Let’s talk about the proverbial “F” word of the Bible: Forgive. Go ahead, say it; try not to choke. Does the very thought light a red-hot flame of self-defense? Christians celebrate forgiveness as the greatest gift our Savior died to give us, yet we all struggle to forgive each other.
I believe that all of our indignant excuses for withholding forgiveness boil down to just one: We are waiting until we feel forgiveness towards the one we believe wronged us.
Please understand that I’m not here to judge or minimize the unimaginable hurt that many of you have suffered at the hands of others. I’m only here to share what I’ve recently learned about the Biblical truth of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act. We will all die harboring resentment if we wait until we feel like forgiving someone. Jesus knew this, so He forgave us even as He suffered. While He felt incredible anguish, He granted forgiveness. I think those of us who want to forgive have no idea how. What did Jesus do? How do we know He forgave us?
He said so.
“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided His clothes and cast lots.” Luke 23:34 HCSB
Do you struggle with forgiveness? Valerie did, but God taught her one key factor that made a world of difference.
The Tangible Power of Words
It’s taken me a long time to understand that words have life. The entire universe was created with nothing more than words. We are saved from eternal damnation by words. Our very salvation is spoken into reality. Words are more than noise. Words work. Just as you are what you eat, you are what you speak. When we speak bitterness and anger, then we not only give the same to others, but we also feel bitter and angry. Similarly, when we speak forgiveness and peace, we thereby release the same to others, and only then will we begin to feel forgiven and peaceful. In this way, your words become a direct prophesy of your own experience.
God promises that when we speak in agreement with His Word, there will be results.
“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Isa 55:10-11 NIV
I recently saw these principles play out in my life. In the grand scheme of life, it was a minor incident, yet I came to understand how living out God’s Word has very practical and tangible results.
My greatest fault is speaking out in impatience and intolerance toward others. And since language is kind of my “thing”, a quick, clever phrase directed towards my target is not only effective, it is quite satisfying in the moment…
…until I wake up the next morning to inevitably face an articulate monster in the mirror. Scripture tells us that we will be angry, but when we are angry, we should not sin. If we act on that anger, we give the devil an opportunity to act in our lives.
“Be angry, and do not sin. do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27 NKJV
This is exactly what happened when I spoke out in frustration towards a co-worker’s distracting chatter on a day that I was struggling to focus. I was proud and satisfied with the resulting peace and quiet for the rest of the afternoon, but then our relationship was reduced to an awkward tension as we both went to childish lengths to avoid eye contact at all costs.
Learning How to Forgive
I prayed for God to bring conviction so she would come to her senses and apologize. Conviction came as I was listening to a podcast sermon.
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. But if you don’t forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your wrongdoing.” Mark 11:25-26 HCSB
This is what I heard:
I forgave you, so if you can’t do the same for others, don’t bother asking Me for anything else.
I was thanking Him for all He’s done and all He continues to do in my life; praying for blessings, growth, and intimacy with Him. Then I realized, I can’t be closer to our perfect God when I’m harboring bitterness. He won’t bless my life if I can’t return the greatest gift He ever gave me to His other beloved children.
Then began a conversation with the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Counselor. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but with each thought, doubt, or objection, immediately scripture came to mind before I could even finish cognitively expressing each difficulty. I know it was the Holy Spirit for two reasons:
- I’m not that smart, so I know it wasn’t me
- It was all Biblical scripture and aligned with God’s principles of love.
I’ll let you eavesdrop in on our divine exchange.
My Prayer for Forgiveness
God, I know I have to forgive, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to do this.
“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 HCSB
I understand your Word says to forgive, but I can’t do it without you. Please teach me how. Please tell me what to do.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 HCSB
I guess this is unrighteousness, isn’t it? Alright, here we go. God, I know I”m holding grudges and refusing to forgive. I lost my temper and acted like a jerk. I was selfish and mean. I know You died to forgive my sins, so I need to forgive others. Please help me forgive. Please take this icky-ness out of me.
“But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.” Isaiah 53:5 HCSB
Actually God, I think Jesus already took my icky-ness on Himself at the cross. Some of His pain was because I behave this way. Thank you, Jesus, for taking my sin before I even sinned. I know that I just have to accept the forgiveness you’ve given me and give it to my co-worker.
“All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Eph 4:31-32 NKJV
Okay, God, I will be kind and compassionate to her.
Friendship Formed from Forgiveness
A few days later, I approached her and began my apology speech. She immediately gave me the forgiveness I was so reluctant to give her. Just in time, too. Two weeks later, new seating arrangements in the office placed us immediately next to one another, with nothing but a thin, cubicle wall between us! We became close, and we continue to support and lift each other up as friends today.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22
I learned that “forgive” is not an adjective; it’s a verb. To forgive doesn’t describe how you feel; it’s something you do.
The Sin of Unforgiveness
A few months later, another sermon made me realize that I’d been harboring resentment towards another for several years, in a much more complex situation. I reasoned, “I don’t have to forgive them, because they were clearly just mean and hurtful.”
I suggest that the answer to this dilemma lies in another question.
Are sins of omission still sins for which Jesus died to forgive? If Jesus commanded us to forgive, is it a sin to withhold forgiveness?
“So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.” James 4:17
Seek His Help
I thank those of you who have stuck with me to the end of this difficult message. I fear I may have pricked the scars of some gaping wounds. I’m not going to pretend to know how to fix them. But I know Who does.
“Sow righteousness for yourselves
and reap faithful love;
break up your unplowed ground.
It is time to seek the Lord
until He comes and sends righteousness
on you like the rain.”
What has your experience with forgiveness been?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Books for Related Reading
(Reminder: We use Amazon affiliate links)