Terrible, painful, inexcusable things can happen to us or to our loved ones. This world is a dangerous place! From childhood on we have all had to learn how to let go of hurtful events or forgive mean people with different measures of success. Some things are relatively easy to release; others stick to us like glue. How can you get free when the wound seems incurable and the wrong was inexcusable? |
Our God gives us the answer, the only answer: forgive! It is what He had to do at the cross when faced with all of our egregious sins against Him. It was unimaginably difficult for God to forgive our sins, but He did. Now, through Jesus He is telling us that we will have to learn to do the same thing, if we want to set our spirit free.
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions. Mark 11:25-26 WEB
How much forgiveness is required? The Biblical standard (given to us by Jesus) is "from the heart"---not just with our lips, or with our good intentions, but in full, actual totality, holding nothing back. I like to say that we have to forgive everyone for everything "as much as needed, as often as needed and as thoroughly as needed."
Before you faint at that, turn the question around. How badly do you want to get free of the pain? How quickly would you like to recover your lost peace and joy? How much do you want to feel like a child again---with all thoughts of trauma and injustice long forgotten? Then, you will need to do what Jesus says and learn how to forgive even the unforgivable.
Finding Freedom by Forgiving
The unexpected, incredible truth is that a childlike heart of joy is waiting for us on the other side of our own walls of bitterness and pain. Don't hesitate to do some holy demolition! There is no one in the universe with a more youthful Spirit or a more loving Heart than our Lord; He is also the One who experienced the greatest recovery from humanity's sins being piled upon Him. Just as God raised Jesus after He did the forgiving at the cross, He will raise you. Don't stay crushed under the load of what life has dumped on you. Learn to do what Jesus did and get free!
Always remember that God never desired evil to happen to you, but for each one of us to have a shot at freedom, He had to allow free will to all of us. Ever since the Fall into sin, we have all been hurt; we have all done some of the hurting---some more than others in either direction. God in His tender love for us really wants to turn the tables on what an invisible enemy has done to bring damage into our lives through the sins of others. He has promised to make everything (the good, the bad and the downright evil) work for our good, but there is a catch. We have to give it to Him in order for Him to work with it.
Holding on to what you've suffered not only traps the pain inside, it keeps God from fully restoring you. It hurts us more than it does them! Not only is it painful to bind bitterness to yourself, it activates the stress response in your body which is hugely damaging to your health, and it also spills over as negativity into your other relationships, staining and straining them. This stronghold of the enemy needs to be thoroughly torn down and God's stronghold, the protection of a truly forgiving heart raised in its place.
Prepare to Get Good at This
I know firsthand how hard this work can be, so I have prepared the following four sections to help you "forgive the unforgivable." These are some of the lessons I learned as I fought the wild animals raging in me from past injustice and abuse. Take your time going over them. Stop and pray often. Then, summon up your will and put your heart into final ten steps. Give it all you've got and you're certain to gain the Lord's help and favor.
1) What Forgiveness Is Not
2) What Forgiveness Is
3) Five Motivations
4) Ten Steps
What Forgiveness Is Not
I'm guessing that you're a bit like me. I always knew that I was supposed to forgive people (and myself), but no one ever really explained to me why, or showed me how to do it. So, I grew up with various misconceptions about it. That didn't keep me from doing it over small things, but the big things became big stumbling blocks---mostly because I didn't understand. Let's clear away any confusion you may have by taking a closer look at seven things forgiveness is not.
1) Not a Feeling. Don't wait until you feel like doing it. That day will never arrive! The Lord doesn't command us in scripture to eat sweets. Why? Because He knows we'll feel like doing that. He commands us to forgive because He knows we won't want to. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It is an act of submission of our will to God's will.
2) Not Minimizing the Wrong. In the beginning it may have helped to let things go by minimizing them ("Oh, that's OK. It didn't bother me that much."). Downplaying the harm sin causes isn't the same thing as forgiving sin; nor does it work when the harm is too painful to overlook. Genuine forgiveness sees sin for what it is---and forgives it.
3) Not Rehearsing the Event. If your mind keeps going back to the hurt or offense, or if you find yourself mentioning it in conversation, you haven't really let it go. When forgiveness is complete there is no pain left in the memory---none. Until then the returning memory is the Holy Spirit's way of trying to show you that you still have more work to do.
