In this article, we are continuing our discussion on unforgiveness. In part one of this talk, I introduced the metaphor of a cursed dagger that cuts the one who wields it more than it cuts others. We defined forgiveness as 1) a hurt, 2) the debt created by that hurt and 3) the cancellation of that debt. We read the parable of the unforgiving servant and unpacked a few details about that parable. Finally, we looked at the fruit of unforgiveness and how it can lead to despair, disease—even death.
Here in part two, we will press into reasons why we struggle to forgive, remind ourselves about the image we’re made in and then look at how to gain freedom through forgiveness.
One night, I was returning home from a late meeting and I found myself hungry and ahead of schedule. I decided to stop at the local grocery store and pick up some dinner. With grocery bags in hand, I was on my way out of the store when a young man called to me from the parking lot.
“Sir! Sir! Hey, could you help me? I took the bus to the store but I didn’t realize the buses didn’t run after 9PM and now I’m stranded. Is there any way you could give me a ride back to my hotel?”
The man had several grocery bags with him, so—between that and a quick check-in with the Holy Spirit—his story checked out and I said, “Sure. C’mon.”
He was very thankful and witnessed to how much help he was receiving from people (including some folks from my local church, apparently.) During the short car ride to a nearby hotel, I learned more about Ricky. Turns out someone had put him up at the hotel for a few days. I gave him the numbers for the local homeless shelters. I asked him if he had a Bible (he did) and we prayed for his hurting shoulder and back. He was currently homeless but seemed quite able, so I eventually said to him, “Ricky, you seem like a sharp guy. You’ve worked before. Why aren’t you working now?”
A pained look darkened his face. “I’m having a hard time with my dad’s passing, I guess. A couple years back, my dad got into drugs. He started drinking too. I couldn’t stand seeing him throw his life away. I just got angry, you know? I said some things—some awful things. I moved out and didn’t look back; just cut him off. We went the whole time without talking. The next time I saw him, it was at the hospital. He was in a coma. I apologized for all the things I said, but I don’t know if he heard me. I’ll never know now.”
Ricky found himself at his dad’s deathbed, under deep condemnation for the unloving words he had spoken in anger. He never got a chance to make things right between he and his dad.
Ricky’s guilt had crystalized into unforgiveness. That night, I stood in proxy for Ricky’s dad and led Ricky through forgiving himself. We prayed for his release and we asked for forgiveness before God.
It’s not just the Christian community that needs to operate in forgiveness; this spiritual reality applies to everyone.
Why Do We Struggle to Forgive?
People sometimes say: “I think I’ve forgiven them, but I can’t forget what happened.” Or, about themselves, they may say, “I know God has forgiven me. I just don’t feel forgiven.” Continued bitterness, anger or depression toward another shows us we may not have fully forgiven someone. Persistent regret, condemnation or shame tells us we may not have forgiven ourselves. Forgiveness is complete when:
- We have experienced the forgiveness of God
- We have forgiven those who have hurt us
- We can fully forgive ourselves
Reasons we struggle to forgive. (Swap “I” and “they” where necessary):
1. We confuse the size of the sin with the worthiness to be forgiven.
May sound like, “But I can never forgive them for what they’ve done!” or “What they did is unforgiveable!” From God’s holy, righteous point of view, sin is sin. All are guilty, so we can dispense with the worthiness question. The Word teaches that none are worthy; not one. (Romans 3:11)
2. We think forgiveness can be earned.
“No way. They did this. They need to make this right!” No one can earn forgiveness. Only by accepting the redeeming blood of Jesus can we be set free from sin and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. Just as we cannot receive forgiveness by our works, nor can anyone earn forgiveness from us. Forgiveness begins with us. Freely we have received, freely we give.
3. Dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned.
We have not received or achieved what we hoped for or expected. “But I should have known better!” is often the cry. If you or they knew better—if you were truly seeing clearly—you probably wouldn’t have done what you did.
4. We are defeated before we begin.
“How long will I be able to endure this?” is often the heart-cry of those who identify more with their weakness and defeat than with Christ’s victory. Jesus overcame and because He overcame, we too, shall overcome.
Let’s Get Real
I want to pause for a moment. I recognize we’ve all been through injustice, even from childhood. Many of us have been met with hatred, contempt, rejection. Some of us have been touched wrong by others who should have been protectors but instead became predators. Some of us have been utterly betrayed by loved ones. If we took turns and went around the room, by the time we finished, we’d be astonished by the amount of hell we’ve been through.
On the opposite side of that blade, we might be astonished too by the amount of hell we’ve brought to others.
And yet, at the end of the day, what and who do we allow to define us? Do we allow a traumatic moment or season in our lives to define us more than the One who created us? Your past doesn’t have to maintain its power over you anymore!
There is no neutral ground in the kingdom—you are either in forgiveness or you are in unforgiveness. If the person who hurt you would have really known God, would they have done what they did? Maybe they even grew up in the Church. Maybe they even called Jesus Lord. But if they saw God clearly? If they knew His love thoroughly? If they were walking rightly before the Lord, and in right relationship with Jesus, do you think they would have ever done what they did? Do you think you would have done what you did if you had been seeing clear?
