This post is by John Roland. John is the Director of Alumni Services and Student Success for Luther Rice University. John lives in Newnan, Ga with his wife Amy and their three children.
We all are victims of life situations that aren’t fair and sometimes these situations can nearly ruin our lives. Our feelings of being wronged may last for years afterwards. Even though my divorce happened a few years ago, I still struggle with forgiveness every day because the overwhelming devastation has been so far reaching and has impacted every part of my life—my career, our marriage, our kids, our friends, our extended family’s relationships, etc. Experiences like this are certainly not something we sweep under the rug and just shrug off.
Where do we even begin? Forgiveness is not quick and it is not impulsive. That’s why I daily try to seek God’s help. Some days I follow through, other days I fail. Here are ways I pray for God’s help.
Meditate on the Scriptures about forgiveness and ask that God forgive you.
This Bible verse has really hit home for me: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:12-13 ( New Living Translation )
Verse 13 says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We cannot truly begin to forgive others until we receive God’s forgiveness. I ask God daily to forgive my sins and my failures. I now look back at my failures as new milestones of God’s grace and faithfulness to me. He has given us a clean slate. Colossians 2:13 says, “God made us alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins.”
Realize that forgiveness is a deliberate decision, not an emotion.
I’ll be honest, at times I feel like I will never be able to forgive my ex and those who took her side. I don’t think I will ever “grow into it” over time. And I don’t think there will ever be a day when some sort of good feeling will come over me about what happened.
Here are some misconceptions about forgiveness:
It is not a feeling. More often than not, our feelings don’t line up with God’s ways. (See Proverbs 14:2)
It is not forgetting. Forgetting things is passive. Some things we never forget, even if we try. The old saying, “Forgive and forget” is not true. We’re human.
It is not excusing what the person did or acting like it was OK. We don’t have to lie to ourselves and say that what the person did to us was OK. It’s possible that they did something so evil it could have come from the depths of hell itself. There is such a thing as sin – deliberately doing wrong morally and doing wrong in the eyes of a just and loving God. Sin has consequences. Even when we make progress with forgiving, trust must be rebuilt and lives must be put back together. The relationship may be so unhealthy that we need to protect and remove ourselves from them until they, by God’s grace, decide to make an effort at changing their harmful ways.
Ask God to help your thoughts.
What we are thinking will eventually come out. If we allow those thoughts to continue, they will lead to words and then actions. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Our thoughts direct us. Proverbs 23:7 states, “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” (King James Version) I have found this to be very true in my life. If we allow those thoughts of anger, bitterness and feelings of being wronged to continue they will lead to words and then actions that we later regret. Taking thoughts captive is a very active prayer process, like a general capturing rebels.
When an angry or bitter thought comes, I have to remind myself again and again that the Bible says that because of all Christ has forgiven me, I must forgive others. Instead of trying to simply reign in our thoughts, ask God to replace our bitter thoughts with thoughts of forgiveness.
Ask God to help your words line up with your desire to forgive.
It’s a sign that we aren’t far along the road to forgiveness if we are still saying bad things about the person, even if what we are saying is true.
Pray this verse: Ephesians 4:29—“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
When that person’s name who wronged us comes up in other conversations, don’t mention how they wronged us. Ask God to help us live by Matthew18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”
The goal is restoration and redemption. Because of all Christ has done for us, our focus must be redeeming others. If others make choices to turn away from God, we are not held accountable for their choices. We may voice the Truth to them but if they reject it, we are free to move forward with our lives. We still pray for them but turn the person over to God to judge and redeem.
Ask God to help you act out forgiveness in what you do.
The Bible says that when we act in ways that show our commitment that love follows.
1 John 2:5-6 says, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” And how did Jesus act out forgiveness? On the cross he prayed for his enemies who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 (NIV)
This goes back to everything we’ve shared in this article. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion, but rather an act of will. We resolve to capture our own thoughts and act in ways that show that we are becoming more like Jesus. It is an act of obedience and trust. We trust that if we act in ways that show we’re serious about moving toward forgiving others, God will set us free and will eventually supply all of the feelings of being at peace that we can’t manufacture on our own.