My twin daughters recently received their driving permits, so the correct way to operate a vehicle is common dialogue in my world right now. Driving requires focus, clear vision, and an awareness of what is going on around you. I’ve told my girls that they need to keep their eyes on what is directly in front of them and only to occasionally glance in the rear view and side mirrors.
Imagine someone on the highway trying to drive with their eyes focused only on what lies behind them.
As I’ve studied the life of Joseph in the Old Testament this past year, I’ve noticed that he did a good job of keeping his eyes on the path in front of him. His brothers betrayed him, yet somehow he was able to forgive and even reconcile with them. How did he do it? Forgiving sounds good . . . but actually releasing our pain to God and keeping our eyes on the road ahead (with only occasional glimpses to the wounds of past) proves harder in real life than it appears on paper.
Perhaps the hurtful words, actions, or inactions of others still sting in your life. People criticized your decisions. Others misunderstood your motives. Ministry leaders can become an easy target for those who are hurting. I remember being told that I would grow thicker skin as time went on, but some wounds penetrate even the thickest of layers.
If you are looking for a fresh start in 2016, find a way to keep your eyes focused on the road God has in front of you instead of your rear view mirror. Check out these examples from Joseph’s life that helped him on the journey to forgiveness:
Acknowledge feelings. Joseph said, “For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.” (Genesis 40:15) We can admit that what has been done toward us wasn’t okay, but our feelings don’t get to be in the driver’s seat.
Ask for help. Joseph asked the cupbearer for help. “And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place.” (Genesis 40:14) Joseph’s request didn’t come to fruition overnight, but the cupbearer’s mention to Pharaoh is what ultimately lifted Joseph from his prison. Is there someone you can ask to help you walk in freedom in 2016?
Admit our inability to navigate pain on our own. Joseph accepted his limitations. He said, “It is beyond my power to do this.” (Genesis 41:16) Where do you need to stop trying in your own strength and depend on God’s mighty power to overcome the past?
Test before trusting. Joseph looked for change in his brothers before immediately reconciling with them. He observed their treatment of Benjamin before revealing himself. Sometimes we must exercise caution in complicated situations to determine whether a relationship is safe to re-establish.
Don’t dwell on the wrongs done to you, but focus on God. Joseph acknowledged that his brothers had sold him as a slave, but he looked for God’s larger plan. He said, “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” We continually find Joseph talking about God more than he talks about his past. Some people make a career out of their pain. Instead God calls us to shift our thought lives toward Him—we can dwell on His character, seek His plan, and allow Him to be the physician that binds up our wounds. What is going on in your thought life lately when it comes to your pain? How can you intentionally redirect your thinking in the New Year?
Repay evil with blessing. Joseph provided land, clothing, and transportation to the very people who had sold him into slavery. He looked for ways to give rather than withhold. How can you bless someone who has caused you pain—with prayer, a word of encouragement, or a thoughtful gift?
Look for God’s bigger picture. Joseph saw how his brother’s attempts to kill his dreams unknowingly advanced them. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20) God can use even the bad behavior of others as the very things that lead to our own dream fulfillment. How can you trust God in the coming year even in the midst of the hurts of your past?
Like Joseph, we can find freedom by focusing our eyes on the road ahead. We might occasionally need to glance in the rearview mirror or do a shoulder check, but we must keep our eyes focused on the road ahead. God has good things in store if we will surrender our right to revenge and set our sights on the journey ahead.
Melissa Spoelstra is a popular women’s conference speaker, Bible teacher, and writer who is madly in love with Jesus and addicted to the study of His Word. Be sure to check out Bible study, Joseph: The Journey to Forgiveness!