Overcoming an Offense
The last couple of years have been difficult for me, my family, and our ministry. Our church has experienced an onslaught of attacks (from within and from without), which have caused much heartbreak. During this season, there have been countless opportunities for me to become offended at misunderstood circumstances, deceitful actions of others, and words uttered out of pain and frustration. There have been times where I have given into that temptation and harbored resentment and anger at the very people I have been called to serve.
People in ministry are human and are subject to the same heartbreak and then sinful reactions to that hurt. So, how are we, as Believers, to deal with those who have offended us?
First, we must realize we are offended.
Realizing and then accepting the fact that I was offended was the most difficult part in the process of overcoming my offended heart. I had taken pride in allowing people’s words and actions not to affect me. However, as time went on, I found that my heart had grown bitter and cold. I didn’t want to be in fellowship with my church body. I hid from social outings. I stopped encouraging my husband to have our students in our home. And, most sadly, I began to be a very angry wife and mommy.
Almost overnight I began to live out the description found in 2 Timothy 3:2-5. In this passage, Paul makes the most sobering statement. Those who think only of themselves and their needs, hurts, and wants are capable of “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5). This was me. I had gotten so caught up in my own hurt that I had lost sight of others, especially my family. I had shut myself off from those who loved me and from the God who was waiting to heal me. If you knew me well, you probably would have noticed I had become cold and uninviting. However, I sought to fool those around me with continuing in my “service to the Lord” all the while being “proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, [and] unappeasable” (2 Tim 3:2-3).
Praise God, He didn’t leave me in that state! In His mercy, He showed me the sinfulness of my offended heart, convicted me of that sin, and then helped me seek repentance and forgiveness. And, that leads me to the second part of the healing process.
We must be willing to work through the offense.
In the process of working through my offended heart, God taught me much about my sinful condition and His gift of reconciliation. In speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus stated: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. … I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13) I’ve come to realize that we have a lot of hurting, “sick” people in our congregations who are in desperate need of the Great Physician, and I was/am chief among them.
I have been in some sort of full-time ministry for 16 years. Over time, it became easier for me to see myself as the one who introduces people to hope and healing instead of being the one in need of hope and healing. Ladies, just because you are involved in ministry does not mean you have it all figured out or that you are not capable of giving into any form of temptation.
At one point in this journey, it felt like I would never be able to forgive and move past my offended heart. However, God brought me face-to-face with a freeing, yet difficult, truth. Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reminds us that: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
As time passed, it was easier to heap offense upon offense instead of working through the offense. But, enough was enough. It was time for me to realize that God had allowed offenses into my life in order to shape my character, heart, and responses to reflect His nature. You see, I am an offender, too. I have betrayed my Savior with my sinful, prideful heart. I have offended my family by reacting out of selfishness instead of forgiveness. And, I have offended my calling by holding onto hurt instead of releasing it to the Father. These realities made it easier (though still difficult) to forgive and move forward. As I allowed God to heal and rebuild my heart, I was finally free to truly minister again. And, that is the final step in dealing with an offense.
We must minister in spite of the offense.
Honestly, I am still working through this part of the process, but I am willing. Throughout this journey, there have been countless moments where I have cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) And, my God has been faithful to answer His daughter’s cry. We live in a world where hurting people hurt other people. (I know. I’ve been one of them.) So, we must get used to turning our hearts over to the Lord and allowing Him to be the One who protects them.
In the past, I was my own protector. And, it didn’t work. This journey has also taught me how little I have opened my heart to people, even to those with whom I minister. The minute someone offended/hurt me or said something that went beyond my ability to handle, I shut down, shut myself off from people, and wallowed in self-pity.
You see, the closer you are to people, the deeper the possibility for hurt. Previously, my answer was to keep people at a distance. It worked. But, it was only half living and half ministering.
God calls us to something much greater. We are to be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps 1:3). In order for a tree to yield fruit, it must remain securely planted. Imagine how unproductive a tree would be if it uprooted itself every time it experienced a hot day, damaging winds, or annoying pests. Instead, whenever difficulty arises, it digs its roots deeper into the ground. Ladies, we are called to root ourselves in Christ, His Word, and yes, even His church (Heb. 10:19-39). When we are hurt, we are to turn it over to Christ knowing He is capable of dealing with the offense and the offender. Does that mean we don’t acknowledge the offense? Absolutely not! (See point one.) But, it does mean that we don’t allow ourselves to become embittered by the offense and shut our hearts off from those to whom we are called to love and minister. I’m learning that as I continue to minister alongside my husband in spite of the offense, the temptation to recoil becomes less and less.
Ladies, I’m not sure where you are in this journey, but it is an important one to make. This fallen world offers us countless opportunities to become and remain offended. And, we must live above that temptation. We don’t need to deny the existence of our offended hearts, but we must allow God to heal us and move us forward. There are people out there who need us to lead them to the One who gives life, and we are more effective if we do this with a heart and an affection that is deeply rooted in Christ.