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About the Author
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is a contributor to Girlfriends in God online devotional as well as Proverbs 31 ministries First Five app. She is the author of seven Bible studies (The Names of God, Romans, Elijah, Numbers, First Corinthians, Joseph, and Jeremiah) and four books (Total Family Makeover, Total Christmas Makeover, 30 Days of Prayer for Spiritual Stamina, and Dare to Hope). Melissa makes her home in Pickerington, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
Read an Excerpt
The Journey to Forgiveness A Preview Book
By Melissa Spoelstra
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Acknowledging the Pain
Genesis 37; 39
We don't have to look much farther than our own front door to find a place to practice forgiveness. Living in close proximity to others provides many opportunities to hurt one another. With pretenses down, we unveil our true selves at home. Family members see what we hide from others outside our four walls.
I've heard it said that the true test of a Christian is how he or she lives at home. Families are the people committed to love us even when our flaws are exposed. Whether through birth, adoption, or the covenant of marriage, family connections often involve our closest relationships: husband and wife, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild.
This was certainly true for Joseph. His father's favor and God-given dreams contributed to friction with his brothers. They were jealous and unkind to Joseph. Their negative emotions led them to plot his murder, throw him in a pit, and ultimately sell him into slavery.
The First Step
Through the account of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37, we find that the first step on the journey to forgiveness is acknowledging the hurt. We can never forgive without getting honest about our pain. Joseph's brothers endured some unfair neglect because of a birth order they had no control over. Whether they intended to or not, Jacob and Joseph caused pain for the brothers. And the brothers had the choice of working toward forgiveness or vengeance. Though you may not be struggling with being on the wrong end of favoritism as Joseph's brothers were, it's likely that you are carrying some pain at the expense of others.
If we stuff or ignore our pain, we can't bring it to God for healing. This can leave us with festering negativity that can lead to bitterness. God wants to help us through the hurt so that we can be free to embrace His forgiveness and extend it to others.
The psalmist reminds us of God's care for us when others have said or done hurtful things: "You keep track of all my sorrows. / You have collected all my tears in your bottle. / You have recorded each one in your book" (Psalm 56:8).
Tell God how you feel about whatever hurt you are experiencing right now. He saw it happen. He longs to listen and talk with you about it. He has collected every tear. Acknowledge the hurt to the One who cares more than anyone else on this planet and who offers His comfort to you.
Fuel to the Fire
Have you ever felt the sting of pain in a relationship and questioned yourself about what part you might have played in contributing to the problems? I know I have. If we have played a role in creating the circumstances that have led to our injury or betrayal, are the others involved still to be held accountable for what has happened? If we have been "provoked" by another person, can we excuse our reaction? These are the kinds of practical questions that often torment us. Clarifying who and what warrants forgiveness is vital in our journey toward healing.
While Joseph reported on his brothers, wore a coat signifying his favor, and told his family of his dreams to rule over them, he is not to blame for the actions of his brothers. He did not make them commit assault and kidnapping. In the same way, people can push our buttons; but ultimately we are responsible for our actions. We have a choice of which posture we will assume when legitimate hurt comes into our lives. Which will we take?
A victim mentality, seeing ourselves at the mercy of our pain or
A victor mentality, acknowledging the hurt while seeking God's help in pursuing healing
How have you struggled with these two internal postures? What helps you move from victim to victor in your heart and mind when you are struggling with pain? Even if another person fans the flames of our pain, God calls us to forgive rather than excuse ourselves to disobey His commands.
It's always our turn to do the right thing for the right reasons. Forgiveness isn't one option on a list of possible choices for followers of Jesus; it is the only way to peace and freedom.
Taming the Wild Horses
After acknowledging the hurt, we also have to recognize the negative emotions that usually follow pain. A friend of mine shared with me how she taught her daughters from a young age about their emotions. She said emotions are like wild horses who want to jump, kick, and make loud noises. In order to tame the wild horses within, we can't stuff our feelings. They will leak out one way or another. Instead, we must get honest in front of God and others about the emotions that betrayals or hurtful actions unearth in us and ask God for help.
At times we all feel negative emotions toward persons who hurt us, so what are we to do with those emotions? We have options just as Joseph's brothers had. We can:
Dwell on it and let it fester inside.
Take steps of vengeance against those we perceive to be the source of our pain.
Ask God to help us heal.
