FROM THE VERTICAL TO THE HORIZONTAL
Empowered to Relate to People God’s Way
by Rose Noland*
FIRST THINGS FIRST
…There’s a lot in this book about developing basic people skills. However, as important as they are in relating to people, they are not enough. We need God’s wisdom, power, strength, grace, and love to relate to others in the way God asks. Let’s get real. Many, if not most, people are hard to deal with. We are all selfish, born with that inherited sinful nature from Adam and Eve. The only way we can have meaningful relationships with others and to fulfill the second greatest commandment of loving others is to be inextricably connected to our Lord. We must have a love relationship with Him before we can truly love others with a godly love. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying our relationship with God has to be perfect before we start fulfilling the second commandment. What I mean is that we must first have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. He is the One who loves other people through us. It is supernatural. It is His divine power that enables us to love the unlovely. It is only through His divine power that we can love as He loves. This truth is the premise of this whole book, so you will see it frequently throughout these chapters, so let me take a bit of time to explain….
At the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior, He gives us a new godly nature (2 Cor 5:17). That new nature is what gives us the capability of living a godly life, of loving God and others (see 2 Pet 1:3-4). Once saved, we have the ability to relate to others as Jesus did. This is an exciting and vital truth to understand. As the divine nature within us grows through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, so will our knowledge of how to relate to others. We already have everything we need to relate to God and others at the time of our rebirth in the proper way. Therefore, it is a matter of learning how to appropriate it, to make it real in our everyday lives. There is no other way to love as God commands (first and second greatest commandments)…. We need Jesus not only to save us from hell, but to live a holy life. God is not asking us to follow His commands in our own strength, but in His strength. He is asking us to let Him do it through us: from the vertical to the horizontal.
In fact, we already have a picture of this concept beautifully illustrated in the cross: the vertical beam represents our relationship with God; the horizontal beam represents our relationships with people. This cross analogy gives us four important truths in regard to relationships:
- Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is what makes it possible to have a relationship with God and godly relationships with people.
- When our vertical bond is firm and secure, our horizontal interactions also have stability. Without the vertical beam of the cross securely positioned in the ground, the horizontal beam has nowhere to go—except fall to the ground. Therefore, right relationships with others can only happen when we are in a right relationship with God. If we’re off in our relationship with God, our interactions with people will be affected, and vice versa. The closer we are to God the better able we will be to relate to others.
- We are to remain at the foot of the cross indicating the humility we are to have before our God and others (Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3-4).
- The cross represents a picture of what we should do—die to self (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:1-3). Loving and relating properly with God and others will sometime require a sacrifice of our wants and needs. Although this is difficult, the rewards far outweigh the cost. Think of it this way: it is our new Christ-like nature that is (or should be) doing the relating. Our sinful nature cannot relate to God or others rightly (God’s way). We need God’s power and wisdom. And the only way to get that is by surrendering ourselves to God.
FORGIVING EACH OTHER
Forgiveness, what a critical topic! It is the crux of the matter—literally. Without forgiveness there is no relationship possible with God and no truly close relationships with people. Many are not even aware they are harboring unforgiveness in their hearts, and those that do just can’t seem to forgive the wrongs done against them. Unforgiveness has permeated our society. Why? Because forgiving is hard to do. Therefore, it’s a message that needs to be repeated even though many authors have thoroughly written on this subject. We always have to deal with offenses in this fallen world. If this is an area in which you have already had significant victory, then view this chapter as a good review. If not, maybe it will encourage you to apply these freeing truths to your life. Or perhaps this will indeed be a fresh look for you at what forgiveness God’s way looks like. Personally, I need reminding of these truths for I am always falling short in some way. They are principles we will use day in and day out—that is, until we’re in heaven where no more wrongs will be committed against us or by us.
REASONS TO FORGIVE
Aside from being so hard, there are several reasons we don’t forgive. For one, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t. Secondly, many people think it’s not possible to forgive certain atrocities, nor are they expected to do so. In a lot of cases though, people are simply unwilling. Providentially, there are a lot of good reasons to forgive.
