Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)
This is a pretty high expectation that God has for us here. Forgiving like God! Who can ever love and forgive like Him? We all have some form of judgement in our heart towards people and categorise them in some way. This is a pretty tough expectation to reach.
But, it is important to read the first two expectations first, kindness and gentleness.
Kindness is listed among the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. Most people will think of love and peace when you mention the fruit of the Spirit. These two are important, but not more so than kindness and gentleness.
I know a gentleman who is a great theologian. This guy can contend with the sharpest minds and wrestle with the toughest critics. He also has a faith that is impressively bold. He will pray for anyone anywhere resulting in many miracles and healings. But, unfortunately, kindness and gentleness would not be adjectives anyone would use to describe him. This results in his influence being hampered in many places.
How can you know your heart is tender towards the Lord? When your heart loses its tenderness, forgiving like God will be impossible. Through the grinding of life and rubbing against other difficult souls, you will gradually develop calluses in your heart, resulting in hard-heartedness. This does not occur overnight but happens deceptively slow. Before you know it, bitterness will reign in your life.
Following are some markers to assess whether your heart is still gentle and tender towards the Holy Spirit.
Guilt over sin
One of the surest ways to know that your heart is being deceived is knowing how quickly you feel guilty about sin. When a room is dark, you do not realise there is dust on the table. It is only when light comes in that you see the dirt in the room.
In a similar fashion, you will not feel guilty over sinful behaviour unless the light of God’s glory shines in your heart. The moment you start to hide sinful behaviour and don’t realise you are grieving the Holy Spirit with your wrong thoughts and behaviour, you should have a look at how much light you are allowing into your life.
With this approach, I am not advocating condemnation. We know that we are not perfect and the Blood of Jesus has cleansed us so that we can live forgiven. You should not live weighed down under the guilt of sin. The point here is simple. When you allow sin into your life, do you have an attitude of repentance or are you careless about your behaviour? When you desire light, the dust in your soul will annoy you.
Desire for God
A person in love has desire. The desire to be with their loved one. This desire to spend time with someone is an indication of a heart’s affection towards another person.
When desire is absent or fading, it indicates cold love. Love is the greatest motivator for affection. When your affection for God's presence and your desire to be with Him is not red hot, it should be a point of concern.
I just took a flight from Brussel to Copenhagen. Right before I boarded, I called my wife. After a 90 minute flight, I wanted to speak to her again. When I start neglecting this habit I should get concerned about my marriage. Similarly, when you go a certain period of time without desiring God it should indicate where your affection towards Him lies. The level of your desire for God indicates your level of love for Him.
Hearing God’s voice
During pre-marriage councilling, I spend quite a bit of time explaining the value and art of communication between spouses. Each person has a love language and a love dialect. It is the privilege of a spouse to go on a treasure hunt and discover the perfect way to communicate with the other. One of the most important aspects of a great communicator is the ability to listen. Listening is a more valuable skill than good talking.
A person who can listen well can love well. This is one of the greatest heartaches in many Christians’ lives. They do not have the ability to quiet their souls to listen to the still small voice of God's Spirit. Most people's prayers consist of requesting needs, rebuking some critter and citing scripture. Often times people lack the patience and desire to keep quiet and listen. What kind of relationship will it be if there is only one-sided communication?
When your heart has grown dull of hearing God's voice, you are losing your tender-heartedness. Do not let the gradually formed caluses of subtle offences block your ears to hearing the voice of your God.
Love the broken
The reason Jesus came to this world was to save the lost and heal the broken-hearted. One of the surest ways to know you are growing cold in your heart is when you lose compassion for a lost or broken soul. The Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). When God's Spirit and Love is in you, your heart will break for things that break His heart, i.e. the cry of a lost soul for a Father's love.
Every heart has a built-in desire to find God. This longing to know our origin is a design that God has placed in every heart to seek Him all of our days. Jesus Himself cried over those who were like sheep without a shepherd.
When you lose your passion for those who do not know their God and whose lives are marred by sin, you need to be concerned.
Cry about injustice
I heard Bill Johnson once say something that stuck with me ever since. He explained how he would judge himself by how often he cries in God's presence for the brokenness and injustices in this world. He explained that two weeks is his maximum. If he would go two weeks without crying before God about the state of this world, he knows his heart is getting infected and he is losing the tenderness of the Holy Spirit.
When was the last time you saw some injustice in the world and it broke your heart? Do you cry for this world that Jesus gave His life to save?
When your heart is tender before God, you would not want to carry bitterness. This will result in your ability to forgive as God does.