If there’s a command in the Bible that’s difficult to keep, it’s the repeated command to forgive others. It’s really tough. As you look at the model prayer of Jesus, He encourages us to express our forgiveness to others in light of the fact that we’ve been forgiven of so much.
It’s an unconditional command. There is no crime against us that escapes this clause. But it’s so tough when you talk to somebody who has suffered some of the most awful atrocities known to man. How do you counsel someone who has been through some of life’s worst abuses to forgive the abuser?
First off, you understand the relationship between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us. We deserve separation from God for eternity in hell for even a single sin, yet He has seen fit to offer us limitless forgiveness on the basis of the blood (the crucifixion) of His innocent Son. Our unwillingness to forgive others demonstrates a lack of understanding of the nature of the cross. As David Jeremiah put it, “When unforgiveness fill our hearts, it is apparent that the Holy Spirit does not.”
But you also have to see, from God’s eternal perspective, just how much the benefits of forgiveness outweigh the short-term payoffs of forgiveness. I think of three words…
That is, our forgiveness provides a benefit to others in that we release them from any payment back to us, just as God’s forgiveness of us has released us from our eternal debt for sin that we owe Him.
Our forgiveness of others relieves us of a tremendous burden. We don’t have to be angry anymore. The fact is, unforgiveness can be seriously damaging to our emotional, mental, and even physical well-being and can infect all of our future relationships. Forgiveness offers relief from this.
This one isn’t universal, it doesn’t always happen, but it’s amazing to watch one of those moments where twenty years of anger and bitterness are broken in a single moment of forgiveness. Relationships are what life is made of, and they are restored only through the power of grace and forgiveness.
Amazingly, of all the topics Jesus addressed in the model prayer, this is the one that He chose to elaborate on after the “Amen.” It’s extremely important. But how do we forgive?
- Figure out what is owed to you. (time, money, affirmation, affection, etc.)
- Write it off, which is a decision, not an emotion. You may not feel it, but do it. Decide that nothing else is owed to you.
- Express forgiveness to the person, and express it to God in prayer.
- Repeat. It’s a daily chore – forgiveness isn’t easy and usually doesn’t happen completely in an instant, so repeat these steps as often as necessary.
What about when someone hasn’t apologized yet? For Jesus, it doesn’t seem to matter. On the cross, He looked at those crucifying Him and proclaimed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” even as they were pounding the spikes through His wrist. In light of the cross, who has offended you to the point that they should not be forgiven? Isn’t it time to begin to heal?