Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press

Chapter 2


...Making Things Right

"...I strive always to keep my conscience
clear before men and God."
Acts 24:16

I always wanted to have a mustache. I heard somewhere in grade school that if you shaved your face, your beard would grow out dark and stubby. I think the argument was that a fellow ought to wait as long as possible before starting to shave. I took it quite the opposite. I gathered my dad's shaving mug, his chrome Gillette razor, locked myself in the bathroom and shaved off my imaginary beard. It didn't work. The fuzz merely regrew as fuzz.

Several years later when I was in seventh grade, my church youth group had a Halloween party. I had no outfit for the party that night. My friend John and I stopped off at the local J. J. Newberry's store on the way home from school to shop. Among the array of Halloween masks and outfits was a first rate stick-on mustache packaged in a nifty little plastic case. I could imagine myself with this mustache Friday night causing all the seventh grade girls to swoon. I tried it on. Somehow it made me feel taller, more manly, mature. The problem: I had no money.

I don't think I'd ever stolen anything before that. I slipped that little mustache in the right pocket of my school jacket and sneaked out to the street. I wore it to the party. The girls didn't swoon.

I had a hard time forgetting that mustache. I knew I was wrong, and that I should go back to the store, confess I had stolen the mustache, and pay for it. But I was afraid. I feared both the embarrassment and the penalty. A lady who worked at Newberry's attended the church where my Dad pastored. I figured she'd tell him, and my Dad would punish me like the thief I was. I conjured up all kinds of "worst case scenarios" endings. I kept remembering the large flier posted near the entrance to that store. It had a drawing of a teenager peering through the bars in a jail cell. Above his sad face were the words "Shoplifters go to jail."

I could visualize a whole newspaper spread on how nice teens -- even a preacher's son -- could go bad. I would be the illustration. Parents would whisper after church, "Doesn't it make your heart ache...you know, how the Drury boy turned out!" They would admonish each other, "Keep a tight rein on your kids or they'll turn out like the preacher's kid."

So I never went back. Each time I recalled my offense, I'd try to ignore it, excuse it, or dismiss it. At first I told myself I couldn't afford making things right. I simply didn't have the money. The mustache had already lost its stickiness, so returning it wouldn't suffice. I didn't want to get my friend John in trouble either. I figured they'd send him up as an accessory or something. Mostly I just put it off. I intended to make it right...eventually.

With time my conviction gradually disappeared almost forgot about it. Occasionally guilt would surface but I would dismiss it with comments like, "It was such a little thing," or, "Oh my, that was a long time ago." I graduated from high school and moved away to college, forgetting the little mustache. For the most part, that is.

Except that every time I'd hear about "restitution" I'd remember that little mustache. When I'd read about restitution in an article, or hear someone share a testimony about a restitution they had made, that mustache would come slithering back to haunt me. The mustache was always there, reminding me of an unmade restitution.

At a retreat two decades later, God convinced me of the necessity of this restitution. It was clear that I'd better fix it soon. I knew if I delayed much longer it would be more than foot dragging -- it would be outright disobedience, even rebellion.

Within a month I was in the area with my family. I loaded my five year old boy into the car and went to make restitution for what I had stolen 20 years before. I explained to my son what I had done and what I was about to do. Frankly, all the way to the store I was secretly hoping it had gone out of business. It hadn't. David was intrigued by this whole idea. He seemed to get a kick out of seeing his Dad be humbled.

After paying for the mustache, we returned to the car and headed out of town. My son had said nothing throughout the whole process. I could sense his mind whirling. As we drove up the entry ramp of the interstate, he turned and said, "You know, Dad, it would be better if you'd never take things like that...then you wouldn't have to go back like that."

I think he got the point. I know I got David's point!

Restitution is going back and making things right for things you took or the people you hurt. It is "restoring" to the original owner what is rightfully theirs -- property or respect and reputation. Restitution is returning a tool box taken from the company years ago. It is paying for a stack of office supplies you slipped out of the office without anyone's knowledge. It is paying taxes on unreported income you hid from the tax man. Restitution is large utility companies granting refunds because they illegally overcharged their customers. It is an airline giving rebates to travelers because they have been guilty of unfair competition. It is paying back in full for improperly gained money or property.

But restitution deals with more than property. It is also going back and making things right for hurtful things I've said or done. It's far easier for me to reveal my mustache story than to tell you of the difficult and painful times I've had to ask my wife, my boys, my boss, friends and secretary to forgive me. Restitution is asking forgiveness for harsh words, quick tongue, or cutting remarks. It is asking forgiveness from a brother you hurt, a mother you caused heartache to, or a former spouse which you maligned. Restitution is confessing and seeking forgiveness from an old business partner, neighbor, or roommate. It is admitting my past errors in relationships and humbly seeking forgiveness from the one I've hurt. And it's harder to make personal restitution than property restitution.

