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"The entrance of thy words giveth light (Psalm 119:130)."

How to Forgive

One of the most painful experiences in life occurs when someone has wronged us and the Devil gets a foothold as a result of unforgiveness. The amount of pain can be incredible. Lives can be damaged or destroyed—and the offense doesn't even need to be that serious.

God promises to torture us if we fail to forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35). Our sin of unforgiveness gives the Devil a spiritual foothold which he will use to cause emotional pain. Physical distress, in many forms, may also result from unforgiveness.

The next time this happens, you will quickly realize you're in a war. And that every thought is a battle. To eliminate the foothold, it is necessary to avoid thoughts inconsistent with forgiveness.

The war may take time to win. And there may be many battles. Here's some tips to help you win. Because, despite how bad you may feel, you can win the war.

First, make a firm decision to forgive. This is always the first step. Until you make a firm decision to forgive the other person, from your heart, you can make no progress whatsoever. You will also need to reiterate your firm decision to forgive whenever angry thoughts come up. Otherwise, you will fall back into the trap of unforgiveness. This article will provide some proven strategies on how to accomplish this.

Second, recognize that you can forgive, though sometimes success will require repeated efforts over a period of time and sometimes other steps may be necessary. In order to forgive, you must believe that you can forgive.

Dr. Charles Stanley stated: "It is the Devil's lie that you can't forgive."

Third, recognize that not forgiving is rebellion against God. This will make it easier to forgive.

Fourth, forgiveness should be complete, not just partial. Any level of forgiveness will help, but peace requires that that you completely forgive the offender.

Fifth, "love your enemy." This is an excellent way of preventing footholds from becoming established. And, when they do become established, it is often the best way to break free. "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Proverbs 10:12 ESV)."

The Bible tells us to love as a matter or principle—not as a matter of merit. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to do what God commands.

Sixth, remember to love God. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37 NKJV)." "If anyone does not love the Lord, that person is cursed (1 Corinthians 16:22 NLT)."

Whenever you've suffered as a result of another person's wrong, you are naturally angry at the God who allowed this to happen. This attitude is a sin since Scripture requires us to love God unconditionally. To feel better, you will also need to adjust your attitude and love God.

God will not allow you to love Him and hate others.

Seventh: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44 NIV)." Praying for these individuals, briefly and genuinely, whenever such persons come up in your thinking, will help you forgive. This prayer, to be effective in reducing your anger, should generally be several sentences long. You can pray for the person's enlightenment, welfare, encouragement, personal conviction and, if necessary for the benefit of the body of Christ, exposure. If you've entertained a thought of getting back at the person, it is also necessary to genuinely confess your sin.

Another thing you can try is a simple prayer like this: "Lord, I choose to love her and I pray that you will bless her."

Once you've completed your prayer, think about something else.

Eighth, whenever thoughts of an offender come up, bring the issue to God, in prayer, right away. This can be as simple as:

  • "Lord, I forgive him."
  • "Lord, I choose to forgive her."
  • "Lord, I have forgiven him."

These type of statements are particularly effective. And sometimes, such a one sentence prayer statement is all that you need to do. Prayer brings God's strength to the battle. And, if necessary, you can also ask God for needed guidance.

Ninth: Christian affirmations are very effective in facilitating and maintaining an attitude of forgiveness. They are quick and easy and can be used whenever angry thoughts come up. Three more examples follow:

  • "Lord, I choose to forgive her from my heart. The matter is closed."
  • "Lord, I choose to forgive him; I'm not going to allow him to destroy my life."
  • "Lord, I choose to forgive her. The matter is closed."

Tenth: When you see the person next, just say "Hi" as if nothing had happened. This will help you forgive since feelings follow actions. This assumes that this is one of those issues which should not be discussed with the offender. Purposely avoiding someone is inconsistent with forgiveness and can restore the foothold.

Eleventh, if the person you are angry at is also angry at you, the best way to forgive is usually to talk to the individual directly and become reconciled. For an example, refer to my article Getting Rid of Anger (Part 3).

Twelfth: When Satan does get a foothold, you will feel pressure to dwell on the wrongs you have experienced and the people who have wronged you. The more you think about these things, the worse the foothold will become. Self-effort, under such circumstances, is ineffective since you are facing a supernatural enemy—empowered by a spiritual foothold. But you can always pray against the forces of darkness. You can pray—and keep praying fervently—until you get some relief. You can also pray continually (prayer for others, praise & thanksgiving etc.) as a way of keeping your mind off of negatives.

Thirteenth, sometimes expressing your feelings in a letter to the person you are angry at does help. Express feelings, don't be condemning. End the letter in forgiveness. This letter—which usually should not be mailed—may help to discharge angry emotions.

