We have all been through something terrible in our lives. When I was younger, my older cousin molested me and my sister for a very long time. For the majority of my life, my mother was not a loving mother to me or my sister. A career that I had spent my entire life building was destroyed by students that I had given my life to serve. I have been hurt by members of the church, especially because I am a Pastor’s daughter. I was abused and mistreated by the only man that my heart longed for, my ex-husband and the father of my daughter. In almost every year of my existence, I can think of trying times that should have otherwise killed me; and each time I presented my cares and concerns to the Lord, His reply to me was exactly the same as He gives to others: Forgive them.
These two words are incredibly powerful. When we think about forgiveness, we somehow equate this to giving people the power to hurt us again. This is what I believed for a while, and what many others believe today, especially those in the Church. We think that if we forgive those that hurt us then they will take advantage of us again, thereby hurting us the more. Yet, the Lord commands us to forgive those that spitefully use us (see Matthew 5:44). This is a hard lesson to learn, especially when our carnal nature gives us license to hold onto the offense as a barrier and shield against future attacks.
The Lord was very clear when He explained the effects of not forgiving others. He said that if we refuse to forgive others of their sins against us, then our Heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matthew 6:15). Try to envision yourself standing before the throne of God, and you are unable to have any of your prayers answered because the Lord only sees your guilt, your shame, and your sins. When you refuse to release others from their offense, this is exactly what happens to you. For this reason, many people find themselves unable to be healed of their infirmities or to receive deliverance from the Lord because they have this obstacle standing between them and the Lord.
But there is a great reward for those that forgive others. The Bible teaches us that God extends His forgiveness to us when we forgive others (Luke 6:37). This means that any hindrances that were once present in our prayers will instantly be removed. This means that we have unbroken fellowship with the Lord. This means that whatsoever we ask in prayer, we have the petition for which we’ve asked. Why? Because we have no sin, no guilt, and no shame that stands before us in the presence of the Lord.
Holding onto hurts and offenses does more of a disservice to us than it does to those that hurt us. While our unforgiveness may cause the other person to feel condemned and sorrowful, that will only last for a while; but unforgiveness can cause unrelenting bitterness in our lives that will destroy our future.
Keep in mind that forgiving someone does not mean that you have to reestablish the same relationship with the individuals that have done serious damage to you. I would never suggest that a victim of rape restore or establish a relationship with his or her attacker. In like manner, I would never reestablish a relationship with the persons that abused me because they remain the same. It’s only wise to guard against something like that. But I do not have permission to hold that offense against them. In letting go, I consciously make myself available to receive all that the Lord has for me, including His forgiveness and His healing. I know that I have forgiven others because I can speak love towards them, even though they did the damage. I can still pray for them if the Lord places them on my heart. What’s more interesting is that I have a promise from Christ Himself that those who persecute me or use me out of spite are actually demonstrating to me that I am blessed of the Lord (Matthew 5:10). So I don’t have to get caught up in desiring revenge against them because the Lord is my defense.
If you find yourself in a position to where you are unable to forgive others, consider what it was like for the Lord to extend His forgiveness to you, even when you did not deserve it. He could have avoided the cross had He chosen not to forgive us, and we would never have any hope of salvation. He is our prime example. Let us be grateful for His unyielding forgiveness and be willing to forgive others. For in doing so, we express the love of Christ that transcends all understanding, and we become a witness to unbelievers, which is something that always brings glory to His name.