“Yooo, what you sayin’ my guy?!” said the voice on the other end of the phoneline.
It had been ages since the last time we’d spoken. Maybe 10 or so years. But my phone number was still the same. I guess I was someone he was sure he could count on to pick up.
“Not much man, just at work right now. How you doing?” I responded.
Back then, we used to get up to all kinds of mischief together. We weren’t the best of friends, but we still had history. From my early teens until around 18, we had a lot of things in common. That all changed when I turned from my old life; the gospel changed it all. My friendship circles, my passions and my priorities had completely shifted. And from then onwards, my life went a completely different direction.
But he didn’t know that. He didn’t really know me. He knew the person I was back in like 2008. But when I turned from that world and went deeper into the things of God, he kept going down the path I’d left behind. And eventually, he got caught. So he was now in prison serving the final years of his sentence.
“I’m good G..." he started.
Then after a few general points of catching up, he began to reminisce:
"...Ay, remember when we were chattin’ to them gals?! haha, they was onnnnn ittttt!”
As he relived that memory from back in 2008, it became clearer to me than ever before. We were worlds apart. Despite all the time that had passed, it felt like he hadn’t moved forward. And I don’t even mean in terms of getting a job, making money, getting married or anything like that. That’s not what I’m getting at. I’m talking about moving forward as an individual – developing, learning more about who you are and who you’re not, maturing into adulthood. That’s the progression he wasn’t really showing. But that’s one of the things that prison can do to you; hold you back from moving forward in the time that you’re locked up.
Prison Walls in Our Minds
Our minds can be like prisons too. Places where we’re held hostage by the walls of our experiences. So when we experience hurt, a wall goes up – holding us back from repeating the criminal mistake of trusting again. And when we’re offended…another wall goes up – keeping us from confronting the person who offended us. Then there’s heartbreak, abandonment, unmet expectations. The list just goes on. All of these experiences can rob us of freedom and hold us back from living life freely.
I mean, for sure, we can’t control all of our experiences. Some things are beyond us. Some people make really bad decisions (us included…). Some situations cut deep and leave scars that struggle to heal. But even though we can’t always control the situation, those prison walls aren’t forced on us. Because the gospel has an answer for every one of our painful prison walls. And the way of the Kingdom calls us to respond to these situations differently. Here are a few key verses, with a brief commentary too:
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” – Romans 3:23-24
As much as people have done wrong against us, we’re guilty with a long rap sheet of offences too. If it wasn’t so, we wouldn’t need the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5
It’s easy to see the “evil out there” but completely miss the “evil inside”. And when we spot the “evil out there”, what do we do? We react – jumping on a high-horse that we think is our given right. And rather than dealing with the wrongdoing in the way that we’re called to as God’s children, we hold grudges, make assumptions and refuse to lovingly engage with our offenders. So through these actions that clearly offend the way of God, we make a home for the log in our eyes. It blinds us from seeing things clearly as they are, and the offences grow deeper building mental prison walls.
““If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” – Matthew 18:15-17
When you believe your Christian brother or sister has done something wrong against you, there’s a godly way to deal with it. What’s the starting point? Have an open and honest conversation and tell them what you think they’ve done wrong. Don’t tell it to the rest of your friendship group. Don’t throw shade through indirect social media posts. Go and discuss it with the person who offended you. Why? Because if they’ve actually done wrong, it’s a chance to cover their nakedness and shame in private (see 1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). That’s what Jesus did for us when He saved us and took away the shame and punishment due for our sins – remember the gospel message. This led to reconciliation and unity between us and God, and the first step of this process seeks the very same outcome.
But when we rant and tweet about the issue instead of talking with the brother/sister, we give the enemies camp an easy win. It drives division amongst us and gives birth to unforgiveness. And it makes us guilty against God for refusing to deal with offence the way he taught us to.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” – Galatians 6:1
Maybe it’s down to us having unrealistic expectations of our Christian brothers and sisters. Maybe we’ve forgotten that our need for grace and forgiveness is a present and ongoing reality. Whatever it is, We can’t forget that the Christian life is progressive and gradual. The change starts in our minds then bleeds through to our actions and character. We progressively learn to choose right over wrong, and better reflect God and His ways (see Romans 12:2). But that transformation journey isn’t instant or overnight, and it doesn’t end on this side of eternity. It happens day by day as we look less like our old selves and more like Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:15-18). So between now and the other side of eternity, we have to make allowance for the faults of others.
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” – Colossians 3:12-13
Choosing a Better Way
We can’t ignore the fact that we live in a broken and fallen world. And it’s not just the non-Christians who get things wrong - we mess up too! So what do we do when that happens and those prison walls start to emerge? Here are three tips to help guide us:
1. Remember the gospel. Remember our own offences against God and the immeasurable, undeserving grace and forgiveness He gave – while we were still deep in our sins (see Romans 5:6-8 and Colossians 3:12-13).
2. Be vulnerable and honest with the brother/sister, and tell them what they’ve done to offend you (see Matthew 18:15-17).
3. Choose to forgive, regardless of the outcome. If the brother/sister has actually done something wrong, they might not always own it. But remember, you’re not responsible for what they do with the information when you confront them. You’re responsible for choosing the right response. So choose forgiveness, whether they say sorry or not. It’s healthy and necessary for your growth and your future (see Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:26-27, Ephesians 4:32).
And here are some verses to remind you of the hope we have of a time to come when all this drama is no more:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” – Revelation 21:1-4