The Lord‘s Prayer: "...as we forgive those who tresspass against us"
“…As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We now move from the place of accepting and owning our forgiveness to focus our attention on those God is asking us to forgive. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer reminds one of the teachings of both Jesus and Paul regarding forgiveness, namely, that those who have truly been forgiven will in turn be serious about the business of forgiving others.
Jesus clearly presents this principle in the parable of the person who was forgiven much but was unwilling to forgive others (Mt 18:21-35), while Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:32; “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” also convey this truth. So this month we will look at the topic of forgiveness. What does it mean and what does it not mean to forgive? I believe one of the problems that can cause us difficulties when it comes to forgiving others is a misunderstanding regard what forgiveness entails. We are not able to forgive like God forgives for we are not prefect in love and being. We can only forgive as we are able, which at best will be imperfect and limited, especially when compared to the depth and pervasiveness of God marvelous forgiveness. So, before we even begin, seek to own your own limitations when it comes to forgiveness. These limitations do not let us off the hook when it comes to forgiving others but will bring more realistic expectations to the process which can be very helpful, freeing and even empowering.
Let’s get started!
What is your definition of forgiveness? This is not speaking of God’s forgiveness of you, but what is your definition of forgiveness in terms of you forgiving? What are and what are not components of forgiveness of another?
Components that are part of forgiving another:
Components that are NOT part of forgiving another:
Before we can forgive we need to know what forgiveness is. PLEASE read through the following section slowly and prayerfully asking God to help you get a handle on what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness involves the realization that you are more than a victim (but you are a victim).
Forgiveness is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It is a process. It is a journey.
Forgiving is reserved for serious betrayals and wrongs.
Forgiving is reserved for acts that are not acceptable and not justifiable.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, "Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened when you are treated unfairly. Forgiveness is not pretending that things are other than the way they are."
Forgiveness welcomes but does not depend upon the repentance of the person who hurt you.
We can forgive in our hearts long before we may be able to verbalize the words "I forgive." We may or may not choose to express our forgiveness directly to the one who injured us, depending on our sense of the situation between that person and our self.
Forgiving opens the way for reconciliation (at least for the one who forgives), but does not necessarily lead to the restoration of the relationship.
Forgiving is a process that brings freedom and inner healing to the one who is doing the forgiving.
Forgiving does not require that the one being forgiven know that they are being forgiven, nor does it even require them even being alive.
Forgiveness takes place in the heart of the one forgiving regardless of the confession and repentance of the offending party.
Forgiveness involves naming the wrong suffered and the perpetrator of that wrong.
"Forgiveness does not equal forgetting. It is about healing the memory of the harm, not erasing it." Dr. Ken Hart, as quoted in Zest Magazine (UK), October 2000. The offense will still be part of your history, but it does not have to dominate or define your life.
Forgiveness heals, and breaks the cycle of pain, bitterness and anger.
Forgiving involves the process of eliminating all desire for revenge and feelings of personal ill will directed toward those who have deeply wronged or betrayed us.
Forgiveness is a process, a journey. This means that forgiveness is on a continuum. We can move from 10% forgiveness to 25% forgiveness to 50% forgiveness to 90% forgiveness…and all along the way we are forgiving.
Using the above statements please write a new definition of forgiveness (do not look back at your previous definition until you write this one). When you look back to your previous definition, has anything changed?
Using the above statements what are some components that are part of forgiving another:
Using the above statements what are some components that are NOT part of forgiving another:
Importance/Value of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is the key that can unshackle us from a past that will not rest in the grave of things over and done with. As long as our minds are captive to the memory of having been wronged, they are not free to wish for reconciliation. Lewis B. Smedes
When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.
Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget
The way God forgives you is entirely different from the way you forgive others.
Reflect on this statement and write out your thoughts.
Why can it be so hard to forgive?
1. Our instinct is for revenge, not mercy, and certainly not grace.
2. It does not seem right or fair.
3. We tend to forgive prematurely: uncomfortable with bitterness or guilt over revengeful thoughts.
4. Pride: it feels good to have the person who hurt us need our forgiveness…leaving them wearing the label of “sinner,” and us of “saint”.
5. We don’t think it will make a difference.
6. Our pride or self-esteem is injured.
7. Automatic thoughts or beliefs. The fundamental attribution error: consigning internal causes for behavior to others, relegating total responsibility and blame to others, while tending to explain away our own negative actions in terms of situational factors.
