While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)
I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.” Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation. So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth? How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?
Stephen leads with forgiveness. He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw. He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy. At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he. He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.
Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it. Stephen is forgiving. It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring. That is acting out your faith.
Lord, help me to be forgiving. Teach me how to lead with forgiveness. Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others. Amen.