There's a huge difference between simply knowing that we possess God's Life in our hearts and actually experiencing it in our lives. The key to being able to do this, moment by moment, is understanding how to surrender ourselves to the Lord. This process is what we have been exploring over these last several months in Personal UPDATE. The steps we are learning are not ones that I have made up or that I saw in some "self-help" psychology book. These are the actual steps that the priests took in Solomon's Temple in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God. And, they are the same steps we must take each time we quench God's Spirit. The essential steps are:
1) Recognizing, acknowledging and experiencing our ungodly thoughts and emotions as they come in.
2) Confessing our sin and self, choosing to "turn around" from following them and unconditionally forgiving anyone who has wronged us.
3) Giving over to God all that He has shown us that is not of faith, and...
4) Reading God's Word and replacing the lies with the truth.
Isaiah 24:15 reminds us that we are to "glorify [or reflect] the Lord in the fire..." And going through these steps, moment by moment, is the only way we can do this. Thus far in Personal UPDATE, we have studied the first step and part of the second. This month, let's continue exploring how we unconditionally forgive those who have hurt, betrayed or wronged us.
There are really two parts to forgiveness: first, our relationship to God; and second, our relationship to the other person. The primary reason we must forgive is because God commands it in Scripture. Mark 11:25-26 tells us, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have anything against any: that your Father also, Who is in heaven, may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father, Who is in heaven, forgive your trespasses."
The next reason we are to forgive is to be able to reconcile with the other person. When we choose to unconditionally forgive them, we will be clean before the Lord, and we can know He will then give us the Love we need for that other person. The only way we can genuinely love those that have wronged us is by unconditionally forgiving them (or releasing them to God) and then, becoming an open vessel for God's Love to flow. If we don't do this, Scripture tells us what will happen - the enemy will get an advantage in us (2 Corinthians 2:11).
So, there are at least four good reasons why we must forgive others: 1) God says so in His Word. 2) Our relationship with Him will be quenched if we don't. 3) We won't have His Love flowing through us if we choose not to. And, 4) The enemy will get an advantage in us if we won't obey.
Now, if that other person comes to us and asks forgiveness, then our relationship with him has a wonderful chance of being healed and we can end up even closer than we were before. If, however, that other person never repents and never comes to ask our forgiveness, then there will be a breach in our relationship and only God's wise Love can operate. The Bible exhorts us, however, that we are still to love them wisely. In other words, we are still to be an open vessel for God's Love to flow through us to them.
An Example: "Only When They Come to Me First"
I once knew a young Christian woman who was completely unwilling to forgive her friends for the unkind things they had done to her. The girl used to say to me, "Only when they come to me first and ask my forgiveness, will I ever forgive them. Never, until then." She was angry, not only at her friends, but also at God for allowing these things to have happened. Now, what these young people had done to this young woman was wrong and she was justified by worldly standards to be hurt and angry. But, God's Word tells us that we must be willing to unconditionally forgive whatever that other party has done to us, regardless of whether they ever ask our forgiveness or not.
In other words, our choice to unconditionally forgive releases God to work, not only in us, but also in them. When we don't forgive, we not only are being disobedient to God's Word, but we are also opening ourselves up for the enemy's arrows. As far as I know, this young woman is still waiting for her friends to come to her and still unwilling to forgive them until they do. The last time I saw her, she physically had turned into a bitter "old" woman. The sad part is, she is only 30 years old! It's interesting because we reflect on the outside the baggage that we carry around with us on the inside. And how the enemy has reveled in this young woman's bondage of unforgiveness. Her friends were not his prisoners, she was! And all because she refused to do what God's Word says, unconditionally forgive those who have wronged us and love them wisely with God's Love.
Now, I agree that sometimes it seems almost impossible to forgive what another person has done to us. But this is just another place where we can choose to trust God for His supernatural wisdom and Love. Remember, we don't need to feel our choices, we must simply be willing to make them. They're called "faith choices" or "non-feeling choices." God then, in His timing and in His way, will align our feelings with what we have chosen and perform His Word through us. In other words, if we totally give ourselves over to Jesus and love Him, He will enable us to genuinely forgive and love others. II Corinthians 2:10 tells us, "to whom ye forgive any thing, I [Paul] forgive also; for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ." In other words, because of what Jesus has done for us, we can extend that same unconditional forgiveness to others.
Again, Picture a Triangle
Picture the process of forgiveness like the triangle: We are on the bottom left-hand side of the triangle; God is at the top; and that other person we are trying to forgive is on the bottom right-hand side of the triangle. We choose to unconditionally forgive that other person, which then releases him to God and cleanses us; God then gives us His Love and His forgiveness for that other person; and prayerfully he will eventually be convicted, come and ask our forgiveness. In the meantime, however, we are free to go on with our lives, and continue to love as God would have us. Always remember that our hurt feelings will only heal after we have made the appropriate faith choices to forgive and release that other person. Not before (Matthew 18:28-35)!