8. An unwillingness to see the offender as a person rather than an evil monster.
9. Misunderstanding regarding what forgiveness really is, what it involves and what it accomplishes for the one who is giving forgiveness (or for the one forgiven).
10. Our inability to own our identity as a forgiven sinner and realize the cost of
our own forgiveness to Jesus, or God the Father.
11. Not realizing the personal price one pays for not forgiving others; a price not only paid by us, but also by those who are close to us.
12. A lack of awareness that an unforgiving heart is a breeding ground for hatred, bitterness, anger and rage.
Forgiveness and the Bible
1. Jesus and forgiveness:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:12-15
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37
So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3
…"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Mt 18:21-35
2. Paul and forgiveness:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Eph 4:32 NAS
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
From these passages it is easy to see that forgiveness is not option, but an expected action executed by those who have been forgiven. In fact, a quick overview of these passages could suggest that our forgiveness is contingent on our forgiving of others. Though this is not the case, these and other verses clearly emphasize the importance of our forgiving others and the negative impact that unforgiveness has in terms of our relationship with God. If we have truly embraced our identity as those forgiven by God we will forgive others.
Please reflect on the following: As a rule is it difficult or easy for you to forgive? Why do you think that is? What are some things you could do to help you to become more tenderhearted and forgiving? What are some things that hinder your ability to forgive?
Steps to Forgiveness
In order to forgive, it is essential that we decide we want to forgive. Without this decision, the process of forgiving never truly begins. That being said, it is important to remember that forgiveness is not an act of the will alone. It flows out of a realization of our being forgiven by God and is empowered by the love which God has poured within our hearts and the power of God’s Spirit that indwells us.
We know forgiveness has begun when we feel the inner battle between the desire to forgive and the desire to not forgive (instead to attack, wish ill, harbor a grudge, be angry). During this time of internal battling, it is important to remember that the journey of forgiving is never quick nor easy. Sometimes it can take years.
Lewis Smedes writes; “The worse you’ve been hurt, the longer it takes to forgive. Minor bruises can be handled quickly. But when you’ve been sliced and diced inside your being, you better count on a longer process.”
Here are some tips to help you forgive:
- Remember you have been forgiven by God – you are a forgiven sinner
- Do not deny that you have been hurt. Forgiving is not denying.
- Make a decision to forgive others.
- Do not seek revenge or repay evil for evil.
- Ask Jesus to help you release the anger, hatred, bitterness and pain inside you. Pray for a forgiving heart and the desire to forgive.
- Be patient with yourself. Forgiveness is a process. It can be a messy, confusing, ‘one step forward and two steps back’ journey which will require much ‘self grace giving’ even as you seek to extend the grace of forgiveness to another.
Initial Steps for Beginning the Forgiveness Process
1. Realizing the depth and pervasiveness of God’s forgiveness of you through Christ.
2. Deciding to seek to forgive others because you have been forgiven.
Don't wait to forgive until you feel emotionally healed from the wound (but do not rush it either); instead, choose to forgive and let God begin the process of true healing in your life.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss at Revive our Hearts.
3. Asking God, “Who do I need to forgive?”
4. Asking God for the desire to forgive this person, or for the desire for the desire to forgive the person.
5. Ascertaining if you are at a place spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically to begin the forgiveness process.
6. Reminding yourself just what forgiveness is and isn’t. (See pages 1-2 above)
7. Asking someone to support you in prayer, be a listening ear, bring accountability, wisdom and grace to you during the forgiveness process.
Getting Started on Forgiving
1. Count the cost. Forgiveness can be a very intense and painful process. The level of pain and intensity is determined by: the depth of the pain, the duration of the action or actions which you are forgiving, the identity of the offender (family member, close friend, trusted adult etc.). Remember, forgiveness will involve revisiting painful and hurtful activities.
2. Remind yourself that forgiveness, first and foremost, is for you. It brings freedom from hate, from bitterness, from pain, from shame, through inner healing, through the ability to relate with others and to love and be loved in new and deeper ways.
3. Revisit the Event(s)
- Name and claim the hurt and pain you suffered.
- Own your role as the victim (it was NOT your fault, you were not to blame)
Power is often involved; the overt power of an adult over a child, a man against a woman…or powerlessness: you were unable
to do anything, say anything. It is often a mixture of feeling both ‘powered over’ and a pervasive sense of powerlessness in the midst of the act(s) that causes you to blame yourself.
- Unpack what was the personal cost to you – in terms of self image, innocence lost, inability to trust, love…this will lead to a time of grieving your loses. This is a time to let your feelings flow freely without shaming yourself for them.