4) Not Excusing. I used to say to my kids there is always a reason for doing wrong, but there's never an excuse for it. Certainly, God in His compassion looks past our sins to see the hurt which prompted us to act out. Nevertheless, He doesn't condone or excuse anyone's sin. He punished it all at the cross. It was also there that He released us through forgiveness.
5) Not a Reward. It is easy to forgive someone who acknowledges their wrong and really tries to make it up to us. But that is not yet Christian forgiveness which is mercy based, not justice based. We are obligated to forgive the person genuinely seeking reconciliation. True Christian forgiveness is a pure gift of mercy that the offender doesn't have to do anything to deserve.
6) Not a Divine Pardon. We seem to have the idea that if we "let them off" the hook, they will get away Scott free. In reality we don't have that kind of hook---it only keeps us hooked on the pain and anger. Besides, no one gets away with any wrong, unless they repent and truly try to change. Helping them do that is why the Lord wants us to turn them over to Him.
7) Not Blindly Trusting. Don't mistake forgiveness for trusting. Many people do, but they aren't at all the same. As Christians we are obligated to forgive everyone for everything, but we don't have to trust ourselves to anyone. Once someone wrongs us, our trust must be earned by them for the relationship to be restored. Forgiveness is required of us; trust is optional.
What Forgiveness Is
I heard a wonderful definition of forgiveness while I was in the heart of Brazil on a mission trip in 2006 with Global Awakening. When the preacher Tom Jones made this statement, I immediately took notes and have used it ever since.
Forgiveness is giving your pain, the person and the injustice to God and trusting God with it all!
That describes it exactly! This short phrase includes all that our God is asking us to do: Give everything to Him and trust Him with it. Give Him all the pain, anger, outrage, wreck and ruin that you have experienced. Trust Him with why He allowed it and with what He's going to do with it now that you're giving it back to Him. Then let it go.
Clear out the cobwebs of confusion that may have been caused by any of the seven misconceptions. Reach for the five motivations coming up and take the ten steps. Restored inner peace and joy-filled freedom of spirit are waiting for you around "the bend." So bow low and bend to this command of your Lord, giving it all to Him. Trust Him---He will do the right thing with what you give Him. Then, breathe the sweet air of freedom!
Just as with other things we don't particularly like to do, we need a powerful motivation to goad us into doing the irksome work of forgiving. I'm calling it irksome, because someone else made the mess (in us) that we now have to clean up. That's always a bother! So, pay close attention to these five reasons. One of them is certain to power you up for the task at hand.
1) Your Freedom. Others may have put pain into you by their wrong actions, but you are keeping yourself bound to it by holding on to what they did in bitterness. Let it go! Give it to God and you will become free of the pain and anger, free of the nagging memory---and then it will be God's "problem." Let Him handle it His way. Just get yourself free!
2) Their Ignorance. Everyone knows what Jesus said at the cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they're doing." We happily apply it to ourselves, once we come to our senses and repent of some misdeed. But turn it around. Join Jesus in saying it about others. No one who sins really knows the whole truth about what they're doing anymore than we did.
3) Our Forgetfulness. Whenever we go up into righteous indignation thinking, "I would never have done that," there is something important that we easily overlook. Maybe we wouldn't have done that, but what about all that we did do (and are still doing) that deserves to be blamed, even punished by God? Keep your own sinfulness in mind and it's easier to forgive.
4) Their Wound. I love this one and reach for it often. The person we're mad at came to earth as a baby. Behaving badly against us was never a part of their agenda. An invisible enemy got to them first, hurt them and twisted their thinking, taking them captive to do his will. Take this to the bank: hurt people, hurt people. Get mad at the real enemy; set his wounded slave free.
5) Jesus' Inheritance. By refusing to forgive, we are saying to the Lord, "No, Jesus! You've wrong. This person should never be forgiven. He deserves to burn! I don't what Him to have your mercy!" Why deny Jesus what He worked so hard to earn? Saved sinners in heaven with Him is His Reward for going to the cross. Let's give the Lamb the inheritance He deserves.
