Today is the last of the forgiveness series. We’ve answered why we should forgive, realized that we aren’t the worst treated, that we must forgive so God forgives us, we must forgive God and we do need God’s forgiveness for the sins in our lives. What we’re going to look at today is how to get forgiveness and what happens when we are and aren’t forgiven by the person we’ve done wrong.
I know the first step of the process of forgiveness may sound simple, but sometimes it isn’t. The first step is acceptance that you did do something wrong or appear to have to the offended person. Ever feel like you don’t know what someone is talking about when they tell you that you have wronged them. Me too. Occasionally, we do wrong and don’t even know it. We’ll say something and mean something totally different and yet the person gets offended. It’s even easier to do that in writing because people read into your intent rather than take it for what’s on the paper.
Which brings us to the second step. You realize in some shape or form that someone has been offended and we need to be forgiven. Step two is simple as well. Take it to God. When you do wrong, it’s easy. “God, I’ve wronged someone and I’m sorry. Help me with forgiveness from this person.” In other circumstances, it isn’t so easy. Like when we don’t know what we’ve done. We have to ask for clarity and real help with how to approach forgiveness. However, don’t be disingenuous or fake about it. Be sincere. You want to make it right.
Usually, step three is simply to ask forgiveness from the offended person. Normally, simple apologies finish a disagreement. The person is just waiting for you to come to them like a mature person and say the hardest word, sorry.
But, I’m not sorry. I don’t even know what I did. Well, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. My wife loves to play mind reader. I’m walking around upset and she loves to just think about what I could be mad about. She waited four hours one night. I had said something dumb and I couldn’t figure out a good way to say sorry. I just happened to be reading 2 Corinthians at the time, so I read this to her. I’ll start in verse five, “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has all of you, to some extent-not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” The verses prove one thing. Not obtaining forgiveness is usually more painful on you than the offended one. When I read that, my wife laughed and gave me a hug.
Paul even went on into verse 10 telling the Corinthians, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him.” A lot of friends forget that. You get into a difference with someone and you talk to your friends and the other person talks to their friends. All of a sudden, you’re hearing all this stuff that the other person did to you five, ten years ago. You let go of it back then, but your friends are still holding that against the person. Then you get mad, think that all that stuff justifies what you did and you stay mad. You have to gently remind your friends that you forgave that and so should they. Usually doing that helps you focus so that you can end the current dispute.
OK, so I asked for forgiveness and now they won’t forgive me. They said no. Well, I could say, “They have to live it. It’s on them. You’ve done your part.” Not only will I not say that, but it also isn’t true. While it is true that there is a burden on them, now that you have apologized, you still have work to do. This is where you go back to God and let him know that you have asked forgiveness and been denied. But it doesn’t stop there. You let go and let God. You place it back in his hands.
How? Pray for that person. Phillippians 2:4 talks about being humble and that “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I always remember a story of two of my favorite students. They were the best of friends. They did everything together, including giving me a nickname. One day, they had several disagreements and it blew up. One friend didn’t want to forgive. I remember the pastor taking them in and talking to them about their differences. They spent a lot of time crying and hurting over things that had been said. They agreed on forgiveness, but also agreed that they would part that way. Both moved on to other friends and years later, I can tell you that having that time to clear the air was what was needed. They are both God-serving adults and have met great, wonderful men in Christ. Their lesson learned in friendship taught both of them how to be better friends to the people that have followed in their lives.
They have lived two verses that I present to you now and how sometimes it has to end. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:14-15 to, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy, without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God, and that no bitter seed grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” God wants us to get along, but if we can’t , to be able to separate without a hate that causes hurt to grow. Ephesians 4:32 drives the point home, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ forgave you.”
One final note on forgiveness. Some of you may ask, “What do I do if that person has gone on to be with the Lord? How do I approach forgiveness then?” I would go back to the paragraph about letting go and letting God. I’ll say this is how I believe on this. I don’t have a verse, but I will say it this way. When we pray, we constantly have Jesus as intercessor between us and God. I also believe that Jesus is the intercessor for us and the dearly departed. I think Jesus gives them the comfort of knowing your heart. I won’t say that they see your prayer or your thoughts about them, but I think that Jesus handles those differences in his way of letting people know. On our end, we just have to trust God that our releasing it to him is enough.
I’ll share one final story to explain this point. My grandmother died of stomach cancer near Christmas of 2004. There are friends of my mom and of mine that believed I should have been there, either at her death or at least at the funeral. For a while, I let those thoughts really beat me up. Anyone that knows me knows that the bond of my grandmother and I was as tight as if she were my mom. However, a two-foot snowstorm graced the areas in between me here in Illinois and my grandmother’s body in West Virginia. There was no way I was getting there. I trusted God and the fact that my grandmother knew our love to say that I was OK with that. It took a while, but those that had a problem were able to forgive. I also know that grandma is doing fine and we’ll be able to share a lemonade on the porch of her mansion someday.
So in closing, let me say this. If you are holding something against someone, today is the day to forgive. If you are the one that is afraid to ask for forgiveness, please talk to God and let him tell you how to proceed. Finally, if you feel like you can’t let go of the forgiveness already granted, please let loose today. Pray to God to help you leave that behind. Talk to a friend and let the love of fellow believers guide you back on the road of sweet forgiveness.
I love you guys!