Forgiveness is a word I hear often in the counseling setting. “I know I need to forgive so-and-so…” or “I could NEVER forgive so-and-so…” I understand every angle of forgiveness from my client’s perspective when they are speaking from pain, hurt, anger, and betrayal. Forgiveness is not a natural instinct when we have been hurt. I find there is a misconception about forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean you have to reconcile the relationship.
I often hear, “well, I thought I had forgiven them. How do I know when I have truly forgiven?” Forgiveness is not an easy accomplishment, again it is more natural to seek revenge.
Asking forgiveness from those you have hurt, forgiving those who have hurt us, and asking our Creator for forgiveness, this is how we set ourselves free. Forgiveness is what sets us free from guilt, from shame, from regression. Harsh words, sticks and stones, gossip, betrayal, abuse, slander, abandonment…the list of transgressions against us and against others is truly limitless. How have you been hurt and hurt others? Why do we do this to others? Why is forgiveness so difficult when we effortlessly demand it of God? The answers to all of our questions are in black and white written throughout the Bible. In Luke 11:2-4, The Lord’s Prayer: we are taught how to pray for forgiveness and how to pray to be led away from temptations. It’s my desire as a counselor for all of my clients to experience freedom through healing. Part of this process often involves forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and accepting God’s grace and new mercies. I want us to reflect upon our own hearts and relationship with God to make a change in ourselves for God, to strive for righteousness, and to set our souls free.
The definition of forgiveness according to Webster’s Dictionary is to give up resentment; to grant relief from payment; to cease to feel resentment against an offender. Are we mad at someone because they took a stab at our ego or they have humiliated us through belittlement? The first step in forgiveness is to humble ourselves by opening our minds to the possibly of forgiveness. The second step is to know and understand forgiveness is a process.
Sometimes we truly believe we have forgiven someone only to experience a flood of emotions when their name is mentioned. When the feelings of hurt or anger flood us again, we need to then seek God through prayer to help us to forgive this person, to release us from feelings of resentment. Matthew 6:14-15 clearly states, “For you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” This is the seriousness of forgiveness. Without forgiveness our prayers to God for repentance fall on deaf ears.
It is only through forgiveness of others that God will forgive us.
Let’s think about this: If God can gladly forgive us of tens of thousands of sins over our lifetime who are we to hold a grudge or deny someone forgiveness for their harmful words or deeds? If we are to strive to be more like Christ what could possibly be more Christ-like than to have the power of forgiveness! Matthew 5:21, “Do not murder. And anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” God judges anger and unforgiveness equal to murder.
On judgement day you were convicted of murder? As you try to defend yourself God lists the times you walked life with bitterness or anger all rooted in unforgiveness? What if God accused you of murder through slander? …through gossip … through anger … all as a result of bitter unforgiveness?
The question quickly becomes is this murder, suicide, or both? When we walk in unforgiveness day-in and day-out the result of our words and behaviors is death. It has a lifelong and eternal impact on our soul. A powerful scripture is Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
PAUSE and sit in this deep thought for a while.
Why do we struggle so much with forgiveness? A large part of our struggle is founded in the fact that society views forgiveness as being weak. You have heard things like “I will never forgive him” and your initial thought is “that’s right! Prove to him how tough you are! Stand your ground!” Society applauds being tough. Society encourages revenge seeking. But as Christians we are called to be different from the world. The bible encourages forgiveness and views it as strength and honorable. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Proverbs 10:12
CHALLENGE: When you forgive someone, never bring it up again to the other person or to yourself and no gossiping to others about the situation (Matthew 7:22). It is hard to speak forgiveness and to truly walk away. The ability to forgive and let go frees you from the chains of bitter unforgiveness.
So how do I find forgiveness?
Prayer. Prayer is our lifeline to God. We do not have the ability to pick up a phone and call God or to send Him a quick email. We cannot make an appointment to stop by His office for counsel nor can we sit at Starbucks and chat over coffee. Our only connection to God is through prayer.
Prayer allows us to evaluate our relationship and intimacy with God. It is important as Christians not to deceive ourselves as to our standing with Adonai; is he really our best friend or do we just say that to make ourselves feel better? When we look at a tree we never take notice of the roots that are firmly embedded in the ground, but they are the strength of the tree and what keeps the tree grounded. This is an image of someone who seeks the Lord daily in prayer. The more we pray the deeper our roots in salvation go making it impossible for Satan and evildoers to uproot us. Leonard Ravenhill, a Christian evangelist, once said, “A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by man.”
Every New Year brings a flood of people into the gym to work out, to be in better health, to be the best person they can be. People are eager about getting to the gym and they go every day! As the routine sets in they cut back the time in the gym by going fewer hours and then less days until they no longer have the urge to work out at all. The results are slow coming and the persistence is time consuming for busy schedules. In the end the results are not what they had hoped when they first began. The same is for prayer. Christ teaches time and time again the way to an answered prayer is to be persistent, to never give up, to seek Him and to ask Him daily. But the answers do not come soon enough and our prayers slowly dwindle until the fire that once bellowed out of control has been extinguished. Forgiveness is a process; breaking the habit of gossip takes time; do not be discouraged.
Christ teaches his disciples in Matthew 7:7 to be persistent: ask, seek, knock. If we persistently and fervently seek God in prayer we open doors for opportunity that may otherwise be closed. Without seeking God and waiting on His answer we leave the door open for the Adversary to take control. Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Bitter unforgiveness gives the devil a foothold. We pray before God because we are sinners; just as those who have wronged us are sinners. When we hold on to grudges we lower the person to less than human. But, when we hold our tongue, pray and forgive we realize they too are just like ourselves.
We serve a God that is to be feared, in Romans 12:19 He says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay.” Revenge is not ours. What is ours is the choice to build a relationship with Christ. What is ours is the ability to ask for and to seek forgiveness. I encourage you today to put down the bow and arrows and be honest with yourself…How strong and how intimate is your relationship with God, really? Who do you owe an apology to? Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? Who has offended you that deserves your forgiveness? Pray that God will cleanse your heart and give you the strength to remove evil thoughts, to help guard your tongue and to go in humility to those whom you have hurt or who have hurt you and ask for forgiveness. Be vulnerable before God, truly examine yourself; how far do your roots go down, really?