I think not.
If God is love (He is) and we’re made in His image (we are), what does that say about us? About how we are to walk? Are we not to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow who? (Jesus.) And did He not beg the Father for our forgiveness while our sin nailed Him to a Roman cross? That’s what Love did and that’s the image of forgiveness we’re called to.
Wait. When does justice figure into your equation, Matthew? If we just let go of all these injustices, aren’t we letting go of accountability too?
Well, first off, it’s not my equation—it’s God’s.
“Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. (Deuteronomy 32:35) We don’t have to worry about avenging or defending ourselves. There have been times in my life when folks have placed a target on my back and taken aim. In those times—when I’ve had the good sense to give those trials over to the Lord—the problems seem to solve themselves. Conflicts work out, people are moved or situations are solved—sometimes within minutes, sometimes within months—but solved they are.
It is not our ability to correct a person that leads them to repentance; it is the goodness of God. (Romans 2:4) As Israel will tell you, however, sometimes this can mean the judgment of God. The Lord corrects those He loves and He loves those who hurt you. He calls them to repentance and relationship, just as He has called us, and so that’s what we pray into.
Whose Image Are We Made In?
If you’re right with God, you don’t have a problem. You don’t have hold onto a trauma. You don’t have hold onto an offense. You’re free from all of that hurt, if you want to be. You have a massive “I love you” from God who says there is something about His kids that is worth the blood of Jesus Christ. Why would we let anything or anyone eclipse God’s Truth in our life? That would be idolatry.
Does love take any account of its own? Does love take any account of a suffered wrong? Freely you have received, freely you give. Colossians 3:13 teaches:
“Bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other. As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
If you’re born again—if you have put off the old and put on the new in Christ—that means you died to yourself so you might be raised up in Him. You gave up your rights to be offended, to be annoyed, to hold grudges. When you died, you gave up your rights to be let down by others, to have your say or to get your way. It’s no longer about getting your way; it’s about living His. It’s no longer your life; it’s His life in you.
If you’ve given your life to Christ; that means it’s no longer your own. You’ve been bought with a price.
Your Decision? Choose Love
If God dealt with us the way we deal with each other or with ourselves, we would have been rejected, abandoned and cut off long ago. The Holy Spirit wants to help us forgive. It doesn’t matter how long we have been bound by the past; we can be free! “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) We must take these four steps into forgiveness when we step forward into God’s love.
Step 1. Recognize the problem
We must recognize and admit any unforgiveness, hurts or struggles. Healing begins with awareness. Confess. Call unforgiveness into the light. We must consider the past dead and powerless. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) We must let go of the past.
Step 2. Forgiveness is a decision
We must love through past hurts and press into forgiveness. God has given us a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7) yet our memories can torture us if we fail to take captive every thought. We are to cancel every fruitless pattern our flesh—or the enemy—wants to produce in us. Feelings follow choices. An example of this in prayer might be something like:
Pray it: God, I choose to forgive ___________ for _____________________ (what they did) and for the feelings of _____________________ (abandonment, humiliation, shame, etc.) I experienced as a result.
Step 3. Cancel their debt (release the pain)
We must not only become channels of forgiveness, but receive forgiveness as well. Yet, the internal battle to forgive can be real. Painful feelings may return. You may find yourself wondering, “I’ve forgiven them. Why do I still hurt?” The solution isn’t “forgive and forget”; that doesn’t work. The solution is “forgive and forgive”; you simply keep forgiving them. You’re canceling their debt to you, wiping it from your books. You may have to do this more than once, twice, ten times or more, until you experience freedom. In prayer, this might look like:
Pray it: God, I give you my pain. I’ve _______________ (doubted, hated, condemned them, condemned myself) as a result. I’m done with this. I release them/myself.
Step 4. Confess your liberty and decide to receive it
Forgive without reservations. Let us imitate Christ’s example. We need to confess forgiveness and release those that have hurt us. We must also forgive ourselves. This includes releasing ourselves from any hard feelings toward God when we’ve accused Him of offenses that have happened to us.
Pray it: Pray blessings over this person. What healing do you want this person to experience? (This can be the hardest step to take, but it is vital to your successful release.)
Lay It All Down
I want you to imagine you have the cursed dagger of Unforgiveness in your hand. You may have possessed this dagger for only a little while, or you may have owned it since you were a child. You’ve used this dagger before, but you’ve come here today to lay it down, to cancel its power over you, to cancel its ability to cut you anymore.
Jesus already paid the price for it all; He has made you free. Confess it and receive it in your heart. Confess the victory of Jesus Christ. Cancel the debt on the books of your life and experience freedom today
Okay! This wraps up this lesson on unforgiveness. I encourage you to take a moment to pray through the prayer script above and release any debts that come to your mind. You can experience freedom today.
Megase, Kate. December 29, 2017. Unforgiveness and your health. Counselling Directory. Retrieved from https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/unforgiveness-and-your-health.
Revive Retreat Leader’s Guide. Forgiveness. Harvest Assembly of God. p37-42.