Over the past couple Sundays, our pastor continued his teaching on the story of Daniel. We talked about the three men who were thrown into the blazing, fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar because of their unwillingness to bow to his golden idol, because of their steadfast obedience and loyalty to God. God showed these men mercy and they were miraculously rescued from the flames:
“So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!” (Daniel 3:26b-27).
Sometimes being mistreated by others feels like being thrown into a fiery furnace. One of the take aways from the message was this: God never promises that bad things won’t happen to us when we give our lives to Jesus, but He does promise us that we will not have to endure them alone.
I reflected personally on time’s past and God’s presence and comfort through death and people I have lost, financial struggles I have encountered, great disappointments, and failed expectations I had suffered… but, then I got to thinking about people. We all have people who may seem like Nebuchadnezzars in our lives, people whose behavior is toxic, dangerous, and unfair. There aren’t literal “golden idols” that we are asked to bow to in our culture or relationships, but I so think that there are other ways we are asked to compromise our loyalty to God out of the fear of rejection, punishment, or the anger of others.
Ever been treated unfairly by someone who won’t own their behavior?
Ever been lied to and made to believe that you are at fault?
Ever been gossiped about and betrayed by someone?
Ever been intentionally hurt without an apology?
Most of us can answer “yes” to these questions. Behaviors like these make us crazy and can tend to “stick” in our minds and hearts like thick tar. The faces of specific people and experiences may be flashing through your mind: failed or abusive relationships, past attempts at trying to help those in need, or even circumstances within your family that have led to pain and hurt.
This past week I have heard a couple statements from clients that really jumped out at me:
“My anger and unforgiveness holds them accountable for what they’ve done”
“I am a workaholic and perfectionist, but I believe that the ultimate form of revenge is massive success”
Please don’t judge these statements or the people who made them… we have all wrestled with grace, forgiveness, and learning how to respond to those who have hurt and abused us.
I do want to suggest that when we retaliate with anger and unforgiveness towards those who have wronged us, we are compromising our loyalty to God. In my own life, I know that I have chosen to bow to “idols” by trusting in my well-worn defense mechanisms. This causes me to elevate my desire for control above my desire to rely on God, failing to fully trust Him.
So, how do I respond rightly when I am wronged?
James 5: 7-9 says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”
In this scripture, I notice two ingredients for responding to the toxic behavior of others.
1. Establish your hearts
Often in scripture, the word heart, thoughts, and mind are used synonymously. Other translations say this: Stand firm, take courage, strengthen your hearts, don’t give up hope. The Greek word here is “stērizō” which means “to make stable or firm; to strengthen, fix or establish your mind; steadfastness; to stand. James is telling us how important it is to be persistent through suffering and trials, and to stand firm by fixing our mind on Christ.
I am not saying “just pray more, brother.” I am saying, practice recognizing when your thoughts are unestablished, chaotic, and filled with “what if’s” and “should’ve’s”. Then, intentionally take a stand against them by choosing to focus on the promises of God, His faithfulness in your life, and the comfort of His presence. No amount of toxicity can strip you of your ability to choose where you direct your thoughts. Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl makes this powerful statement: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
2. Be patient
Pastor Steven Cole says this- “Biblical patience is tolerant of the imperfections, faults, and differences in others. It gives the other person time to change and room to make some mistakes in the process. Paul lists patience as the first quality that describes love (1 Cor. 13:4). If you’re not patient, you’re not loving! It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Like all fruit, it takes time and effort to cultivate.”
Speaking from personal experience, suffering can be an invitation and opportunity to learn about how to love better and to grow in a greater measure of patience, if we allow it to be. This is not easy and it is not fun, but it can be one of the most powerful things we ever learn.
I want to end by revisiting Daniel chapter three. It says in verse 27 that when God rescued those men from out of the fire, “Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!”
It is possible for us to endure suffering and toxic behavior from others without coming out on the other side “smelling like” the tool they used to try to hurt us. King Nebuchadnezzar used a fiery furnace, but the tools of someone with toxic behavior are often harsh, manipulative, hurtful, and hateful words, damaging tones of voice, and physical intimidation.
Every time we chose to respond to toxicity with patience, steadfastness of mind, and love… we not only demonstrate our trust in and dependance on God, but we also strip these words, tones, and actions of power in our lives.
This can be a difficult thing to learn to do alone. If you want or need someone to walk with through the process of forgiveness and responding rightly to those who have wronged you, we have Christian professionals who desire to come alongside you and help guide and counsel you towards a place of freedom and healing.
* I want to be clear that I am not advocating for repair attempts or “enduring” in a relationship where perpetual physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse are occurring. I will never condone or support an abusive relationship. If you are being abused and need help, please call the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).