There are situations when a letter should be mailed. For an example, refer to my article Getting Rid of Anger (Part 2).

Fourteenth, remember not to make negative judgements as to another person’s worth (Luke 6:37). Also, do not take pleasure in another person’s calamity—no matter how well-deserved (Proverbs 17:5). Either of these sins will likely bring God's judgement unless sincerely confessed. And then you will be more angry.

Fifteenth: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV)." Whenever you find yourself entertaining angry thoughts about someone who has wronged you, it is important that you confess your sin of unforgiveness to God right away.

To confess means to agree with God that what you have done is wrong. Unforgiveness is wrong because God says it is.

Confessions need to be made from your heart, with a genuine repentant attitude, or they will probably be ignored by God. So, if you have been harboring unforgiveness, you can say: "I confess that I have been a 'wicked servant' (Matthew 18:21-35); I ask forgiveness of my sin."

It is foolish to unnecessarily prolong your suffering by neglecting to authentically confess your sin of unforgiveness.

It is important to remember that God is our Heavenly Father and we are His sons. There really is a father-son (or father-daughter) relationship. God becomes very angry and punishes us when, having been forgiven for our wrongs, we fail to forgive others. As in dealing with any angry father, the best course of action to avoid further pain is to offer up a genuine apology and then do our best to correct our behavior.

Sixteenth, don't think about past wrongs. Even once the foothold is gone, thinking about a painful incident will still produce stress. And thinking about a past wrong will often resurrect angry feelings so you will have to forgive all over again. Here are two more strategies to help with this particularly effective trap of Satan.

  • Quote a Scripture: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past (Isiah 43:18)." To make it even easier, you can simply quote "forget the former things" or "do no dwell on the past." Remember, the Word of God has supernatural power; it is "living and powerful" (Hebrews 4:12).
  • Remember that forgiveness is part of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). You can use the Lord's prayer as a template for your morning prayer. So, you can say to God, in the morning, "I forgive all those who have wronged me; I ask you to forgive all my sins." Later, when Satan brings up a past wrong, you can say: "Lord, I have forgiven him. The matter is closed." Then think about something else.

Seventeenth, once you've done everything you can to forgive, there still may be some foothold there that simply will not go away. Pray, in faith, for God to remove this remaining foothold without doubting. Believe your prayer has been answered. The result of such a prayer can be amazing and powerful—and you may find instant relief from the bulk of your anger.

Eighteenth, there are situations where it is necessary to contact the offender—and nothing else will work. This contact must include four elements:

  • You must express that you were offended.
  • The expression of offense must include all offenses.
  • The expression of offense must not be condemning.
  • You must part on good terms.

However, this is sometimes much easier than it seems. It can be as simple as a brief letter. An example follows:

John:

I am writing this letter in an attempt to have more peace.

Some time back, we had several negative interactions that continue to be a problem for me. I will apologize for any angry feelings.

Jim

No more information is needed. And you don't even need to include your full name or a return address.

Nineteenth: Church issues: The Bible provides specific instructions on how to deal with church conflicts/offenses. This is not easy for anyone; and obedience does require courage. Here's some biblical principles.

  • If someone has something against you, talk to them and try to get reconciled.
  • If someone sins against you at church, first talk to them privately. Discuss their offense and attempt to get reconciled. If they are unwilling, the next steps involve getting other Christians involved and possibly contacting church leadership (Matthew 18:15-17).
  • If someone is rude at church, it is appropriate to rebuke them.
  • It will be necessary, at times, for you to stand up for yourself at church when you are facing undue criticism.

Twentieth, surrender the entire problem to God. Forgive and let God manage the situation. Wait until He makes it clear what—if anything—He wants you to do. Don't make things worse by acting rashly.

Twenty-first, get wise counsel. Others may see the issue more clearly than you since they are not emotionally impacted.

Twenty-second, remember that nobody really gets away with anything: "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord (Romans 12:19 NASB)."

Twenty-third, meditate on Scripture. Thinking about the lives and events included in Scripture—and what they really mean—is an excellent way of keeping your mind off of negatives.

Twenty-fourth, as a general rule, avoid the temptation to turn to psychotropic medication. This is a spiritual issue, not a medical one. Medications are bad for your health. They usually don't work well. And you won't be able to learn self-control while you are on them.

Finally, be persistent. The foothold may take time to demolish. Endure the pain. Keep trying. Never give up. God will give you the victory—in time.

"A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all (Psalm 34:19 NIV)."

Notes: 1) More information on dealing with this issue is included in my article on Anger Management and the series on Getting Rid of Anger. 2) For you to use this article, it is necessary to first get saved.

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