Walking closely with the Lord means we must come to terms with forgiving others. Yes, must. We can’t avoid or deny the fact that relationships often bring hurt and the need to forgive. Whether we have been wronged by another or the responsibility is ours, Ephesians 4:31-32 beautifully summarizes how we can have a clear conscience and be free to love and serve God with all our heart:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)
In different stages in our life, we may be confronted with the difficult task of forgiveness. The following chart and steps help us get started toward a choice of obedience and godly love.
Cultivate a Heart of Forgiveness
1. Deepen your understanding of God’s forgiveness through Bible study and meditation. God has been astoundingly, absurdly generous to us. Let that grace prompt humility and gratitude. See Romans 5:8.
2. Learn to recognize the signs of a forgiving heart: letting go of the need for punishment, looking at the offender with pity and compassion, and choosing to reach out in love.
3. Learn to respond well when old feelings come back. Rely upon the Shepherd’s help to change your heart. Turn (repent), tune in to the Shepherd’s voice (depend), and travel His path for us (obey).
Steps to Forgiveness
First, realize that forgiveness is risky. Even a repentant offender is likely to fail again, perhaps in the same area.
Second, rely on God. Cry out, “Lord, I lean on You for the grace and strength to love this one who has hurt me and to work for what is best for him.”
Third, actually cancel the debt. Through prayer, express to God that you relinquish the right to collect debt on any level and to release your bitterness.
Fourth, evaluate whether you should tell the offender what you have done before God.
Fifth, if appropriate, verbally offer them forgiveness. If they repent, your relationship can resume. If not, the relationship cannot be resumed; but with forgiveness offered, good can be returned for evil (Romans 12:21).
What If Forgiveness Can’t Be Had?
If you want to make things right with someone you’ve hurt, but they are unavailable, allow God’s forgiveness to suffice. Trust Him to intervene on your behalf to ease any heartache you have caused. It may help to confess your sin to a trusted friend.
If the person is available but refuses to forgive you, ask yourself, Does their refusal indicate that I haven't genuinely repented? Test yourself by the standards found in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. If genuine, then God’s forgiveness is sufficient. Realize, too, that forgiveness can be a process. They may need time to be willing to forgive.
May the following prayer help you get started on the journey of forgiveness today.
Dear Forgiving Father,
Thank you for your greatest gift, Your Son Christ Jesus, who came that we might be forgiven. Thank You so much for Your mercy.
Give us the courage to show that mercy and the humility to ask for it. When we have offended, make us quick to acknowledge our wrong and do whatever is necessary to be reconciled. And with those who have hurt us, may we release all resentment and grudges. Enable us to forget all that holds us back from a grace-filled life.
Finally, may we find our greatest joy in granting others what they don't deserve...and thereby modeling Your mercy that has set us free. Amen.