What do you do when that person takes advantage of you for the 100th time, making life so difficult? How do you deal with that person whose actions left you bleeding and broken? At first, we probably will feel anger as it rises in us like a storm, increasing in intensity. In the tempest, we might say things, perhaps even take actions, that are regrettable on reflection. Over time we may choose to settle into a simmering anger. It may show as hostility. It might lie just beneath the surface as a festering resentment. It may even morph into a kind of hatred, though we would find that hard to admit to ourselves.
Jesus has some direct words about our human relationships. On first reading they can seem hard, unyielding, impossible for ordinary human beings. He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)
Jesus also taught us that the basic choice we make in such times is to forgive. It isn’t an option! Jesus does not give disciples much wiggle room on the subject. In His model prayer there are these lines, “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)
If you’re ready to kill somebody (figuratively, not literally), consider these truths. Read all of them as they work together in the process of making us capable of genuine forgiveness.
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. Followers of Christ pursue conflict resolution, at the same time. We will work at understanding our own anger, hurt, and offense- praying through those things and doing the spiritual and emotional work necessary to start towards 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.” We cannot say we have forgiven if we hold onto the debt, build walls, or sabotage relationships.
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 parties, working together to find reconciliation and justice. However, forgiveness is an individual choice to give our hurt, our sense of debt, to God and trust Him for perfect justice! In that choice, we release the other person and we discover freedom from our anger.
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, nor is it a ‘once and done’ moment. In the struggle to forgive you may find yourself praying in tears, asking the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Tell Him how you feel, what you feel, why you think you’re feeling that way. Ask Him to help you to be willing to give the offense and the offender to Him for His impartial judgment! He knows the motives, the reality of the situation better than you do. Trust!
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. It’s a story Jesus told about being forgiven and becoming one who forgives. “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)
(This hymn is one of profound faith that makes forgiveness possible.)
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O cross that lifted up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.
Matheson, George / Peace, Albert Lister © Public Domain