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Resource Sheet 2 - Freedom through Forgiveness by Joy Dawson

I don't know of a state of life that produces hardness of heart like the sin of resentment to those who have wronged us. We are such fragile beings. And we live in a fallen world where we seem to have the unique capacity of hurting each other whether out of our own humanness, or through our all too frequent misunderstanding of each other. The reality is that in this life we are going to get hurt to some degree or another. The greater the hurt, the deeper the pain. The deeper the pain, the more tempted we are to yield to the force of resentment to the perpetrator of the pain. That's the human reaction.

Without the stronger healing force of forgiveness we become subject to the utter bondage, the slavery, the destructive force of unforgiveness. "A sound heart is life to the body but envy is rottenness to the bones" (Psalm 14:30).

p>It is important for us to understand that the purposes of the fire of God's love in our lives are often parallel to the purposes of natural fire. Natural fire melts hard substances. The Lord yearns for us to believe that He alone knows the extent of our hurt and pain because there is nothing hidden from His sight. More than that, because the Lord Jesus has paid the ultimate price of suffering when He became our substitute and sin-bearer on the cross, we read in Psalm 147:5 that "His understanding is infinite [or unsearchable]." Think about that. That's why He can promise in Psalm 147:3 that, "He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds." So, He knows everything, understands everything, and can fix everything. We can't beat that for a deal!

With that in mind, let us come to Him with our wounded spirits and cry out like David did in Psalm 22:19, "But You, 0 Lord, do not be far from me, 0 my strength; hasten to help me." In this case, "Hasten to help us, by enabling us to forgive every person who has hurt us."

I recently read in a book written by a Christian doctor, where he quoted a veteran doctor who stated that he had never seen a more destructive force on the human body than the root of bitterness. The writer went on to say that he had personally witnessed this phenomenon in his own practice, having completed over 100,000 patient visits. Impressive stats!

It is perfectly possible, in our ignorance, to have resentment toward God. But because the Bible tells us in Deuteronomy 32:4 that "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He," it is therefore impossible to charge Him with blame. Therefore He doesn't qualify for our forgiveness. (See Prayer for releasing resentments towards the Lord.) We can only forgive people who have wronged us. However, we must not presume that because we're feeling hurt, that the person connected with the pain was necessarily guilty of doing wrong.

Let's look at some reasons for feeling hurt, where we could be tempted to wrongly judge people:

  1. We were not consulted before a decision was made. Perhaps we were not meant to be involved in that responsibility.

  2. We were not told about something for which we should have been informed. Maybe the breakdown of communication was with someone else who had been delegated to do so and had failed.

  3. We were not given the attention we requested from an individual, or insufficient attention for our liking. It could be, that for a number of reasons our receiving attention was not a legitimate priority for that individual at that time, or their amount of availability was equally limited.

  4. We were not given the recognition for our labors that we thought we deserved. Perhaps God overruled the recognition by withholding it in order to test the motivation of our hearts. Jesus said, "I do not receive praise from men," simply because He gave all the glory to the Father.

  5. We were corrected by someone where we considered the judgment to be unfair. Maybe we were immediately defensive and didn't have the humility to ask God to show us if there was even a small percentage of truth in their overall judgment.

  6. We were seemingly ignored by someone when we were in the presence of others. It's absolutely possible that the person either didn't see us, or never heard us, or for any number of reasons wasn't able to speak or respond to us. For example, it could be because of the pressures of responsibilities on the person, or their physical condition, or because they were under great stress, to name a few.

  7. We were not included in a group situation where we thought we should have been. It could be that there was an unexplainable oversight, or perhaps the group felt it would be wiser and more beneficial for all concerned, including ourselves, if we were not included.

We need to honestly ask the Holy Spirit to show us where our ego and pride may have been the cause of our pain when we're feeling offended. When we really come to the place of death to that monster called self and want it to be crucified, we enter into real freedom. You can't offend a dead man.

On the other hand, there are times when others have totally distorted our characters through what they've said about us, or have perpetuated lies about us. That's another story, and God understands the pain that comes from those experiences. If we will forgive them, He will heal us and vindicate us in His way and time (see Isaiah 54:17).

We also need to be far more sensitive in all our communications with each other. Here's a check list:

  1. Is the communication really necessary?

  2. Is it our responsibility to communicate, or another's?

  3. Are we communicating in the right timing?

  4. Have we the right method of communicating?

  5. Are we in the right attitude of heart? Have we checked motives?

  6. Are we prepared to speak only 100 percent truth in humility, gentleness, love, and graciousness?

In Luke 12:48 (RSV), Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more."

