Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I was sitting in a bible study devoted to the topic of forgiveness.
A woman, who had been a Christian for most of her life, shared a story on the topic of forgiveness. It seems her neighbor’s dog routinely crossed over the property line into her backyard before crapping on her lawn. This had been going on for a few weeks. Although she addressed this many times with her neighbor, the crap continued. The day before, she had a few choice words with her neighbor.
“I know I have to learn to forgive him for his callous attitude,” she remarked with a sigh. “But it’s so hard!”
“You’ve been a Christian for how many years,” I thought, “and you’re still struggling with petty things like a dog crapping on your lawn?”
The study leader used the story to reiterate the importance of forgiving our enemies while reminding her that Jesus would do the same. He followed this by saying that, if she could learn to forgive him, then the Lord would surely bless her life (it’s always about the blessings for many). He then moved on to the next participant.
“Really? That’s it? No additional questions?? No probing deeper?!?”
And that’s when I began to struggle with forgiveness.
Studying vs. Doing
When I hear statements and stories like this, I have an intense urge to break out a whip and make like Jesus in the temple with the money changers. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t own a whip.
For starters, this little exchange highlighted the same problem in many churches throughout this country. There is a huge difference between studying and doing. Many Christians I have met spend a lot of time studying while doing very little.
The results speak for themselves. Here was a Christian of many years (e.g., not a baby) still struggling with something so mundane as a dog crapping on her lawn. If this is the worst offense she received that week, it’s fair to question what she is doing the rest of the week.
If knowing what is righteous was all that was needed to please God and love your neighbor, then the Jews would have sewn this whole salvation thing up long before Jesus was crucified. What do you do when the Bible says “do”, and you can’t?
And if you struggle to love your neighbor in spite of such a small offense, how are you going to love your true enemies, those who are proverbially throwing feces at your house?
Which brings me to the teacher. He wasn’t wrong, but he clearly wasn’t a teacher. Instead, he was a stand-in for the Pharisees, doing what they do and reciting what he read without adding any value.
“The Bible says…the Bible says…the Bible says…” Across this country, many preachers hold up a Bible while saying, “If you are serious about your faith, then you need to be grounded in the Word!” They are right, “so practice and observe everything they tell you, but do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Mt 23:3).
Grounding is accomplished by doing, much like driving a stake in the ground is accomplished by swinging a hammer. Neither is accomplished by reading about it. Doing reveals the need for a source of power to do what He commands. Doing reveals the unrenewed mind (Rom 12:2) and unregenerate heart (Je 17:9) which stands in the way of that power.
An outside observer of today’s Christianity could easily conclude that Christianity is a scholastic pursuit of a single resource (the Book) instead of a Person (Jn 5:39-40).
This, of course, is not true. Doing so reveals the difference.
The meditative journey
Let’s return to our struggling Christian friend. If I was the leader of this Bible study, I might have asked the following to some hypothetical answers.
“Why do you care if the neighbor’s dog craps on your lawn?”
“Because it’s rude! I spent a lot of time watering, fertilizing, and mowing that lawn!”
“Why did you spend so much time doing this?”
“Because I want it to look nice when my friends come and visit!”
“So the reward you’re seeking is their praise and admiration? In other words, the neighbor’s dog is ruining what you desire for yourself?”
After pointing out that we should seek the praise of God and not men (Matt 6:1), I would explore where her heart truly lies (provided she isn’t indignant at this point, which would be a common result to such questions). This exploration would lead to a prayerful confession, one that would not be, “Oh Lord, please cleanse me from my unforgiving attitude,” but rather…
“Lord, please cleanse me from the vanity associated with seeking the praise of those whose opinion I place above You.”
After this prayer, I would prescribe a simple remedy.
“When you go home, I want you to grab a scoop and shovel up the crap. Do this every day, without saying a word to your neighbor.”
“How long do I have to do this for?”
“Until you no longer have a trace of resentment in your heart. If you find any resentment as you do it, don’t deny it. Prayerfully repeat your confession and continue to forgive your neighbor while you shovel the crap.”
Although our dear Christian lady would likely grumble under such a prescription (“it’s so unfair!”), an amazing result might happen.
When her neighbor ventures outside and sees her shoveling the crap from his dog, his own heart will likely convict him (because nobody wants to be that guy). He might come over and extend an apology, expecting a bitter woman seething from injustice (a very human reaction).
Instead, he would find a woman with no malice or trace of resentment whatsoever. Not only is she forgiving of his callousness, but there is no anger because the meditation of shoveling crap has removed her resentment.
This surprising revelation may lead to a conversation, which may lead to the birth of a new relationship and another opportunity to spread the Gospel.
And if he doesn’t? No matter: our Christian woman will have matured as a result, far more than any Bible study can accomplish.
Got crap on your lawn?
Get a shovel.