As we forgive others

Forgiveness.  What is it.  Why we should do it.  And how.

We've already seen why we should forgive.  But it's always good to remind ourselves.  When we forgive, we are acknowledging the forgiveness that God has extended to us.  If we refuse to forgive others, then we put our own relationship with God in danger. (Matthew 18:21-35) No, I'm not saying we lose our salvation.  But I am saying (because the Bible says so) that our prayers will be hindered and we subject ourselves to all kinds of emotional torment.

OK.  Now we're convinced -- we want to forgive others.  But what is it, exactly?  And how can we do it?  What does it look like?

Forgiveness is literally the erasing of a debt.  When someone has sinned against you, they have not paid you what you are owed. We use that analogy all the time - "I owe you an apology" or "I'll make him pay for that".  Just like we owe God righteousness, we owe all mankind love...and the same is owed to us. (Romans 13:8)  Unfortunately, just like we cannot pay God what we owe Him, so all of us do not at all times pay the debt of love we owe to all others.  We owe others and they owe us.  God requires that we forgive others what they owe us.

Ouch.  That's hard to do.  How in the world can we do that?  We hurt.  And we fear getting hurt some more.  Does God really expect me to forgive?  To just say "it's OK"????  Really???

The answers are - yes, no, yes.  Yes, He expects me to forgive.  No, it's not OK.  And yes, really.

Here's the deal.  Forgiveness does NOT mean that what someone did to you is OK.  Most often, it's not.  Sometimes it's a really big deal.  Life-altering kinds of things.  Sometimes it's not but often times it is.  And it is NOT OK nor does God say that it's OK.  To say that would contribute further to our hurt, trivialize it, and not result in healing.  Instead, forgiveness means acknowledging that there is indeed a debt owed (and it helps me to tell God exactly what I think I am owed) and choosing to not make the debtor pay.  No longer holding them responsible for what they owe us.  Not trying to extract some form of payment from them.  Letting God be their bill collector...and our debt repay-er.

This is the way to not only an effective prayer life but also to a life free from bitterness and anxiety.  Our attempts to make the other person pay what they owe rarely result in getting the debt paid.  Rather, new debts result!  But if we tell God they don't owe us anymore, we are free.  Free from the chains of unforgiveness that bind us to the debtor.  Free from the torment that ensues when we refuse to release someone from what they owe.  And out of God's way so that He can also work in the life of our debtor.

So that's what forgiveness is.  How do we do it? Here are a few things that have been really helpful for me.  First, I pray about the person who owes me.  I tell God what they did and how it hurts and how much I think they owe me.  Not that He doesn't already know, mind you, but because it helps me to get it out of my heart.  Instead of leaving it in there where it can fester.  Only after that am I able to pray for them.  To begin with, it might be through clenched teeth but, as I continue in obedience, I am eventually able to pray with a heart of compassion for them.  Praying that God would bless them the same ways that I want Him to bless me.  Over and over and over until my wounded heart stops bleeding.  And is able to beat in normal rhythm.  And I begin to heal.  If my feelings try and override my choice to forgive, I start the process all over again.  And I choose to subject my thoughts about the offender to the obedience of Christ.  For instance, if I am tempted to think mean thoughts about them, I re-direct my thoughts to ones that please Christ instead.  Repeating this over and over and over literally creates a new pathway of thinking in my brain and eventually new feelings follow.  (This is actually scientifically verifiable!) Perhaps this is part of what Jesus was conveying to us when He said to forgive others not 7x7 but rather 70x7. 

One last thought on forgiveness.  That debt we are owed still needs to be repaid.  We've made the choice to forgive, to not demand payment from the offender.  But the debt remains.  How do we get it paid?

We pay it ourselves.

 Yep, by God's grace we pay it ourselves.But not in a conventional way. God's economy is unique.  The way to get what we are owed is to pay it investing in the life of the offender.  Sometimes just through praying for them.  But often through God-initiated, God-directed installment payments.  Writing a note of congratulations when some blessing has come to them.  Speaking kindly to them in the grocery store. And only in God's economy can payment be made by NOT doing something!!  Not telling the story of the offense (even if you're just sticking to the truth!).  Not pointing out their deficiencies to another person. Not avoiding them like the plague.  Not trying to rally others against them.

 Following God's directions to do good to the enemy.  Being an avenue of blessing.

But wait, you say!  They will just hurt me again!!
Maybe.  Possibly.  But we are never more like Christ than when we forgive.
And if we choose to walk in the path of forgiveness and blessing, He will see to it that we are repaid far more than what we are owed.  He promises.