How to Forgive
Many believers know that forgiveness is important, but few know how to practice it. When bitter feelings bubble up, it can seem impossible to put on love. Perhaps you’ve experienced major hurt in the past and you struggle to forgive. You know God wants you to let the thing go, but you’ve found that it isn’t easy to do so. I’ve had this experience. There have been times in which I have come to the proverbial end of my rope. Feeling completely overwhelmed and totally helpless, forgiveness has seemed like an impossible enigma. Let me share two actions which have helped me forgive.
Talk to God.
To over come emotional resentment, prayer is a necessity. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He indicated that a portion of their daily supplications should focus on this matter. He told them to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Many believers recite the Lord’s prayer in a rote-memorized fashion. I often pray the prayer similarly. In the course of my daily events, I secretly and spontaneously offer the prayer up to God. However, it is important to note that Jesus’ words aren’t to be regarded as nothing more than a prayer script for cold recitation. They also serve as a template or outline. They show the topics or issues concerning which we should regularly pray. Forgiveness is one of them.
When we pray, we should first seek the Lord’s forgiveness in a personal way. Though we are positionally cleansed of all sin at salvation (see 1 Corinthians 6:11), we have need of continual confession in order to maintain close fellowship with the Lord (see John 13:10 and 1 John 1:9). But our prayers of forgiveness should also have an interpersonal dimension. The Lord referenced this in the Lord’s prayer (see Matthew 6:12b). He knew forgiveness doesn’t come easy. We need His help, so we need to regularly pray concerning the matter. Since God is a forgiving God (see Daniel 9:9), He can supernaturally empower us to overlook the offenses of others. Forgiveness involves more than a mind trick, decision, or choice. It necessitates otherworldly power; thus, prayer is required.
Talk to People.
Forgiveness doesn’t always involve a conversation with an offending party. Some think so,but I disagree. I’ve heard people claim that you can’t truly forgive someone until they ask for it. I think such people confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. The former is an internal matter; the latter is external. You can forgive someone by simply releasing the inner-hostility towards them which is bound up in your heart.
At times, however, talking to the person who has hurt you may help. The Bible gives us specific instruction for such confrontations (see Matthew 18:15-35). When you share your hurt with others in a graceful way, you may find that they will be quick to admit their wrong. Or they may explain that they never meant to offend you. Of course there are times when we don’t have the opportunity to approach people who have hurt us; even then, we can let go of our bitterness by practicing biblical forgiveness.
Dr. Patrick Latham