Writings by Cole Huffman

Four Tasks

(In his series Praying the Gospel, Cole taught the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11 and gave some particular counsel for when we know we need to forgive but don’t know how. This article is adapted from his sermon notes, where he moved to practice after establishing that only in the gospel do we find the wherewithal and motivation to forgive.)

Jesus taught us to pray forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Still, this is a struggle. Part of the struggle to forgive comes with just being human and thereby susceptible to the myriad ways others can hurt us. Some of those ways are arduous to get through: betrayal, abuse, manipulation, neglect, injustice. Let’s call these offenses against our person.

Then there are offenses against our pride. The greater your sense of you can’t do that to me (emphasis on me), the greater your struggle to release the person who does just that, whatever that is: talks down to you, excludes you or your child, hurts your feelings, misconstrues your motives. But whether it is our person who is hurt or merely our pride, both kinds of pain require we work at forgiving. How do we do it though? How do we forgive, or at the very least position ourselves to?

Four tasks we give ourselves to, not in order: We pray. (We are looking at a prayer template in Luke 11.) We pray about the hurt. We lament. Look at lament Psalms, for instance, for guidance. We pray too for the one who hurt us, that God will help us see that person as just as much in need of grace as we ourselves are.

We write. There is something very helpful in taking a notebook and writing down your feelings or writing out your lament. If you think this sounds silly—Now I really am making a mountain out of a molehill, keeping my little book of faults—that’s not the point.

Don’t keep a book of faults. But do write. I was made aware recently of a study where people who’d gone through trauma were placed in two groups for observation. One group wrote each day, processing everything on paper. The other group didn’t write anything at all, just kept it inside. Which group do you think fared better in overall emotional health? The group that wrote.

We talk. You might need to talk it out with a professional listener, i.e. a counselor/therapist. But you’ve got to have some “cussing friends,” as I call them. These are people who can hear you raw and not recoil in horror. They are burden bearers who let you process your pain aloud with them. They’ll tell you if you’re being petty and need to get over yourself, but they’ll also remind you of gospel grace.

We work. How do we forgive? How do we position ourselves to forgive? We go to work on forgiving. It’s like a building project that first requires demolition. We recognize an anti-gospel is building in our hearts when we clutch our hurts and won’t release those responsible for them. This doesn’t mean the offense doesn’t still hurt when you forgive the one responsible for it. Their wrong against you remains wrong. But we recognize no work toward forgiveness dulls us to God. It erects a kind of self-righteousness scaffolding around our hearts. I see those who wound me as unworthy of grace. But the point with grace is no one is worthy of it, including me.

Jesus also taught us to pray lead us not into temptation. We ask God to keep us from a very real enemy in the world called the devil (who finds much opportunity with the unforgiving Christian, by the way). But this request of God is also concerned with the experience of having to go through testing as the only way to learn what God would teach. In other words: Don’t let me be so blockheaded, Lord, such that you have to break me by subjecting me to Satan.

Remember the instruction to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:5; cf. 1 Tim. 1:20) for them to deliver an individual over to Satan? It’s the severe mercy of church discipline. An erring brother or sister, unremitting in their desire to build something for themselves out of sin, is left without the guardianship of the church. Handing someone over to Satan is not dooming them. It’s done in gospel hope that they will come to fully understand sin is not a building material for life. The prayer is: Don’t let me get off into anything that you have to break me to pull me from—through church discipline or some other means.

Don’t domesticate your sin. Don’t justify yourself in it. See it for the self-destruction it is. Don’t let me make it in sin, Lord, to where I have to learn your way the hard way. Keep me soft to you, pliable, bendable to your will. This is how we pray when we’re in the throes of temptation, which Jesus indicated will be an ongoing threat.

Flannery O’Connor put it this way in her Prayer Journal: “Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.” For those in Christ, the objective in living is to not miss how God has something to do with everything in our lives, even the pains. He’s not committed to making everything in our lives just perfect. Life is hard in one way or another for all of us.

Check the modern era against the ancients and see—only nowadays do you find people giving up on God because they’re suffering or hurt by others. The last thing generations of Christians before us would think of doing when they suffered was back away from God. They leaned in and sought Him all the more.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:04 PM
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