A Spirit of Forgiveness:
Imitating the Way of Jesus
As far back as I can remember, I have struggled with having an unforgiving spirit. It easy for me to hold grudges and to gossip about someone who had hurt me. Instead of being “quick to listen; slow to speak” I lived quick to speak; slow to listen.
I hated it. I hated the way I felt. I wanted to be like my friends who were kind and gracious and weighed their words. I would read Proverbs and the verses that referred to holding grudges would jump out at me. I prayed, oh how I prayed that God would change my heart. I would try hard to change and I would be successful for a few days. But then something would happen and I would become angry and I would harbor a grudge. The term I gave this character quality is “an unforgiving spirit.”
For many years I thought I struggled alone, but now I know I didn’t. Maybe you can identify with me and maybe you’re wishing for some advice on how to have a forgiving spirit toward friends or family members. I’d like to share with you some things that have helped me to live victoriously in this area. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not struggle-free, but I now have the tools needed to help me wade the waters of unforgiveness.
How to know if I have an unforgiving spirit:
In her book Choosing Forgiveness, Nancy Leigh DeMoss gives a checklist to check for an unforgiving spirit in our lives:
- I often replay in my mind the incident(s) that hurt me
- When I think of a particular person or situation, I still feel angry
- I try hard not to think about the person, event, or circumstance that caused me so much pain
- I have a subtle, secret desire to see this person pay for what he or she did to me
- Deep in my heart, I would not mind if something bad happened to the person(s) who hurt me
- I often find myself telling others how this person hurt me
- A lot of my conversations revolve around this situation
- Whenever his or her name comes up, I am more likely to say something negative than something positive about him or her
Did any of these sound familiar to you? If you’re not sure, it might be wise to find a trusted friend or family member and ask him or her if he or she sees signs of these in your life.
What to do?
1. Admit your spirit of unforgiveness
So, you see signs of an unforgiving spirit in your life. Where do you go from here? The first step is to acknowledge your problem. Admitting your struggle is a powerful thing. You are not harboring your struggle but you are making it known. There are times as I’m driving that I will speak the words out loud, that I am upset and hurt over something done. Satan wants you to keep your grudges/anger a secret. Truth cannot live in secrecy and acknowledgment brings light.
Here is a prayer you can write in your journal or pray aloud:
Jesus, I feel hurt because _____did ____. This hurt me because ____. I repent of my feeling of _____ towards ______. My feelings were wrong and it was not an attitude of forgiveness. Because you have forgiven me, I choose to forgive _____. I take the offense to the foot of the cross and I leave it there. I release him/her of the offense and they owe me nothing. This hurt is now yours to deal with. I accept the peace and freedom that you offer me in exchange for my feelings of hurt.
Please note that I am not saying that the infraction done was okay. It may very well be something completely wrong and maybe it even needs to be dealt with. However, revenge is not yours to pay. When you forgive, you are setting yourse;f free from the chains of bitterness.
2. Pray blessing on the one who hurt you.
When you pray blessing over the one who has hurt you, you are acknowledging that retaliation is for God alone. You are breaking yourself free from the chains that produce bitterness and anger. There are many ways to pray blessing over someone. I like to use Scripture.
Here is a prayer to pray using these verses: (I am using the name “Ann” as an example.)
Lord, I thank you for Ann. I pray that Ann would be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and understand. I pray that Ann might walk worthy of You in all she does, that she might be fruitful and increase in her knowledge of You. I pray that Ann would be strengthened with all might according to Your glorious power, that You would grant her patience and long-suffering to face the obstacles that come her way. I give You thanks for her and for her presence in my life and I pray that together we would be partakers of the inheritance You offer us as saints.
Here is a prayer to pray:
Jesus, today would you give Ann the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that she may know You better. Make her eyes to be enlightened so that she may know the hope that You have called her and that she may experience the riches of Your glorious inheritance. May Ann experience Your incomparably great power, the same power that You exerted when You were raised from the dead and seated at the Father’s right hand.
Jesus prayed blessing over those that hurt Him. As His followers, we imitate His life and His way. He showed us how to forgive.
The next several points come from the book The 30 Day Kindness Challenge by Shaunti Feldhan.
2. Do not speak anything negative to that person or to someone else about that person
Not speaking negatively to someone is fairly easy. It’s the not speaking negatively about that person that is difficult. Even if you choose just one person to tell of your hurt or anger, every time you speak of it, the hurt or anger is being solidified in your mind. I recognize that there are times you need to talk to someone about your struggle in order to process or to gain clarity on what is happening. Be sure to confide in someone who will help you and not add their own harsh words to deepen your feelings of anger or bitterness.
3. Speak a life-giving word to that person once a week/month
Ask God to show you what life-giving words you can give to this person. It doesn’t have to be loud or over-the-top; a simple word of encouragement goes a long way. Feldhan suggests speaking a daily life-giving word. If that seems excessive to you, then look for a way to speak goodness into his or her life once a month. The key here is not to keep track of how many times you have spoken life to the person you’re dealing with, but rather to keep the action at the forefront of your mind as a way of acting out forgiveness.
4. Do an act of service for that person once a week/month
Again, ask God to show you how you can do a deed of kindness for the person you’re struggling to get along with. Guard against manipulation. This is not about getting him or her on your side or to like you; this is about acting out the spirit of forgiveness. Jesus said to do good to those who [we have a hard time getting along with]. Ask Him for ways to offer acts of kindness.
5. Say something nice about that person to others
When his or her name comes up in conversation, find a positive thing to say this person. If you’re struggling to get along with a family member, offer a compliment or appreciation for something done or accomplished. Ask God for the right words to say. He knows your heart and your desire to exercise a forgiving spirit. He will help you.
Out of all the books I’ve read, UNConditional:The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd has made the most impact on my life. In this book, Zahnd argues that forgiveness is not “forgetting.” A Holocaust survivor or an African slave will never forget the trauma they endured. Forgiveness is not “not talking about the wrong done.” A survivor needs to talk about their experiences to find healing. Instead, Zahnd looks at the life of Jesus and how He responded to those those mistreated Him. “Forgiveness,” Zahnd says, “is not getting even.” When you look at Jesus’ life, He did not retaliate against those who hurt Him.
He prayed blessing over them.
He spoke life-giving words to and about them.
He performed acts of service for them.
He forgave them.
As we strive to imitate Jesus’ life, we too do good to those who hurt us. We will look for ways to bless, to speak life, to serve. We will not get even.
These steps have made a huge impact in my life. I’m telling you, they work! Would you like to know a secret? The ones I held a grudge against or struggled to forgive, they went on with their lives. It was me that changed. Because I was willing to forgive, the chains of bitterness holding grudges were broken and I was set free. You can be set free as well.
Words: Miss Carolyn has been a dear friend of our mom for many years. She lives a beautiful life of joy and fullness in Jesus and other relationships! Carolyn, thank you so much for being willing to write for us. You did an excellent job!