Sometimes we do all of these. The tough question is, Where do we start when we want to heal but the wild horses won't stop thrashing about in our hearts and minds? Joseph's brothers chose vengeance, which led to other negative decisions such as covering up the crime with lies. But we can make a different choice. First John 3:20 says, "Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything." As we will see throughout the Genesis narrative, Joseph knew that God was greater than his feelings, and he learned to tame his wild horses. I pray you'll remain open to how God wants to work in your life as we learn how Joseph was able to take his hurt and hate to God and find healing. Remember, God is greater than your feelings, and He knows everything!
The Before and the After
In Great Expectations, the famous novel by Charles Dickens, Miss Havisham encounters a traumatic betrayal when her fiancé leaves her jilted at the altar. She lives out the rest of her days wearing her bridal gown, with every clock in her house stopped on the moment she got word of the betrayal. The cake begins to rot on the table while Miss Havisham's dress becomes tattered and faded. She lives only to inflict her pain on those around her. She never recovers from the day the clocks stopped in her life.
Have you ever experienced a moment when your world seemed to change in an instant? Perhaps you learned of the betrayal of a friend or spouse or the death of a loved one. Maybe you expected a promotion only to leave your boss's office bewildered by the news of termination. Or perhaps you've experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
Joseph could have divided his life into the same two categories: before and after his brothers betrayed him. I can only imagine seventeen-year-old Joseph in the bottom of that pit. Was he begging his brothers to release him? Joseph went from hero to zero in a very short time. While we may never be able to make sense of the devastation that often invades our lives when we least expect it, we can find glimpses of hope in the midst of our despair just as Joseph did. His clocks didn't stop forever like Miss Havisham's. Instead, he found a road to healing even while living in captivity.
Whether you are living in the "before" or "after" of some difficult event or time in your life, take a moment to count the blessings from God that you've seen just this week. Has He provided for a financial need? Has He given you grace to deal with difficult people? Has He prospered your work? Did He bring some relief from physical pain? Like the psalmist, take this posture: "My eyes strain to see ... / the truth of your promise fulfilled" (Psalm 119:123). God is faithful. Ask Him to give you eyes to see His favor that otherwise you might have missed through the haze of hardship.
Run for Your Life
Running is usually a mark of a coward, but sometimes God calls us to flee. When Potiphar's wife tempted Joseph daily by inviting him to sleep with her, he learned to stay out of her way. Then when she cornered him in the house and insisted she get her way, he ran! The Apostle Paul wrote, "Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the LORD out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22 NIV). God also might call us to flee a toxic relationship, a compromising job, or a spiritually abusive relationship or group. While we can't run away from every problem, there is a time when God says the best thing to do is get out of Dodge.
Take a moment to get quiet and listen to God. Where do you sense someone feeding your temptation to sin in an area that you are trying to overcome? What steps might He be calling you to take to put some distance between you and a source of continual temptation?
Staying focused on God's truth over human desire cost Joseph greatly. It led to a second betrayal, which took him from his initial captivity as a slave in Potiphar's house to a much worse imprisonment. Just as we can't sort out all the reasons for the difficult circumstances in our own lives, we don't know for sure why these bad things happened to Joseph. However, as we read on in Genesis 39, we find that even in the depths of an Egyptian prison, God showed Joseph favor. "But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden" (Genesis 39:21). God continues to bless us even when we feel like we can't sink any lower. He is crazy about us! Though we can't always make sense of the whys and hows of what we're enduring when others hurt us, we can rest assured that God will never leave us or forsake us.CHAPTER 2
Waiting to Be Remembered
As I sat in a cute little tearoom, I listened to a friend recount her story of pain. She had taught Bible studies, blogged, and led in the women's ministry at her local church. Leading, writing, and speaking energized her as she felt equipped and called of God to use her gifts to serve others. After a series of misunderstandings, a group of women's ministry leaders asked her to step down from her position of teaching.
She questioned herself, wondering how things had come to this and exactly how she was to use her God-given gifts. After some time to process and pray, she humbly asked the women's leaders for a path back into ministry. They confirmed her call and her ability as a teacher and gave her constructive feedback. However, there was no place for her to teach in women's ministry at that time. As we sat having tea several months later, she was still waiting for the path back to become clear.
Joseph knew what it was like to wait for people to remember him. He was waiting for his God-given dreams to come true with no evidence that things would change anytime soon.
Keeping the Dream Alive
During periods of waiting and isolation such as Joseph experienced, we have much time to think and process our circumstances. These are days when bitterness is knocking on our door, bidding us to nurse unforgiveness and build walls to keep others out. Joseph couldn't control his circumstances, but he could govern his own spirit. Though initially he may have flaunted his father's favoritism, he learned to work hard, honor God, and maintain integrity even during his time of captivity. Proverbs 25:28 says, "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit / Is like a city broken down, without walls" (NKJV).
