Choosing Forgiveness

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How do we forgive? 

Every Christian knows that we must forgive. It's not a nice option but there are dire consequences if we don't. If we sow unforgiveness, that’s what we'll reap. Matthew 6:15 explains, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.So we try to forgive. But the problem is that so often, although we say the words, forgiveness doesn't happen. And this is made clear later by our feelings and actions.

Timing is crucial

Forgiveness is easy when we respond quickly andturn to the Lord saying, "I choose to forgive... (say their name) Lord, in your name."  But often, when someone sins against us, our heart instantly reacts. Our mind may excuse them and try to forgive, but our wounded heart responds hatefully, usually by nourishing resentment towards that person.

"We can’t simply use willpower to forgive and let go. It takes the work of Christ."

1 John 3:15 tells us whoever hates his brother is a murderer. Don't try to justify yourself, "Well I don't hate him, I love him. I just hate what he does." Acknowledge your feelings. There may even be feelings that you are not yet aware of.

Repentance is key

The first lesson in choosing forgiveness is to realize that we must confess our sin for forgiveness to be accomplished. We need to respond, "Forgive me, Lord for my reactions". It goes two ways — us giving and receiving pardon, even when we seemed to be the victim. We take responsibility for our own hurt responses, confessing them to God. And “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NKJV) Even if you haven't felt or thought hard thoughts, repent by faith. The Bible says, “I am conscious of nothing against myself, but I am not by this acquitted..." ( I Corinthians 4:4 NAS) Things may be hidden in your heart. In any case, it doesn't hurt to say, "ln your name I choose to forgive." When we do that quickly, forgiveness is easy. Jesus washes us clean. The incident is gone and the memory of the pain, washed away. When hurts become lodged in our hearts, it's tough to forgive. In fact, it's impossible. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jeremiah 13:23 NIV).”

Once unforgiveness has set in, we can’t simply use willpower to forgive and let go. It takes the work of Christ. Since hate is a form of murder, it can only be ‘paid for’ by the shedding of blood, according to God's law. In dying for us, Jesus shed this blood on our behalf.

Know You’re heart

We often hear people say, "Well, I've always found it easy to forgive. I just can't manage to hold onto anything against anybody." We know then we're listening to someone who doesn't know his or her own heart. It is important to realize that we don't always recognize the secrets of our hearts, so don't congratulate yourself premeturely. Be careful not to think youself clean-- you may reek with the foul stench of unforgiveness.

What causes things to become lodged in our hearts? Very often, when hurtful things happen to us as tiny children, we don't know how to pray, much less how to forgive. We don’t possess the skills to reason things out. Hurts, especially if they are often repeated, become lodged in the heart, and remain with us through to adulthood, triggering ungodly responses.

"He [Jesus] reached across space and time and entered into every heart that ever had or would live, becoming our sin."

In my case (John's), I often don't know on the spur of the moment that I am angry. Having been raised in a troubled home, I trained myself as a youngster to turn off my emotions and handle things logically and coolly for the sake of the family. Now, when something happens to me that should make me angry, I don’t feel it at all. I just handle it with as much grace as I can muster. Hours later, when I’m making up speeches like, “Now I know what I should have said to that guy”, I discover that I am in fact really angry. By then it’s too late; anger is lodged like an iron claw, gouging out my heart.

Bring unforgiveness to the light

A major part of taking care of our hearts is to learn to discern whether we have in fact forgiven all who have offended us. If you know someone who has grievously wounded you and you’ve tried to forgive, does your heart leap with joy when you see that person coming toward you? Do you want to stop and talk? Or would you rather slip across the street or into a store until the person passes by? Perhaps you can’t have a friendly visit; You’ve learned you can’t trust that person again. But in that case, does your heart mourn? Do you grieve because you still love that person and now can’t have relationship with them? Do you actually want the best for them? Would you grieve if something bad happened to him/her – or secretly rejoice?

Ask the Lord to reveal when, where, how and by whom you've been hurt. He will soon recall to mind a number of incidents that haven't been taken care of.

Dying to self

When God does this, you must go through the discipline of forgiving. That actually means getting into a position to receive it as a gift.