- Hold the offender responsible for their actions.
Journaling can be helpful in processing through step 3. It will probably take a number of times journaling before you process through all this.
4. You may now need some time to process through the issue of where was God when the event(s) was/were taking place. Why didn’t God do something? Protect you? Deliver you? These are questions you may need to work through with God. Once again, journaling may provide an excellent way to do this. (You can skip this step and come back later or you may find yourself revisiting this step through out the forgiveness process)
5. Remind yourself that forgiveness, first and foremost, is for you. . It brings freedom: from hate, from bitterness, from pain, from shame, through inner healing, through the ability to relate with others and to love and be loved in new and deeper ways.
By forgiving others, we don't allow resentment to imprison us or to destroy us and our relationships with others. Lewis Smedes wrote; “to forgive is to set the prisoner free... and to discover the prisoner was you.”
6. Ask God for what Lewis Smedes calls ‘magic eyes:’ the ability to see the offender in a different way. You seek to see the offender, not as a monster, but as one who is human (created in the image of God), weak, needy and fallible. To accomplish this, you must separate the person from the offense done to you, as well as the hurt and pain it has caused you.
You are NOT doing this as a way to excuse, condone or justify what they did. The goal is to forgive, which means holding the person accountable for their action…naming the action as wrong and hurtful. By seeing them with ‘magic eyes’, you are seeking to escape from feelings of hatred, bitterness, desire for revenge and the destruction those feelings bring to yourself and others. And you are seeking to replace those feelings with feelings of good will and well wishing for the person you are seeking to forgive.
This step is neither quick nor easy, but that is as it should be. Forgiveness is a process. To really forgive can be a hard, painful, soul searching and intense process.
7. Remind yourself that forgiveness, first and foremost, is for you. It allows you to escape the prison of your past. It brings freedom: from hate, from bitterness, from pain, from shame, through inner healing, through the ability to relate with others and to love and be loved in new and deeper ways.
8. Begin to pray for the person who offended you. You will know that your forgiveness of an offender is growing when you begin to want God’s best for them.
Also, purpose to take your words and thoughts captive concerning this person, seeking to replace negative thoughts against the person with positive thoughts, exchanging negative words with positive ones or no words at all.
9. Continue on the journey of forgiveness, and continue to remind yourself that forgiveness, first and foremost, is for you. It allows you to escape the prison of your past. It brings freedom: from hate, from bitterness, from pain, from shame, through inner healing, through the ability to relate with others and to love and be loved in new and deeper ways.
10. Prayerfully seek God’s guidance regarding meeting with person you are seeking to forgive and wisdom what to say if God so directs you to meet with the individual. This is not always possible or needed.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
I have purposely set this apart from steps to forgiveness because: Sometimes reconciliation is impossible (the offender is dead or has no desire to be reconciled). Sometimes it is not safe or wise (the offender is a sexual, physical, emotional abuser) or the person is not willing to own their role in the offense.
If reconciliation does not occur, it does NOT mean that forgiveness did not take place. In this phase of forgiveness you have little, if any, control of the outcome. You have forgiven the person. This has freed, or is freeing, you from the pain, bitterness, hatred and anger caused by the other person.
Now you feel the leading of God to take steps that may bring about reconciliation. If you take these steps, it is very important to understand that reconciliation does NOT necessarily mean everything goes back to the way it was. There may need to be boundaries set in terms of the relationship. Forgiveness doesn’t turn back the hands of time nor does it eradicate what has been done or the consequences of those actions.
Steps to Reconciliation
1. Remember, all you can do is provide the opportunity for reconciliation. You cannot make it take place.
2. The person you are seeking to reconcile with must own their role and be willing to try to understand what they did to you (how it felt to you) and seek to enter into the pain and anguish you have felt.
3. The person you are seeking to reconcile with must make a commitment to you regarding their intention not to do such things to you again.
4. You then reconcile as you are able, given the current circumstances of life and the level of trust you are comfortable with extending to the person.
5. Reconciliation is a process. Begin where you are and move on from there.
Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. You are forgiven in and through Christ and you are expected to be forgiving to yourself and others. This is not up for discussion. However, you must remember that forgiveness is a process – it takes time and energy. You must be ready to enter the process. You must give yourself grace during the process. You must remind yourself throughout the process that forgiving another is bringing great healing and transformation to you. The journey of forgiveness may have many starts and stops along the way - that is not important. The important thing is that you are on the journey.
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