Can you imagine leading a people who constantly opposed you? Who constantly accused you of trying to harm them? Who longed for the benefits of the land of their bondage and who found freedom too burdensome? This was Moses’ experience.
But every time the people opposed Moses, he had the same response: he fell facedown. He fell facedown before God and waited for God to speak. Moses knew a secret that we could all learn when faced with opposition. Humility.
What does that have to do with forgiveness? Everything. It shows Moses’ heart towards people, his security in his identity as a child of God, and his awareness of who he is without God.
The underbelly of unforgiveness is a form of pride. Unforgiveness says, “How dare anyone hurt me or treat me that way? Who do they think they are?” But underneath those questions is a more pointed thought, “I would never treat anyone that way.” But there isn’t a perfect person who responds perfectly in all situations. Careless remarks can hurt just as bad as deliberate remarks.
It would look pretty silly if every time someone opposed us, we dropped to our face in front of them. But what if we trained our hearts to immediately take that posture? Can unforgiveness stand if the heart is bowed low before God?
Moses knew this secret. He also knew the secret of Luke 6:27-36, which contains Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies. This passage has the theme of forgiveness woven into it because we can’t love our enemies if we harbor resentment and bitterness towards those who wound us.
Do good to those who hate you. How? What? Why? I’ve failed at this spectacularly. Especially when I’m face to face with this person. Can I tell you a secret? On the days I do good to someone who can’t stand me, I experience a hop in my heart and a skip in my step. I feel lighter, happier, and more joy filled. But it’s hard.
Our natural inclination is to withhold good from someone who doesn’t deserve it. But do we really get to decide if someone “deserves” good? We can’t go around with a naughty or nice list. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, and your neighbor is anyone whom you have contact with: enemies or friends.
Bless those who curse you. If doing good is about our actions towards our enemies, then blessing them is about our words. How will you speak to your enemy today? Will it be with courtesy or contempt? What about your thoughts? Thoughts are words unspoken, and thoughts eventually make their way into the world.
The power of life and death is in the tongue and what we speak is the overflow of our hearts. Speak words of life. Speak with gentleness, watch your tone, and put on a smile. This will take superhuman strength, but if you know Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you have His strength and power living in you. Use it.
Pray for those who mistreat you. Prayer is our number one tool that God gives us, but it’s often the last tool we reach for. Why? Because when we begin to pray in earnest for someone one of two things happens: we develop compassion for them and/or we see our own weaknesses. Neither one of these things are wrong, but they make us uncomfortable because they challenge our secret resentments.
At times, we won’t know how to pray, but we can follow Paul’s example in Romans where he groaned his prayers. Or we can turn to the Psalms and see how David prayed when he was beset with troubles. He poured out his heart–ugliness and all–but then he turned his heart towards praise.
Have a generous heart towards them. Be helpful. If they need something, step in and offer your assistance. Being generous with your time, your compassion, and your interest in someone’s life paves the way for love to flow from your heart to theirs. But what if someone takes advantage of you over and over again?
Yes, boundaries are important. Time to heal is necessary. Trust is not the same as forgiveness. The key in all of this is to stay close to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit lead you. It also means that you don’t allow one horrific experience to cloud your judgement that all people are out to hurt you. Being generous means entering into relationships with an open heart, not judging a person based on a past experience. Be wise, but gentle.
Be merciful. God is full of mercy. We only have to read the book of Numbers to see example after example of the Israelites treating God and Moses with contempt and God not destroying them. Mercy is defined as not getting what you deserve. Your enemy might deserve your contempt, hatred, and slander. But to show mercy means that you don’t give them that.
Mercy takes the high road, not out of pride, but out of love. Love for God and for people. But in order to be able to extend that kind of mercy, you must receive it for yourself. When was the last time you fell facedown before God because you did or said something so wretched that you knew without a shadow of doubt that you didn’t deserve his mercy. Yet, He gives it to you anyway as you humble yourself before Him.
Forgiveness brings us full circle with humility in its center. In order for us to receive forgiveness from God, we must first humble ourselves before God. And then, we can extend that forgiveness to others.