Of course, Joseph was human, just as we are. He probably didn't respond to the challenges and hurts in his life with thoughts such as these:
My brothers' betrayal is such a great opportunity for personal growth.
It was worth it to be tempted by Potiphar's wife every day and then falsely accused when I chose to do the right thing.
I'm so glad the cupbearer forgot me so that I can suffer longer here in prison.
I'm guessing Joseph had to work through the hurt and the hate. However, he was able to move toward healing and right responses as evidenced by his attitude of concern for the baker and cupbearer. If he had lingered in his own personal pity party, he probably would not have been able to help the two prisoners he encountered. As we see with other biblical characters, God is more concerned with Joseph's character than with his comfort.
I find that the same holds true in my life. God seems more concerned about my character than He is about my comfort. Can you relate?
In our times of waiting, God prepares us for new beginnings. Whether they are big or small, we all have realities that we can't change in life. Like Joseph, the only variable we can control is how we will choose to respond to these events and the people involved in them. Will we maintain our integrity when no one is looking? Will we choose joy even when our circumstances go from bad to worse? Will we posture ourselves for forgiveness or vengeance?
If you are in a time of waiting, ask God to soften your heart and identify any areas where you might have seeds of bitterness taking root. Ask Him to reveal areas of unforgiveness that need to be brought to light.
Forgiveness and Justice
Joseph's story brings to the surface some tough questions: Does choosing to forgive condone injustice? Are some sins unforgivable? As Joseph languishes in prison, is he giving up on justice if he forgives his brothers and Potiphar's wife? These are tough questions. The prison years in Joseph's life are critical because it is in such times of waiting and darkness where we make secret choices of the heart and mind that shape how we act and speak later.
It's important to note that Joseph acknowledged he had been mistreated and asked for help during his waiting years. Though ultimately Joseph forgave the brothers who kidnapped and sold him, he never says that what they did was okay. This distinction is of great importance.
Forgiving someone doesn't excuse or minimize the pain that the person has caused, and often consequences remain for those who have sinned against us. It is possible to forgive others and still hold them accountable for their behavior. We can forgive others while speaking up about their actions and asking for help in seeking justice on our behalf.
I sometimes find in Christian circles that speaking up about wrongs done to us and asking for justice is equated with a lack of forgiveness. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. We can speak up and ask for help in righting the wrongs committed against us while simultaneously working through the stages of forgiveness. Whatever hurtful situation you are experiencing, look around you in your time of waiting to see if there is someone you can share your burden with, and then ask this person for help. Whether you need compassion or a specific action to be taken on your behalf, follow God's Spirit in taking steps to ask for it.
Discerning Through the Haze
As Joseph sat in his time of waiting, he had a choice about which thoughts and feelings he would dwell on and nurture. Like us, his default would be to rehearse wrongs, let bitterness grow, and allow his wounds to fester. What we naturally want to do in a relational situation is often the wrong thing.
Joseph seems to have learned to see people through God's glasses. People are a hodgepodge of love, selfishness, kindness, fear, and the list could go on. No one is perfect. Most people aren't truly evil. They are just people who make some good decisions and some pretty bad ones. The battle for truth in relationships is often fought in our own heads and hearts. We need God's Holy Spirit desperately so that He can help us see people clearly, soften our hearts, and revise our feelings to fall in line with His.
God longs to free us from the wasted hours of fanaticizing about our villain's demise. Joseph probably did a little bit of that. He was human. But he would have had to get off the mental hamster wheel of negative thoughts toward his brothers and his boss in order to bring his thoughts and feelings into line with God's grace. We can't create eyes of grace on our own. They come only as we surrender our thought life to God, moment by moment.
Perhaps for years some of us will regularly think of the person who wronged us. What will we do with these thoughts? Second Corinthians 10:5 says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (NIV). Captives don't get to do what they want to do or go where they want to go. Paul tells us to put our unforgiving thoughts into a prison cell. We are the wardens of our minds. God tells us that, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can take thoughts captive and make them obey Christ.
Excerpted from Joseph by Melissa Spoelstra. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Acknowledging the Pain Genesis 37; 39,
2. Waiting to Be Remembered Genesis 40,
3. Dreams Coming True Genesis 41–42,
4. The Roller Coaster Ride Genesis 43–44,
5. Grace and Boundaries Genesis 45–46,
6. Moving Forward Genesis 47–50,