I went down to the room we call “The Chapel” this afternoon to listen to my Pray As You Go app. It is something I do often in the early afternoon. In fact, I do it often enough that I consider it to be my “noon” prayer (see Psalm 55:17). The Pray As You go devotion for today started with a version of The Kyrie by the University of Johannesburg choir. As the choir started The Kyrie, the devotion leader for the day (the same lady who leads the anxiety devotion I listen to so often) said this: “As I listen, I might think for a moment about my need for that forgiveness [the forgiveness described in The Kyrie] and the need, too, for me to show that same forgiveness to others.”
I started to do just that. I started to do that by emphasizing that first part, my need for forgiveness, that is, my need to be forgiven. I always tend to emphasize that part. I’m not sure if it is my upbringing or my nature or human nature, but anytime these two ideas are expressed together (as they often are; see Matthew 6:12), I nearly always focus on the first one.
This time, though, I somehow slipped off the first one to the second one. Maybe it was the way the lady said what she said. Maybe it was the Spirit. I don’t know. All I know is that I suddenly heard “need” and “forgiving others” together. And as I did, I said, “Yes.” As I did, I realized, “Yes, I do need to forgive others. Forgiving others (or “showing mercy,” which is the word that was actually in my mind, probably because the devotion was titled “Lord, Have Mercy” and because The Kyrie says, “Christ have mercy”) is a need I have. Not just something I need to do (that is, am supposed to do, morally obligated to do). Something I personally need to do, something that personally benefits me.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of forgiveness or mercy as a need like this. I’m fairly sure I haven’t. I am well-acquainted with the idea of forgiving others; I know the many New Testament Scriptures which flat-out command this forgiveness. But I also thought of it as a sacrifice of a sort, as a denying of my needs. If you asked me, I would have said that what I really need when I am offended is vengeance or justice, and that when I forgive I am choosing to go without that vengeance or justice. In other words, I thought forgiveness was costing me.
What I realized as I walked around the chapel listening to The Kyrie and thinking about the devotion leader’s words is that this is not the case at all (not entirely the case, anyway). I realized that I need to forgive if I want to be free of the burden of anger and bitterness that I carry over past offenses (some decades old). I realized that I need to forgive if I want to understand God; forgiveness, after all, seems to be His native language, far more native than vengeance if Hosea is to be believed, and I’ll never learn to speak that language or think in the mindset behind it if I never actually forgive. I realized that I need to forgive to become the person I want to be. I mentioned in a former post (the one about the song “My Lord’s Gonna Come In The Morning”, which for some reason is by far the most popular post I ever wrote) a time when a fellow who was angry with me publicly showered me with hatred at a local restaurant. What I didn’t mention in that post but have realized in the ensuing years is that this act of hatred was actually a blessing. This fellow blessed me by showing me how ugly hatred is. Anytime I am tempted to express hatred like he did, I remember how ugly he was. The memory calms me down a little bit. But forgiveness will calm me down completely. Forgiveness will keep me from behaving and being ugly like that, which is a gift indeed.
So I do need to forgive. I need to be merciful, abundantly merciful, as merciful as our Lord. I need to do that not just because it is commanded. I need to do that not just because it is right. I need to do that not just because it is (somewhat) lauded by society. I need to do that for me. I have a personal need to forgive others. I benefit personally from being merciful.
And that’s what I saw on February 13, 2020.