Restitution is a discipline in humility. Pride and restitution are incompatible. I'm afraid it's not popular. And it isn't easy. It is one of the most painful disciplines of the obedient life.

But it is biblical. It is the Christian way. Any who seriously seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ will walk the painful restitution path at times. Serious followers of the Master will hunger for an easily convicted, tender heart. They will thirst for a soft, easily pricked conscience. And they will act on these promptings, returning to the offended party to make things right. It's the Christian way.

Why Make Restitution?

What would possess a Christian to take such humiliating steps? Why have believers through history practiced this discipline? Are there any good reasons to put yourself through such a torturous experience? Yes. Here are seven good reasons to make restitution:

1. It's a matter of obedience.

More than fifteen times the Old Testament teaches restitution for followers of God. Jesus confirmed the idea in the New Testament, even recognizing restitution as one of the evidences that "salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). Not that making restitution can save a man or woman. Nothing we can do will bring salvation, except trusting Christ. But the Bible expects restitution to be the kind of thing you do if you follow God. It's consistent with all other teaching in Scripture. The reason we don't like it is not because it's unbiblical; it is because it is in total opposition to our pride. We hate to be humbled, embarrassed, humiliated. It goes against our nature. So, we would rather save our pride than make restitution. But the Word stands unrevised by our tardiness in obedience. The single best reason to make restitution is God said to do it. It's a matter of obedience (John 14:15).

2. Restitution reinforces personal happiness.

Obedience brings happiness -- not a silly, frivolous kind of giddiness, but a deep seated joy of knowing we are living up to what we've been commanded to do. We may have asked God to forgive us of theft or an interpersonal injustice and He has fully washed it away. Then why do we still feel guilty? It is horizontal guilt. Not vertical guilt from God. But we sense a some sort of unresolved blame from others.

When we leave a restitution unmade we add a load of guilt to the burdens of our daily walk. We feel guilty. Once we've made wrongs right, that load of horizontal guilt is lifted. We try to shoo our unmade restitutions into the dark recesses of our minds, but they will fly up periodically like night time bats from a cave. Once we've made that restitution we experience a new happiness and freedom in our lives. Then we wonder why we took so long to do it. You'll be a happier (and holier) person after you've made restitution.

3. Restitution releases you to greater service.

Unmade restitutions are like a great monkey on your back. Satan sidles up to your ear every time you try to do something for God. He whispers, "Where do you think you're going...we know what kind of person you are, remember how you..."

Take witnessing for instance. I know one fellow who is absolutely terrified of doing door to door soul-winning in the town where he lives. He has swindled so many people that he fears they'll say, "Who are you to be telling us about God?" When restitutions are all made, there is a new boldness to serve Christ in other areas.

4. Restitution removes another's stumbling block.

Has it occurred to you that another person may hold a grudge against you for what you said or did long ago? Have you ever thought that the offended person may be sour, bitter, and full of resentment over that "little thing" you did? To be sure, they are sinning. But are you not an "accessory" to their sin? Are you providing the opportunity for them to continue in sin? What would happen if you approached them to ask humbly for their forgiveness? What if they granted forgiveness to you? Could they then hold a grudge any longer? Your tardiness in making restitution may be placing a great stumbling block in another's path toward God.

5. Restitution releases you to teach others.

If you needed to advise another believer on the advantages of restitution, what story would you tell? My dad told me an unforgettable story of how he found among his tools a hatchet owned by the Church district where he had served years before. He told me how he rationalized it at first, but eventually sent it back to the new district superintendent. He could have taught 200 verses on restitution to me and it would not have moved me as much as his own personal story of an "unburied hatchet."

What story will you tell your children or your grandchildren? Do you have one? Have you never done a thing deserving of restitution? Not once? After you've made restitution for past wrongs, God often uses these experiences to help you teach others. Perhaps He is having difficulty restoring this discipline to the church because He has so few examples to use.

6. Restitution humbles you...

perhaps more than any other discipline of the Christian walk. And any time we are humbled -- reminded of who and what we are --it's good!

