The surge of anger that I felt was something like standing in the ocean surf and being swept off my feet by a wave. I could have offered all kinds of excuses for my emotion – repeated offense, frustration, fatigue, being used. But, when the moment passed, there was only a sense of failure. Why don’t I forgive? What complication trips me up with this relationship? We humans are not robots. Unlike machines we are full of unpredictable feelings and, given the right set of circumstances, we fail. Thank God for His mercies that are new every morning, for His renewal.
Still, I know that anger leads to sin and that the Bible points to a better way. Basic to defusing our anger is the choice to forgive. It isn’t an option! Jesus does not give disciples much wiggle room on the subject. He taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. ” (Matthew 6:12, NKJV) Would you want God to forgive you with the same attitude and effort that you have towards that person who has hurt you repeatedly? Jesus explains that we have the power of choice in the matter of forgiveness and that our decision to forgive really matters to God. He goes on to say, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)
We can find hundreds of excuses to dodge the issue of forgiveness. We say, “He hasn’t apologized.” “She needs to face up to what she’s done to me.” “What about justice?” “He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!” “If I forgive her, what will she learn about consequences of her actions?” It is true that apologies do pave the road of forgiveness. Yes, God does care about justice. We all need to accept responsibility for things we’ve said and done that brings harm to others. However, none of those statements gives you or me a pass on forgiveness or a permit for ungodly anger. Our forgiveness of others is shaped by the forgiveness that God offers to us. He does not ‘make us pay,’ or hold up until we are properly contrite! We come, failures and sins, and ask.
How I love Micah’s praise. “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19, NLT)
From God’s forgiveness of those who sin against Him, we can learn much about how to forgive.
Forgiveness begins with me, not the person who has offended me.
God extends the offer of forgiveness to us at His own expense and He initiates the process. We cannot be passive, waiting for someone to seek forgiveness. We must work through our anger, hurt, and offense with God, doing the spiritual and emotional work necessary to forgiveness with the help of the Spirit. Then, we will be able to reach out graciously.
Forgiveness with God is not partial, nor conditional.
“He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Forgiveness is a process, not an event.
We offend God, He forgives… again and again. Our sins are not to pile up. Instead, His desire is that we live close to Him, with no guilt, no shame, alienating us from His love. In our relationships, we must not wait ’til Christmas, or a birthday, or some family gathering – for example – to decide to ‘clean up’ the junk that has accumulated. We need to be forgiving, gently finding ways to keep our relationships with others close and safe and trusting. Because we live with ordinary mortals, they will fail and disappoint repeatedly, just as we do. We choose to continue to forgive.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
God offers forgiveness, but to live in peace with Him we must receive forgiveness and grace that leads to genuine repentance. In much the same way, developing a new relationship that is mutually beneficial requires the involvement of both. However, but releasing them from indebtedness and finding freedom from our anger is a personal choice we can and must make.
Are you feuding with someone, feeling offended by another’s actions, dealing with anxiety over an unresolved dispute? How about praying about real forgiveness? It’s not easy. I’ll be transparent on this with you. There are a few people in this world that I struggle to forgive, praying with tears for the power of the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and change my mind. So, honestly take your emotions to the Lord. Tell Him how you feel, what you feel, why you think you’re feeling that way. Listen for the inner voice of the Spirit and ask Him to help you to find a way to genuine forgiveness. Hand over the offender to the Lord for His impartial judgment!
No, I don’t mean that you should ask God to blast her with some terrible tragedy. Just give Him the issue for His justice. Tell Him that you don’t want to carry the load of resentment any longer, that you trust Him to deal justly, that He knows the motives, the reality of the situation better than you do. Then, as Jesus teaches, begin to “bless those who curse you!” You will find a new sweetness of spirit enveloping you, a sense of health overtaking you, a newly peaceful sleep pattern coming on your nights. In forgiveness you are like your Father in Heaven.
Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today:
“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”
“For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened.
Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”
(Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)
Abba, there are moments of irritation and times of terrible offense.
I feel anger rising, temper surging, and I know that Your heart breaks.
Work with me and seed Your love deep into my whole being.
Secured in that love, held by Your grace,
Teach me to be graceful, gentle, kind, and patient.
Help me to move past my excuses and rationalizations to accept the call to forgive.
And, in that giving of the offense to You, in that release of my Self,
May I find the Joy of Jesus’ love and bring His Presence to the world in which I live.