This year I’ve chosen to read the New Testament chronologically. Initially, I didn’t enjoy the process, but as I’ve read the gospel accounts leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross, I’ve thought a lot about obedience and its connection to forgiveness. Jesus, in His humanity, has experienced the hurts and betrayals of humankind, and in His humanness, He prayed and asked God to let the cup of suffering pass. Knowing He was God made man, being fully aware of the agony he’d experience, He still chose to humble himself and yield to the will of God. He had a choice, and He chose to obey. Without His obedience, our relationship with God couldn’t be restored.
Does our obedience to forgive mean we won’t suffer the pain and hurt of the incident? No.
There is a practical side to forgiveness: DOING & BEING. Doing comes before being. We can demonstrate forgiveness and depend on God for the being. In other words, out of obedience to God, we can respond to our offender in a manner pleasing to Him and rely on Him to heal our wounds and bring us to a place of peace, release and heartfelt forgiveness. We don’t have to grit it up and gut it out. We obey (doing), and He changes our hearts (being). We can learn and practice forgiveness, but it’s a process that may take courage and always takes time.
Give them to God
Unforgiveness binds us to the offender. We think about it often. We take it with us everywhere we go. It’s like a ball and chain we can’t escape. Imagine yourself dragging your ball and chain to God and asking him to take the ball and unlock you from the chain. Release you from the burden and release the offender to Him. God can do whatever He pleases with the person. Take comfort in that God is trustworthy, a God of judgment, but the verdict is HIS. The Scripture is clear that vengeance is His, and He will repay. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the offender shouldn’t be held accountable, but it leaves the “sentencing” to God.
Remember who the real enemy is
Even though it feels like the enemy is the offender, and it looks like it’s the offender, it’s not. They’ve become a tool in Satan’s hand. Satan is the God of confusion and chaos. When you find yourself in a relationship filled with confusion and chaos, the real enemy is behind the scenes. The secret is recognizing it for what it is and putting ourselves in God’s hands. Again, we’re back to obedience. What does God say to do during times of conflict? Put on the whole armor of God.
We can’t control or change our offender, but we can control our response, including not enabling perpetual lousy behavior. To quote Lysa TerKeurst, “Forgiveness releases our need for retaliation, not boundaries.” Boundaries are two-fold protection; they keep others at a distance, keeping us safe. Forgiveness is not allowing injustice to continue; healthy, mature people have boundaries, and God’s truth provides parameters. Find a godly mentor or counselor and ask them to help you define the appropriate boundaries necessary to maintain a heart of forgiveness and then communicate those boundaries to those involved.
Forgiveness doesn’t equal healing
God requires forgiveness. It’s an act of obedience by us, but it takes time for our feelings to catch up with our decision to forgive. The actions of the offender have an emotional cost to the offended. It could be a $50-dollar cost or a $5,000,000 cost. The higher the emotional cost, the longer the emotional healing will take. Forgiveness doesn’t always repair our relationships, nor does it mean reconciliation, but it does help mend our hearts.
Satan never wants us to forgive
When we are angry and bitter and unwilling to forgive, the door opens wide for sin and gives the devil a foothold in our life. One of the most deceptive snares Satan uses to get believers out of the will of God is an offense. Unforgiveness restrains countless Christians, severs relationships and widens the gulfs between us. Jesus said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1). Although we will encounter offense, we can choose how we will react. Our responsibility before God is not the behaviors of my offender but my responses to those behaviors. Forgiveness is a command.
Take it to the cross
When I carry offenses, God reminds me of the words He spoke on the cross on my behalf. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgive, Lisa, for she knows not what she’s done. If He can forgive me for every deed, every misspoken word, every thought, then when I’m furiously offended, I’m reminded that the offender is just like me — a sinner in need of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.
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Read more articles by Lisa May at goodnewsfl.org/author/lisa-may/