Saturday, February 5, 2011

Imprisoned By Your Past

I think many of us do not fully understand and appreciate God's forgiveness and end up struggling with things that no longer belong to us. We are a people of logic and justice and we judge all matters, even heart matters according to these things. However, our God is not us and he does not see or operate according to us, and we praise him loudly for that fact. We do not have to look any further than the parable of the prodigal son to see that God's forgiveness operates on a different level than our demands of justice. The wayward son tried to pay for what he had done to the father but the father would have none of it. It was enough that his son had turned back to him. Forgiveness could be seen through the great waves of love that flowed out of the Father. However, we understand more like the older son who could only see unfairness in it all. We find it hard to believe that God could forgive our sins, forget them and call us innocent.

King David had become an adulterer and murderer. For some reason we see the adultery far more than the murder but David had taken the life of an innocent man to cover up his sin with the man's wife. On top of it he thought he could cover it up by lying to himself and God. Now you and I would probably have arrested the king and either jailed him or beheaded him, but our God works on a different level. He called David out on it so it could be dealt with. Despite it all God knew David's heart and how much he loved him so he gave him a chance to make it right with God once again. This is where we get the incredible psalm of repentance from David. Many try to use this psalm as a "get out of jail free" card but that was not the purpose of David's psalm. He desired to be saved from his sin so that his relationship with his God could be restored. He wanted to be rescued from the memory of it so that nothing would separate him from the God he loved more than his own life.Consider how he begins:

Have mercy on me, O God, 
   according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion 
   blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquity 
   and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

In the last little while, as I have read through the psalms, there is one phrase that continues to jump off the page at me; "according to your unfailing love". Often the psalmists used this phrase as they called out for help, as the prodigal son did in his turning back to his father. We read pleas such as:

Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; 
   save me because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 6:4)

But it goes beyond the plea of a desperate man. The recognition that we cannot save ourself, that there is nothing redeemable about us, that it all depends on God's love, is the acknowledgement of our dependence on God. It is the point where we get in our life, whether we need salvation, healing (physically or emotionally), rescue from the demons within, or whatever else may be preventing us to experience his joy in our life, when we recognize we cannot do anything to improve our situation and we need rescuing by God. It does not matter if we think we deserve it or not. It doesn't matter if we think it is impossible to be made whole again. The prodigal son did not think it possible to return as a son so didn't even consider it. It is the simple act of turning to God and trusting in his unfailing love. He responds to us in a manner beyond our imagining and he does so much more than we could have thought possible:

But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, 
   on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:18)

We consider this possible if we do certain things, take certain actions and complete whatever formula there is for receiving forgiveness and restoration, but it has nothing to do with what we do or don't do. It is completely dependent on his love which produces grace. Get it through your head and heart, according to the law, to logic, to justice, we deserve nothing more than death:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

What we deserve is death, but because of his unfailing love, he has instead given us a gift. When we turn to our Lord we receive forgiveness and deliverance from what we deserve. When we turn to Jesus we receive healing from the past and are made new. When we turn to Jesus we are declared innocent and restored to a proper relationship with God our Father. The past no longer exists but it requires faith and trust to walk in God's reality.

The enemy has made so many people prisoners of their past, whether it is by memories of wrong doing, memories of being wronged, guilt, shame, anger, hatred, a desire for vengeance. These are all things that act like a prison and prevent us from experiencing the joy he has intended for us. But understanding that we have been rescued, not because we deserved it, but by his unfailing love, we can accept that we have been set free from our past, declared innocent and healed, and restored to our Father. It only takes the act of turning back to him and his unfailing love does the rest. Listen to David's hope:

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:7-12)

What matters more to you, holding on to your guilt and hatred, or being restored into the joy of his salvation? The enemy is a wicked liar who wants to separate you from Jesus by getting you to think according to logic, the law and justice because according to these things we are condemned. If he can keep us locked up by our memories and opinions then the victory is his. If we allow him to label us according to what we were and what we have done then Jesus will never be in reach. However, when we accept that God loves us simply because he decided to; when we are able to accept that his unfailing love cleanses us and delivers us from what we deserve; when we accept that his unfailing love desires only to see us restored to him, then we will begin to understand the place of faith and trust.

Sometimes the most difficult thing to believe is that you are forgiven and because you are forgiven you are also delivered from the wages of your sin. Sometimes we want to see ourselves punished because we think that is the route to redemption, not accepting that Jesus took that punishment for us. It is hard for us to set aside our guilt, remorse and fear because it is where we logically believe we deserve to be. We need to turn away from these things and turn to the Father, accepting by faith that he loves us according to his unfailing love and from this love flows his forgiveness, mercy and grace. If you have been struggling with your past then be set free today by accepting that the joy of the Lord is your strength and you are required to have faith and trust his in his unfailing love. Stop your wrestling and just trust.

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