By Charles F. Stanley
"I frequently talk to people who have spent years in bondage because they were unable or unwilling to forgive someone. When they finally understand and apply the idea of forgiveness, they come to know an awesome freedom. This is a process we cannot ignore if we want to become the people God created us to be.
Five Steps to Forgiveness
First, we must recognize that we have been totally forgiven. Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God—and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice He made to restore fellowship with us—we should not hesitate to forgive. If we comprehend what God did for us but refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, then we are like the wicked, ungrateful slave Jesus described. Although his huge debt was forgiven, he immediately demanded repayment of a trifling amount someone owed him (Matt. 18:23-34). Realize that God has totally forgiven of a debt you could never repay and therefore you have no grounds for refusing to forgive others.
A second step is to release the offender from the debt we feel is owed to us. This involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.
We can accomplish this in one of two ways: either by meeting face to face with the person or by using an alternate approach. In cases where a person lives far away, has died, or is totally unapproachable, it may be necessary to use the “chair-substitution” method. Sit facing an empty chair, and imagine the other individual seated across from you. Then confess your resentment. You can also use this technique when you want to practice confessing a wrong attitude before attempting it in person.
The third step is to accept people as they are and release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. We probably all know someone who blames feelings of acceptance or rejection on others. You may be like that yourself. Certain individuals can make or break your day, depending on the amount of attention they pay you. This is a common trait in those who are unable or unwilling to forgive. But when we decide to forgive as an act of the will, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.
Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives: The Lord uses situations and people to help us grow in our understanding of His grace. Joseph certainly grasped this principle. He saw his brothers as instruments God used to place him in a position to save his family during the forthcoming famine. His brothers feared what he might do to get even, but he responded, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
One last thing we must do is make reconciliation. We are to reestablish contact with estranged friends, former co-workers, or family members, and an apology is a good place to start. But regardless of the method, we should do our part to restore fellowship with those who have hurt us. Once forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier. Perhaps you consider this impossible or impractical, but in fact, many people I’ve counseled have rushed back to estranged friends and relatives and reestablished contact.
After completing the five steps in forgiveness, pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (name the specifics). I claim authority over the Enemy and take back the ground I’ve allowed Satan to gain because of my attitude toward (the person). I give this area of my life back to the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray this in His name and in the power of His Holy Spirit.
It’s not necessary to pray this prayer word for word, but do name the person and mention what is being forgiven.
What if it happens again?
At first, we might feel hurt, bitter, or angry—or maybe all three. Satan will remind us of our past hurts. You and I may be tempted to doubt the sincerity of our decision to forgive the other person.
If this happens, however, it is important to remember that forgiveness is an act of the will. Stand firm on your decision to forgive, and, when necessary, apply additional forgiveness—that will allow you to replace old hurts and memories of defeat with faith victories. New offenses can be dealt with as they occur without linking them to past wrongs that have already been forgiven.
Remember, forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person’s behavior may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change others. Our responsibility is to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
Forgiveness is a process that can be painful at times and may seem unending. But whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit. We must get involved in the process of releasing others from the debts we feel they owe us. If we keep our eyes on the One who forgave us, it will be a liberating force like nothing else we have ever experienced."
Adapted from “The Gift of Forgiveness” (1991).