First, we must recognize that sin separates us from people. Inside we try to prove how bad the other person is (or was to us) and how good we are. That isolates, and falsely elevates us above the other. Forgiveness will not be effective until this ends. For this to happen God says, in effect, “It won’t be enough for you merely to say the words. You must come with Me into Gethsemane.”

"What is our Gethsemane prayer?"

In that garden Jesus identified with the sin of all mankind. As God in human flesh, He reached across space and time and entered into every heart that ever had or would live, becoming our sin. “He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS) Christ did this because to satisfy “legal” requirements, He had to identify with our sin totally in order to reap on our behalf all that we had sown of evil (Galatians 6:7 My translation).

What is our Gethsemane prayer? “Lord, identify me with the sin of mankind. Identify me with sins that have hurt the person who hurt me, especially any of my own that may have drawn him/her to wound me. Lord show me my oneness with this person who hurt me. Lord, put to death in me the pharisaical attitude that says I am superior. Slay in me Lord, the pride that would say I am better than that other person (and so on!)"

You know the prayer has its proper effect when you find yourself crying out, “Oh Lord, help us”, rather than, “Oh Lord help me to forgive that awful person (who doesn’t deserve it).”

This step is a necessary dying to self-righteousness. Then we can say, “Lord Jesus, accomplish forgiveness in me. I choose to forgive in your name.” It will happen.

Forgive Yourself and God

But that may not be enough. Sometimes other things, thoughts and people, and even our feelings toward God will need to be dealt with. This may be the case if others should have protected you and didn’t, if brothers and sisters became Job’s comforters to you and didn’t help at all. It may be necessary to forgive yourself as well – perhaps for getting into a foolish or unsafe position.

"If we bless unconditionally and keep on praying prayers of blessing (maybe at first solely in obedience, and through gritted teeth), eventually love for the other person will be restored."

What about your feelings toward God? The universal cry of our hearts when something bad happens to us is, “Where was God? I thought I was supposed to be protected,” Proverbs 19:3 says, “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the Lord.”

Of course God hasn’t done anything wrong, but that doesn’t keep us from being angry at Him. Forgiving God doesn’t mean that He was guilty. It means that we decide to let go of this poison in our own hearts. It means that we receive forgiveness for holding resentment against Him.

Bless the offender

Unforgiveness also cripples our heart’s ability to express love freely, especially toward those who have hurt us. So the Lord has commanded a final step: he tells us to bless those who hurt us. “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead, for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:8-9 NAS) God knows that if we give of ourselves to another, we will love that person, just as a mother loves the child that she carried in her womb.

If we bless unconditionally and keep on praying prayers of blessing (maybe at first solely in obedience, and through gritted teeth), eventually love for the other person will be restored. 

"Let’s not stop halfway when choosing to forgive."

Since the Lord is not willing that any should perish, He may allow an unbeliever to hurt a Christian. God knows His servant will go through Gethsemane and become one with whoever has hurt him. In this way, the Lord establishes a bridge from heart of the believer to the unbeliever. God knew that His child would poor blessing across that bridge and He would have an opportunity to save the other’s soul.

Spread the Fire

This on-going effect of blessing someone is what Romans 12:20 means when it says, “….for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

In biblical days women built a fire from twigs or dried cow dung on two bricks placed a few inches apart on the floor or in a alcove. Since they didn’t have matches or fire starters, one person would be appointed as the village fire tender. He kept a small fire going all night, and then toward morning, made it fairly large and let it burn down the coals. He would scoop the coals into a metal brazier that he carried on a wooden block on his head. He went from house to house and, with tongs, placed burning coals between the bricks so that each housewife could have a fire. It became an eastern maxim that if you did good to a wicked man, you might turn him into one who spreads the fire of love wherever he goes. Therefore, prayers of blessing heap burning coals on his head.

Is there someone you can’t stand? Consider this person as someone God has given you as a “grace producer” in your life. Being close to that person will drive you into Gethsemane and to death on the cross. It will bring change for both of you. In some cases God will give you a chance to evangelize! 

Let’s not stop halfway when choosing to forgive. Obedience to the full commands of all His biblical steps is worth it. It leads to freedom and the joy of seeing others saved. Who do you need to forgive today?