Loving our enemies finds its roots in developing a lifestyle of walking in forgiveness.
We develop a forgiveness mindset by doing good, blessing others, praying for our enemies, cultivating a generous heart, and extending mercy.
Always, always, always rely on and look to the Holy Spirit for direction and guidance. It’s through His strength not your own that makes the impossible possible.
I sat by the pond today. The sun shone on my head and the fountain twisted left and down in the wind, but continually sending droplets of water upward and downward. Thousands of them splashing down and ring after ring spreading outward to the shore.
I sat, holding a book and pencil in my hand, coffee at my side, and lest you think it too idyllic, the flies buzzed about and the ants tickled my ankles while I pondered the power of one droplet to affect so much change in the surface of the water.
This is not a new concept. I’ve skipped rocks and watched the rings start and stop and begin again once the stone sunk beneath the waves. We can use that metaphor for love, kindness, and grace. But as I sat and watched the fountain in the pond and watched the water move I thought of you and me and our journey into forgiveness.
You see hurt ripples. Our wounds touch every part of our lives. They touch our inner worlds of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and our outer worlds of actions and speech. Regret. Shame. Disgrace. These are ripples of wounds to our hearts.
We’re individuals, but what happens to us affects us as a society or corporate church body. Our behaviors always reveal our hearts. Even when we try to hide our wounds, the masks slip. And the wounds ripple out.
Forgiveness is like dropping a stone that ripples out into all areas of our lives. When I harbor unforgiveness, my relationships suffer. When I forgive, my relationships with God, myself, and others benefit. Even if I never interact with the person who wounded me, once I forgive them, my other relationships improve.
The pond is shallow and the fountain’s base is visible for all to see. It’s not majestic, but it is beautiful in a rustic kind of way. But the real treasure is on the south side. You see, the ripples need a place to go, and off to the side, is an outlet between a narrow band of rocks. This tiny outlet winds down and around and feeds the most beautiful wildflowers.
Think of the beauty forgiveness will bring to those around you. When you’re heart is ruled by forgiveness, you contribute to the beauty growing in someone else. Imagine the continuous ripple effect as you nurture the forgiveness fountain in your heart.
The power of the Holy Spirit works in you and tosses up droplets of obedience that fall down in the form of forgiveness and grace and mercy. And the ripples move out further and further, but still effective, touching lives and hearts. You don’t need to wonder and worry and manage the effects of the ripples. All you need to do is stay connected to the Holy Spirit’s power.
That’s where you find forgiveness that brings lasting change into your life.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Be generous with forgiveness just as your heavenly Father is generous with you.
Rely on the Holy Spirit to be the fountain that rises up within you enabling you to forgive.
Enjoy the beauty forgiveness brings to your life and others.
How do we reconcile our disappointments with unanswered prayer when the Psalms distinctly says that God does not disappoint us? What about the things we beg God for that appear to line up with His will, such as no one should perish, and a loved one dies without ever reconciling with Christ? What do we do with the unexplainable hurts and pains of this world when we know that God breathed stars into existence, is able to calm storms with just a word, throw mountains into the sea, and set captives free? How do we forgive?
We will experience unexplainable hurts in this life, and we will wonder if God has left us. Our hearts will fail beneath the weight of our burdens. Grief will steal our breath. Our minds will be unable to fathom the abuse we have suffered.
During our lifetime we will wonder and question whether or not God loves us because we cannot see Him acting on our behalf in our circumstances. We judge God based on whether or not He’s acting the way we think a loving God should act.
We declare God guilty of not loving us the way we think we should be loved. Or we assume that we’ve done something wrong and so begins this vicious cycle of self-punishment and judging God. Instead of running to God we turn away from Him and hide in a corner. Or run in the opposite direction embracing a life that declares hatred for God. Or we become experts at religious conduct with our hearts growing harder each day.
Disappointments lead to disillusionment, which leads to cynicism and eventually bitterness and resentment. If we want to move forward in our relationship with God, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts for any indictments against God Himself. And when we do, we just might find we need to forgive God for not living up to our expectations.