- God commands it.
Not forgiving someone is a sin. This is the first thing we must understand and accept. God is God. What He says goes. If for no other reason, we should forgive because our obedience is His just due.
- Unforgiveness destroys relational intimacy with God.
Since unforgiveness is a sin, it breaks our fellowship with God. This is the biggest incentive I have to obey God in this area. I have experienced the sweetness of His presence and don’t want anything to stop or prevent that.
- Unforgiveness destroys relational intimacy with others.
When we love someone, we want to be in harmony with them. When a wrong (big or little) is done by either party, it immediately places a strain on the relationship. There is a sense of uneasiness, a lack of peace and rest. When Ed and I were at odds with each other I was miserable until the matter was addressed….
- Unforgiveness prevents relational intimacy.
Holding something against someone hardens our hearts….
- Unforgiveness leads to resentment and bitterness.
This is a biggie! It is a proven fact that bitterness causes emotional and physical health problems. Unforgiving people don’t realize that it doesn’t accomplish what they want—to payback or inflict pain on their offender. It only continues to cause them more pain, as well as those around them.
- Unforgiveness is a stumbling block to further spiritual growth….
On the positive side:
- Forgiveness restores peace and joy in our hearts.
- Forgiveness brings healing into the life of the offended and possibly the offender….
- Forgiveness increases our fellowship with Christ….
- Forgiveness brings great glory to God and furthers His Kingdom.
Forgiving the unforgivable demonstrates the power and love of Christ. Only a very hard heart is not affected by this kind of forgiveness. It could lead someone to Christ in salvation or a backslidden Christian to return to living rightly. It is also a great encouragement and model to all believers.
So when you find yourself in a place where you just can’t seem to forgive, then turn the word forgive around: give for Jesus’ sake.
- Forgiveness frees us from bondage so we can live the abundant life.
Forgiveness releases us from negative emotions that control our lives. Subsequently, we’ll be able to live with increased peace, joy, and fulfillment.
I tried it my way and I was miserable. As I learned how to forgive, what freedom and peace it brought to my soul! Harboring unforgiveness just isn’t worth it!
…HOW TO FORGIVE
We’ve looked so far at the reasons we should forgive and some of the essential truths surrounding it. Now we move on to the manner. First, consider that “forgiveness is not a method to be learned as much as a truth to be lived.”[iii]
From the Vertical to the Horizontal
The only way we can forgive is because God first forgave us. If you have not accepted the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, you cannot forgive in the manner God desires. You cannot give what you do not have. True forgiveness can only come at the foot of the cross. You must put the old nature where it belongs—on the cross crucified with Christ. Your new self, divinely empowered, is the one who is able to forgive—even the “unforgivable.”
Think this through with me. The old sin nature has been made ineffective at your rebirth (remember our discussion in chapter one). Picture that sin nature as dead (Rom 6:11). A dead man cannot retaliate, nor can he forgive. But your new self is like Christ who didn’t retaliate. Instead, He entrusted Himself to the Father and forgave. Therefore, you can forgive like Jesus through the power of the Father. Also consider that a dead man cannot hold on to anything, including unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness. Neither can the divine nature within you hold onto these sinful attitudes because it goes against its nature. You choose whether you will live like a dead person or like Christ.
Get the Right View about Offenses….
Don’t Assume the Worst….
Remember and Apply the Essential Truths about Forgiveness
Knowing the truths mentioned above is only the first step. They are not beneficial unless you apply them….
*Copyright © 2012 Rose Noland All Rights Reserved
It all began the year that I published my first book, Our Knowable God. It was a bittersweet year because before it was even published in April of 2012, a very close friend of mine and I had a falling out due to a huge misunderstanding. While working through the pain and determining how I was to respond and attempt reconciliation, I journaled many of my feelings. On at least two occasions I wrote, “I wonder if God is telling me to write the sequel to my first book.” However, I quickly dismissed the idea. After all, I have had far too many broken relationships, I don’t have any training in psychology or counseling, and there were already a plethora of books on relationships. What could I possibly add?
