FROM THE HEART OF DR. REXELLA VAN IMPE
HOW TO DEAL WITH NEGATIVES
So many people seem to be constantly battling their negative feelings, or relying too heavily upon them. Everyone likes to feel good, and no one enjoys being depressed or tension ridden. While some people spend their entire lives in search of the ultimate emotional high, others seem to revel in feeling low.
Regardless of what kind of person you are, your feelings and how you respond to them play a major role in determining how much you can experience and enjoy satisfaction, or how susceptible you are to feeling baffled, bewildered, or befuddled by the negatives in life.
As we have already learned, being satisfied is not the same thing as being happy. Happiness is our emotional response to what happens to us and around us. Conversely, a truly fulfilled person remains stable in grief, under pressure, and during other times of negative emotional expression. Genuine satisfaction, then, is not an emotion, and it is not dependent upon a positive emotional response to a given situation.
Nevertheless, negative emotions, if dealt with improperly, can destroy our sense of well being and joy. If we see our trials as coming from God in order to bring us to maturity, for example, we can be composed even in the midst of deep tribulation. But if we resist trials and allow them to make us bitter, we destroy the possibility of beneficial gain. This is true for every kind of negative emotion and feeling.
Bitterness, resentment, and an unforgiving spirit
Quite often negative feelings are an indication that there is something wrong in our lives. A personal failure, a broken promise, or something someone said has hurt us or undermined our sense of self-confidence. As a result, we begin brooding over the situation and harboring critical thoughts. Then, before we realize it, we find ourselves on the threshold of bitterness and resentment, baffled and bewildered.
One of the most negative attitudes we can experience is an unforgiving spirit. Nothing is more damaging to a person’s spiritual and emotional well being. Yet, often we find it so difficult to forgive.
Following a city-wide meeting several years ago, a young woman came to me in tears. "Oh, Rexella," she cried, "I can’t forgive him, but after your husband’s message tonight I can at least say that I’m on the road to forgiveness and I no longer hate him." She then related to me one of the saddest stories I have ever heard.
As a young child, this woman had been left alone and put up for adoption. After many years of struggling to organize her life into one that had meaning and purpose, she was adopted by a Christian family. As a teenager, she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. Later, she married a fine Christian man and God blessed them with three beautiful children. Her life was full and complete.
The couple enjoyed the friendship of many Christians in their local church. One young man was especially friendly to them, and they frequently invited him into their home for fellowship. They appreciated his testimony and apparently consistent lifestyle.
But one afternoon the young mother returned home to find her 10-year-old daughter in tears. The young man they had loved and trusted had come by for a visit and sexually assaulted their child!
Although that horror had occurred two years in the past, the trauma of the experience was still very real in the life of this mother. She wept as she told me how she had harbored hatred and bitterness against the man who had violated her daughter. Now, because of it, her life was in chaos.
I could hardly keep back my own tears as I listened. I shared this mother’s anger over what had happened to her young daughter. Together we wept over the child, the crime, and the whole situation. The words choked in my throat as I tried to help her find the strength to forgive this man for his evil deed. God had already given her the grace to stop hating him, and now He could give her the grace to forgive him. I assured her that God shared her hatred for the evil done to her daughter, for Scripture assures us that He cares for children in a special way (see Matthew 18:6). I also showed her from the Bible that we cannot believe everyone who says He knows Christ. Finally, I emphasized that she must forgive this man for his sin against her family, just as God had forgiven her when as a teenager she accepted His forgiveness for her sins.
We prayed, read the Word, talked, and prayed some more. At the end of our time together, the woman was radiant-at peace with the Lord and at peace with herself. She had forgiven that man, but she was the one who benefited most from the act of forgiveness.
Most of us will never know from what depths of God’s resources this woman had to draw in order to forgive. The crime committed against her daughter was unspeakable, and she had carried that memory inside her for two years. But the bitterness that grew inside her because she would not forgive had begun to destroy her, and she could not be happy until she was released from the bondage of an unforgiving spirit.
That incident left an indelible mark on my memory, for it brought clearly into focus the truth that forgiveness is always costly. The awfulness of the sin committed against that woman and her daughter is appalling. I cannot get away from a sense of disgust and righteous indignation over a man’s assaulting a young girl. And yet the mother brought to herself harm physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by refusing to forgive.
On one occasion in the life of the Lord Jesus, Peter came to Him and asked, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? [Jesus answered,] I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18: 21,22).