I’ve given birth to four children and all my labors were difficult and are the stuff of nightmares. My “easiest” labor was about 12 hours long and still involved the NICU. With my third child, I truly believed things would be different. I had prayed. I had peace. I just knew that God was going to work a miracle.
The labor lasted far too long. The nursing staff dismissed my needs. The doctors traded shifts and the second doctor changed the previous doctor’s recommendations. I felt like I walked into labor and delivery with God on my side, but the longer it took, the more desperate I felt. And the more I believed that God had abandoned me. It took almost two years to admit that I was furious with God. I could have spit at Him and felt no shame. (that two year journey is a story for another time)
But in the process I learned a few things about God and my expectations.
First, there will be things that happen that I don’t understand, and in those moments I will need to turn to Him and trust Him, and yes, forgive Him.
Deuteronomy 29:29 states, “The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed to us belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
This tells me that there will be secrets that I will never know. I’ve chosen to create a “file” in my heart where I put my “why’s” and “what the heck’s” that haven’t been answered. If God chooses not to reveal something, it doesn’t negate the truths that He is still good, kind, and loving. What it does is reinforce the truths found in Isaiah that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. And when I lean into Him, knowing that he bears the weight on His shoulders, I find comfort.
Second, if I allow anger to take root, I will need to address my expectations of how my life should turn out in the light of surrendering to him.
Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Once we surrender our lives, we’re bound to Christ. And we live this life in the flesh by faith in Jesus. Faith means moving forward even when we can’t see. It means that we can declare in the darkness that God is light. And even when we feel abandoned by God, we declare by faith that He never leaves nor forsakes us.
What looks like forgiving God is really a surrender to His character, wisdom, love, and ways that are higher than ours. Go ahead. Let your disappointments go. Surrender to him and create a file that His secrets can be kept in. Wrestle through and then place it in His loving hands.
I don’t know why the birth of my son went haywire, but even though I thought God abandoned me, He hadn’t. I turned my back on Him when He didn’t give me what I wanted. But what I really wanted was revelation. And that He did. He revealed Himself, I just couldn’t see it at the time.
And isn’t seeing Him what we desire most?
Anger at God leads to disappointment which leads to bitterness which leads to needing to “forgive” God, aka: surrender.
Consider creating a “Secrets File.” A place in your heart where you keep all the things you wish you understood, but don’t and probably never will.
Let God keep things for you and trust him to reveal things in his time.
Control. We want it, we fight for it, and we don’t like to give it up. At our core, we live our lives in response to what we can control and what we can’t. We fuss and fume for our rights. What happens when they’re violated? We feel unheard, unwanted, and unneeded. Our wounded hearts cry for retribution.
Many of our battles with unforgiveness come because we experience loss of control. We can’t control someone’s choices no matter how hard we try. The struggle with forgiveness lies in this hidden problem many of us carry around and that’s control.
We think that if we hold onto our unforgiveness, it shows that we still have control. It almost feels that if we let go of control over the situation that we condone the action that wounded or offended us in the first place.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re saying what happened to us is okay. Forgiveness means that we entrust our heart, lives, and the people in it to a God who knows all things, holds all things, and sees all things.
But this is the thing with control and unforgiveness. When you withhold forgiveness, you’re allowing anger, bitterness, and resentment to control you instead of the Holy Spirit. You’re actually giving unforgiveness the power in your life that God deserves.
If you want to experience forgiveness towards someone, then look to surrendering your need for control in the relationship. I’ve found the greatest freedom I’ve ever experienced is in surrender. You don’t surrender to the pain, but you surrender the pain in your heart to a good, good Father.
Everyday we are presented with the opportunity to practice surrender in order to forgive. Your kid calls you names and blames you for their problems. Your parent demands payback for raising you. Your coworker throws you under the bus. Your spouse betrays your trust. All of these hurts and wounds challenge our need for control over an expected outcome.
You don’t expect that your child blames you for their drug addiction. You expect your parents to raise you without strings attached. You expect camaraderie among your coworkers, and you never ever expected that the person you exchanged vows with would betray you.
But these things happen. People disappoint us and don’t live up to our expectations. No matter how hard we try to control the outcome of our lives, we cannot. And underlying the unforgiveness is an anger because we didn’t have a say into any of those things that hurt us.
