Eleven letters which hold such great power. Power to unlock and free oneself from a life of being imprisoned to anger, offense, and bitterness.
When I think of the word “forgiveness” there are many examples from the Bible that come to my mind. Examples of the power of God moving in the lives of ordinary people. Jesus models forgiveness for us as He cries out “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” as he is nailed to the cross and the soldiers gambled for His clothes (Luke 23:34).
The parable of the father and his prodigal son, lays the foundation that regardless of our choices, we have a loving father who is there to forgive us and restore us. All we need to do is ask and repent. The brother of this prodigal son shows us what happens when we hold onto hurt and pain and how we miss the message of grace and mercy God has for all of us. (Luke 15:11-32)
When Jesus defended the woman who was caught in adultery, he revealed to us the depth of forgiveness He has for each of us and the truth that we all have sinned and have fallen short. (Luke 8:1-11; Romans 3:23)
Saul lived a life filled with self-righteousness as he pursued, persecuted and killed Christians with a vengeance. Saul, who later became Paul, was transformed by his encounter with Jesus. He experienced the depth and width of God’s love and forgiveness that forever changed the course of his life and was used by God in a powerful way as he became an apostle for Jesus. (Acts 9:1-31; Acts 13:9; Ephesians 3:18)
By far one of my favorite examples of forgiveness is the story of Joseph which begins in
Genesis 37 when he shared his dream with his father and brothers. Joseph had quite a few circumstances in his life that he could have held on to and allowed un-forgiveness and bitterness to settle in and make their home in his heart. If we focus solely on the circumstances and the injustices that happened to him, we could easily justify in the court of opinion as to why Joseph had reason to hold onto his offenses.
His brothers first put him in a pit and then later sold him into slavery. He was bought by Potiphar and all that he put his hand to prospered and in the midst Potiphar’s wife had other intentions. When Joseph turned her down repeatedly he was falsely accused and put into the king’s prison. Life during this season was difficult for Joseph. The pain he was living through at the hand of others could have quite easily taken him down for the count. What made the difference in Joseph’s life that he was not swallowed up with anger, bitterness, and un-forgiveness?
When I look at my own life and remember some of the offenses, hurts, and difficulties I have faced I ask myself the same question – what made the difference in my own life to where I am not holding on to offense or bitterness due to great harm or hurt? How did I let those things go?
I remember the offenses just like it was yesterday. The scars, the abuse that forever marked me. The times in my life where I wondered if I could ever have peace. If I could ever forget the memories of great pain and suffering. Days turned into months and months turned into years of hurt, anger, un-forgiveness, and yes bitterness. I tried the best I could to stuff the hurts and pains deep within me, to ignore the pain ever looming just below the surface. The world system told me I had every right to hold on to my offenses. The court of law agreed I had been wronged in one of the instances of sexual abuse where charges were filed.
I came to a point in my early 20’s where I had to decide what and who would rule my life. Forgiveness began the moment I asked Jesus into my life and confessed my own sins. I was desperate to be healed and longed for a life of joy and freedom. I recognized that un-forgiveness fed my bitterness and in order to be filled with joy I needed to forgive.
I struggled with the thought of forgiveness. At the time it represented releasing those who harmed me, hurt me, and in some cases abused me. There was an internal battle taking place within me as I slowly began to realize forgiveness was not so much for them as for me. Although I was not literally in a prison, emotionally, mentally and spiritually I was in the king’s prison right alongside Joseph.
Can some of you relate to the prison of un-forgiveness, offenses and bitterness? Yes, I thought I recognized some of you from being in the king’s prison with us.
Since then, I’ve had to walk out forgiveness again and again. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve learned forgiveness is vital if I want to be free.
How do I walk out of un-forgiveness and offense into a life of freedom, joy, peace and forgiveness?
Let’s focus on a few steps which are vital to learning to journey down the road of forgiveness.