The Savior was saying that there can be no limit to the number of times or the depth of forgiveness with which we are to forgive. None of us has a right to withhold forgiveness from another. We are not left with an option of whether to forgive. Jesus went on to emphasize this truth in a parable, telling of a man who had been forgiven of a massive debt but was unwilling to write off a debt of a few dollars someone owed to him. The foolishness of that man’s stubbornness shows just why we must forgive-because God has forgiven us of so much.
Forgiving a person for a wrong committed against us is costly. It may cost us our pride, it may cost us money, or it may cost us in terms of violated rights. But God’s forgiveness to us cost even more-it cost His Son. Jesus died to pay the price for our forgiveness, and in that dreadful moment that surpassed time and eternity as He hung on the cross bearing our sin, God the Father had to forsake His only begotten Son. It was an incredible price to pay to forgive undeserving sinners.
Forgiving and forgetting
Sincere, effective forgiveness also includes another important element-forgetting. In her book, It Feels Good to Forgive, my friend Helen Hosier has penned an irreversible truth: "Regardless of how many times you may say to someone who has wronged you, ‘I forgive you,’ if you have not forgotten then you have failed in forgiveness. If you find it necessary to remind the individual of his or her betrayal, unfaithfulness, or untrustworthiness, then you have not truly forgiven the other person."
Forgiving and forgetting is truly God’s way, for this is exactly what He does for us when we come to Him through Christ. This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 10:16-17). If God can forgive and forget our terrible iniquities which sent His Son to the cross, surely we cannot do less. In fact, He will give us the power to accomplish this task, for we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Many times our bitterness and resentment become so imbedded within us that we actually extend our anger beyond the person or situation that has hurt us and begin blaming God. Even Christians are prone to ask, "God, where were You? Why did You let it happen? I thought You loved me. What about your promise of guidance and protection in Psalm 121?"
Erwin W. Lutzer, one time pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has a most enlightening answer for such inquiries. In his book, Living With Your Passions, he states: "God’s love does not prevent us from the tragedies of sexual abuse or any other kind of mistreatment. Christ was God’s ‘beloved Son,’ yet the Father didn’t shield Him from the torture of the crucifixion. That crime, despite its horror, has become for us a fountain of blessing. The horror of Good Friday must be understood in the light of the joy of Easter Sunday. God can do the same with the ugly hurts of life."
Dr. Lutzer then admonishes his readers to confess their bitterness toward God. "Concentrate on His infinite grace and be forgiven and accepted," he says. Only in this way will you be able to experience the deep spiritual release and sense of relief which are the beginning of true satisfaction.
How to have right attitudes
Perhaps you are struggling with bitterness or an unforgiving spirit and wonder how you can ever come to the point of confession, forgiveness, and be set free. Let me share with you the secret to removing wrong attitudes and negative feelings. It is the power of the Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. In other words, when you let Scripture fill your heart, it transforms what is in there. It seeks out wrong attitudes, exposes them, and then makes them right.
The best way to let Scripture do that is to get to know it better. Read it every day, memorize it, and meditate on it. James 1:21 speaks of the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. When Scripture gets into your life and becomes a living part of you, it has an incredible transforming power.
Peter wrote something very similar. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1,2). Again, Scripture is the antidote to wrong attitudes.
I am convinced that one of the reasons my husband has been so blessed of God in the ministry is that early in life he committed himself to memorizing Scripture. Now he knows thousands of Bible verses by memory and is called "the walking Bible." I am often asked what it is like to live with a man who has memorized so much Scripture. My answer is, "It is wonderful." God’s Word is constantly working in Jack’s heart to guide him, mold him, shape his attitudes, and direct his life.
All this victory is the result of Jack’s tremendous desire, determination, and discipline-and it is an ongoing process. He continues to add to his storehouse of memory verses each month. The most wonderful, miraculous thing about Scripture is that the more we appropriate it, the greater our appetite for it becomes.
Through the years, God’s Word has changed Jack’s personality from that of a teenaged practical joker to the mature man he is today. He still has his sense of humor and enjoys a good time, but he also exhibits a seasoned wisdom that comes only from an intimate knowledge of God’s Word. My life has been immeasurably enriched by living with this godly man for whom the Bible is his meat and drink. Jack has not only memorized the Word, but he also puts it into practice daily.
This is the essential element in building right attitudes-a willing and submissive obedience to the teaching of God’s Word. James says we should be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving our own selves (James 1:22). Knowing the Bible intellectually without practicing it experientially can actually harden us to its truth!
God’s ideal for you is a life of victory over negativity. He wants you to cut out all roots of bitterness, regardless of how painful the cutting process may be. He also wants you to receive the engrafted Word, which is able to transform your soul. This where we begin to reach the pinnacle of satisfaction.
Jack Van Impe Ministries
Troy MI 48007
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