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“Lord, How often...shall I forgive…” - Matthew 18:21 (NLT)
Trembling, he entered the King’s chambers. “In a moment my life will never be the same,” he thought, “that is if he spares my life.”
The King pored over the ledger. “Says here you owe me a lot of money. In fact, millions. Is this correct?”
“Yes, your majesty. But if you’ll spare my life, I’ll give you every dime I earn as long as I live.”
As we looked at this story last weekend, we gasped at the King’s compassion. “Tell you what I’ll do,” he said, ripping the page from his ledger. “I’ll forgive it all. Everything. Now, go in peace.” Scandalous? Indeed. Undeserved forgiveness always is. We’ll talk all about that in our devos this week.
She came into my office clutching a crumpled letter. She said, “I can’t get beyond this.” I asked for clarification.
“This letter,” she said. “The things she wrote in it. They’ve destroyed my life.”
“How long have you had it?” I asked.
“Three years,” she said.
“How often have you read it?”
“Oh, dozens of times, maybe hundreds.”
“Give the letter to me,” I said.
“What will you do with it?”
“What I do with it isn’t nearly as important as what you do with It. Give it to me.”
Slowly, reluctantly, hand trembling, she surrendered the source of her torment. She began to weep. After awhile, I said, “May I lead you through a prayer of forgiveness?”
“But you don’t know how she hurt me,” she said.
“You’re right,” I answered, “but you’ll never be free until you forgive.”
“But that wouldn’t change what happened,” she protested.
“You’re right,” I replied, “but it’ll change you.”
After we prayed, she cried some more. Ten minutes later she said, “I feel so much lighter… so peaceful.” Then she thanked me and left. She never mentioned the letter again.
Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. - Romans 12:18 (NLT)
Lewis Smedes, in his book, Forgive and Forget, tells about a self-righteous man named Fouke whose wife betrays him. Superficially he forgives her, but secretly he hates her. Every time his secret hatred boils to the surface, an angel pops a stone in his heart until the man is stooped and bent under their weight.
Ever been there? Maybe you’re there now. First, I’m sorry. Few things are more painful. But how do you move beyond that? I have one piece of advice: Choose to forgive. Impossible? No. Only till you do it. Here’s some truth about forgiveness:
It’s a decision, not a feeling. If we wait till we feel like forgiving, we won’t. Period.
Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. That’s impossible. The power of memories diminish over time, but they never entirely go away. Healing is a process that takes time.
Be honest. Don’t downplay your pain, or make excuses for the one(s) who hurt you. Just bring it openly before God; He’ll take it from there. Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. Ps. 55:22 (NLT)
Accept the price. Forgiveness always costs us more than the one we forgive, but the alternative is carrying around a bag of bitterness the rest of our lives, which will leave us stooped and bent over, like Fouke, whom I referenced above.
Guess what? It’s time. Throw away your file cabinet, your blacklist, your score pad. Keeping lists never changes anything, ever. That list with your neighbor’s name, your boss’s name, a relative’s name, or your ex’s name? It’s time to mentally, spiritually, and physically tear it up and toss it. You know why? It controls you. Seriously, is that what you want?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other… - Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)
I had a mixed-breed beagle when I was growing up, “creatively” named Snoopy! He was my best pal. He enjoyed laying in the shade as I played sandlot baseball with friends. Afterwards, I'd hop on my bike, and ole’ Snoop would run alongside, all the way home.
There were no leash laws back then so Snoopy gained quite a reputation for chasing cars and mailmen! He’d lay on the porch of our modest brick home, and when a car came by he’d bound off the porch, chase it with abandon, then circle around the back of the car and return to the porch.
One August evening, a truck pulling a flatbed trailer came along. You guessed it. Snoopy misjudged the wheels of the trailer, which pounded his hind legs into the pavement. Yelping and panicked, he took refuge in our neighbor’s shrubs. I rushed to his rescue and found him shivering, bleeding, frightened. As I reached to pick him up, I was absolutely
devastated by his response--he bit me! I was stunned as he snarled and growled at me.
By this time, my mother arrived on the scene. Noting my tears and confusion, she said something I’ve never forgotten, “Gary, he loves you, but he’s hurting. Give him some space."
I learned a valuable lesson that day; not only about dogs but people too. Sometimes they react abruptly and angrily. We tend to lash back, turn away, or just write them off. Instead, we should pray for compassion and a discerning heart, and God will show us how to creatively look beneath the surface. Let’s not allow someone’s negative reaction to diminish the power of our love.
To this day, I still think of Snoopy when I read the words of the Apostle Peter, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Pet. 4:8 (NIV)
Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom! - Proverbs 4:7 (NLT)
The greater part of wisdom in life is knowing when to hang on and when to let go. One of the ways we let go… is through forgiveness. Is there something or someone in your life you need to forgive and release? Anger toward someone who hurt you? The pain of being misunderstood? A relationship that went sour? Your kids?
People often ask me how to let go. Here are some things that come to mind. Letting go means...
We stop trying to control other people. More of us suffer from that than any other sickness.
We admit our powerlessness to change anyone but ourselves.
We don’t give up on someone; we give them up to God. Big difference.
We accept people without judging.
We resist the urge to be overly-protective.
We grant others permission to think, feel, and act differently than us.
We decide to resign as General Manager of the universe.
We realize that we don’t have a corner on truth. In fact, we may very well be wrong about a lot of things!
We value people more than possessions.
We learn what's "cancer" and what's "measles." Can I let you in on a little secret? The majority of things we worry about and overreact to… are "measles."
We choose to fear God, not man.
We learn to say, “I love you”...a lot.
We make a permanent decision to see everything, overlook a lot, and correct a little, especially with our family and close friends.
I ask you again… what, or who do you need to release? What do you need to surrender one… last… time. You can do it! Bow your head, say a prayer and ask God to help you… then let go. Be wise, my friend. Release your grip. Hear that sound? That's God clapping and cheering!
Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you… - Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)
About five years ago, I met with a joyless young lady who was bitter toward some friends. After an hour of discussion, I asked if I could pray with her to forgive her friends. She refused. “I will never forgive them,” she said, “Never.” I still pray for her today. I won’t stop. She has too much potential to live life in the shackles of unforgiveness.
Years ago a woman told me how much she despised her husband who’d walked out on her.
“When did it happen?” I asked.
“Twenty years ago.”
“Does he know you’re still bitter about it?”
“Not really,” she said. “He’s long since moved away and started a new life.”
“So your bitterness doesn’t really work, does it?”
“No, I guess not,” she said.
“Why don’t you do something that works,” I suggested. No response. I thought to myself, “We become like those we hate.”
We’ve been learning this week that we can’t change the past, but we can change the future by making the most of today, tomorrow, and the next day. In that sense, we have within us the power to create a new past.
Would you like a new past… free of the poison of bitterness? I offer three suggestions:
Understand grace. Find and read every verse in the New Testament about grace until you understand it.
Embrace grace. Knowing about it isn’t enough; receiving it is the next step. That’s where a lot of people get stuck.
Extend grace. Nothing will heal your heart more than being a joy-giver and grace-dispenser. I promise.
Here’s a poem I wrote about this. Ponder it for awhile.
The next time
I bask in the
Help me remember
that graduating from seminary
or standing on the stage at church
has never made anyone
holy, especially me.
Lord, I stand on Your
grace alone, and
Ah, sweet grace…
Lord, where would I be