Well, in the middle of the night on July 4th, I woke up and once again my mind turned toward my broken friendship. As I was thinking through the situation, my incredible Lord gave me the entire foreword and introduction to the book! I couldn’t go back to sleep and decided I had better get up and write it down. I realized very quickly this was God commissioning me to write the sequel. At that point, I had a choice—to say “no way” again or obey. God had very clearly communicated to me that this was His will. And there’s really no place I’d rather be than in the dead center of His will—even if it means difficulty.
So the next day I began. Writing a book can be a long, tedious process. Determining which topics to cover and producing an outline are not the easiest tasks. Then, of course, there’s the research. Personally, I love studying the Bible and writing down the insights my God gives me, reading books on the topic, and rereading my journals and revisiting past Bible studies. What I find the most difficult is trying to organize it all in a clear, coherent way that my readers can understand. What do I put in and what do I leave out? (That’s the hardest part for this verbose person!) After I researched and gathered all my thoughts for a particular chapter, I’d sit there and cry out to my Lord, “Ok, now what?” I am often clueless as to how to begin or continue. Sometimes, after writing the first draft of a chapter, I would sit back amazed at how the Lord put it all together! Many times it didn’t come right away, and I had to persevere through it. I often found myself discouraged or distracted. I frequently had to say to myself, “Focus, Rose! Stop getting up to do something else or pour another cup of coffee.” I am so glad God clearly told me to write this book because otherwise, I would have quit.
One time, in particular, was especially rough. I was working on the love chapter. Love is such a difficult topic to cover because of its importance, scope, complexity, and typically misunderstood subject matter. I had done a good amount of research and writing when my work vanished from the computer! Oh, I was so dismayed! I immediately called a friend who’s a computer whiz, but even he couldn’t retrieve it. On the way home from his house, I had a good talk with my Father. “Lord,” I said, “You are in control of all things. For some reason You allowed me to lose all my work on this chapter. I am going to choose to believe that You will help me remember and reconstruct those thoughts that You want in this chapter. What I don’t remember is not meant to be in there. Even if it appears that all this effort was wasted, I refuse to believe that lie. No time spent in Your Word or contemplating Your magnificent truths could ever be counted as unproductive.” Perhaps the loss of the chapter was Satan’s doing; losing the chapter so completely like that made no sense. Even so, what Satan may have meant for evil, God meant for good. Chapter 13, “Loving Each Other,” turned out to be my personal favorite in the book. More importantly, I believe it will truly help others get a grasp of what loving people God’s way looks like.
Another challenge I ran into was the actual publishing of the book. I was expecting it to go more smoothly since I was working with the same company. Not so! I had many more glitches this time around than in my first book. It definitely tried my patience with people. Unfortunately, I failed on several occasions. I’m so glad I serve a merciful and forgiving God!
All in all, the amount of time from start to finish, including publishing, was just under two years. That’s a miracle—at least for me. I felt an intense pressure and a sense of urgency to get the book done. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was God’s way to keep me motivated to stay the course when it got hard. Outside of teaching a weekly Bible study and discipling a few women, all I did in 2013 was work on this book. Every spare moment I had was spent on writing. I was consumed with the project. At one point the Lord had to reprimand me when it interfered with my relationship with Him. One would think that a clear mandate from God could never become an idol; after all, I was serving God and doing His will, wasn’t I? However, ministry must never come before our relationship with our King and Master. I am grateful for His rebuke. Happily, my drifting didn’t last long.
What I have learned from the writing of this book is incalculable! The Lord showed me several blind spots which explained why I had some relational problems and caused myself (and others) needless pain. I have been able to restore several estranged relationships including the one with my dear friend. The principles He taught me significantly increased my ability to relate to people correctly and enjoy life fully. It is my prayer that this book will help others to do the same!