“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV).
Just to give you a little warning before you read the next few paragraphs: this post is all about the f-word. No, not that f-word! The other f-word: forgive. Forgiving one another is one of the hardest commands in the New Testament. Even though Jesus said if we don’t forgive others we won’t be forgiven ourselves (Matt 6:14, 15), we still struggle to extend forgiveness. And sometimes, if we ask God to help us grow in forgiveness, he sends a whole bunch of people who will offend us so we can get practice!
In all seriousness, what do you do when you don’t feel like forgiving someone? You’ve no doubt experienced many times that when someone who's offended you apologizes, you don't feel "ready" to forgive them... I know I have. God reminded me recently how to help myself forgive when I don’t feel like it.
Step 1: Examine my own heart. Often when I’m struggling to forgive, I find that I have some unconfessed sin in my own heart. Even if I’m all ‘fessed up, stopping for a moment to examine my heart reminds me of how much I’ve been forgiven in the past, and how much I’ll need forgiveness in the future… and all that helps me extend to others the grace I’ve received.
Step 2: Pray for the other person. Ephesians 4:32 says that forgiving one another is an expression of kindness or being tenderhearted. Before I ask God to help me be a better forgiver, I need to pray for the person who offended me—and that doesn’t mean: “God, help him say sorry.” It means: “God, bless him and pour your grace upon his life.”
Step 3: Ask for grace. Let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t have the strength in ourselves to forgive. But, we do have the Holy Spirit. And he can express his grace in us by giving us the strength we lack.
Forgiving others is difficult. But it is also a powerful example of love. I know that at times I struggle to forgive, and I’m grateful for the grace and strength God provides in my moments of weakness! I’m also thankful that he gently leads us along paths of repentance and forgiving others. These paths aren’t easy to walk, but they’re worth the challenge.