieve what was lost or taken from you and accept that you do not have the power to change what has happened in the past. Then start looking forward.

7. Forgiveness, then, means moving on:

• Use your energy to focus on what brings you life and joy.

• Cultivate and enjoy your relationships with those who truly love you, enjoy your company, appreciate you, nourish and sustain you, and treat you well.

• Focus your attention on your calling and purpose in life to serve Christ with your unique set of gifts, abilities, resources, and opportunities.

8. Ask the Holy Spirit to release you from your attachment to your hurts and disappointments. Ask God to release the poison from your heart and mind. Seek freedom and healing so that you will not be so controlled by the actions of others, and so that you can focus your energy on developing truly loving relationships.

9. Pray for the ability to be compassionate and gracious toward them; and to genuinely desire good for their life. For those who offer a heartfelt apology, set them free by accepting their gesture.

10. Accept that no matter how hard or impossible it may be to “feel” forgiving toward someone, forgiveness is ultimately a matter of obedience to the Holy Spirit, who tells us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

After the genocide, “Nehemiah” wanted to kill as many people as possible. After his parents were killed by workers on their farm, he sought to slake his thirst for revenge by joining the army.

One day the man who killed his father came to him asking for forgiveness.  A revolver was holstered at his waist. This was his opportunity.

But he couldn’t do it. By this time, Nehemiah had become a Christian and left the army. He was teaching children and working as an evangelist.

When his elder brother heard that he passed up the chance to get revenge, he was livid. “Why didn’t you kill him?” he screamed. Jill and I asked him the same question.

His answer was simple, but sincere: “God has forgiven me for so much, how could I not forgive him?”

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2, NIV)

The Point: Forgive those who have wronged you, rejected you, or let you down, for your sake as well as theirs. Imitate God’s love by forgiving others as you have been forgiven. Choose to act toward them in ways that fit with your faith and values, in obedience to the Spirit, regardless of how they may act toward you.

Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for the immensity of your patience, kindness, and generosity to me, in spite of my reluctance to repent at times and resistance to your call to love others as myself. Please set free from my anger, hurt, and desires for revenge. May your will truly be done in me and through me that I may rise above my own limitations to increasingly become a person of love, without exceptions.”

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“When Loving Gets Tough”

Tim Geoffrion

Loving people can be really hard sometimes.

When conflicts arise or we have been hurt, or when others really irritate or offend us, it can be really tough to love them. Even when we are committed to being people of love, we can be tripped up by our own weaknesses, fatigue, or selfish instincts. For any number of reasons, our intention or attempts to love others can fall short.

There’s simply no formula that “works” in every situation. In spite of our best intentions, sometimes, we don’t know what to do differently. Or, if we do know, we may feel that it’s just too hard or exhausting to keep trying.

If this is how you’re feeling, it may be time to step back and take a fresh look at what’s going on. In my experience, greater self-reflection, changing my attitude or approach, and tapping more fully into the source of love have all helped me to become a more loving person.

Specifically, here are several things you can do that might make a real difference:

1. Don’t undo your efforts to love someone by letting yourself explode or say something nasty in a moment of weakness. Force yourself to take at least five deep breaths when you feel agitated or angry in order to calm down before saying or doing anything.

2. Ask yourself when you are trying to show love to others, “Whose agenda am I serving?” When others sense that your “love” is mostly about serving you or making yourself feel good, and not about them, don’t expect them to cooperate. You may get hurt or upset with them for ignoring or rejecting your overtures, but the problem in the relationship could very well be in you, not them.

3. Recognize and accept your powerlessness to change people. Even if you could change a loved one, it’s not your job. Your role is to love them, to encourage them, and to offer input when appropriate. Ask God for the courage and strength to speak the truth in the midst of conflict, and for compassion to do so in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

4. Remember that you always have power to choose how you are going to act toward others, regardless of their actions toward you. You may not have power to feel love or even to control your reactions as well as you would like. But you can keep returning to a place of resolve to show agape love in your actions—by being patient, kind, courteous, humble, selfless, forgiving, and encouraging (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

5. Accept their limited ability to love you in return, or discuss with them how to make the relationship more reciprocal. If your love is contingent upon their loving you in return, or you would simply like more from the relationship, talk with them about your needs and desires. If you would like to be able to love them unconditionally with God’s agape love, then let go of your expectations of any particular kind of response from them.

6. Attend adequately to your own needs in healthy ways. Instead of just trying to change your behavior, seek wisdom into what is going on inside of you that keeps prompting you to act in unloving ways. What needs do you have that are going unmet? How could you get your needs for love, for affection, for friendship met in healthy ways?

7. Tap more fully into the source of love. We simply cannot love unconditionally on our own, and we cannot give what we have not received. What could you do to connect better with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis so that you may experience the love and grace of God in deeper and deeper ways? How could you cultivate your relationship with God so that you will have more fresh, living water in your inner “well” to draw from?

Loving others can be really hard or tricky sometimes, but it is your calling, regardless of the response of others. By letting God’s love meet your deepest needs, and by following the Holy Spirit’s leading in the ways of love, you will increasingly become part of the solution to a world riddled with unresolved conflict, alienation, and pain. It’s also the only way to truly experience the full life that Christ intends for you.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Point: Don’t expect loving others to be easy, and don’t reserve your love for those who love you back. We are called to get past our own self-centeredness and selfish instincts in order to love others as God loves us. Jesus showed us the way, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us to do what we cannot do on our own.

Prayer: “Loving and gracious God, thank you for your unconditional love and mercy. Please help me to fully trust in your love for me, to accept your forgiveness, and to be renewed in the deepest part of my being. And lead me in the way of love, especially when it is really hard for me, so that all those around me may sense your love flowing through me.”

This article is part of the “What Will Make a Difference?” series for your spiritual nurture and growth.

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