More than once someone has said to me, “I don’t share about Jesus at work because I am so imperfect. I say things I shouldn’t say, sometimes I do things I shouldn’t do.”
I’m reminded of what St. John Chrysostom said in his 20th Homily on Acts, “Nothing can be more chilling than the sight of a Christian who makes no effort to save others. Neither poverty, nor humble station, nor bodily infirmity can exempt men and women from the obligation of this great duty. To hide our light under pressure of weakness is as great an insult to God as if we were to say that He could not make His sun to shine.” The Great Commission is also a Great Commandment, we are called to make disciples...which, when you think about it, goes much farther than proclaiming the Good News - we don’t just speak to others and leave it at that, we are called to make disciples and teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:18 - 20).
I think that there are few opportunities to witness at work that are as powerful as asking another person for forgiveness. To do this requires that we humble ourselves before God and before others, it requires that we acknowledge our wrong, it requires that we trust God for the results. In a society filled with vitriol and the equivalent of MAD (mutual assured destruction) in relationships, the Christian who seeks peace and reconciliation shows the world a better way. This is an act of obedient faith, and it is also a choice not to compound the wrong and sin by ignoring it or justifying it. The more we justify our sin the harder our heart and conscience become and the greater distance we create between ourselves and others...not to mention relational between ourselves and God.
In asking forgiveness we must not minimize what we have done, nor should we acquiesce when others seek to minimize it. We should not accept it when someone says, “Oh, that’s ok,” concerning a wrong we have done - it is not okay.
I recall losing my patience and speaking sarcastically to one of my managers over the telephone. After the call, as I pondered what had transpired, I realized that I was wrong, that I had not treated her with respect, that I had been inconsiderate. When I called her back and apologized and asked her to forgive me she said, “Oh, that’s ok.”
I said, “No, it’s not ok for me to talk to you like that and I’m asking for your forgiveness.”
You see, in our society people often talk to each other in hurtful ways, to the point that some people think they deserve to be talked to disrespectfully. I knew that this woman had been in relationships characterized by disrespect and that her sense of identity had been shattered; I had even been working with her to think Biblically about herself in Christ - the last thing she needed was for me reinforce old patterns. I needed her to acknowledge that I had sinned against her for both our sakes.
Another example I’ve shared over the years occurred when I was CFO of a firm. I got into a heated phone argument with a commercial tenant and we loudly hung up on each other. As soon as I slammed the receiver down I knew I had sinned in my attitude and anger (yes, yes, I know there is godly anger but this wasn’t it). I immediately called the person back, apologized, and attempted to work out our differences. Then, after the second conversation I went out into the hallway and walked up and down it, going into each office, apologizing for my heated conversation and actions which everyone had to have heard.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes it takes me a while to get the message that I was wrong. Once it took me a few weeks to realize I was wrong, and then I had to pray about how to seek reconciliation - for while the problem occurred over the phone, I knew that it couldn’t be repaired over the phone, it was too “high wire”. I invited the person to lunch, and drove about 90 minutes for the appointment. I apologized, the other person apologized, it was a good lunch and from that point on we had a good relationship.
I think that when others know we are followers of Christ, and when we take our discipleship seriously, that our testimony holds us accountable for our actions; it doesn’t mean that we always get things right, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our selfish times, it certainly doesn’t mean we are perfect - but hopefully it does mean that when we sin, when we wrong others, when we are selfish; that we repent, ask forgiveness, and seek reconciliation. After all, our lives are to be about Jesus Christ and not about ourselves. We really do have a better way to live, a better way to share.
For myself, there have been times when asking forgiveness has been like walking off a cliff into air; but I’ve known that I needed to do it...and Christ has always been there for me, and He’ll be there for you too. We are called to faithful obedience, we are called to be agents of reconciliation.