Forgiveness doesn't come naturally for me.
And I suspect that many of us struggle with it from time to time.
Alexander Pope had it right when he penned these familiar words about forgiveness: "To err is human, to forgive divine."
So how do we forgive when we've been laid low by the thoughtless (and sometimes intentional) acts of another?
1. Through the power of God's Spirit.
Our natural inclination when we, or someone we love, are wounded isn't forgiveness. Instead we want the offender to pay. In short we want revenge. Our hurt leads to anger. Our pride takes over. The only way we can truly forgive others is through the power of God's Spirit. Christ died in our place to pay a debt we never could. God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. Forgiveness is indeed divine, and flows from God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We cannot do in our own strength what God intends to do through us.
2. Through prayer.
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." -Matthew 5:43-45 (NASB)
Jesus' words in the gospel of Matthew reveal the importance of prayer in forgiving our enemies. From personal experience, I can testify to the effectiveness of this God-given communication. God doesn't always change the other person or their hurtful behavior, but He does always change my heart toward them. It's almost like scales fall off my eyes when it comes to viewing my persecutor, and my vengeful heart changes to one of love and compassion.
3. Through faith.
Not only do we trust God to do in us what we can't do on our own--not only do we trust Him to be more just and fair than our capabilities--we also trust His timing. Our human side longs for immediate retribution, but God knows what He's doing, both for us and the other parties involved. He is a patient and loving Father, and His timetable is not our own.
4. Through obedience.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." -Luke 6:37 (NASB)
While we often chafe at the idea of obedience--primarily because we want to call the shots--the initial steps of learning to forgive deal with obedience. Until we follow through in obedience to God's Word concerning forgiveness, we will continue to struggle and hurt. Put simply, forgiveness is an act of the will done in obedience to God's Word through the help of His Spirit.
5. Through humility.
"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." -Colossians 3:12-13 (NASB)
As mentioned previously, unforgiveness often stems from human pride. So it only makes sense that part of the remedy is humility. Even Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae, recognized the importance of humility in forgiveness. And as followers of Christ, we are to follow in His steps, as someone who humbled Himself through a series of demotions (Philippians 2:3-7).
Though I still struggle with forgiving others from time to time, these five Biblical steps have been so helpful to me. With God's help through prayer, faith, obedience, and humility, we can arrive at the place where we're able to forgive even the inexcusable.
Cathy Bryant's desire is to write heart-stirring stories of God's life-changing grace. A native Texan, she currently resides in the lovely Sangre de Cristo mountains of northern New Mexico with her minister husband of over thirty years. Her novels--all standalones--explore such spiritual themes as finding true home, stepping out in faith, the riches of God's grace, standing on His promises, and forgiveness. In addition to novels and a recent Bible study booklet, Cathy has also written devotionals for two books, The Upper Room magazine, and various online sites. She also writes devotional posts for her website, CatBryant.com, where you can learn more about her and her books. You can also find her on Facebook.