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Whether we like it or not, God commands us to forgive when others wrong us. There are no qualifiers and no exception clauses to the command. God just says, “Forgive!” Additionally, he said that if we do not forgive others, our sins won’t be forgiven either (Matthew 6:14-15). We are expected to forgive no matter what the circumstances and no matter how many times we are offended--seventy times seven, as Jesus puts it (Matt. 18:21-22). The number seventy means countless times, while seven signifies perfection. This means that Jesus expects us to forgive others countless times to perfection or infinity. Forgiveness is important because not only is it a command from God, it's also good for us. If we will not forgive, we carry around forever the burden of being a poor, poor victim. Forgiveness releases us from oppressive people. Even Jesus, our example in all things, forgave from the cross (immediately) those who were torturing and murdering Him. Should we do less?

But how does one forgive?

Below is a description of the process I have found to be very helpful.

  1. Decide to forgive. This is based on an act of your will, not on feelings. It is a choice between obedience and rebellion.
  2. Record your decision. Include the time, date, and location of your choice to forgive. This is an important part of walking it out.
  3. Pray for God’s grace to be able to hold fast to your decision no matter what happens--and things will happen! It absolutely is God’s will that your heart changes toward the person you are forgiving, so when you ask him, he will grant your request (1 John 5:14-15).
  4. Pray for the offender, asking God to bless him in all possible ways. It is important to pray for him the same way you would pray for a loved one, because Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Try praying scriptures for them. Certainly, if they are not believers, pray for their salvation!
  5. Remind yourself of your decision, including the date, every time you think of the person or your hurt. You might say, “God, that was taken care of on X date, and I am counting on you to change my heart and help me to love _______. I know that this is totally impossible in my own strength, but I choose to continue to obey you and allow you to work in my heart by your Holy Spirit. With your help, I will now pray for _______ according to your heart and will for them.”
  6. Refuse the enemy’s promptings and immediately focus on God. As you continue to do this as many times a day as necessary, your heart and mind will be healed and transformed. Eventually, you will remember the offense and the person without the pain and anger that you felt at the beginning. You will also experience God’s love in your heart for the person who offended you. Only God could accomplish that!

How do you relate to this forgiven offender?

Your relationship with the offender will depend on their response to the situation.

Pursue healing

Choose to pursue healing for yourself personally even if the relationship isn't repairable. Remember that the offender is a small, broken creature in need of God's grace, just as we all are. Seeking healing for the relationship whenever possible, but recognize there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not always possible

Forgiveness is dependent on the person who was wronged (you), while reconciliation requires the cooperation of both parties. You can forgive and find healing without the reconciliation of the relationship.

Trust takes time

We don't forget the pain that we have experienced, but over time we can gain perspective about it. Forgiveness is not necessarily synonymous with trust. We can forgive and still wonder if the bad behavior will be repeated. It takes time for trust to be rebuilt. Trust grows as we witness a pattern of good behavior established over time.

Sometimes reconciliation shouldn't happen

Some people flagrantly practice behavior that simply isn't safe--physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Some people engage in destructive behavior that is too toxic be around or to have one’s children around. We must forgive, but we must also exercise godly wisdom in setting boundaries. Matthew 18:15-20 walks us through the process of holding someone accountable when they sin against us. We confront the behavior and bring in accountability and boundaries as we work toward healing.

A word of caution is necessary here. Be careful that you have actually forgiven the person and that you are not using safety as an excuse to continue to withhold forgiveness. Ask God to reveal your heart attitude to you and to guide you in any further relationship He wants you to have with the person.

 

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