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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 will be necessary to pray, apply Scripture, and, especially, 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.

This article will provide proven strategies enable you to deal with the issue of unforgiveness.

For you to use this article, it is necessary to first get saved.

Here's some things to keep in mind.

First, make a firm decision to forgive. This is always the first step. Until you make a firm decision to forgive others, from your heart, you can make no progress whatsoever.

You will also need to reiterate your decision to forgive whenever thoughts of an offender come up. Forgiveness is always a choice, and the decision to forgive must be made each time. Otherwise, you will fall back into the trap of unforgiveness.

Second, recognize that you can forgive, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes success will require repeated efforts over a period of time and sometimes other steps may be necessary. No matter what happened, you can forgive by applying Scripture and with God's help.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)."

Forgiveness may require an exercise of faith. You must believe that, with God's help, you can forgive.

If you have doubts about your ability to forgive someone, you won't be able to forgive them completely and permanently. If you're afraid that you can't forgive someone without first talking to them, then, again, you won't be able to forgive them otherwise—even though talking to them is often really unnecessary.

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

Recognize, also, that Satan will always have the ability to put thoughts and images into your mind. This includes thoughts and images focused on changing the past and revenge. This is nothing unexpected or something you need to be afraid of. When this happens, you can simply do the following:

  • Forgive from your heart.
  • Pray, briefly, for the person.
  • Think about something else.

This is also a good time to pray, in faith, for God to enable you to completely and permanently forgive the person. Prayer is an essential part of successfully dealing with spiritual warfare.

God is our Heavenly Father. It is a foolish son who thinks he is smart enough or strong enough to handle things alone when he is in trouble.

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. From your heart.

This requires abstaining from behaviors that have the effect of getting even, including purposefully avoiding eye contact with them. And it also requires not entertaining fantasies of getting even, negatively judging them or of them experiencing misfortune.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Fifth, 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 all those who have wronged me (Preferred).
  • "Lord, I forgive him."
  • "Lord, I choose to forgive her."

These type of statements are effective. And sometimes, such a one sentence prayer statement is all that you need to do. Prayer brings God's strength to the battle.

The first prayer statement is preferred since it prevents you from focusing on the individual and the offence—which is, of course, what the demon wants you to do.

Christian affirmations are effective in facilitating and maintaining an attitude of forgiveness. They are quick and easy and can be used, whenever thoughts of someone who has offended you, come up. Some additional examples follow:

  • "I choose to forgive all those who have wronged me by the power of the Holy Spirit."
  • "I forgive him by the power of the Holy Spirit."
  • "Lord, I forgive him, from my heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The matter is now closed."
  • "I can forgive, by the power of the Holy Spirit."

These affirmations are effective—if they are combined with faith.

Then think about something else or, if necessary, first pray to think about something else. You will be surprised how well this works!

Don't dwell on an offense—even in the context of forgiveness. If you do, you will give an advantage to the Devil.

Sixth, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44 NIV)." You do this when the issue comes up in your thinking.

For this Scripture to be most effective, you must use both elements of the Scripture when you're wrestling with unforgiveness in prayer.

  • You must love your enemy.
  • You must pray, genuinely, for the person's welfare.

There is nothing much to explain as far as loving your enemies. Just have a willing mind and struggle to do it.

For the prayer part, praying briefly and genuinely is best. The prayer, to be most effective, should generally be several sentences long. You can pray for the person's salvation, enlightenment, welfare, health and his or her family. If the person is a Christian, you can also pray for personal conviction and, if necessary for the benefit of the body of Christ, exposure.

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.

Loving your enemies, and praying for them, is powerful. I have found that this works, even with long-standing issues. I have found that this approach can work when nothing else will.

Additional Scriptures follow.

"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Proverbs 10:12 ESV)."

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)."

"'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18 NIV)."

" . . . love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . (Matthew 5:44 NIV)."

You are required to maintain this simple mindset, that you always choose to love your neighbor.

Choosing to love your enemies will make forgiveness easier. Choosing to love your enemies can make it possible to forgive when, otherwise, you simply cannot.

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.

Seventh, 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 also 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.

A simple affirmation: "Lord, I choose to love you."

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

Eighth: 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.

Ninth, 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).

Tenth: Consider these two Scriptures.

"Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12 NASB)."

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin (2 Peter 4:1 NIV)."