And so we hold onto our unforgiveness because we’ve had control stripped away from us and, by golly, we’re not going to be caught unawares again.
But we will. It’s what makes life an adventure. And wouldn’t it be better to go through life with a forgiving heart so we can see life for what it is? An opportunity to know God and make him known.
There’s very little we can actually control. We can’t control someone else, we can’t control natural disasters, and we can’t control our boss’s response to our work. We can control our responses and that’s it. Unforgiveness and control leads us into a defensive attitude towards life, and an offended spirit takes root in our hearts.
Even if we try and be all things to all people, some people will reject us. We can’t control the outcome of every decision. That drunk driver might be in the wrong place at the wrong time and our lives are broadsided and changed forever.
Control. We long for it. We think we need it. But forgiveness comes when we surrender control. It’s when we submit our hurts, our circumstances, and our disappointments to God that we find forgiveness is possible.
It’s in the surrendering where we find the impossible to be possible.
The Takeaway for Forgiveness
One of the roots of unforgiveness lies in our need for control.
Don’t surrender to the pain, but surrender the pain to God.
You control your response to the ups and downs of life.
All too often I focus on the evidence of unforgiveness in my life rather than the forgiveness. I’m familiar with the indicators of unforgiveness because I know them well. I know the messy battle of wrestling with what I know to do and how I end up acting.
I know the struggle of saying I’ve forgiven someone, and then the very real evidence that proves I’ve still got a ways to go. And then there are those moments in time that feel like delicate spun glass, filled with crystal clarity that God has worked a miracle. Forgiveness so real that you feel only love and zero residual effects of the offense.
Fully formed forgiveness does three miracles in our hearts.
The most epic story of forgiveness is found between a man named Joseph and his eleven brothers. Jealousy left unchecked and unforgiven causes behaviors that lead to life-long regret. Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him, but ended up selling him instead. Then they covered up their malice by telling their father he was dead and “proving” by drenching Joseph’s cloak in animal’s blood.
Time passed and Joseph’s journey led him to entrusted slave to the pit to entrusted prisoner to second in command in Egypt. Could he have cultivated bitterness, hatred, and revenge in his heart toward his brothers? But how could his trust in God have grown if he had? I think in the deepest of his hearts he wrestled with his emotions and the dreams God placed in his heart.
Submitting and surrendering to God won. Forgiveness reigned in his heart.
But lurking in his brother’s hearts was doubt. Could this brother of theirs that they hated really and truly forgive them? Was it a show for their father’s sake?
And in the finding we see the three miracles that forgiveness brings to our hearts.
It leaves the righting of wrongs in God’s hands. Joseph asks them, “Am I in the place of God?” You see, God doesn’t want us to take revenge. He wants us to leave other’s actions and responses in his hands. We miss out on God’s redemption for our own hearts when we allow ourselves to be consumed with revenge. Our hearts grow hard and we see nothing but our rage, which makes us rage at others and, frankly, causes us to behave in ways that wound. Leave the righting of wrongs to God. He will make all things right in his time and in his way.
To see God’s plan in man’s malice. God used hate-filled intentions to bring Joseph to a place where many lives could be saved. Joseph saw, by God’s grace, a larger picture than what he lived. He trusted God with his heart and life even when he couldn’t see how it would work out. You can too. You may only see and feel the hurt caused by another’s choices or actions, but ask God to give you a glimpse into how God is using the wound. Maybe he’s growing compassion in you or the ability to forgive. And that maybe you’ll get to share your story with someone who needs to hear how God worked good out of bad.
To repay evil with practical affection. Joseph ends Genesis with kindness. Kindness is love in action. He acted kindly toward his brother and their families. It’s one thing to speak words, but it’s an altogether different thing to act kind towards someone who meant you harm. Remember my story from a couple of weeks ago? Even though my heart pounds with the memory of the pain, I can show kindness.
Let forgiveness work it’s miracle. It’s a process and some days you won’t feel like you’re making any progress. Rather than turn away from God and the person, turn to God with your hurt and pain and let him move in you and through you. The first step is declaring forgiveness. The second and third and fourth and so on, is embracing the process. And then it becomes real. Let the process transform you as love transformed the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.
