“He who cannot forgive others destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass.” George Herbert
We’ve all heard it, and most of us have said it at some time. Many know it by heart. Some call it The Lord’s Prayer or The Model Prayer. As familiar as this prayer may be, how often do we really consider what we’re saying? Do we really want God to answer the part where we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”? Do I really want God to forgive me to the same extent that I forgive others? We all want to receive forgiveness but, when it comes to forgiving the wrongs done to us, it’s another story. The aching hurt, the depth of pain, betrayal, disappointment – forgiveness is difficult to give.
The Bible gives some great reasons to forgive. The first is that Christ commands it. If you’ve committed your life to knowing and following Him, forgiveness is not an option. Paul wrote plainly to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Throughout the Scriptures, forgiveness is not a suggestion. If you want to follow Jesus, it’s a commandment. As difficult and emotionally challenging as it may be, we all have to practice forgiveness. We must choose to do it repeatedly, as necessary. Our feelings and the consequences of the injuries we’ve suffered may linger, but we’re commanded to forgive for a reason: our very survival depends on it. If you try to live without forgiving, you won’t survive. It is essential that we forgive for our own sakes; otherwise, we continue to victimize ourselves and become bitter. The greater the resentment, the more pressure and stress builds up in our hearts. Eventually, it will destroy your relationships, joy, and health. Medical and psychological research reveals that bitterness and resentment have devastating effects. We think that, if we hold on to our hurt, we’re getting back at the person who injured us. In reality, we’re just hurting ourselves. If we want to enjoy our lives to the fullest, we must release the bitterness. But, how?
We release anger and bitterness by being honest about our feelings, both toward others and toward God. We don’t always like to admit that we are hurt, that someone else has managed to offend us. Pride fuels our deception, yet inside we’re seething. If our anger goes unchecked, it soon becomes a malignant bitterness.
Often, it’s not just that we’re hurt by others; we’re also furious with God. We’re thinking, God, You’re the One I’m bitter at because You allowed this. You could’ve stopped it because You’re all powerful, but You let it happen, so You’re ultimately responsible. Then, we suppress our feelings because we think we’re not supposed to be angry with God. But, God is big enough to handle our anger! Besides, He knows we’re mad at Him anyway. I used to think that, if I admitted I was angry with God, He would probably strike me with a lightning bolt. He doesn’t do that. He loves us just the way we are. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him and admit our feelings and just say, “God, I’m mad. I’m angry. I’m bitter about this. Why did You allow it? I don’t understand.”
We have to express our feelings to God and arrive at the place where we can pray, “God, I trust that You know what’s best. You know I’m mad, so please forgive me and help heal me.” When you do that, the healing process begins. That’s what the Psalmist did in Psalm 73. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet I am always with You; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory.” (Psalms 73:21-24 NIV). When I reveal my heart to God, the healing starts.
We don’t feel like forgiving people who hurt us, but that’s okay. Forgiveness is not about what we feel. We forgive because we make a conscious decision and say to God, “I choose to forgive them by Your power because You command me to and because it’s for my own good.” Then, five minutes later when the hurt comes back to our minds, we can repeat this prayer as many times as needed. Someone once wisely observed that to forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover the prisoner was you.
God says you need to forgive for your own sake because bitterness blocks the blessings He wants to pour into your life. If you open up to God by forgiving and praying for those who hurt you, then blessings can start flowing again. Healing starts to occur in your soul. Jesus is our greatest example. With one of His last breaths on the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) That’s where the power to forgive comes from – the realization that we were forgiven first through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
- Make a list of the people you need to forgive. Write down the offense – what they did to hurt you – next to each name. Now, make a list of all the people from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Next to their names, briefly describe how you hurt them. Finally, spend time in confession to God. Ask for the power of Christ to wash over you, bathing you in His forgiveness that will enable you to forgive others.
- Read Psalm 73 and write God a letter and unload on Him. Tell Him all the things you’re angry about, all the things you’re harboring against Him and wondering about. Be honest, and trust that He can handle anything – everything – you throw at Him, no matter how dark, desperate, or doubtful you may be. Then, ask Him to heal your heart as you tear up the letter.