We know that God will not allow any of us to remove scriptures from the Bible that make us feel uncomfortable. But if we could, I would have loved to remove the one in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. This is truly a high expectation and the condition to this one is huge. God really expects us to forgive.
To forgive is a major part of our spiritual growth. Forgiveness is the most freeing thing we can ever do!
I believe that forgiveness is so fundamental to our spiritual growth, that this could be the number one factor why so many people backslide or even lose their faith in God altogether. To carry unforgiveness in our hearts is like trying to run a marathon with a ball and chain tied to our ankles. You will not have the freedom of emotion to love those close to you. Bitterness is an emotional freezer that will cause you to become stone cold.
When you stay angry with someone it is like keeping them in a cage in your heart. From time to time, you might get this momentary satisfaction by removing them from their cage in your heart, beating them up in your mind with the punishment they deserve and then placing them back in their cage. These are the cages that occupy your heart with hatred so that you do not experience the love of God. This inability to forgive other people will directly hinder you from experiencing God’s love. This will lead you into a place of loneliness and bondage.
Regardless of who it is, forgiving them is one of the absolute foundational aspects of the life and growth of any Christian. This is why Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” Luke 6:27-28.
If you would like to move ahead in your relationship with God, receiving and giving forgiveness is an absolute necessity. In fact, the rest of your growth efforts will mean very little to you if you cannot forgive. To get stuck here will keep you in a place of separation from God.
Here are five steps that might help you to overcome the struggle to let go of anger towards others.
1. Stop making excuses
To choose to hold on to unforgiveness will not make the situation go away. When you are angry, you are only hurting yourself, not the perpetrator. Your excuses for staying angry is not punishing the offender, it’s only hurting your heart. So stop making excuses and make commitments. Commit today to stop being angry and offended.
2. Be specific
Anger will make you exaggerate things. This is normal. When you become clear about exactly what it is that was done to you, you will find it easier to forgive. Write down exactly what was done and what you are angry about. Do not write down your emotions, only the facts. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to forgive that particular wrongdoing. Some people might say that writing it down will only make you more bitter, but there are instances where the anger runs so deep that it leaves great confusion as to what the actual wrongdoing really is. For people experiencing this, writing down the exact thing that happened might be very helpful to bring clarity.
3. Develop compassion
Nobody is perfect. And the reality is, hurt people will hurt other people. If you don’t deal with your hurts, you will also hurt others. This means that those who hurt you, are also broken. When you can understand your perpetrator’s brokenness and the reason for their behaviour, it becomes easier to forgive. Use this as an exercise to do what Jesus commanded in Luke 6:27 and pray for them. Pray for your perpetrator to be healed and restored. Developing compassion for an offender will make it much easier to forgive and love them. It is important to know that by doing this, you are not in any way justifying their behaviour. You are simply removing the damaged expectation that you had of them. Every person has an expectation that their parents will love them unconditionally. But, because we can only give what we have, we cannot give love unless we have it. When you develop compassion for the fact that your own parents might not have had any love to give because they themselves never received any, it might make it much easier to relax your expectations you have of them. This will bring you closer to forgiving them.
4. Use God’s Word
To forgive is oftentimes more difficult than what we would like it to be. To be honest, you need God’s help to get this done. By meditating on Scripture and what God says about this topic will align your heart with God’s heart. You will also see how Scripture empowers your heart to do this. Without the words of God, your heart will stay hard and you will find it very difficult to forgive.
5. Feel the love
This might be the most difficult part of forgiveness, especially if you have been hurtfully abused. Those whose parents were sincere but absent in some way can be seen as easier to forgive. But what about those who were verbally, emotionally, physically and, or sexually abused? I deal with many individuals whom have lost their love and peace because they are still living with the trauma of the abuse on a daily basis.
With love, comes peace. We should not live with turmoil inside of us, but with peace. When we truly forgive, we will start to feel loved and peaceful. But to love a person that deeply hurt you might sometimes seem impossible, especially if they have no remorse for their actions. You might feel like you would need a miracle in order to ever love again. This is exactly the reason Rom 5:5 explains to us that the Holy Spirit is given into our hearts so love and hope will be restored again. In many instances we need supernatural help to forgive and love again. If you need a miracle, you have Him in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Expect this sense of peace in your heart. Desire and seek for it with your whole heart. It is important that you not only make a choice, but that you will feel the emotions. God is an emotional being. He wants toxic emotions cleared out and see our hearts filled with the fruit of His Spirit. This can only happen if we are cleansed from offence. Total forgiveness has only gone full circle when you do not only love the perpetrator by choice, but by feeling. You might now feel that this is an impossible task for you. But when you have truly received God’s unconditional love through the true Gospel, this will become easier. We so desperately need God!
Next week I’ll explain more about the third of these four relationships we see restored in the Gospel: Self