I’ve lived on an acreage for twenty plus years and we’ve probably had forty cherished farm cats over the years. At one point we had thirteen cats at the same time and we went through bags and bags of cat food to keep them fed.
Seraphina was one of the many cats. She loved to cuddle and had a purr like an engine on a “76 Mustang. But she had one bad habit: she liked to lick. She would rub her tongue over the same spot on your arm until your skin was red and raw. You held her knowing the risks. And forgave her because she was just too cute.
Have you ever met someone that reminded you of a cat’s tongue? They just rub you the wrong way, but you keep running into them? When this happens I get a wee bit judgmental, condescending, and downright annoyed. I swing a wide berth and take detailed notice of the cracks in the sidewalk. Anything. Any way around. Avoid at all costs. Mmmhmm. That’s a real loving response, isn’t it? Real Christ like, right?
But then I feel guilty. I know the scripture to love others as yourself. Many churches have “Love Others” as part of their vision for their church. But, man! It’s hard to live. I keep trying and failing, trying and failing. It gets downright discouraging and I wonder what’s the secret?
“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”Then those who were at table with him began to say amongthemselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Luke 7:44-49 ESV
There’s a correlation between love and forgiveness. The more you need forgiveness the more you love. The more you love, the quicker forgiveness comes. It isn’t about going out and doing the worst of things so you can know the deepest of forgiveness. It’s recognizing that without Christ, no matter your past, you are meant for eternal separation from God.
That love of God? It’s crazy and wild and unexplainable. A consuming fire that overwhelms. It’s a kindness that draws us to repentance and a kindness that reveals the wretchedness of my heart’s state, but instead of condemning me it convicts me that without Christ, I cannot save myself.
Are you in tune with your own need for forgiveness? This strikes me in my heart because it’s far too easy for me to put on my superiority hat and think I’ve got it all going on.
I don’t. I wish I did, but each time I miss the mark, I remember the forgiveness Jesus offers. Does this mean that I can sin willy-nilly when I know better? No. I’d better not. That is abusing grace. If I know not to do something and do it anyway banking on the fact that Jesus will forgive me, I do Jesus a disservice and harm my witness to others.
If I know something good to do and don’t do it, is that still sin? It’s definitely disobedience and I sin. I act like I don’t love my family when I don’t use kindness in my tone. I lash out instead of being slow to speak and quick to listen.
What if we are so arrested by God’s love, and so in awe of who He is that we fall to our knees and we bring our alabaster jar, the very best of us, and pour it on Jesus?
What if we see choosing righteousness, aka: right living according to God’s standards, as an act of love and an outpouring of our everything for God? When we look at righteousness that way, the fact that we can’t do anything in our own strength becomes very clear.
There’s a direct correlation between our ability to forgive others and our understanding of how much we need forgiveness. Are you perfect? Do you pretend to be? Every misstep I make is a reminder that I am in desperate need for forgiveness and it’s in remembering my desperateness for forgiveness that enables me to extend forgiveness to those who wound me.
You know, we can walk around with our heads held high declaring our identity in Christ all we want, but if we fail to forgive others we’ve left behind a vital piece of our identity: forgiven.
Forgiveness becomes so much easier when we remember that our name is now “Forgiven.”
Our forgiveness overflows from the deep deep love we have for our Father God. Love him. Love him deeply. Focus on pouring your life, your treasure, out as an offering. Love your people as a sacrifice of love to God.
The next time you’re wounded, remember that you’ve been forgiven. Then extend forgiveness as an offering of Love to God.
Stay close to Jesus so you remember how much forgiveness He has given you.
Remember that love and forgiveness are related.
Loving others starts with receiving God’s love for you.
I write to encourage you that you can experience a vibrant, transformative relationship with God even if your past or your shame tells you otherwise. God invites you upward and onward, will you join me? You'll receive weekly devotionals straight to your inbox. By subscribing you'll receive my 7-Day Devotional, Kicking Perfect, as a thank-you gift from me!
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