Recognize that persecution is part of the Christian life. You can reduce—but not eliminate—the amount of distress you experience by arming yourself with the right attitude. Try using the following simple affirmation:

"I choose to forgive all those who have wronged me, past, present and future (1 Peter 4:1)."

Eleventh, remember not to make negative judgments 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 judgment (i.e. emotional distress) unless sincerely confessed. And then you will be more angry.

Twelfth: "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. And it is foolish to delay confessing your sin.

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.

Thirteenth, don't think about past wrongs. Dwelling on past wrongs is the emotional equivalent of drinking poison.

Consider this Scripture: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past (Isiah 43:18 NIV)." This Scripture can be used in two ways:

  • You can quote the Scripture. 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). Say it out loud.
  • You can simply say "I forget" when a troubling thought comes to mind. Then think about something else. You will be surprised on how well this works.

Another effective strategy is to return to prayer, repeatedly, whenever you come under spiritual attack in this way.

Fourteenth, look at these two Scriptures:

  • “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you (Mark 11:22-24 NASB)."
  • "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him (1 John 5:14-15 NASB)."

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 enable you to forgive, 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.

Here's an example of an affirmation of faith that can be used at the conclusion of your prayer: "I thank you, Lord, for your deliverance which has already been accomplished."

Sometimes, repetitive prayers are necessary.

You can also ask, in faith, for God to give you a forgiving heart toward all those who have wronged you.

If you're still struggling, don't overlook the obvious:

"You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2 NASB)."

If it is within God's will to solve the problem directly in this way, there is probably no reason to ever discuss the issue with the offender.

In situations where you're struggling to forgive, this should usually be tried first.

Fifteenth, there are situations where the best approach is to contact the offender. This contact must include four elements:

  • You must express that you were offended, felt uncomfortable etc.
  • The expression of offense should, ideally, include all offenses.
  • The expression of offense must not be condemning.
  • You must part, to the best of your ability, on good terms.

I have had a number of situations, in my life, where I found it necessary to talk directly to the offender in order to break free of unforgiveness. This is not true with everybody.

Sometimes, writing a letter is an appropriate alternative. An example follows:


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.

Alternative statement: "I will apologize for my part in the problems we had."


No more information is needed.

Writing a letter doesn't generally work as well as talking to the individual on the phone or in person. But it still does provide substantial relief. And sometimes this is the appropriate way to deal with the situation.

For another example, refer to my article Getting Rid of Anger (Part 2).

Sixteenth: 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.

One pastor put it this way: "Where there's light, there's bugs."

Seventeenth, surrender the entire problem to God.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-8 NKJV).”

“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (Psalm 55:22 NASB).”

Forgive and let God manage the situation and carry your emotional burden. Wait until He makes it clear what—if anything—He wants you to do. Don't make things worse by acting rashly.

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

Nineteenth: Synopsis One: In regard to past offenses and current conflicts with others: To ensure an intelligent response requires three elements.

  • Bible.
  • Wise Christian counsel (Preferably more than one person).
  • Prayer and surrender: Turn the issue over to God. And be willing to do something—or not do anything—depending on whatever direction you are receiving from God. Trust God. And be willing to wait, if necessary, for God's guidance to become clear.

Twentieth: Synopsis Two: Remember, believe and apply biblical truth:

  • God does love you. He does not want you to suffer unnecessarily (Ephesians 1:4-6).
  • God does want you to forgive others and commands you to do so (Ephesians 4:29-32).
  • God will provide a way to enable you to forgive (1 Corinthians 10:13). The solution will not be the same for every situation.

Twenty-first: Some people—certainly not all people—find that using the "empty chair technique" is helpful in enabling them to forgive. Here's how the technique works.

You basically have the same conversation as though the person were present, visualizing the person sitting in the "empty chair." You express your feelings. You express how the person's behavior made you feel. You don't need to censor your remarks; however, your remarks should not be judgmental or condemning. You end by telling the person that you forgive him/her.

This technique is particularly useful when dealing with anger issues involving the deceased.

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)."

When you're struggling to avoid thoughts of revenge, you can try this simple affirmation of biblical truth: "Vengeance belongs to God—and God will repay."

Twenty-third: 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. Especially while you're inexperienced in using Scripture. 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)."

Note: More information on dealing with this issue is included in my article on Anger Management and the series on Getting Rid of Anger.

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