- Recognize your hurt or pain. The first steps to forgiveness is recognizing our hurt or pain. Facing our hurts and not sweeping them under the rug, so to speak, is needed to stop offenses from growing into a place of bitterness. If we don’t recognize them and try to ignore them while holding an offense, it will grow over time and do us greater harm.
- Where is your focus? Often when an offense is being developed we are focusing on the person or circumstances that have hurt us. We need to shift our focus from them to Jesus. Joseph had to keep his eyes off of the injustices done to him and instead focus on what God’s plan was for his life. When he did this it transformed his thinking and he recognized God divine plan in his life.
- Invite Jesus into your pain. Where there is offense and hurt we need to invite Jesus into our pain. God did not intend for us to carry our pain alone. Jesus died upon the cross and rose again for our redemption and healing. We often try to hide our pain by not bringing it to Jesus. The truth is Jesus is aware of our pain. As we invite Jesus into our pain it is in that place, that moment, where God begins to restore us and heal our wounds. It’s as if we are touching Jesus’ wounds with our own and through Him we find what we need most, His balm of Gilead to cleanse our wounds. He then empowers us to walk in forgiveness to our offenders. (Jeremiah 8:22)
- Recognize forgiveness as a choice. Our feelings at times will tell us otherwise and will try to lead us astray, but forgiveness is a choice. We need to stay joined with Jesus and make the choice to forgive. To let go of the pain, hurt and offenses and join with Jesus in His life testimony of forgiveness. To take up our cross and follow in Jesus’ example. A life of forgiveness. (Matt. 6:24-26)
- Extend Mercy. Joseph was faced with an opportunity to judge his brothers or to extend mercy to them. When his brothers came before him years later in need of food with a great famine that was across the region and beyond, Joseph had a choice. Joseph could have easily ordered for them to be arrested and to secure punishment for how they treated him years before. Instead, Joseph extended mercy to them. Symbolically he was offering them an olive branch, which means to offer peace or reconciliation. In our journey of walking out forgiveness we too must extend mercy to those who we feel have wronged us, just as Joseph did. (James 2:13)
- Realize forgiveness frees us from the bondage and prison of bitterness. Forgiveness is about us. It’s about us being free to live the life God intended for us. Offense, un-forgiveness and bitterness create a wall that blocks us from the fullness God has for our lives. As we forgive, the wall is torn down and we are set free. No longer prisoners, but set free in and through Jesus! (Acts 13:38-39)
- Pray daily for the Holy Spirit to give you strength to walk in forgiveness, to be more and more like Jesus and to forgive based on a choice and not based on what your feelings tell you.
Un-forgiveness comes in all shapes and sizes. Forgiveness is not about the size of the offense, but about the condition of our hearts. A heart filled with un-forgiveness is filled with bitterness over time. A heart filled with forgiveness is overflowing with the power and love of Jesus.
Today let us walk as Jesus did and live a life of forgiveness.
By: Kristin Clouse
Kristin’s story is one of redemption, healing and restoration. As a child and teen she experienced sexual abuse and then she turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. As a young adult Kristin had a life changing encounter with Jesus, her Savior, and her life was forever changed. The moment Kristin accepted Jesus into her life, God began to lead her on an adventurous journey toward healing and restoration. Using creative arts as a tool, God brought Kristin back to life and led her into a deep relationship with Him, often calling her to sit at his feet. It was here He restored her through love and taught her what true intimacy really is. Kristin is a licensed counselor who is passionate about seeing women find freedom, healing and restoration in their own lives. She is a writer, counselor, speaker, teacher, mentor and leader to women. She is a storyteller and uses allegorical examples to impart life, freedom, and healing to many. She speaks on a variety of topics including teachings from her writing Healing for Our Soul Garden, which is about the restoration and healing process from sexual abuse, as well as leading and teaching women to grow in a deeper relationship with God. She is available to share according to your needs at your focused retreat, conference or workshop.
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