"Do not say, 'Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.' " Proverbs 24:29
"I owe you one." This simple, phrase can carry two totally different meanings in contemporary culture. It is often expressed on an occasion when someone has done a good deed to us. Sensing a genuinely benevolent urge to return the favor ASAP, we say, "I owe you one." It is not a threat, or a promise to payback an offender for an offense suffered at their hands. It is an acceptable response to a gesture of goodwill. It is a gentle reminder to us that we are indebted to people who invest in us.
On the other hand, we sometimes use it when a resentful, malevolent spirit sets in, after we have suffered an offense. After the dirty deed has been done to us, we may be powerless to do anything about it. We may appear to the casual observer, or to our offender to have the grace to rise above the offense, at that point in time. This does not mean we have forgiven or forgotten about it. It just means, we can wait. Uttered under our breath, or written down as a mental promisory note, it warns of the wrath to come. Don't be shy. Say it loud. Say it proud. "I owe you one."
Offenses are often so unexpected, or of such consequence that a swift reaction is not in order or even possible. Those who are adept at collecting IOUs know the proper payback to the offender often requires dedicated preparation and deliberation. Initially, there a sweet satisfaction in the anticipation of the justice that will be delivered to the one who has given us a piece of their mind, stolen a piece of our property, or treated us like a piece of dirt.
Don't be deceived. This sweet, satisying feeling never lasts. Sinking your teeth into revenge leaves a bitter after taste. Prolonged chewing on something that makes you want to vomit, rarely improves the flavor of it. Trust your gag reflexes. Spit it out. Collecting IOUs creates ravenous hunger for vengeance that will eat out your heart. Chasing down people you intend to payback will rob you of your health.
God has a better plan. He desires His children to lead a debt free life. Prayer enables you to bring your IOUs to Jesus and to let Him settle your accounts. It is not a matter of letting someone get away with what they did to you. Prayer is all about letting go of what your IOUs are doing to you. Letting go of a debt does not mean someone is getting away with what they have done. It just means that prayer allows you to turn over the responsiblity of payback to the proper authorities.
Jesus set out the citizenship standards of His Kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. He was speaking to a gathering of powerless, and abused people whose country had been invaded. They were living under the power of an evil empire, and being victimized by occupying soldiers, political sellouts, blood sucking tax collectors and religious hypocrites. The crowd was filled with people whose resentments to their condition ranged from nationalistic zealots filled with rage to the victimized peasants who had little hope for survival. It was not a pretty picture. Jesus challenged them to rise above their debt-ridden lives and become investors in a new Kingdom.
"You have heard that it was said, "AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42
Are you kidding me? Jesus called for His citizens to be known as investors, not debtors. His Kingdom would not be built on revenge or paybacks. His people would not be known as passive aggressive victims or stingy, selfish hoarders. They would not be borrowers. They would be givers. He spoke these words to people who lived in a country that was looked upon by the political powerhouse of the day as the backwater of the Roman Empire. They were called upon to live as citizens of His new Kingdom, not to fight for survival in the old one. His words had to be shocking and revolutionary to people who had focused their hope in life on the possibility and promise of a political change agent coming to their rescue. They wanted someone who was going to drive the Romans into the sea, not lead them to carry their baggage to the beach. Turning the other cheek did not sit well with men who intended to stab the next Roman soldier in the back. His words probably seem just as obscure today to people struggling to make sense out of the chaos around them.
Paul underlined the words of Jesus to the church at Rome, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord. 'BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:17-21
"Never" is a powerful word. It is about as restrictive,emphatic and all inclusive as any word can be. Paul uses it twice to set Christ followers on notice. Get the point? Step back from your collection of IOUS and give God the elbow room to do something about them. Taking matters into your own hands only postpones what God intends to do when you get out of the way.
In a state of prayerlessness these words always sound a bit harsh? Prayer will improve your appreciation for them like nothing else will. When you get slapped in the face by an offender, your head usually turns in another direction. Use it as an opportunity to turn your eyes upon Jesus. It has probably been a while since your last conversation. Use the offense as a chance to get caught up on how things have been going.
God has Jesus seated at His right hand. His Son has been assigned the task of receiving reports from you on what others have done to you. Don't be surprised if Jesus, The Intercessor, calls upon you to enter into a personal debt solution program. This will involve PRAYback, but never PAYback. Based on the prayer life of Jesus, you will be dropping the sinister use of the phrase, "I owe you one." Jesus prefers, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." You will discover that PRAYback is better than PAYback. Don't get me wrong. It is harder to hate those you pray for, not impossible, just harder. Pray for them anyway. They need it, and you need the practice.
Collecting a backlog of IOUs is a result of prayerlessness. Hiding what you owe to others from the eyes of Jesus does not release you from your debts. It raises your debts to the next level, and provides you no hope of release from them. Holding on to IOUs is a form of self-incarceration in a self-made debtor's prison. God never intended to serve as the warden of a prison built with your own hands, but He does have the power to release you from it. Prayer provides the release you need from the prison bars built by every IOU that you still hold in your hands.
Remember, letting go of the IOU does not mean God is letting someone get away with anything. It just means you have let go of the offense and placed it in His hands. He is the one who will deal with the person who inflicted it. Prayer gives God elbow room to do what He does best. He longs to release you from debts you hunger to PAYback. He releases you from your personal debtor's prison when you PRAYback those you once wanted to PAYback. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!
Gary Miller, TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Ministries
c/o The Whitefield Project 3717 Mossbrook Drive FTW, TX 76244