One thing you must do to move forward when forgiving others
Hurts are hard to leave behind, especially if the other person has no remorse. Yet, God calls us through his Word to forgive as we are forgiven. Unfortunately, as much as I would like the Bible to say, “Only if they are really sorry and know exactly what they did wrong”, it doesn’t.
Several years ago, I struggled immensely with forgiving someone who was constantly working against me behind my back. He could without a hiccup in his conscience pump my hand eagerly after worship and tell me what a great sermon I had and then walk into the Fellowship Hall and tell another member, “I like him, he just can’t preach worth a flip.” (That’s an actual quote, by the way). His divisiveness was never ending and as far as he was concerned he did no wrong. I later learned he had a history of doing this to prior pastors.
Forgiving this person was difficult. Especially, since I saw him frequently and he wouldn’t abate his behavior. When I would confront him on a specific situation, he would simply change tactics and start over someplace else.
OUT OF THE PROBLEM AND INTO THE SOLUTION
A critical turning point came one day when I decided to stop asking for God to help me forgive him and I started praying God’s best for him. I prayed for his health, happiness, and well-being. I would intercede for him whenever I saw him. Frankly, at first it was very difficult, but with practice intercessory prayer for him became almost reflexive. Sometimes I had to remind myself of the maxim, “Hurting people, hurt people.” Those four words helped me reframe my perspective so I could pray for him.
Forgiving others can feel almost impossible. However, you’ll find that the sooner you can shift your focus from forgiving to blessing, the quicker you can be free from your pain and resentment. The shift begins with how you choose to pray.
DID MY PRAYER MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER?
No. He didn’t miraculously stop nor did we become buddies. In fact, as what he was doing became more broadly known he stopped coming to worship. But the power his behavior had over me definitely shifted. The more I resorted to intercessory prayer, the more I began to see the pain that was likely driving his behavior.I genuinely began to feel concern for him. As a result, I became for the most part immune to the toxic nature of his behavior.
Looking back I know now that as long as I was praying about forgiving him, my heart and mind were still wrapped around my hurts. I was trying to pray my way “out of the problem.” That’s not a bad thing. Asking God to help you forgive and being a blessing are both necessary. We must be honest before God about the hurt and anger we are feeling. We cannot leap past the anger. Being mad is part of the process of grieving the hurt that we have felt.
The key to moving forward though is fully feeling the hurt and yet not allowing ourselves to become stuck. Forgiveness involves a flow from the problem into the solution. The movement from anger to grace is sometimes a long slow journey. However, the alternative of remaining stuck is far more life depleting than the risk of forgivenes.
Intercessory prayer is a concrete way to start praying your way “into the solution”. The solution to the problem of being stuck is moving from forgiving your enemy to blessing your enemy. There is a big difference between these two things and we are called by God through His Word to do both.
In the 12th chapter of Romans we are urged to:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Romans 12:14
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
If you have been praying repeatedly to forgive someone and little seems to have shifted, perhaps, it’s time to intercede for them. Think about a strained relationship or wound you carry in your own life. Are you “praying out of the problem” or “into the solution”. How long have you prayed about forgiving? Have you prayed or taken action to be a blessing to this person? What would it look like for you to begin praying God’s best for that person?
Use seeing the person as a trigger for intercessory prayer on his or her behalf. If you no longer or seldom see the person and yet you fixate on old wounds they caused, use the awareness of these thoughts to be a trigger for interceding. When every you recognize that you are rehashing and old conversation or fantasying about confronting them, chose in that moment to be a blessing instead.
If you really want to go the extra mile, swallow your pride and do something kind and undeserved for this person. That’s called grace. Grace is what we have been given and it’s what we are to give to others.
Blessing to you as you strive to be a blessing,
The Practical Disciple
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Thanks for this post, John. Trying to pray my way out of the problem is definitely not working, to the point where sometimes I think of praying about that “particular person” and I just don’t. It’s an ongoing situation and like a wound that keeps getting pulled open so it won’t heal. I really want to be over the anger and bitterness because I know it’s really not doing me any favours.
You’re welcome. This made a big difference for me. You may want to check out my post on lessons from Nehemiah about gossip. When he prayer for his enemies, to me he did sort of the ultimate let go. Nehemiah basically said, “God remember the works of the hands.” and then left it all up to God. Nehemiah is a better guy then me. I don’t let go so easily. Changing my focus was easier (not easy, but easier) than trying to just let go. BTW – you can read that post on gossip HERE. I think you’ll find some good lessons in it for dealing with anyone who is what I call one of my “crazy makers” regardless of what their specific transgression is. Peace to you and I pray that God will bring healing so this person stops living rent free in your head and heart.