7. Restitution vaccinates the offended against future wrongs.

Nothing can guarantee you won't slip and fall again, but restitution comes close. The next time you are tempted to take something which doesn't belong to you, you will remember the past pain and humiliation of returning to make restitution. When you are about to let loose with a biting, sarcastic, hurtful remark, you may think of the embarrassment in store for you when you later must ask this person to forgive you. These thoughts tend to be "preventative medicine." A little pain now -- doing without or biting your tongue -- is preferable to the greater pain of restitution.

How to Make Restitution Wisely

Doing the right thing the wrong way may make things worse. Just as there is a collective wisdom about how to pray, read the Bible, or restore a backsliding brother, so there is sound sensible advice on how to make restitution.

1. Start with the key unmade restitution.

What is the thing God is pointing out to you? Don't try to copy other people's stories. Seek God first. He will impress on you where you should begin. It is sometimes the "biggest one." At other times it will be something minor. Seek His face: find out from Him where to begin. Don't be discouraged by the length of your list. Simply deal with each offense at a time. Many Christians have felt released by God after they've worked only part way through their list. Turn to God and ask Him to tell you where to begin. Then start there.

Perhaps a word of caution is in order about becoming obsessed with restitution. While it is an important discipline of the Christian life, it is not the exclusive one. If you have sought God's guidance and made a list, and are moving toward settling these past accounts, happily march on your way. God is not an angry ogre in the sky who wants to beat you over the head with your unfinished list. He simply wants you to get moving on the road of obedience. (1 John 1:7)

2. Prepare your speech.

Think through what you are going to say (Luke 15:17-19). Identify the basic offense. Was it harshness? A critical spirit? Disloyalty? Did you steal something? Would you call it unkindness, vengefulness, anger? Was it an outburst of rage? Label it clearly with one or two words. Then make up your speech. Say something like: "I was wrong in my ___(fill in the blank)___ toward you, and I ask you to forgive me; will you forgive me?" That's it, just a simple statement of confession and request. Anything more and you're liable to cause more problems than you solve.

And, if you're having trouble saying, "I was wrong," since they were wrong too, remember you are not affirming that they were right. You are simply asking forgiveness for the wrong that you are liable for. Their wrongdoing is their problem, not yours. So think through what you want to say carefully and prayerfully.

3. Pick the right time, place, and means.

Think through the best time to ask. Don't ask when the other person is exceptionally busy, tired, or irritable. Generally, the sooner the better, but don't be so hasty that you pick a poor time and place. Probably you should make restitution privately or at least off to the side of a group. Certainly you should limit the restitution to the offended parties.

A friend once told me of a young man who had taken advantage of a certain young lady. He felt so guilty that he decided to make restitution for his sin by confessing it to his whole residence hall devotional group. The girl soon transferred to another college. This was a foolish restitution. Restitution need be no more public than the sin. In fact I believe that direct restitution should not be made at all for past sexual sins. Gaining a clear conscience from God, perhaps making amends to another person as representative (such as a minister or counselor) is probably a better plan.

But, in most cases, direct restitution should be made. A note sometimes works fine, though seldom for a serious matter. A phone call, with the possibility of interchange, is usually better. A face- to-face encounter is often the best means. Use your head, get some advice from a Christian you respect, and do what seems best.

4. Don't combine witnessing with restitution.

Simply make your restitution and get on with life. If they inquire, answer their questions. Otherwise, don't advertise how spiritual you are now that you've come back to make things right. Restitution is not a soul-winning method. Occasionally mixing the two will work. Usually it will backfire, ruining both your restitution and your witness.

5. Give a full confession.

Come clean. Humans are always trying to make themselves look better, even while making restitution. For instance, we sometimes say, "You know, I've been thinking of how we were wrong when..." This way you both share the blame. Don't implicate them, just say, "I was wrong; will you forgive me?" Don't say, "I apologize," either. You apologize for minor misunderstandings and comments. When you were wrong say, "I was wrong; will you forgive me?" How easy it is to reduce the seriousness of our offense. Also, avoid saying, "I'm sorry." Of course you're sorry. So are they and everyone else -- that the whole thing happened. Being sorry is not enough. Simply say, "I was wrong; will you forgive me?"

Perhaps the easiest way of all to make a partial restitution is to say, "I didn't mean to..." When using this phrase we are really saying, "I'm such a nice person I would never imagine hurting another creature; my motives were absolutely pure, yet you were still offended, so out of the goodness of my heart I am coming to confess to you that I didn't mean anything at all." Nonsense! The offended person can't judge your motives. They were offended by your actions, not your motives. So say, "I was wrong; will you forgive me?"

We rebel against this discipline of restitution. Even after you've decided to do it, there is a tendency for self-protection and pride to creep in. But, with some good sense, sound advice, and a commitment to obey Christ in this matter, we can find the happiness of obedient living if we will determine to do it.

