A pastor was preaching on sin, and he wanted to check his congregation’s understanding. So he asked, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the sanctuary a small boy spoke up, “You have to sin.” I know from personal experience we don’t have a problem fulfilling that prerequisite. But Jesus reveals that another prerequisite for God to forgive is our willingness to forgive others.
Is there someone you are holding an offense against? There probably is, but you try not to think of him/her very often. It is probably someone close to you. Someone who hurt you while you were growing up, someone you were married to or are still married to, a child, a parent, an aunt or an uncle, or a minister. Why don’t you forgive them? You explain, “You don’t understand. It is not that easy!” Jesus explains it this way, For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). There really isn’t any wiggle room in that statement, and Jesus said the same thing over and over again in many different ways so that we would understand that we have no choice about forgiveness if we want to be faithful and obedient to our loving heavenly Father.
I invite you to make two fists right now, please. Squeeze your fists as hard as you can for just 30 seconds. Look at your watch and time yourself. It is a good object lesson. Please, do it. As you let go you will find three things. First, notice the pain in your fingers when you finally let go. The fists were causing you pain, but it also hurt to STOP making the fists. When we hold onto an offense against another, it squeezes us to death, but the longer we carry that grudge we also find that it’s more and more painful to let go of it. Second, did you notice that at every second it took more and more strength to keep squeezing? You had to focus more energy and attention on it every second in order to keep it up. When we choose not to forgive someone we will consume more and more of our life and energy to carry the offense, and that is time taken from much more important things that God wants us to do with our lives. Third, did you notice the numbness from blood not circulating well through the fingers. Unwillingness to forgive can produce an insensitivity to the person you are mad at, but also to God, and to others around you, as more and more of your energy is used up in the nursing of that grudge. Unwillingness to forgive is simply at odds with the expansive, whole, free life God has designed for you and me. You can’t simultaneously keep those fists closed and receive anything else.
Psalm 23 is probably the most loved Psalm of all because it provides so much comfort. Just say, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want” and the rest of the Psalm floods the minds of those who love it. That is except for verse 4 which reads, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” God knows that there is so much comfort He can provide, but when we hold onto offense, it will undermine all the comfort God desires to bring into our lives.
Who was the person you thought of you struggle to forgive? What keeps you from forgiving them? Have you reached out to a trusted friend for help? Have you reached out to your minister for help? Have you reached out to God? If God would send His son to die for your sins, and forgive you of all of those sins, what sin can someone else commit against you that wouldn’t pale in comparison to the sacrifice Jesus has made for you? Forgiveness is not natural for us to do. Turn to God for help.
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