“But I don’t want to!”
Every parent remembers when their child said (or is still saying) this to them in a defiant tone. But it’s not only children who say or think this.
In February’s issue of Peace it together we talked about forgiveness and how hard this is for us to do. Forgiveness is hard to do. For most of us it doesn’t come naturally or easily, nor does it even seem fair or just. And the “bigger” the offence, the more difficult it is to do it. Yet Jesus commands us to forgive. (Mark 11:25; Matthew 6:12 and 14; Matthew 18:21-22)
So what are we to do? How do we forgive when we don’t want to?
What we think determines what we do and how we feel. That is why Paul said to the Romans, “do not conform to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12:2) and the Psalmist said, “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord.” (Psalm 19:14)
No formula or strategy will ever make something hard easy – but there are some things we can remind ourselves of and choose to do to make forgiveness “less” hard and help us have a different mind set as we choose to obey Jesus.
1. Recall and remind yourself of God’s amazing and complete forgiveness of your sins and thank him for this undeserved grace.
Remember the story of the unforgiving servant? He was forgiven a huge, huge debt by the king and yet could not forgive a very small debt owed to him by a fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Only God knows the true extent of our sin against Him, but we all know that our debt is huge! God knows us and not only loves us despite our sinfulness, but has forgiven us all our sins, past, present and future! When we are finding it hard to forgive someone who has wronged us, it might just be helpful to soberly consider how we have sinned and been so completely and unjustifiably forgiven by God himself. Whatever the sin against us might be, we know that everyday in so many small and big ways, our selfish ego and pride cause us to put ourselves and what we want before loving and honouring God and loving and serving others – and yet God loves us and forgives us! Do we really have any right to withhold forgiveness from those people that offend us when we know that we have no right to be forgiven by a perfect, holy God?
2. Don’t try and forgive in your own strength. Ask God specifically for His forgiveness to give to others.
We were created in the image of God and so hard wired for truth and justice. However, because of our fallen nature, our demand for truth and justice is often self-centred, self-serving and self-righteous. We might think that if we forgive someone, we are condoning their actions or behaviour or worse – that if we forgive, justice will not be served. It is only when we realise that the almighty, sovereign God who made heaven and earth, is and will be the just judge of all things that we can even attempt to truly and fully forgive someone who has hurt us. You can be sure that He will ensure justice is served – so we don’t have to.
3. Consider what is driving this unforgiveness. What is it about the offence that we feel so motivated to withhold forgiveness?
Do you realise that God has given you everything you need for life and godliness? Not some things, not most things – but everything! (2 Peter 1:3; Romans 8:32)
What do you want or need that is causing you to withhold forgiveness? Who are you attempting to control or manipulate to get what you want? What did that offensive behaviour or those words threaten or take from you that you felt entitled to?
You might be surprised that God is using this very circumstance to help you understand and choose in what, and quite possibly in whom you are really trusting and relying on for your life and security? Scary but true!
We are, in just about every moment of every day, relying on ourselves for happiness and security and wanting to make for ourselves all we need for life and godliness and not completely relying on God for this. And God is graciously, gradually and lovingly showing us, through conflict and difficult circumstances that we are to trust and rely on him for our total security and life.
Relying on God and trusting him is not easy but it’s simple. If we step back and honestly consider what is causing us to withhold forgiveness, we will often find that it is our basic unbelief in the complete sovereignty, unfailing love and perfect justice of our great God that is somehow impacting our inability to forgive those that have hurt us. If we can see this for what it is – our unbelief in God and trusting in ourselves, we can humbly and boldly approach the throne of God, confess our sin of self-reliance and self-righteousness to him and obtain his full and free forgiveness and grace. (Hebrews 4:16)
When we choose to truly forgive someone for their wrong against us, we are imitating Christ’s forgiveness of our sins against him and in this, learning the required lesson of growing an evermore encompassing reliance on God.
So even in our difficulty of forgiving others, God is loving us, teaching us and growing us to become conformed to his Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29) What a gracious, loving, heavenly Father? And maybe by remembering these things, next time we might add to our “I don’t want to” – “ and I know I can’t forgive in my own strength, but Jesus, give me your love and grace to do it.”