An Example: Wounds from Our "Friends"
As Christian brothers and sisters, Scripture tells us that we are "to love at all times (Proverbs 17:17)." Now, this doesn't mean sticking our heads in the sand and never taking a stand if someone we know is doing something out of line. It does mean, however, and Scripture confirms, that if we hear something bad about someone or we see them doing something ungodly, we are to go to them and ask them about it, "speaking the truth in love," (Ephesians 4:15).
Not too long ago, someone I love very much heard an evil report about me, but rather than come to me and ask if it was true, she believed the gossip and angrily told many others. When I found out what she had done, I was crushed. This friend not only did not come to me when she first heard the rumor, she never repented of her own error when she found out the truth.
Therefore, I was left with a choice. I could choose by faith (because I certainly didn't feel like it) to unconditionally forgive her, thereby reconciling myself to God and opening a way for Him to work in her; or I could hold on to my "justified" unforgiveness (because what she did was wrong), create a breach between God and me and end up giving the enemy another handle, or hideout, in me.
The Lord showed me that one of the reasons this recent incident was so very painful, was that I still had some buried debris (unforgiveness) over our bankruptcy experience many years ago, where other Christians had maliciously gossiped and slandered us. This latest incident was just the catalyst that triggered much deeper, hidden roots of bitterness in me. Now, I thought I had dealt with all these things years ago, but the Lord showed me that deep wounds like this often take longer periods of time to heal - i.e., for our feelings to align with our choices. God also showed me that if there is more debris in the hidden chambers of our soul over a certain situation, He will allow our emotions to again be stirred up, so that these hidden things can be exposed and we can take the proper steps to deal with them.
This was exactly what He was doing in me through this incident. Deuteronomy 7:20 affirms this, "The Lord thy God will send the hornet among them, until they who are left and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed." I suppose if God brought up all our deep-seated hurts at once, we probably would not be able to handle it. But, our God is gentle and kind and His timing is always perfect.
Our Lord's Example
The Lord tells us over and over again in Scripture that unconditional forgiveness is a vital part of all our relationships. A true loving relationship is one that doesn't require any explanations and where we always have the assurance of receiving the benefit of the doubt (1 Corinthians 13). A true Christian friend is one who forgives (7 x 70) and shuns any form of betrayal. Oh, how the Christian body needs more of these genuine love relationships.
Now, if we are at fault in a situation and we seek God's face, often He will have us go back to the person we offended and ask his or her forgiveness. Remember, however, that each situation is different. Sometimes seeking and receiving God's forgiveness in our own hearts and minds will be enough. At other times, God will have us physically go and ask for the other person's forgiveness. In each instance, we must always pray and seek God's will. The Lord not only promises to tell us what to do, but He also promises to give us the Love and strength we need to be able to do what He requires.
It goes without saying, however, that we must continue to be wise and always seek God's will. One woman I know went to a friend who had hurt her and told her that she forgave her for what she had done. Well, the accused lady was horrified because she was not even aware that there was a problem. Thus, the woman's verbal forgiveness did more harm than good and drove a wedge even deeper into their relationship. The general rule is: If you are at fault in a situation, always seek God's will as to whether or not He wants you to go and ask forgiveness of the other person. If the other person is at fault, unconditionally forgive them and lay it down at the cross. Don't go and tell them that you forgive them. It only makes matters worse, especially if the person involved wasn't even aware there was a problem to begin with (as in the above incident). Just take care of the matter between you and the Lord and then, go on and love them wisely with God's Love.
Receive God's Forgiveness
Along with understanding how God wants us to forgive others, it's also imperative that we receive by faith God's forgiveness for whatever sins we may have committed. Again, 1 John 1:9 confirms that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [all] our sins..."
If you have trouble believing and receiving God's forgiveness, I would suggest making a list of all the Scriptures you can find on forgiveness, putting them on 3 x 5 cards and reading them over and over again. By faith, choose to believe what those Scriptures say. Remember, we walk by faith, not by feelings. God, in His perfect timing, will align our feelings to match what we have chosen to believe and we will begin to experience His forgiveness in our life: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Proverbs 28:13)."
Many women have written me about the horrible sexual abuse they received as children. One dear woman named Jan not only wrote me her own story, but confirmed, over and over again, that the steps we are now learning really work. Another woman wrote, "How awesome it has been since I have begun to do this. Making the choice to do what God wants even when I don't feel like it, has helped me tremendously. I didn't know you don't have to feel willing, but just be willing!"
These women, and many others who have written, have been set free to a degree that most of us will never comprehend. And, if it works for them, how much more will this process of cleansing and unconditional forgiving work in our everyday lives. The story in Matthew 18:23 - 35 is a very appropriate place to end.
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To be continued next month: "Give All To God." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Chuck and Nan's book, The Key.