Psychologist James Dobson reports seeing a sign on a convent in Southern California reading: “Absolutely No Trespassing — Violators Will be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law.” Signed, “The Sisters of Mercy.”
God knew before He ever created Adam and Eve that man would trespass against His laws and commands. As violators, our trespasses (or sins) deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of God’s laws. Yet unlike the Sisters of Mercy, God is a God of compassion and mercy and He created a way for our trespasses to be forgiven us through the shed blood, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus.
If each one of us trespass against God’s laws on a daily basis (and we do!), and God can forgive us, how much more should we forgive people that we interact with?
During the time of the disciples and Jesus, the rabbis only required their student to forgive someone three times, so Peter was being generous when he offered to forgive seven times in his question to Jesus. Jesus replied with: not seven times, but seventy times seven. So for those of us who are math challenged – that equals 490 times. But the implication to what Jesus was saying is that forgiving others should be unlimited whenever there is true repentance.
Jesus was very serious when it came to the teaching that we are to forgive others. In Matthew 6:15, He taught: “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to start all over and forgive again and again. The bigger the hurt or wrong, the harder forgiveness can be. But if Jesus can forgive me of my greatest wrong, then I can forgive others who have wronged me.
If you find forgiving difficult follow these ten steps:
- Acknowledge the hurt or wrong.
- Be honest about how you feel – even if you think you shouldn’t feel like you do.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the one who wronged you. If you have difficulty with this then think about a time you needed to be forgiven and how you felt at that time.
- Remember that God forgave you and that He commands us to forgive others.
- Let go of the pain. Stop playing the offense over and over in your mind. Don’t rehearse the feelings of pain, loss, disappointment, etc.
- Spend time in prayer – especially when your emotions do not agree with forgiving. Ask God to change your heart towards the person that wronged you.
- If possible, voice you forgiveness to the offender. If you can not do this face to face, try writing a letter.
- Continue to forgive. Each time the memories of the wrong resurface, you may need to forgive again. Do so quickly and pray about the situation again.
- Pray for the person that wronged you. Even if it is not possible to restore the relationship, you can pray for them.
- If possible, do an act of kindness for your offender – even if done anonymously.
Whenever offering mercy and forgiveness is difficult take a moment to visualize what it cost Jesus to be able to offer you forgiveness and don’t be like the “Sisters of Mercy” who would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. Matthew 7:1-2 says: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
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