A Table Prepared

Tonic for the Soul_14x14 Oil_Lynn Abbott© 2015 Lynn Abbott

I love receiving grace.  God lifts and carries me in my darkest hours. He preserves my life.

He prepares “a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” (Psalm 23:5a).

I especially love that He wraps me in His tender mercy and loving-kindness.  And I am forever grateful.

But when I’m asked to give others grace?  Well, to be honest, I’m not always keen about that… particularly when I’ve been hurt.

Responding with patient kindness when someone wrongs me might be one of the most difficult things that God asks me to do. And to forgive, well, that sometimes seems impossible.

I think that’s why Peter asked for a numerical limit:  “How many times must I forgive?”

Maybe you can relate.

I hate to admit it, but when Abba nudges me, I occasionally groan and say with Peanuts’ Linus Van Pelt, “I love mankind… it’s people I can’t stand!”

You betcha. God has got this grace thing all wrapped up.  But me?  That’s another story.  Yeah, my journey has been long.  After all, I keep trekking the same ground.

Yet, God continues to patiently carve His Son’s image in my stiff and stubborn heart.  Indeed, He began His thankless whittling early in my faith walk.

I suppose I could say the journey was particularly tough because I was young and new to the faith thing.

But that really wouldn’t be an accurate assessment since even all these years, I still find forgiveness a huge hurdle to clear.   Yet, I particularly remember those dramatic early steps because at that time, I first recognized the sacrificial nature of grace.

It began simply enough. Within a few months of my faith confession, a friend betrayed me.  In fact, she joined forces with a new gal in town and began to bully me.

One day, the two cornered me on our school’s library steps.  They began to forecast their own future success and my simultaneous demise.  Then, they punctuated their predictions with a hearty shove, and I tumbled.

It seemed their prophecies were reliable because soon after, I made a trip to the family doctor and emerged with 7 stitches.  Fortunately, no bones were broken despite the fact that plenty of sticks and stones had been thrown.

But it wasn’t until after the injury that my real test began.  You guessed it. The school principal contacted my nemesis’ parents.  And my former “best friend forever” was summarily sent to apologize.

Of course, her concerned and neighborly parents ensured her admittance to our home: she brought an appropriate and expensive “get well” gift.

I was horrified. But my mother gave me “that look.” I knew I had no choice but to smile and accept the gift.

In obedience to Mom, I thanked the traitor as politely as I could given the circumstances. No retaliatory remarks spilled from my lips.  I sacrificed my moral right to strike back.  Reluctantly,  I took my cue from Mom.

But as soon as the bully left, I buried the so-called peace offering in the back of my closet.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  I knew that her parents had prevailed just as my mother had.

None of the fundamentals would change.

She’d sold me down the river in order to gain the friendship of another, and in this way, had proven herself untrustworthy. Understandably, I feared she would go on bullying me and I had no intention of waiting around for that.

I kinda think Joseph felt the same way. When I read his story in Genesis, it certainly seems so.

I also think I would not have managed things as well as he did.  After all, his brothers sold him into slavery.

In Jacob’s house, sibling rivalry and jealousy definitely ran amok.  And Jacob’s blatant favoritism didn’t improve matters.  He singled out Joseph, his second youngest son, and gave the young man a finely woven coat.

But when Joseph started dreaming big dreams, the jealousies reached a fever pitch.  Maybe, naivete was at the root of his problem. Or perhaps like many, he simply found satisfaction in needling his siblings. Whatever the case, he shared his dreams with the wrong people–his envious brothers.

Bitter envy festered, and one day, in an impulsive move, the brothers sold Joseph to Egyptian slave traders.

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My human side cries out for immediate justice.  I want to see Joseph rescued or at least vindicated as soon as he sets foot on Egyptian soil.

Scripture, however, paints a bleaker picture.  Although Joseph initially experienced some success, and was promoted within his master’s household ranks, circumstances again took a turn for the worse.

Being a handsome young man, he caught the eye of his master’s powerful wife.

Scripture doesn’t reveal all the details surrounding Joseph’s harassment.  But I suspect that Potiphar’s wife didn’t play her hand immediately. I imagine she did a fair bit of flirting prior to her bold proposition.

Thus, as a slave, Joseph found himself in an extremely precarious position.  After all, he was a stranger in an alien land, and thus, he could not turn to friends or family for protection.

For this reason, I believe he did his best to balance cultural courtesy with his firm commitment to godliness.  And when pressed, he stayed true to God.

Unfortunately for Joseph, he discovered firsthand the truth of the old adage: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Potiphar’s wife hurled false accusations.   And Joseph landed in a foreign prison.

His single shot at justice fizzled when his influential friend, Pharoah’s cupbearer, moved on and forgot about him.

