I used to walk to church on Sunday mornings. This was one of my favorite quiet times with God. Not only did I get my exercise, but I had time to ponder the greatness and majesty in His creation surrounding me. Even when I passed someone else walking, I smiled and found myself boldly saying "Good Morning" which typically caught the other person off guard and he or she found themselves actually smiling back. But we do not always want to smile at people that we pass in our life. I am sure that given a short period of time, we could name someone that we have been angry with, frustrated at, bitter toward, or kept our distance from. One of these people in my life was a previous boss. I will be honest and admit that he really did nothing wrong. It was me. My attitude was not right. I became dissatisfied with my job and I quit. As if that was not enough, I then carried my burden of bitterness toward my boss for the next twenty three years until God decided that it was time to teach me how to let go of my bad feelings and walk forward in life.
Humanly speaking, forgiving someone is difficult. But when we don't, the root of bitterness takes hold of our lives and stops our ability to extend God's love to others. In God's creative style, He used an everyday thing that I passed every Sunday on my way to church to teach me and remind me to put bad feelings of bitterness behind me and to walk forward in life. God used an electronic talking "Walk Sign" at the intersection that I had to walk through on my way to church. You might be thinking, "Yeah, that makes sense. A walk sign tells you to move on. I get it." No, you don't get it yet because God had a more creative way to make that simple lesson really stick. Let me back up and tell the story so that it makes sense.
I was invited to an open house for the grand opening of a new business. I was hardly acquainted with the new owners, but in order to be supportive and because there was going to be free food, I decided to attend. I did not have to "map it" because I knew the street. It was on the same street as my old job. That should have been my first clue that God was up to something because He knew that I would have to pass by the building where my old boss worked. I had driven by about ten years earlier and stopped in to say "Hi" in my feeble attempt to put the past behind me, but was spared because my boss was out of the office that time. I knew that God knew that if I was forced to pass by the building again, then I would once again feel the need to try to put my bad feelings aside and I would stop a second time in order to make another attempt to say "Hi." God was right and I stopped. This time my boss was in (he hadn't aged in twenty three years!) and we chatted briefly about this and that. He gave me a tour of the facility and told me in confidence that they had bought a building about an hour away and would be moving in about three months. God coordinated the open house and my passing by just in the nick of time because after three months my opportunity to face my history of bitter feelings would be gone. No surprise there.
The surprise came just as I was about ready to leave. We were talking about some of the new products that the company was now producing and I discovered that they provide many of our surrounding communities with the "talking" walk signs, the ones that say "Walk Sign Is On." You know, like the one that talks to me at that intersection I have to cross as I walk to church. Then I am sure that God just smiled with joy at His orchestration of my "Everyday Things Lesson" when He saw my face as I was told by my old boss that it was his voice on the recording. I exclaimed, "No Way!" He laughed and said that he had raised his voice a couple of octaves, but that it was indeed him. I asked him to mimic the voice. He did sound like the voice coming out of the box at the intersection. I had been listening to my old boss every Sunday on my way to church and never knew it!
Needless to say when I drove home that day, I drove straight to that intersection, parked, walked to the "Walk Sign" button, pushed it, and listened to my old boss say, "Walk Sign Is On." But it was really my heavenly boss that I was listening to and learning from because I knew that God was telling me to put aside, not only my bitterness in this one instance, but all of the anger and frustration that I held onto in my life. God was reminding me every week as I walked to church that the "Walk Sign Is On" and it is my decision to walk forward in God's plan or to stay behind. When we allow God to teach us and watch for His creative ways, we can have fun and learn with a smile. I can't tell you how many times now that I have been out and about and pass an intersection only to hear the voice of my heavenly boss using the voice of my earthly boss to remind me that the "Walk Sign Is On." Now, each time I hear one of these talking pedestrian boxes, I take an internal look at myself, my relationship with others, and my relationship with God to make sure that I am not allowing my sin to interfere with my ability to walk forward with Him.
Our God understands that we naturally want to cling to our feelings of anger and bitterness and yet throughout His Word He encourages us to let go. In the first few verses of Hebrews 12, we are reminded that God has surrounded us with people that can build us up rather than pull us down and because of these people in history and people currently in our lives, we are to move forward. The first part of the verse says, "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,."(1) The use of the word "since" in this verse means that "because" of something, an action can follow. The previous chapter in Hebrews had just sited person after person who demonstrated that they had walked forward in life because of their faith in God. However, the chapter does not paint a picture of a perfect earthly life for those who are faithful to God. Many of the men and women listed struggled through physical hardships and mistreatment by others and yet they chose to keep walking forward in their faithfulness toward God rather than focus on the woes of what God was allowing to happen within their lives.
God has given us an historical list of people who have demonstrated that moving forward in life and in our faith is possible even amidst troubles. All of us should regularly consider the people within our lives who demonstrate that we do not have to live in a manner that holds on to the bad memories or events that occur, but rather the choice to walk through these tough times with our focus on God ahead of us instead of the events behind us. For some, this person might be a friend, a pastor, a parent, a sibling, or a co-worker. I personally can think of a woman at church who is in pain every day due to a bad car accident and yet, rather than being bitter toward God because He allowed the accident to happen, she radiates God's love toward others through friendship and concern which, as a result, gives me strength to do the same. I can think of a family who has lost their home and belongings due to national economic hardships. Rather than being angry at God for not opening up job opportunities that would have saved their house, this family daily sets an example of faith and trust as they depend on God to provide their needs on a daily basis. These men and women are modern day witnesses to the fact that faith in God gives the strength and peace to walk forward in life rather than muddle in the unhappiness of anger and bitterness. They give us a day to day example of a love for God that continues no matter what so that we may be encouraged to walk with God in our own day to day lives.
Each one of us will face difficult situations in life and it is only natural to hang on to the bad feelings that these situations provoke. However, our verses in Hebrews 12 continue by telling us that because we are surrounded by people both past and present who have set an example of "faith in God" even through the bad times, we can put aside everything that hinders us and persevere through life. God encourages us to put aside our anger, bitterness, hatred, impure thoughts, selfish ambition, envy, greed, quarreling, sexual immorality, and jealousy and instead fix our eyes on Jesus, the author of our faith. These verses in Hebrews tell us that because Jesus was focused on the joy ahead, He endured the suffering on the cross, dying for our sin. Like Jesus, let's focus on the joy that awaits us if we have faith in Him. Instead of standing at the intersection of life looking backward with bitterness at all of the rough roads we have had to travel, let's look forward to God's promises of peace and eternal life if we place our trust in Him. I still walk to church every Sunday and cross the intersection with the walk sign. My bitterness toward my old boss is behind me now, but God continues to use this talking walk sign weekly to remind me to put away my new roots of bitterness and sin that I am allowing to sprout in my life and instead place my focus on Him. Will you, along with me, put aside that sin of anger, bitterness, or whatever you are focused on that is not godly and instead walk forward in faith and trust in the God of the Universe? The "Walk Sign Is On."
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.