My Grandparents, Nannie and James, lived on a farm. I learned a lot about farmers, seeds, soil, planting, etc. from watching them work the farm. One thing I learned is this: “The most fertile soil is in the valleys.” I believe this is true of our spiritual growth.
The most fertile soil of our soul is in the sufferings.
Think about it. God is certainly Emmanuel, the “with-us” God. He is with us on the mountaintops but is also very much with us in the valleys. For me, God uses the valleys so much more than the mountains to grow His character in me. God has not ceased to be God just because I am in a valley. If anything, He is wanting to be for me something that He has never and could never be before this valley ever came to be. If I didn’t need the valley, He wouldn’t allow me to be in it. He is wanting to reveal Himself, a part of Him that I have never experienced, in a new and fresh way, to grow that area in my life to look more like Him. That’s why we can accept every valley with joy. (see my blog about this)
Sufferings in the valleys are the places where the Lord trains us, so we must learn how to receive them with joy.
Our valleys are there to propel us to God who then compels us to be more like Jesus.
But here is where I have gotten stuck. I have accepted the valley and tried my best to learn from it, but once I’ve made it through the valley, I still have this lingering lack of joy. Has this happened to you? On my quest to root out what this was about, the Lord revealed to me that the underlying, silent killer of our joy is wrapped in one single word: unforgiveness.
The silent killer of our joy is wrapped in one single word: unforgiveness.
The Bible instructs us to forgive: “…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)
But God does not command that we forgive in an effort to be harsh or mean, or downright bossy. He commands us to forgive because He knows the repercussions of unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness is a joy sucker, a joy stealer, a joy killer, and a joy destroyer. Unforgiveness effects your thoughts, your health, your decisions, your relationships, and your future. Unforgiveness is a insidious cancer of the soul that leads to bitterness, cynicism, wrath, irrational behavior, and more. Unforgiveness can come in two forms: your disobedient sin that causes you to be unable to forgive yourself, or someone sins against you and hurts you deeply. And here’s the thing, your unforgiveness eats you alive inside while your disobedient sin is long past or the perpetrator who sinned against you moves on as if nothing happened. And boy, does that just fuel the fire!
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
God is also instructing us to forgive because how can we accept the forgiveness that God has given us through Jesus and not freely give away that which was so graciously and freely given to us?
So what does it mean to forgive? The word “forgive” is actually similar to the word “divorce” in the Bible. What happens in a divorce? The person is no longer bound to the other person, there is a complete severing of the relationship, and a releasing from any connection. What happens when God forgives us? We are no longer bound to sin. We are severed from that sin. We are released from the penalty of that sin. So what happens when we forgive ourselves and others? We are no longer bound to the shame and guilt. We are severed from any type of relationship with that event, person, or act. We release that sin into the hands of God. After all, it is much better in His hands than in our hands! So, we take that shame, that guilt, and/or that person to the foot of the cross and let the Lord deal with it there.
Why does forgiveness seem so hard? Because we think to forgive means we are saying what was done is okay….that somehow in our releasing, we are also condoning. That’s a lie. What happens is that we marry forgiveness, restitution, and automatic reconciliation together, when they are very separate things. Here’s the best way I know to describe it for you:
Let’s say I was outside throwing the ball with my son Cole, when he was little, and he throws the ball through our neighbor’s window. Cole would need to do three things: 1) he would need to go confess to our neighbor and seek forgiveness (ask forgiveness), 2) he would need to receive forgiveness (offer forgiveness), and 3) he would need to fix the window that he broke (restitution). After that, he may not be able to throw the ball in that area anymore in order to not have the neighbor’s concerned that it will happen again. He must win over their trust and confidence before he can throw the ball in that area again and be more responsible (reconciliation).
So it is with forgiveness. Forgiveness is not automatic reconciliation. It doesn’t mean it never happened nor that we can just forget about it and go back to the way things were. As a matter of fact, oftentimes we don’t want it to go back to the way it was because things didn’t turn out so well the way it was! We want things to be different….much different. Forgiveness is releasing it all into the hands of God for Him to deal with…it is a releasing of your will for revenge. The relationship may or may not be reconciled, even after restitution has been made, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or haven’t forgiven.
How do I do it? Maybe pray something like this: “Father God, I forgive myself for _______. I release my inability to forgive myself into Your hands, and I command shame and guilt to go to the foot of the cross for You to deal with them there as You see fit. I accept Your forgiveness and declare that if You can forgive me, I can forgive me. Help me, Holy Spirit, to walk in that forgiveness. In Jesus’ name.” Or, “Father God, I forgive _______, for _______. I release them into Your hands and send their sin against me to the foot of the cross for You to deal with. I surrender my will to Your will. Help me, Holy Spirit, to walk in that forgiveness. In Jesus’ name.”
If you find yourself in a valley where you have no joy, I encourage you to sit before the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if there is any unforgiveness in your soul that you need to deal with. God wants to do a deep work of healing in your life. He wants to free you to walk with a clean slate: fully forgiven, and fully forgiving. The valleys truly are the place where God does His deepest work. It is in these valleys of hurt, that we wrestle with our unforgiveness and discover that: in the release comes a deeper relationship with Jesus as you identify with Him, and a greater reflection of Jesus as you surrender more of yourself to Him.
Finally, do you know why the most fertile soil is in the valleys? Because that’s where the water runs. The Holy Spirit, often symbolized by water in the Bible, travels to our deepest valleys…the deep, hurting places….and fills, heals, and nourishes us back to life again. And the beautiful thing is that while He heals us, He also grows us….He uses it all to make us more like Jesus.
Who but God could take our greatest strain and turn it to our greatest gain?
Don’t you want to enter 2017 with a clean slate? You can, by forgiving yourself and forgiving those who have wronged you. Let the water of the Holy Spirit run into your valleys of unforgiveness and free you to be filled with joy again.
You are loved.