We need to be especially sensitive to everything related to our communications with spiritual leaders. They are subject to a great deal of unnecessary stress by virtue of their high profile, from people who, often in ignorance, create that stress. Let's heed this admonition so that it can be avoided.

If we have wrongly judged others, God requires repentance of that sin, because Matthew 7:1-2 says, "Judge not that you be not judged, for with what judgment you judge you will be judged." Only repentance will release us from God's judgment that is already on us. If we have shared our wrong judgment with others, we will also need to make restitution by telling them.

How much disunity in the Body of Christ would be avoided if only we would live by the Word of God. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said that if we know another person has something against us, we're to go to that person and seek reconciliation. Also, if someone has sinned against us, we're to go to him or her alone and express our forgiveness and do everything we know to be reconciled (see Matthew 18:15).

How grateful I've been on a couple of occasions when dear friends have asked me if there was anything I knew that would have caused our friendship not to be what it was; only for me to warmly and strongly assure them that nothing had changed from my perspective, and then to be able to give them an explanation for their inquiry. This resulted in closer unity, and potential misunderstandings were avoided.

Unity in Christ's Body of believers is the most powerful influence for unbelievers to be convinced that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God and that God loves His disciples as He loved His Son. What an incredible impact! That's why forgiveness is so essential for world evangelization (see John 17:23).

How to Forgive

God's Word says, "Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). Obviously, from this Scripture there is enough of God's grace available to enable any one of us to forgive an offense.

The following scriptural principles, when put into practice, will release anyone into the full freedom of forgiveness. They have been tried and proven true.

  1. Realize that forgiveness is an act of the will. We have to want to forgive. Some people simply don't want to. They prefer to harbor their resentment and continue in their bondage.

  2. Understand that resentment is destructive to the mind, body, soul, and spirit. "A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot" (Proverbs 14:30 RSV).

  3. Realize that we will not be forgiven by God unless we forgive those who have hurt us. "And when you stand praying if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins" (Mark 11:25). Wow! That's heavy! Is there anyone who doesn't need God's ongoing forgiveness?

  4. Think of all that God has forgiven us. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). "As the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Colossians 3:13b). God forgives us instantly, joyfully, and wholly.

  5. Thank the Lord for any or all of the blessings He has brought to us through the people who have hurt us. Write them down. Thankfulness and resentment have a hard time remaining together.

  6. Think of the needs - mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual - of the individuals at the time of their hurting us. Their needs then - and now - are probably greater than ours.

  7. We ask God to give us His supernatural ability to love and forgive those people. Acknowledge that this is the work of the Holy Spirit and receive it by faith. "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us" (Romans 5:5b). "And without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6a). "Faith [expresses] itself through love" (Galatians 5:6). And God has promised in First Corinthians 13:8a that "love never fails."

  8. We ask God for opportunities to express His love to these people both in word and in deed. "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). Benevolent acts and expressed love make it terribly hard for resentment to exist. They suffocate it.

  9. Become a regular intercessor for them. Pray only for God to bless them, encourage them, comfort them, strengthen them, and meet their deepest needs. "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

As we persist in these spiritual exercises we find we are being conformed into the image of the Lord Jesus, and after all, that's our goal; so that makes us express gratitude to God for allowing the painful circumstances in the first place. And we've again proved that His matchless grace has brought us through. What a God!

From pages 70-75 of Section 3, "The fire of God to purify", in The fire of God: discovering its many life-changing purposes, by Joy Dawson. Shippensberg, PA: Destiny Image, 2005.

These nine points also appear in Intercession, thrilling and fulfilling, in chapter 4 "How to pray for someone near you who is away from God."

The following story appears on pages 44-45 and illustrates the importance of not holding resentment when we pray:

A dedicated Christian woman in California told me that after she had heard me speak on the subject of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit convicted her of her long-standing resentment toward her son-in-law. Her son-in-law was unconverted, and for years had been cruel to her daughter and her grand-children, causing her much sorrow. She had prayed fervently for years for his conversion, but without results.

That same night at 11.30 p.m., the woman knelt beside her bed and repented of her resentment. She then applied every one of the preceding nine steps as she realized the cause for the ineffectiveness of her prayers for her son-in-law's conversion. It was a Thursday night.

The following Saturday morning, her son-in-law unexpectedly burst into her house. He announced the startling news that at exactly 11.30 p.m. on the previous Thursday night he had felt a strong conviction of sin, had repented, and had given his life to Christ. He said that he had asked forgiveness of his wife and children and that he had felt compelled drive to her home (although a long distance away) to ask for her forgiveness for all the heartache he had caused her. As soon as the woman had forgiven her son-in-law, God was able to answer her prayers.