Any bitter feelings we harbor are the exact opposite of the Spirit of our Lord. They actually come from the nature of the evil one, not our new life in Christ. Those who have been most deeply wronged are (surprisingly) in the best possible position to pray for the salvation and redemption of the people who hurt them. Now is a good time to join Jesus on the Mercy Seat interceding with Him for the restoration of His wayward children.
Just as an unwanted task requires a strong motivation, a hard job needs breaking down into smaller steps. Read through these ten steps first. Then take them one at a time. Don't be in a rush and don't be discouraged if you aren't fully released. For the toughest nuts to crack, I had to revisit the motivations and go through these steps several times. Eventually, the Lord helped me release even the most stubbornly embedded wounds and grievances. It took some doing, but I am so grateful now that I stayed with it.
1) Pray for Help. Some people might be able to do this without the Lord's help, but you don't have to. Call on Him with the "want to want to prayer": "Jesus, help me want to want what You want and hate what You hate." This powerful prayer gives the Lord permission to work inside our heart. I always sense a shift happen in me once I have prayed it in earnest.
2) Admit the Pain. You've already told God about the wrong that was done and the hurt you felt. Now, acknowledge that He has sent people to comfort you---He cares about your pain! But don't stop there. Admit that He has suffered with you and for you. Realizing that God shares in our pain, makes it easier to trust Him with it.
3) Ask God to Forgive Them. Although the Father reconciled Himself to everyone at the cross "not counting" their sins against them, we still need to pray for it to be released to those who need it. Whoever sinned against us needs God's grace working to help them change. Besides, if we cannot ask God to forgive them, how will we declare it ourselves?
4) Bind the Real Enemy. Whenever we bind people to their sins, we (unwittingly) loose the enemy to make matters worse, sometimes in their lives, always in ours. Releasethe people the evil one used against you and bind him and his dark kingdom. Let this day be a day of advancing the Lord's Kingdom and routing the enemy's.
5) Ask God to Forgive You. It is admittedly hard to see this when we are so inflamed by our own sense of being the victim of some else's sin, but we have been sinning too. Unforgiveness is high on the list of wrong things to do. Being honest about our own hardness of heart, enables God to release fresh grace to us. Use it now to show the same mercy to others.
6) Declare Your Forgiveness. This is the pivotal moment. This is a choice, a decision to obey God rather than your feelings, so be fully prepared to push your feelings aside as you declare: "I forgive you and release you from all my bitter judgments." Remember: forgiveness is giving the person, the pain and the injustice to God and trusting God with it all.
7) Forgive Yourself. Perhaps you haven't seen this until now, but the emotional pain of what happened to us could have been released the first day it happened, if only we had been committed to the Lord's way of forgiveness. We kind of knew that our unforgiveness was wrong; we just didn't realize how wrong it really was---or how much it wouldhurt us.
8) Believe What God Promises. The magnificent promise of Romans 8:28 is that God will make all things work for the good of those who love Him. What a powerful incentive that is! However, since Jesus defines love for Him as obedience to Him, we are only now in a position to receive this blessing. Receive it by believing it---and let your heart rejoice at what He will do.
9) Pray for Them. This is the litmus test. If you have fully forgiven them, you will have no trouble honestly asking God to bless them with all of the good things you would wish for yourself. Otherwise, return to steps 1-6. It is worth remembering that Job's fortunes were fully restored---beyond what they had been---once he set about praying for his false friends.
10) Thank God. Whether or not you are feeling anything, begin thanking God for what He is doing. He says He does "abundantly" more than we can ask or think by the power "at work in us." Now that the Holy Spirit has helped you do your part, you can be sure God will do His. Thank Him that He has had your best interests at heart and that His ways really work.
Nobody said forgiving deep injuries is easy, only that it is necessary.Walk your heart through these ten steps. They are guaranteed to work, but only if you work them through to the end. Don't wait any longer: Say "Yes!" to God and do what Jesus does. He forgives everyone for everything---from the heart. He did it for us. Now, we do it for Him.
Then, a glorious resurrection of life and love can happen!For over a decade Steve Evans and Healing Streams Ministry have been helping people recover inner peace and freedom. Find out how to gain mastery over negative emotions and live with childlike freedom of spirit by taking his completely free "eCourse for Healing" at healingstreamsusa.org. Get started now!
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