But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.1
One day, many years ago, I was driving down the parkway in my college town, having just purchased a fistful of comic books. I was ready to go hang out with my homeboys—the 90s had just ended you see—and talk about random works of fiction, when I noticed a lady with a sign on the side of the road. Immediately, my heart was convicted to do something, and oh, how I didn’t want to. I tried to read her sign, but there was simply too much writing on it, and it was too small. I wasn’t even in the far right lane to speak with her, so I ended up driving around the block, praying, telling God how much I really didn’t want to talk to this woman. I was terrified to, actually. But after another lap of bargaining, I just gave up. All that was left to do was to argue with God about whether I was going to give her my $10 bill or my $100 bill as I parked my car near the corner where she was standing.
God loveth a cheerful giver.2
Walking up to her, all I said was “Hello, Ma’am! How are you today? Is there anything I can help with?” And then, her story began. I’ll be honest with you, I rarely like the stories that people in difficult situations tell. I feel as though they’re trying to justify or convince me of something, but some people need to get it off their chest; so, I relaxed, opened up my ears and got ready. Then, in the midst of sharing with me all the problems she had, the story switched. She began to tell me about her multiple psychological disorders and red flags flew up. She began to tell me about her feelings of persecution and how she was taking a stand! She explained that she was trying to ask people if they knew any lawyers that could help or affordable non-government housing. This woman wasn’t begging at all, she was protesting!
Then Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.3
I told her that I couldn’t help her with any of that, but I could pray with her. Paul’s “such as I have I give you quote” was playing in my head vividly. And so, we prayed, standing on the corner across from McDonald’s holding hands and petitioning God, thanking him for his goodness. Once I had finished praying though, that’s when the ministering actually began. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. How many times had I gone into some distant city to help “poor Christless souls” and found the “Canaanite” or the “Centurion”—someone I had assumed did’nt know God—only to find that their faith dwarfed my own? Dwarfed. Albertina began to share with me the promises of God, one after another, with a smile, with confidence. This was not a demon-possessed woman. This was someone going through a tougher time than anyone I knew and was praising God vociferously.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.4
I didn’t argue quite so strongly when I was inspired to give her a ride back to where she was staying. As I parked at the place she was staying, which was almost in sight from the corner where she had been standing, she began the real stuff. The Holy Spirit stuff. She counseled me on the burden of guilt that I was carrying. I had told her nothing, but she explained to me that I needed to put it down and leave it there, instead of picking it back up, which, she correctly assured me, I do quite a bit. She said, “I forgive you” in such a way that I understood that God was saying it to me. She told me that I should go to church. A little voice followed behind hers saying ‘instead of just attending.’
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.5
After that, we went our separate ways. I pray for her every time I come across this story in my files. I have not always believed her message, but it started something in me about accepting Christ’s gifts that are just now flowering, some eight years later.
You may not need eight years. You may not need a Holy Spirit encounter on the side of the road with a homeless woman. Maybe you can learn from my story the easy way: You, my friend, have been forgiven. The consequences of your bad decisions are no longer held against you by God, and for many of you, aren’t even held against you by other human beings, even the people you’ve wronged. For some of us, it’s only us who hold ourselves as guilty, who want to work our guilt away to prove that we are not the person that our past actions may indicate.
It is exhausting and fruitless. Let me know if anything good has ever come out of you feeling guilty after you’ve confessed your sin. Until then, consider maybe that God is right about you being right and you are wrong about you being wrong. Now, I know some of us know how to feel guilty about feeling guilty and so all I can say is this:
I forgive you.
I forgive you.
I forgive you.