PAY IT FORWARD
“Pay it forward” is a brilliant movie about a twelve-year old boy, Trevor, whose school project set by a new teacher at the school, was to do something that would change the world. Trevor’s plan was to do a good deed for someone with the instruction that the recipient “pay it forward”, doing a good deed in return, not to his benefactor, but to three other people in his world who needed help.
Trevor’s plan, though both simple and effective, seemed to stall, leaving him discouraged and disillusioned. However, on his untimely death in the school playground at the hands of a bully from who he was trying to defend a fellow student, hundreds of people turned up at his mother’s home to mourn his loss and to report how his “project” had affected their lives.
God has a “pay it forward” project hidden in His instructions for living the best life. We call these instructions the Ten Commandments but they are actually a part of His marriage contract with His people which He gave them when He proposed marriage to them at Mount Sinai. We will not easily recognise His “pay it forward” principle until we understand something of God’s heart and ways.
One of His imperatives is to “honour your father and mother” so that you will live long in the land God gives you. For many children, this is a difficult if not impossible instruction because they come from broken or dysfunctional homes. Even those have had a relatively uneventful childhood will admit that their parents were not perfect. Every child carries the scars of abuse, neglect or other unwise treatment from their growing-up years. How is it possible to honour parents who have inflicted great damage on a young soul? Is God so unrealistic or idealistic that He expects hurting people just to “forgive and forget”?
God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He is not setting the standard so high that we will never reach it. He has something else in mind, necessary, simple and effective. As far as the past is concerned, He has one prescription for dealing with the damage – not psychiatrists, counsellors, medication or therapy, none of which deal with the root. God’s way is forgiveness. “Cancel the debt and let it go,” is the only effective way to get rid of the baggage of the past.
Why does He insist we forgive? For two reasons: firstly, Jesus paid the debt of all the sin of all people for all time. To hold bitterness, resentment and hatred in our hearts is to negate what Jesus did and put ourselves in the way of judgment. If we refuse to forgive, our sin remains unforgiven.
Secondly, we forgive, not because we must but because we may. Forgiveness sets us free from destructive emotions that threaten both our bodies and souls. Without the death of Jesus to take care of sin, we would have no possibility of forgiving others. We would have to carry our burden to the end of our days. However, He has dealt with the debt of every human being who ever lived and who ever will still live. In spite of whatever anyone has said or done to us, they owe us nothing. Forgiving them frees us from carrying the load.
So, what has this to do with honouring our fathers and mothers? God is more concerned about the future than the past. How we treat our own offspring is more important than how our parents treated us. As far as God is concerned, our past has ceased to exist. All we need to do is let it go. Holding onto bitterness will cripple us and rob us of becoming real sons and daughters of our Father.
We are not responsible for what our parents did to or for us in the past. We are responsible and accountable to God for the way we raise the next generation. We have a choice to make. Are we going to perpetuate the sins of our fathers or are we going to start a new way of living in our families. If we continue to punish our children for our failure to forgive, who will stop the rot and who will teach them the ways of the Lord?
There is another unexpected benefit for us when we bring righteousness back into the family. Those around us will reckon that we must have had godly parents who taught us to walk in God’s ways. Here is the real evidence of honouring our parents. Instead of shining the light on their flaws and failures, we release them and bring honour to them for giving us life and the privilege of giving life to the next generation whom we will guide in and teach the ways of the Lord.
Instead of damaging ourselves by trying to pay our parents back for short-changing us in life, we pay it forward by giving our children the best we can. There is no better heritage for any child than the love, acceptance and affirmation of his parents. Whoever and whatever they are, it is the role of a father and mother to love unconditionally, to accept their children for themselves and not for what they can or cannot do. We are to honour and respect them as God’s gift to raise and send out into the world to pay it forward so that others may see Him in them and come to believe in Him.
But the principle of “paying it forward” works equally well in our relationships with others around us. We live in a “you owe me” or an ”I am entitled to” generation. It’s all about what we can get out of others. Instead of expecting to be repaid for every good deed we do for another, why not adopt a new way of living? Paying it forward means that we expect nothing from the one we have helped. Instead, the kindness is passed on to an unexpected beneficiary who passes it on to another.
Imagine the ripple effect of deeds of kindness that bring joy to the giver and gratitude to the recipient who, in turn passes on the same possibility on in an ever-widening circle! How much better than keeping the good deeds going back and forth between two people.
Jesus put it like something like this, in the words of Eugene Peterson (The Message):
Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. (Matt. 7: 12).