As we move further into 2011, I believe God has a wish list just for us. In Part 1, we heard God’s invitation to Repent and Return. In Part 2, the Father now invites us to Release and Restore. Let us explore what this second recalibration requirement looks like. At the end of the article you will find a prayer designed to help you walk out this release and restoration in your own life. So read ahead only if you accept the dare to go deeper in your walk with God!
RR 2: Release and Restore
Just as we have freely received forgiveness from the Father, he now asks us to freely extend forgiveness towards others. He asks that we release family, friends and others from any and all unforgiveness and bitterness we hold in our hearts.
Not only does he want to have a restored relationship with us, he wants us to have restored relationships with others. The Father wants us to be at peace with one another. Regardless of how justified our anger is, he calls us to forgive.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Jesus taught his disciples to pray after this manner: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us” (Matt. 6:12). After teaching them this prayer, Jesus further stressed the importance of forgiving by saying, “If you do not forgive another’s sins, my Father in heaven will not forgive you of your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
Both Jesus and Stephen the Evangelist set examples for us in this. While dying, Jesus looked upon those who were killing him and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen, with stones pelting his head, face and body, cried out to God, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). That’s grace!
How could they pray such prayers over people who purposefully collaborated to kill them? The nails did not fall from the sky and accidently pierce Jesus’ hands and feet. Strong winds did not accidentally propel stones through the air towards Stephen. Both crowds knew exactly what they were doing. The people killed Jesus and Stephen on purpose! If ever anger were justified, this would be the time.
And yet, Jesus and Stephen prayed on behalf of the people killing them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Do not hold this sin against them.” Wow! Apparently, while these crowds of people knew what they were doing at the surface, they really did not know the bigger, deeper picture for why they were doing what they were doing. Could the same be true of those who intentionally hurt us? While their offenses may have been intentional or unintentional on the surface, did they really know the bigger, deeper picture for why they did what they did?
No matter how justified we think our anger and bitterness may be, the Father calls us to forgive. Blaming or playing the part of the victim may seem appropriate in light of what has happened to us. Nonetheless, the Father wants to help us forgive, release and be restored to those who have hurt us, just as he forgave, released and restored us back into a right relationship with him.
Could we fairly argue that the one who has been forgiven has no right to withhold forgiveness from another? If true, then as a recipient of God’s grace and forgiveness for my own sin, I have no right to hold on to anger or bitterness towards another. To do so would be to insult the very one who forgave me, and would imply a profound lack of appreciation on my part for the forgiveness he extended towards me.
Peace in our relationships is so important to the Father that Jesus taught, “If you go to present you gift at the altar and remember that your friend has an offense against you, leave your gift at the altar and go make it right” (Matt. 5:23-24). He calls us to seek restoration in relationships where we are not even the offended party!
As unrealistic as all this sounds, doing so actually benefits us. Our minds, bodies, souls and spirits were not designed by God to carry anger and bitterness indefinitely. Even the secular medical world has suggested a link between unforgiveness and health related issues such as lowered immunity, chronic illnesses and cancer. Could our physical health actually be related in this way to our relational health? (See Unforgiveness: A Leading Cause of Cancer.) I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Time to Recalibrate: Making it Personal
- IDENTIFY AND DESCRIBE OFFENDERS AND OFFENSES: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify those against whom you are holding anger, resentment, bitterness and/or unforgiveness. Write down their names one by one, and describe beside each one the nature of the offense they committed against you.
- PRAY OVER EACH, ONE BY ONE: Now take these people and their offenses to the Lord one by one. If your list has more than four or five names, do this over several days for maximum effectiveness rather than trying to forgive all of them at once. Take time to address each one individually. As you pray through each person and each offense, give the Father time to heal your heart.
- PRAY, SOAK AND HEAL: Below, after #5, is a sample prayer of forgiveness. Do what you need to make it your own. During the last portion of this prayer, soak in the Lord’s presence as long as you need to, allowing him to minister his love and healing deep in your heart. There is no need to rush. Let the Father love you, heal you and set you free. The deeper the wound, the longer this may take. Be patient.
- SEEK RELATIONAL RESTORATION WHERE APPROPRIATE: Where possible and smart, be restored to the person who offended or hurt you. As you do, keep the following points in mind. Not everyone will respond to your forgiveness of them, and that can hurt. However, just because the other person decides to remain stuck, you don’t have to remain stuck. You can move on. Additionally, wisdom and the need to maintain healthy boundaries may require you to forgive from a distance without attempting to re-establish a relationship with that person. For example, restoring relationships with people who have abused you in the past may not be wise. Seek godly counsel before you endeavor to restore a relationship with an abuser.
- RINSE AND REPEAT (IF NEEDED): If resentments re-emerge, go through the prayer of forgiveness again. Recalibration will come! Determine ahead of time that you will not play the part of a victim or harbor blame in your heart. The Father wants you healed and restored!
Father, I come to you with deep humility and in need of your help. I am so grateful for the forgiveness that you have extended to me in spite of my own ugly sinfulness. The forgiveness I received from you was undeserved, but you offered it anyway. Thank you!
Now, just as I have freely received your forgiveness, help me to extend the same forgiveness freely to those who have hurt and offended me. With your help, I can do this. You not only took the penalty for my sin upon yourself, you took the penalty for their sins upon yourself as well. Who am I to hold unforgiveness in my heart when you have covered my sin and forgiven me, and when you have done the same for those who offended me? I want to offer forgiveness to others just as you have offered it to me.
First, Father, I repent of harboring this resentment in my heart. I now run away from harboring resentment and unforgiveness in my heart, and I run to you. Help me lay these down at the foot of the cross one by one.
I bring to you my bitterness towards ________________________________. Forgive me for harboring a grudge against him/her. He/she hurt me by ____________________________. To me, this act was wrong, hurtful, uncalled for and _____________________________. It made me feel _________________________. (Share with him the feelings you have collected.)
But now I relinquish my perceived right to remain angry and bitter. I renounce unforgiveness and resentment. They are not in charge of me. Jesus is in charge of me. Father, just as I receive your forgiveness for holding unforgiveness in my heart, I now extend that same forgiveness to ________________________. I forgive _______________________.
I release __________________________ from the prison of my anger and from the expectation that he/she will make this right. My forgiveness is not conditional in any way upon his/her future actions. I offer it freely, no strings attached.
And in so doing, I release myself from the prison of unforgiveness I have been hiding out in. I am free! In fact, I pray as Jesus did, Father, forgive __________________, for he/she did not really know what he/she was doing. Forgive and restore him/her just as you are doing for me.
Finally, Father, I thank you for healing the wounds in my heart that were created by that offense. As I remember and recall that offense for one last time, I give all my pain to you. I sit in your lap as a child, embraced by your loving arms. I receive your healing love as it flows through me now. I acknowledge that I do not have to know why this happened or why you allowed it to happen. I just know this, you love me with an everlasting, unfailing love. And you bring good out of bad situations. I receive that love right now as you pour it into the core of my being. (Take time to soak in his presence and love at this point as long as you need. Let him heal your heart wounds. Do not be in a rush.)
I love you, Father. I am healed. I am loved. And I am free! Amen!
Watch for the next article on God’s third wish for 2011, Recalibration Requirement 3: Renew and Refresh. Please share with me testimonies of what God does in your heart as you recalibrate by releasing unforgiveness and being restored.
Dr. Randy Loescher