When I was in charge of coordinating the Women’s Events at Camp JIM, I once booked a speaker to share at a retreat on the subject of Forgiving. The speaker had several talks she had prepared for events and she told me, in all the years she had been traveling, I was the first to ask her to use this seminar.
When the topic is the heart warming reminder of our own forgiveness, we’re all over it; but, no one wanted to trudge through a weekend of emotional sludge to let go of their own grievances. Ouch.
However, we can’t afford not to. Forgiveness is a prerequisite to to more powerful, effective prayer.
There are several occasions in the New Testament when God promises to hold us to our own standards. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus is teaching His disciples how to pray,
“And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” TLB
The King James Version says, “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” We all know a debt is something we owe, but did you know that debt, offence and sin can be used interchangeably? It changes our perspective, doesn’t it?
Do we want to be forgiven “as” (in the same way) we have forgiven others?
Mark 11:24-25 says it even more clearly:
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
God wants us to pray for one another in intercessory prayer.
And we’ve learned that if we want God to hear our prayers, we have to confess all known sins, and seek His forgiveness. But these verses take that even further by saying that we also need to forgive anyone against whom we are holding a grievance.
Isn’t it easy to hold a grievance? Without even realizing it, we can nurse it along, holding onto it like an old friend. It becomes a part of who we are and we may not even realize we’ve developed a critical spirit toward that person who hurt us.
God says forgive.
It is a required of us in order for God to listen to our prayers.
Many years ago, on a Good Friday, tragedy snuck into our family unannounced. On Saturday my husband took me to see “Passion of the Christ” in the dollar theater in his home town. Ugh. I have never been so torn by a movie. Christ’s suffering was so large on that screen, I know I was swollen and blotchy and pathetic when we came out of the theater and into the light. I was burdened afresh with the opportunity to meditate on the message of Easter, that Christ’s passion was to save me. It was my sin that brought Him all that pain, but I could rejoice because He is risen and I am forgiven.
The testing came Easter Sunday, when the silent offence came screaming into the light and tore the cover right off my heart. You know those movies that show a person in shock, experiencing the moment in slow motion, and every sense is cranked up to high? Too many individuals were affected for me to share the details. Suffice it to say, no grievance against oneself ever comes close to the pain you enter into when the grievance is against your child.
When the weekend had ended, my heart finally quieted, and my eyes ran dry. I’m sure God orchestrated our weekend so that I would watch that movie at that exact time. I knew the choice I faced was no choice at all.
No matter how grieved I was by this offence, a perfect God was more offended, and yet Jesus died to forgive that person who grieved our family. He died once and for all, for all people, just as much as He died to forgive me. He loves us all the same. So how could I refuse to forgive?
How dare I refuse to forgive?
Isn’t that what it boils down to? The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 depicts it perfectly.
So we make the choice to forgive.
We don’t wait until we feel like it. Emotions are fickle, and we could wait an eternity without ever “feeling like forgiving”. Make the choice, even if it means choosing daily. Healing is a process.
But now comes the awkward, and how do we act when we encounter this person again?
This is where the rubber meets the road.
In her book, “What Happens When Women Pray?” Evelyn Christenson shares that once we commit to forgive, God expects us to illustrate follow through.
“Now if anyone has caused pain… For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” 2 Cor. 2:5,7,8
Paul is writing to the Corinthian church regarding a brother who has grieved the congregation, most likely received church discipline, and has repented. Paul tells the church to not only forgive him, but to comfort him… and reaffirm their love for him. What this person has been through has been hard, and feeling ostracized by the church could overwhelm him with grief.
Don’t we do this, as parents? When our kids have a quarrel, and we mediate, we make sure they reaffirm their love for each other. “Now give each other a hug!” I have just about cracked up when scowly faced children say, “I forgive you,” but can barely bring themselves to touch each other. And yet, once embraced, the tension drains from their bodies, is replaced by a genuine smile, a REAL hug, and fast friends return to play.
It’s easy to say we forgive, but the proof is in the follow through.
Maybe it’s time for a heart to heart, a hug, and tears all around.
Maybe the proof is in doing something to serve this person who has grieved you.
Perhaps, like our family and the church in Corinth, it is bringing him or her back into your fellowship.
What if they’re not sorry?
The grief and subsequent bitterness will eat you alive if you choose not to forgive. In Evelyn’s words, your prayer life will become “like straw”. And as Paul warned the Corinthians, forgive, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”
For Christ’s sake, and for yours, you still need to forgive. Lay it at the foot of the cross. Pray how God wants you to confirm your love. Perhaps it is as simple as sending a ‘Thinking of You’. Or, perhaps God has another opportunity prepared for such a time as this.
What if they don’t want anything to do with you? Then honoring their wishes in keeping your distance may be the best way to confirm your love. Even if they never know, God will know, and He will give you His peace.
That your prayers may not be hindered: (page 40-41 of “What Happens When Women Pray):
* Ask God to remind you of anyone whom you need to forgive.
* Ask forgiveness for the sin of not forgiving that person.
* Forgive that person, even if you need to ask God to enable you to do so. He will provide you with the strength and ability.
* Ask God for as much love as He wants you to have for the person who grieved you.
* Ask God how He would have you to confirm your love for them.
* Wait in silence for His answer.
* Pray, promising God that you will do whatever He has told you.
* Go do it!
“Lord, forgive me for holding onto grievances. I forgive ______________ for _____________________. Give me the heart you want me to have toward him/her. Show me how you desire for me to confirm my love for them, and give me the strength to follow through.”
You can find the rest of the posts in this series at the end of this post. Thanks for reading!
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