by Martha Matthews
Matthew 18: 21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (NIV)
It is one thing to “say” that we forgive someone, it is quite another to actually do it. Forgiveness is not a state of mind; it is a state of the heart. Being able to forgive someone from a heart level is not something that comes to us naturally. If it did, God wouldn’t have mentioned it so many times in the Bible. The challenge that we face is in getting our hearts to a point where we can accomplish this.
It Takes Faith
Luke 17:3-5 “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” (NIV)
Have you ever thought you understood what God wanted from you only to realize that His expectation was much higher than you thought? Jesus’ disciples thought they knew what it took to forgive. When their eyes were opened to the depth of forgiveness Jesus was really expecting them to have, they were challenged to the core of their being. That’s why they cried, “Increase our faith!”
Faith is an essential part of forgiveness. We must first believe that it is possible to forgive someone, no matter what the circumstances. Many times I have said to myself, “I just can’t forgive.” “I am too hurt.” In essence what I am saying is that I don’t believe that God can change my heart so that I can forgive.
Jesus shows us that with only a little faith we can make big things happen. Do you believe that God will help you to forgive?
It Takes Prayer
Matthew 7:8-11 “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (NIV)
God loves His children and wants only the very best for them. He wants us to have the refreshing and revitalizing freedom that forgiving others can bring to us. He doesn’t want us to go around weighed down with sorrow or anger. He is always eager to help. All we need to do is ask.
It Takes Trust
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
Knowing that God always has our best in mind through every situation is a great comfort. Even though it may not feel like God loves us at the time, there is always a reason behind even the bad things that happen to us. Though we may not be able to see the good in a bad situation, we can be assured that God has promised that he will work all things out for our best. We just need to be patient and wait for God’s plan for our lives to unfold.
Take the life of Joseph for example. At 17 he was sold into slavery by his brothers, was falsely accused of rape and spent three years living in the inhumane conditions of an Egyptian prison. You would think his heart would have been very hard and unforgiving when he met up with his brothers 13 years later. Yet, he not only forgave them, but he gave glory to God when he testified how God had used the whole situation to accomplish a greater good.
Genesis 45: -8 “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
Joseph put his trust in God through every hurt and injustice that he endured. His trust in God protected his heart from getting hard and allowed him to be able to forgive his brothers.
It Takes Remembering
Ephesians 4: 31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)
In order to forgive we need to remember how much God has forgiven us. When we grasp the depth and breadth of God’s incredible love and forgiveness toward us, we are motivated to forgive others. We understand who we really are before God; that we are just as wretched as everyone else. Only our pride and self-righteousness will cause us think otherwise. Taking a serious inventory of our own sins will usually help put things into perspective. God is kind, compassionate and abounding in love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. This is the heart that He calls us to imitate in Him.
It Takes Love
Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NIV)
Another key to changing our heart is by overcoming evil with good. In my own struggle to forgive I have put this principle into practice and I can attest to the fact that it does change one’s heart. When someone hurts you, especially if they have done something terrible, the last thing they expect is for you to show them kindness. But, by responding in love you can overcome the evil that has been done. So often those who hurt us are hurting themselves. Love has a power the world does not understand. It is the way of the cross; that opposite way of responding to evil that flies in the face of the way the world would have us deal with people.
Something that helps me to be able to do this is to remember that Jesus understands my suffering. He shared in our humanity (Hebrews 2:5-18) and knows what it is like to be mistreated. When I think about all the things that people did to him and how he did not retaliate but overcame evil with good, I know that this is the heart I need to strive to have.
As you put these principals into practice it may seem awkward at first. You may wonder if it is really going to work. You may ask yourself, “How do I know when I have truly forgiven someone from my heart?” You will know that you have completely forgiven the person, from your heart, when the anger and hurt is replaced by peace. When your heart is at rest, then you will know that you have forgiven them completely.
More scriptures to meditate on
Proverbs 12:16 Proverbs 9:11 1 Peter 2: 20-21 Philippians 2:14