I was speaking to a sister friend of mine a few minutes ago and we had both just listened to a sermon about God’s mercy and were sharing the highlights. The particular scripture that had been referenced was Matthew 18: 21-35 (please read this before you continue). In summary, the text referred to the servant who owed his master some money and when he couldn’t pay back, the master wanted to punish him but the servant begged for mercy and the master forgave him. The same servant then went to meet a man who owed him money and refused to forgive the debt and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay. Of course when his master heard about this, he was furious and made sure the servant suffered the consequences of his action.
As my friend and I discussed, we spoke about the importance of being kind, compassionate and merciful to everyone, from the people begging for alms to people we know we ought to forgive. I then confessed to her that I had hardened my heart against people who beg for alms due to some bad experiences. There was a time we didn’t have anything to give in the car and the person begging started to insult my husband and I and that really upset me. That experience coupled with others made me decide to stop giving alms, although I still give in other ways when I feel the need is genuine. Then my friend said something to me that gave me serious food for thought. She said: “you know the way these people beg you is the same way you beg God right? So if you find it so hard to give to people who come to beg you, why do you expect God to just give you what you ask him for?” Basically, I realised I was like that servant who refused to show mercy even after his Master had shown him mercy.
If anyone is quick to confess that they are a product of God’s Grace and Mercy, that person is ME. My life is constantly filled with God showing me mercy every single day, mercy that I honestly do not deserve but he continues to give it to me. And so if anyone should understand that as she has received mercy from God, she should show mercy to others, I am that person. Isn’t that so ironic? And I have a feeling I am not the only one in this position. This goes beyond giving alms to people unfortunate to be beggars on the streets though. It is about forgiveness, kindness, compassion and being an all round decent person. The basic point is this: do unto others as you want God to do unto you.
A lot of us are holding grudges against one person or the other. Some people are extremely bitter and refuse to forgive others who have hurt them, yet they do not hesitate to ask God for forgiveness and for his mercy. We wonder why our prayers are not being answered especially when we pray according to Mark 11:23-24 that says: “I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours”. We keep repeating these words over and over again and then get frustrated and disillusioned when nothing happens. BUT HOLD UP, WAIT A MINUTE.
Did you read from Mark 11:23-25? Did you see the part where Christ says: “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too”. I hate to be the bearer of reality but there is a strong correlation between your prayers being answered and your ability to forgive those who hurt you. You cannot approach the throne of grace when you have not been so gracious to others. My friend said to me that everything we do on this earth has an impact on our relationship with God. I didn’t like hearing it but she had a point. I realised it isn’t just about me, myself and I anymore. I realised that when I make decisions, I have to look at it from God’s angle and make sure the things I do please him. What about you? Are you all about yourself or are you sensitive to God too.
If you are asking God for something, have you forgiven every single person who hurt you? Or do you not think it matters? After all, God knows what the person did and in fact you have reported the case to God so your unforgiveness is justified right? Wrong (Read Matthew 5:43-48). We are meant to forgive whether our anger is justified or not. Also, if you are asking God for something, take an honest look at how much you give? How are you asking God to give to you when you refuse to give to others? (Luke 6:38) It is not magic but a principle and as we live by it, we will see things fall into place. It was put perfectly this way: by Jesus in Matthew 16:14-15: “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
So this week, let us put this into practice okay? While you are frowning and saying no to your desperate neighbour who is asking for your assistance, don’t get upset when God is not answering your prayers either. Also as you mess up a few times by engaging in sin, don’t expect God to forgive you so easily if you are refusing to forgive that friend who gave one false gist about you. You can’t be stingy and expect God to be generous to you, you cannot be unkind and ask God to show you his kindness, and no, don’t ask God for mercy when you have been less than merciful.
I know this article might not be what you wanted to read but I just thought I should share my own reality check with you. If I found that honest, kick in the butt realisation helpful, then I really hope you do too. Maybe it is time for us to step up a little.
Jesus put it so perfectly in these words from Luke 6:27-38 (message translation):
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”