Forgive those who hurt us? How is this possible? Seriously, can it be done? Why do we have to do it?
Most people (I include myself) find it hard to forgive, especially to those who have hurt or offended us. Some of you are probably still going through the pain of being offended, fooled, abused or lied to. Honestly, I have a difficulty myself. I don’t think I can do it on my own.
However, forgiveness is a spiritual quality. It needs someone better than us to do it. That’s Jesus.
While we cannot forgive sin, we need to forgive. In this case, it is not forgiving sin because only God can and has forgiven sin. It is about releasing the other person. As a counselor, I have learned three things that I feel can help us forgive.
Give up your right to get even.
Is there someone we hate? Is there someone we feel bitter about? Surrender your bitterness. Relinquish your anger. Easier said than done, right? Yes. Well, we have to start by letting the person who has hurt us off the hook. That’s not fair, you say? You’re right. Forgiveness isn’t fair. Allow me to repeat. Forgiveness isn’t fair. You see, it wasn’t fair when God forgave you. Therefore, it’s not fair for you to forgive someone else. Forgiveness is not about being fair. It is about being gracious. God is gracious to us. In reality, He doesn’t give us what is fair. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. Instead, he gives us what we need. He lavishes us with his abundant blessings beyond fair because of his love for us.
The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:19 (TLB), “Never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it.” The first step to forgiveness is to make a commitment to not take justice into our own hands. Let God be our impartial judge.
One of the early leaders of the church, Stephen, was stoned to death only because he was a Christian. Was he vengeful and upset? Before he died, he said, “Lord do not hold this sin against them” Acts 7:60.
Jesus was asked how often we should forgive someone who sins against us. His answer? 70 times seven. Or in other words, we just keep forgiving. It means that every time we recall how we’ve been hurt, we need to just release it.
But then, how do we know when we’ve totally released the hurt?
It doesn’t hurt any more. You might have to forgive someone a thousand times to make that a reality. But every time the pain comes to your mind you say, “God, I give it to you again. For the hundredth time, Lord, I’m letting them off the hook and relinquishing my right to get even.” You see, every time you rehearse the hurt, you make the pain deeper. But every time you release it, the pain gets weaker in your life.
Focus on God’s purpose for your life.
We can either focus on the past or the future – choose. We can’t do both. Concentrate on what God wants to do in your life. If we keep on focusing on the person who has hurt us, then we are in bondage. We are under the control of the destructive attitude we have.
Bitterness can make us sick. We don’t want anyone who has hurt us in the past to control us in the present. Instead, we need to understand that God has given us freedom in Christ. God does not want us to continue living in bondage of our ignorance. He wants us to see that we have been given a freed life. When we understand this, it is going to be easier to release those people who pained us.
Truth be told, if we don’t let go the person who has harmed us, then we will resemble him or her. Do you know that whatever you focus on, you’ll become like him or her? If you focus on pain, that’s what you move toward. If you focus on purpose, that’s what you move toward. A friend of mine once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
How do you do that? The Bible tells us in Job 11: 13-16, “Put your heart right, reach out to God…then face the world again, firm and courageous. Then all your troubles will fade from your memory, like floods that are past and remembered no more.”
Put your heart right. That means do the right thing. Take the high road by forgiving the person. Let him or her off the hook. Difficult? Reach out to God. Pray to Jesus Christ to come into the situation and immerse you into his love.
Respond to the evil with good.
Again, for a normal person in the world, this is challenging. If we just look at the world news today, we see the principle of “eye for an eye” or “tooth for a tooth.” If we see movies, it is all about vengeance and justice. People clap their hands when the heroes do an act of vengeance.
God’s ways are different. When Jesus Christ came as flesh and blood, he introduced a totally different approach. He lived and taught what grace is all about. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:21 (NIV), “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” There’s a lot of evil in this world. God teaches us that we don’t overcome it by criticizing it. We overcome it with good.
At the local churches (NewLife Fellowship and GCI Los Angeles) where I serve, we’re not a culture-war church. We don’t spend our time criticizing what the world does. We don’t expect unbelievers to act like believers until they are. We also know that we are just human. And being human, we fall short of the glory of God. It is not our place to judge and criticize. We believe that we don’t change the world by criticizing it.
We have sent and supported missionaries around the world for several years now to confront evil with good by promoting reconciliation, discipling servant leaders, conducting Vacation Bible Schools, supporting Summer Camps, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation.
We’ve focused on Haitian refugees in the Bahamas, children in India and the Philippines. We also support a Christian ministry in Bangladesh that helps people find jobs and get job skills training. We may be a small church but God has bless us in supporting missionaries in Thailand, feed homeless families in our local neighborhood, provided worship services to the elderly in Convalescent hospitals, done prison ministry and support church planters.
Most importantly, we focus on preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that people need to know WHO God is, what He has done, and what He offers to us. We believe that salvation does not only include forgiveness of sin, but also an amazing relationship with God.
My dear friends, the Jesus we worship, the Lord we praise and have faith in, is the key to restoring relationships. We cannot invest in bitterness or unforgiveness if we want to get good results. We cannot afford revenge. We have to engage in forgiving people and in doing good. We have to surrender our anger or hatred for others.
As God’s people, living a Christlike life means we don’t invest anymore in the hurt. We invest in Hope. It’s amazing that when we see the hope through the lens of Jesus Christ, our hope turns very bright.
If a person commits a serious crime, the courts will give him what he deserves. Most likely he will end up in jail. To forgive someone does not mean he shouldn’t go to jail. That is for the government to decide. Although he is inside prison bars, we can release him to God by letting go of our bitterness and hatred against the person. In reality, if we forgive someone, it is us that God frees. We are freed from the bondage of anger, bitterness, and unforgiving spirit! Not only is “unforgiveness” bad for our spiritual well-being, but also for our physical and emotional health.
Yes, Jesus’ ways can sound radical. It says when someone hurts you, do something good for them. Is it easy? Of course not. Every cell in our bodies wants to respond to evil with evil. But with Jesus Christ living His life of grace in us, everything is possible.