In the attic, I have a briefcase filled with every letter I’ve ever received from the time I was 13 years old until I began college. It has been with me through three states, five cities, and nine homes. Two weeks ago, I sat in my living room floor with that briefcase opened for the first time in ten years and started a trip down memory lane. In the case were letters from friends in middle school, relatives from out of state, and birthday cards from my parents. There were short stories and poems I had written, and old pictures I didn’t even know I had. While most of the letters brought back wonderful, happy memories, some of those letters brought me a tremendous amount of pain. There was one series of letters, in particular, from an old boyfriend whom I remember having treated very, VERY badly. I felt so convicted as I read his sweet words, remembering how I’d eventually responded. More than anything, I just wanted to tell him how sorry I was. But the sad thing is that I can’t. His phone number has changed, his parents no longer live at his old address, and he’s nowhere to be found on the internet (I know, I looked.)
Guilt is one of Satan’s most powerful tools against us. It tears us down and makes us feel dirty, ashamed, and contemptible. It strips us of our self-confidence and turns us against ourselves in self-loathing. One of the worst things about guilt is that there is usually nothing we can do to change what has been done. There is nothing I can do to take back the hurt and pain I caused the boy I treated so badly. I am not even able to contact him to apologize. Sometimes our sins can cause so much destruction that the entire life of another person is altered by our actions. What are we to do about this?
The first step to alleviating guilt is confession. We must take ownership for what we have done and confess our sins. The second step we must take is restitution. As far as we are able, we must make amends for what we have done. The third step is repentance. Repentance begins with prayer. In prayer, we uncover our motives for committing these sins and, once they are revealed to us, we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, asking for His empowerment in our lives that we might never sin in this way again. The first and last step are things that every believer is able to do. However, in many circumstances, restitution is not possible within our own abilities. When this is the case, we are often left with our guilt as we dwell on the hurt we have caused another person and our inability to make amends. I have often had to fight this feeling myself as I have remembered the boy (now man) whom I hurt so many years ago. Yet God has not left us powerless, even in this. When we are not able to make restitution within our own power, God has given us the ability to make restitution through HIS power. The answer lies in prayer.
“Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
When our sins have wreaked havoc in the lives of others, we have a promise from Jesus Christ that whatever we ask in His name (within His will), it will be done for us. It is never God’s will that anyone suffer – especially for our sins against them. When recompense is not within our own power, we have a biblical promise that if we will pray for those whom we have hurt, God will meet those prayers with action. God is called the “redeemer” 18 times in the Bible. The word “redeem” literally means “to compensate, or make amends for.” Another word for “compensate” is “requite” which is literally defined as: “to return something lost or stolen, usually through the fault of another.” Did you catch that? God is our redeemer! God has put Himself in charge of making amends for our mistakes when we can not make them for ourselves. God has made Himself personally responsible for returning what has been lost or stolen – even when it is our own fault!
Guilt has no place in the life of a believer. It is unforgiveness directed toward ourselves. While it is true that our sins can be incredibly harmful, self-loathing will not help us to put right the damages we have done. In fact, guilt will only take us further away from God and the power He has given us to affect change in the lives of those whom we have harmed. We have a biblical promise that God will redeem us of our sins when we confess and ask forgiveness. He has placed upon Himself the full responsibility of recompensing others for what we have taken, when we are not able to do it ourselves. He the compensation for our sins.
The Bible says that we must “take every thought captive to Christ.” As thoughts of guilt and self-condemnation enter our minds, we must use them to prompt us into prayer on behalf of those whom we have harmed. We must not sit around and think of how badly we’ve behaved, blaming ourselves for the harm we have caused, and partnering with Satan in self-condemnation. Instead, we must take those thoughts and turn them into prayers for those whom we have hurt, co-laboring with Jesus Christ to make things right.
If there is someone in your life who has been negatively affected by your actions, take this opportunity to pray blessings into their lives. If you have caused money problems, pray that God bless them financially! If you have caused emotional problems, pray God’s peace into their hearts! If you have caused bodily harm, pray healing over them! And if the person you have harmed has passed away, pray blessings over their family on their behalf. “All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Your sin may not have been the will of God, but He promises that He will use it to bring good into your life and the lives of others. Stand on that promise and pray accordingly.
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
And, Charles Roberts from Tennessee… if you’re out there, please know that I am praying for you.