Despite the fact that Joseph had accurately interpreted the cupbearer’s dream–foretelling the servant’s return to court–the cupbearer neglected to put in a good word for Joseph.

And so, Joseph’s circumstances seemed hopeless.

Quite frankly, in Joseph’s place, I might have grown bitter.    Joseph, however, continued to serve others right where he was. I find that truly amazing. He exemplified grace under fire.

His faithfulness did not escape the notice of his heavenly Father. Abba did not forget him.

Thus, when Pharoah awakened from a disturbing dream, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph.

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In fact, God enabled Joseph to correctly interpret Pharoah’s dream, a warning of severe famine.   Joseph’s God-given wisdom catapulted him to power.

But that’s not the part of the story that I find most incredible.

There’s so much more. During the famine, Joseph’s brothers turned up to buy food from the vast Egyptian storehouses.  When the brothers stood before Joseph in all his Egyptian courtly garb, they didn’t recognize him.

Of course, Joseph immediately recognized them.  And he made a choice.

Joseph forgave them.

He also wisely recognized that the relationship could not be fully restored without first reestablishing trust.

Chapters 42-45 describes that journey of reconciliation.  Joseph sold food to them but he also embraced the opportunity to test their motives and integrity.  After they had proven themselves through a series of challenges, Joseph revealed his identity.

Prior to his shocking revelation, however,  Joseph had used his position to advantage.

Believing Joseph to be Egyptian born, his brothers argued in Hebrew with one another and expressed regret for their former behavior.   In this way, Joseph knew they were truly repentant. He could be sure that they would not seek to harm him again.

With this assurance, Joseph finally revealed himself to them.  And he wept perhaps in relief and joy.  He had previously forgiven them, but in chapter 45, he also found a way to reconcile.

Joseph said,  “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance,” (Genesis 45:5, 7).

And in Joseph’s confession, I begin to see a pattern in the tapestry of grace…

Joseph forgave and then, he also gave.

Similarly, Job forgave and prayed for those who had falsely accused him.

Christ taught the necessity of forgiveness and grace when He gave his disciples an example of prayer.  Through the parable of the ungrateful servant, He also encouraged his disciples to forgive others in response to God’s grace, (Matthew 18:21-24).

And then, Christ forgave and died for those who betrayed Him.

Romans 12:18 thus encourages us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

How is such forgiveness possible?  I find the answer in Joseph’s tears.  You see, forgiveness is not about me.  It isn’t even about what others have done to me.

Rather, forgiveness ultimately stems from my trust in Abba’s grace and in His loving sovereignty.

When I forgive, I place my faith in Abba to not only preserve my life but also to abundantly provide for me. Reconciliation may not come, but grace sacrifices the right to revenge.

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Actually, revenge becomes irrelevant because I know that God directs my steps. No one can thwart His perfect plan for me.  He orchestrates my ultimate welfare, (Jeremiah 29:11).

And so it was. At the end of that difficult school year, my parents put our house up for sale. They planned to relocate to a city hundreds of miles away.  They had been quietly considering the move for some time.  Yet, I never saw it coming.

Even so, despite my surprise, I was not unhappy with their decision.  God had allowed pain to prepare me for beautiful, new things.

He’s like that.  His grace transforms and continuously moves us toward blessing even in the midst of unjust and hurtful events.

And when we obediently exhibit grace and forgiveness, Abba floods our lives with peace and love beyond imagination (Matthew 5:7; Lamentations 3:21-23).

Forgiveness, then, is faith’s megaphone.  When I forgive, my actions proclaim my conviction that “God works all things together for good,” (Romans 8:28).

Placing my faith in Abba’s ongoing care, I find forgiveness possible.  I share from the abundant table of love and grace that He has spread before me. I give because I daily receive from Abba.

In fact, the sting of betrayal dissipates when I see that God’s loving kindness works for my good.  Holding fast to His promises,  you and I know that our pain is temporary. Abba redeems our tears; He turns our mourning into dancing, (Psalm 30:11).

Truly, faith produces grace under fire.

That’s right. Joseph undoubtedly knew the sacrifice inherent in forgiveness.  Yet, he provided food and preserved the lives of those who had once injured him.  Joseph’s understanding of  God–his faith in Abba’s gracious sovereignty–made all the difference.

And God’s grace also changes everything for you and me.  He has promised to preserve us even through the very circumstances that seem to threaten our destruction, (Isaiah 43:2, 3a).

And knowing this, despite any hurt we experience, we can trust Abba and say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

Tonic for the Soul_14x14 Oil_Lynn Abbott

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of he LORD forever,” ~Psalm 23:5,6.

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you,” ~ Psalm 9:10.