Ephesians 4:31 MSG
Some of us excel in our careers, but act like a bull in a china shop when it comes to our relationships. Then we rationalize it by saying, “I didn’t mean any harm,” or “That’s just my way.” Sorry, God doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. When someone irritates you, God requires you to do two things: (1) Be the first to reach out. You may be right, but if you’re resentful, what good is it? Instead of nursing a grudge or waiting for the other person to apologize, be first to reach out. Someone else’s response neither validates nor invalidates your decision to forgive. Think about it: If you had only a year to live, would you give such things another second of your time? No! The Bible says, “Forgiving…as God…has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 NLT). God made the first move in forgiving us so we’d know how to do it for others. (2) Be understanding. When some of us argue our point, we bulldoze everybody and everything in our way. Purpose-driven, time-conscious, goal-oriented people can be guilty of this. The Bible says, “Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God…forgave you.” Chances are the people who get under your skin aren’t trying to complicate your life; they’re struggling to cope with their own. Once you understand there’s no ill will intended, you begin to feel compassion for them. That’s how it is with God. “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” (Isaiah 42:3 NLT). Today, ask Him to help you show His love toward those who irritate you.
Soul food: Isa 49-52; Luke 3:11-20; Ps 81; Prov 2:11-15
Romans 14:12 NIV
Ever seen a flamethrower in a film? It’s a fiery torch designed to destroy people. ‘Blame-throwers’ do the same. When life doesn’t go their way, instead of taking responsibility for their decisions and actions they blame others. We can often become blame-throwers, blaming others for things that happen, and don’t happen, in our lives. It often sounds something like this: We reacted in anger because someone wound us up too much. We can’t change because this is how we’ve been brought up. We failed at our task because we weren’t given enough support. But the Bible says: ‘Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.’ We will have to explain our thoughts, actions and words. Not with lots of excuses and blame-shifting but with truth and integrity. The problem with shifting the blame is that it stops us from taking constructive action and moving on with our lives. It’s true that not everything is our fault. Sometimes other people are to blame for the things in our lives. But there’s something we’re always responsible for, and that’s our reaction. How we react to a circumstance or a person, is up to us. In Proverbs, it says: ‘Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy’ (28:13 NIV). We need to admit to God when we’ve gone wrong. Let’s not blame others and find excuses for why we reacted the way we did. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we stumble and fall. But we always have a God who’s ready to pick us up, forgive us and give us the strength to go forwards again.
Exo 10-12; John 1:29-42; Ps 29; Prov 26:4-6
James 1:14 CEV
James writes: “Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead. Don’t be fooled, my dear friends” (vv. 13-16 CEV). When you keep sinning and violating your values, you can reach a place where it’s hard to live comfortably in your own skin. Any appetite that’s overindulged can quickly become an addiction. What you wanted yesterday, you find yourself needing today. Then before you know it, you give yourself over to the thing that’s controlling your life because it’s the only way you can find temporary escape. Stop and ask: (1) “What about my life’s purpose?” What about the person God called you to be? Seeing the joy others have is a constant reminder of the joy you’ve lost, and what you’re missing out on. (2) “What happens when trouble hits my life or my family?” In such moments you wonder, “Is this happening because of me?” A thousand voices may tell you it’s not your fault, but deep down you are never sure. The only way to find real peace is to get right with God. And you can. Here’s His offer: “Turn to the Lord! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near. Give up your crooked ways and your evil thoughts. Return to the Lord our God. He will be merciful and forgive your sins” (Isaiah 55:6-7 CEV).
Soul food: Heb 11:7; Gen 6:9-22; Gen 8:18-22
Romans 12:18 NIV
‘Live at peace with everyone’ is overwhelmingly general when it’s taken out of context. However, Paul gives us a lot more advice on how to live that instruction out if we go back to Romans 12. He writes: ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord’ (Romans 12:17-19 NIV). What Paul is encouraging us to do is to take responsibility for our own actions. We can think of peaceful living as an idyllic world where everyone is happy and loving towards each other, but Paul makes it less about the world being lovely in general, and more about our responses. He seems to define living ‘at peace’ as having everything to do with how we respond to actions committed against us. That leads to a really interesting possibility. We can choose to live at peace with those who make life difficult for us, whether they regret their actions or not. That is how peace depends on us, and also how we can avoid the mentality that someone else’s wrongdoing can excuse our own if we’re putting them to rights. Romans 12 shows us that we are called to live to godly standards even when those around us don’t. We’re told ‘not be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:21 NIV). And that is the key to spreading peace. Even when we’re faced with wrong, we can still forgive and live right.
Neh 1-4; Luke 21:12-24; Ps 78:17-31; Prov 23:26-28
Isaiah 43:18 MSG
However much we try not to, we will all fail at some point in our lives. But that doesn’t need to stop us. Failure can be used to make us stronger, it grows us and prevents us from making the same mistakes again. When we become trapped by our failings and anything else in our past, we limit our future. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we can’t let ourselves move on. If we don’t stop looking backwards, we stop ourselves looking ahead to all that God has for us. But God says: ‘Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land’ (vv.18-19). When we let unforgiveness, bitterness and hurt fill our lives, we become despondent. At one point in Elijah’s life, he got so depressed that he didn’t want to go on. He cried out to God: ‘”I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors”‘ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). Later when he was strengthened by God, he was able to start again with a new mission in life (see verses 15-16 NIV). When we seem to be facing problem after problem, and our past just seems to be made up of mistakes, we can end up saying ‘I have had enough, Lord’ too. But however bad our past has been, however much baggage we are holding on to and however despairing we are about our lives right now, we can start again. God is always doing new things. He forgives us and has plans for us to step into. We just need to forgive ourselves and step into them.
1 Tim 4-6; Luke 9:37-45; Ps 42:1-5; Prov 19:12-14