Paul also strongly exhorted believers about loving and forgiving one another: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32; also read Ephesians 4:1-6 and Colossians 3:12-15).
Critical to the effective prayer life is love – the love of God ruling in our hearts and motivating our prayers. However, this pure motivation of love can be challenged by tensions or trials in relationships with others.
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Forgiveness Without Limits
“How many times should we forgive someone who sins against us?” Jesus gave Peter a surprising answer to that question: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt 18:22).
Our Lord was not giving a mathematical or legalistic limitation on forgiveness. Rather, Jesus was teaching Peter that forgiveness should be without a set limit – just like God’s forgiveness toward us.
The Lord then told a parable to illustrate the great forgiveness of a perfect and holy God, and what that requires of us in forgiving others. Take a moment and read that parable in Matthew 18:23-35.
It is clear we must forgive others. But what is forgiveness? How do we actually forgive someone? By forgiving the way the Bible teaches, we can be free of the pain and injury someone has caused us and be healed of that pain by our loving Heavenly Father.
Forgiveness Is A Choice
Forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion.
Forgiveness is a choice you consciously make. You make a decision to forgive someone, regardless of how you feel about them or what they did.
Forgiveness means letting go of a wrong and the subsequent pain caused by another. It includes refusing to either seek revenge or correct or confront someone who has hurt you.
Forgiveness is an act involving our will, heart and mind. How, then, do we best forgive someone?
Putting Forgiveness Into Practice
When dealing with spiritual matters like forgiveness, the Christ-follower always needs:
- Sincerity of heart
- A humble, open and teachable attitude
- A genuine desire to see God’s priorities for love, unity, reconciliation and righteousness in our relationships become a reality.
The above conditions are necessary and important elements of forgiveness. The following seven guidelines can be used as effective and fruitful steps toward forgiveness:
- Ask God to reveal what is in your own heart.
Jeremiah makes it clear that we cannot always trust our own feelings or perceptions (Jer 17:9). Most often, we think our attitudes are right and justified; we need the Lord to show us what is truly in our own heart (Prov 21:2). If we have pettiness, self-righteousness, judgment, anger or bitterness in our hearts, they will block what God wants to do and poison our attitudes toward others. The first step of forgiveness is asking the Holy Spirit to reveal any wrong attitude, deep wound or bitter judgment we might have as a result of being offended by someone (Ps 44:21; 139:23,24).
- Repent of the sin in your heart. If you have any judgment, anger, resentment or bitterness in your heart toward someone who has offended or hurt you, you must repent of those attitudes. Bitterness is a deadly spiritual “disease” that can defile you and others, and hinder the work of God (Heb 12:15). Repent and ask the Lord to forgive you and cleanse you of unrighteous attitudes toward those who have hurt you (Eph 4:30-32; 1 John 1:9). Otherwise, you will not be able to be sincere in your forgiveness of the person who has offended you.
- Make the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is not a feeling; forgiveness is a choice of your will. Only you can choose to forgive the person who has hurt or offended you (Mark 11:25,26). No one else can make that decision for you. You must choose to forgive, and to “let go” of the person and the act they committed that offended you. Sometimes an offense can be great; ask the Lord for the grace and strength to forgive.
- Take time to pray. The best way to forgive someone is to take time alone with God in prayer. Speak your words of forgiveness out loud to the Lord. You can say something like this: “Father God, I choose to forgive [say the name of the person] for what they did/said [specifically name the act they did or the thing they said].” If it is more than one thing, name each offense. Then take time to ask the Lord if there is any other point of hurt or offense to forgive them for, and then do that. It is not necessary to tell the person you have forgiven them, unless they come to you and ask for your forgiveness.
- Pray for the offender. After you have forgiven someone, take time to pray for them. Raise your hands and offer the person up to God for Him to deal with. Decide to let go of your desire to “get back” at them, and release them to God. Then ask the Lord to bless them, according to what the Bible teaches (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27,28; Jas 1:19,20; 1 Pet 3:8,9).
- Ask the Lord for healing. Freshly submit your life to God, and ask Him to heal and deliver you from the effects of the offense. God is a Redeemer, and He can take even the worst offenses and use them for good – to shape your life and to further His purposes – if you will allow His work in your heart (Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 3:18; Jas 1:2-4).
- Resist the devil. Satan will attempt to bring the offense back to your mind, or to again stir up your memory or emotions with negative thoughts. You must take up your authority as a believer in Christ and bind up the work of the devil (Matt 16:19). Refuse to entertain any thoughts of unforgiveness again. Resist the work of the devil, and he will flee from you (Jas 4:7,8). There will be those who will offend us by their words or their behavior; and we, at times, will stumble and offend others. But one of the foundation stones of the Christian faith is God’s forgiveness of all of our sins through Christ. We, then, as true Christ-followers, must do no less and choose to forgive those who have wronged us. It is by His grace and power that we can; it is by our choice and desire that we must!
As Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12).
THE LIES THAT SEPARATE
The most important relationship for Christians is their relationship with God. Our prayers to God must be open and pure. But difficult circumstances may tempt us to hide from God, to blame Him, or to become bitter in our heart toward Him. How can we come humbly and boldly to God in prayer if we are angry or resentful toward Him? If we feel that God has “wronged” us or not done what we think is best, we must face these attitudes in our heart and confess them to God.