Restitution Life-Style

Ideally we're not supposed to be making lists for things we've done in the past. I think God wants us to keep our accounts short. When someone has something against us, we should go and make it right immediately -- even if we stand at a sacred altar offering up a holy sacrifice (Matthew 5:23-24). Ideally, as soon as we sense we have hurt someone we should return to them and make things right. The moment we recognize something we don't own is among our things we should return it at once. This is a restitution life-style...settling accounts immediately. After all, that's when it's easiest.

However, is this restitution life-style the ideal? Maybe not. Actually God's ideal is not needing to make restitution at all. It is making sure we never take things that are not our own -- this is the ideal. The ideal is growing in maturity to the extent we don't even say or do anything which hurts another person. This is the ideal. Certainly we can never be free from misunderstanding, even from having enemies. (Didn't Jesus experience this?) And we can't be guaranteed that a person will even grant their forgiveness. (If we have asked properly with the right attitude, we are free from then on.) But we do know this: we need not be doomed to a life of constant stumbling and falling, regularly doing things which require restitution. God's plan of transformation is far greater than this. To start with, we may need to clean up some past offenses. Then we may need to learn to keep our accounts short through a "restitution life-style." But eventually God wants to bring us to the place where we don't even need to make restitution...for we have obeyed Christ completely. For this day we all hunger and thirst.

Now what about you, my friend?

Can you think of any unmade restitutions? Are there things you took that were not yours? Are there people you've hurt who have something against you? Do you have a totally clear conscience?

Bible Study

  1. Exodus 22:1-8.

    What restitution were the Old Testament people required to make for each of the following offenses:

    -- Killing or stealing a sheep. (22:1)

    -- An ox. (22:1)

    --Damage done accidentally through a spreading fire or loose stock. (22:5)

    2. Leviticus 6:1-5.

    Most people make restitution on the basis of a 1:1 ratio. However, what is the requirement here? Why?

    3. Leviticus 5:16

    Is there any application of this principle to the "holy things" of today? What would these things be? To what do you think the 20% penalty clause might apply?

    4. Numbers 5:5-8.

    There may be a restitution you ought to make, but it is no longer possible to find the offended person or organization. In this case a person might make the restitution to a "close relative" as a representative of the aggrieved person. But, if one could not even locate a close relative, to whom is he to make restitution?

    5. Deuteronomy 22:13-19.

    Most popular thinking about restitution relates only to property rights. In this section of scripture there is an enlarging of the idea of restitution to what other area?

    6. Luke 19:1-9.

    Tax collectors during the time of Jesus were a hated lot. The Roman system of revenue collection provided for independent tax collectors and chief collectors who bid for the "business" in their region. They frequently charged far more than the legitimate rates keeping the extra for themselves. Zacchaeus was chief among this despicable lot and had likely cheated many of his fellows over the years. Upon meeting Jesus his heart was burdened by his past wrongs, and he determined to make things right. His restitution was two-fold: both general and specific.

    -- What general restitution did he make? (vs. 19:8a)

    -- Why might Zacchaeus have made this general restitution?

    -- To what specific restitution did he commit? (vs. 19:8b)

    -- How does Zacchaeus' specific restitution compare with what the law required for financial fraud in Leviticus? (Leviticus 6:5)

    -- What was the observation which Jesus made upon hearing these declarations?

    7. Matthew 5:23-24.

    The importance of praise and worship is vital to the Christian. To the Jew it was especially important. Offering a gift up on the altar was the supreme act of devotion and duty. Few would imagine any higher duty.

    -- However, which activity does Jesus prefer here: worship or interpersonal restitution?

    -- Does this principle apply when a brother is holding something against you unjustifiably?

    8. Personal application

    -- Is God convicting you about a restitution you need to make? Is there something you took, or an offense you inflicted which you sense God would have you make right? Be careful to avoid working up something on your own. And don't attempt to copy another person's restitution story. The question is what is God saying to you? If He is prompting you about some areas, list them in the following space. If God is tenderly tapping on the door of your conscience, don't ignore His gentle prodding. If you never make a list, you'll probably never make the restitutions either. Is there something you ought to make right? List those candidates for restitution here. If they are private matters, use some sort of code or abbreviations which only you understand, or even use another sheet of paper.

    9. Personal Reflection.

    What is one thing you could and should do in response to the truths you have discovered in this chapter?

    -- An action to take:

    -- A promise to make:

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
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 To contribute to the thinking on this issue or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu