Spiritual Prep for Christmas
Are you dreading family get-togethers this Christmas? Did you just barely get through Thanksgiving? Did the family festivity become a family feud?
If you are, you are not alone.
Last year, the big divide between family members probably centered on the presidential election. This year, Thanksgiving may have cut on the vaccine issue. And Christmas —well, who knows what a month might bring in terms of mine fields?
But there’s hope!
I’ve learned three simple — but not easy — steps to freedom at family feasts.
And that freedom, not surprisingly, is found in the Blood of Jesus. Only His Blood heals. So situations of strife require the Blood to be applied — in repentance or in forgiveness and often in both.
If you are like me, you may store up a few grievances in your heart against others — especially family members who have that unerring ability to push the button calling down the nuclear strike. I call these grievances “You Owe Me’s.” They accrue when someone sins against us and we store that sin instead of forgiving it. And we let it pile up into a mountain — or even a molehill — of debt. Sometimes the grievance stems from sin, but sometimes it arises from an offense of which the other person is blissfully ignorant.
Regardless of the type of infraction, we are called to forgive. Matthew 18 makes this abundantly clear. Jesus is teaching His disciples here — the church, that is —how to forgive. Over the years, I’ve applied this same three-step process to forgiving those who are not yet believers, as well.
Step One: Forgiveness starts with confronting sin.
Matthew 18:15 shows us sin — especially in the church — needs to be addressed.
‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”
The whole of this Scripture is worthy of study, but for the purposes of forgiveness, Jesus teaches we need to confront sin.
We must acknowledge we were sinned against. Sometimes, I prefer to ignore the offense, which can be — often is — a godly choice. But this choice becomes sin if I just let it lie like a festering bullet in my soul. That wound usually becomes infected, gathering other sin around it like pus.
I may not confront the offender with every sin or offense. Sometimes doing so would lead that person into sin themselves. Or the sin I am addressing came at the hands of a person now dead or even dangerous to me. But I do confront the sin with the Lord.
Step Two: Forgive through prayer.
Just as Jesus did on the cross, we forgive by asking the Lord to do the work. We do the asking; He does the forgiving, just as Jesus encouraged in his teaching on prayer.
Forgiveness is not, nor does it require reconciliation. In fact, it may be unwise or impossible to reconcile. Reconciliation requires two willing parties; if the offender is dead or dangerous, reconciliation is impossible.
Forgiveness, though, is required for our relationship with the Lord.
In fact, perfect forgiveness is possible; it entails forgiving the debt.
Step Three: Forgive the debt.
In Matthew 18: 21-22, Peter asks Jesus a telling question: “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister — Up to seven times?” Because rabbis of the day taught that forgiving someone three times was plenty, Peter may have thought himself quite generous by proposing to forgive seven times!
But Jesus picks up on Peter’s use of the biblical number for perfection, saying there is no limit— 77 times! — to the number of times you forgive another person. In fact, He shares a picture of perfect forgiveness in the parable of the unmerciful servant.
This story in Matthew 18: 23-35 tells of a servant who owed his king an impossibly large sum of money. The servant begged for mercy from the king, who extended it by cancelling the debt. After this, the servant came upon a fellow servant who owed him some money. Instead of showing mercy, the first servant had the other thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. This outraged the other servants, who ratted the first servant out to the king. Because of the servant’s harshness, the king dealt harshly with him.
This parable is rich in lessons we can’t explore here, but one point Jesus is making is perfect forgiveness requires writing off the debt that is owed to us. We need to mark our “You Owe Me’s” paid.
Jesus did this on the cross. He kept no record of wrongs. He has no “You Owe Me’s.” If He did, the invoice might look like this:
Instead of enumerating debts we can’t pay, Jesus chose to forgive. As He was dying, He gasped out the word, which in Greek is tetelestai, meaning “It is finished.”
This was also the word written on invoices to indicate the bearer had paid his debt in full.
Jesus’ payment covers all the “You Owe Me’s” we are carrying, too.
Walking the Steps
When I first started clearing debts — dealing with the “You Owe Me’s” of a lifetime — I would write down the initial offense on a piece of paper. Then I would ask Holy Spirit to help me understand how this sin had affected my life. The effect or “debt” usually lay in my sinful or unhealthy reactions to the original offense. I wrote these “debts” down on the paper in a second column. Sometimes I had several pages of such debts.
For example, I once had a “You Owe Me” related to certain tasks I had done. The reaction of people to my inadequate performance was not pleasant.
I felt sinned against by their reaction, but I also stored up some debts. Among these:
Because of the reactions, I became anxious about those tasks and other things.
Because I became anxious, I became a perfectionist.
Because I became a perfectionist, I was rarely content.
Because I was discontent, I became embroiled in all kinds of idolatry trying to allay anxiety and find happiness.
This maladaptive behavior (sin, really) stemmed from my response to the unpleasant reactions to my performance on the tasks. I had debt — pus, if you will — gathering around that first wound.
I have found the required honesty in the first step to be one of the more difficult parts of the process. I didn’t want to believe I could be so petty as to hold certain things against other people or family members.
“She didn’t say hi.”
“He seems to like that person more.”
“They all forgot my birthday!”
Sometimes the situations that launched a “You Owe Me” did not seem to require forgiveness, but my responses to them certainly did. I needed to face up to the sin those moments kicked off in me.
Then I would ask the Lord to forgive me, the original offense, including the people involved, and the debt. And I would mark it paid! By the Blood of Jesus!
This year, many of my “You Owe Me’s” have focused on ill-advised presidential election votes. The debt associated with those votes is accumulating daily as IFA intercessors know. So I’m regularly walking these steps. Yes, it takes time and tears, but I’d rather do the work now so that I can enjoy — rather than stew through — my Christmas meals with friends and family.
Dear Lord, teach us to acknowledge sin and offense quickly that we might forgive and allow it to be covered by the Blood of Jesus so that debt does not accrue. But if debt has accrued please help us identify it so we can forgive and release the debt. We desire to have no “You Owe Me’s” in our hands. Forgive us our debts even as we forgive our debtors. Set us free to enjoy our families and friends this blessed season. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Author Joyce Swingle is an intercessor and contributing writer for Intercessors for America. With her husband Drama Evangelist Rich, Joyce shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world through theatre and speaking. Joyce also has performed on screen. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Joyce worked for about 20 major magazines and now works in pastoral ministry and Christian counseling. She and Rich live in New York City. Photo by Gavin Tyte on Unsplash.
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