That sounds like an important question, and one that many of us have asked, often at our moments of deepest anguish. In order to answer this question, however, it is necessary to first ensure we have definitions for the two key words involved: prayer and forgiveness.
Prayer is conversation with God. It is the exchange of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to Him. Prayer may be oral or mental, occasional or constant, casual or formal (https://christiananswers.net/dictionary/prayer.html).
Forgiveness is a deliberate act of love, mercy, and grace. It is a conscious decision to not hold something against another person, despite what he or she has done to you (https://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-forgiveness.html).
Forgiveness of Others and Self
Now that we have a common foundation for understanding these critical terms, let us dive into this matter more fully. First, ask yourself if you want to forgive. Sometimes we pray a forgiveness prayer and think we are doing well because God commands us to forgive; yet, if we have no desire to forgive, there will not be a change in our heart, mind, or relationship. So, if you truly are lacking in desire to forgive, it would be beneficial to ask God first to give you that desire.
Once you have the desire to forgive, pray a prayer asking God to help you forgive the other person or yourself. It is critical to realize that forgiveness is a deliberate act. You may not feel any different for a very long time.
In fact, you may need to pray on several occasions, confessing in faith to God that you have, in fact, forgiven. Doubt, hatred, and/or ruminations about what you or they did may try to plague you, but speaking in faith is taking action. The Bible is clear that we must couple our faith with action, and that words are powerful.
Our souls (mind, will, and emotions) seek to take us down mental rabbit trails and distract us from the commission at hand. The world tells us to take revenge, and our flesh tends to like that idea all too often. However, if we live by our emotions, we will die by them.
Bible Verses about Forgiveness
Plainly, the Bible discusses that we are not to hold onto anger and offense.
Here are some Bible verses about forgiveness:
“When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath [your exasperation, your fury, or indignation] last until the sun goes down.” – Ephesians 4:26
“In the same way you married men should live considerately with [your wives], with an intelligent recognition [of the marriage relation], honoring the woman as [physically] the weaker, but [realizing that you] are joint heirs of the grace (God’s unmerited favor) of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered and cut off. [Otherwise you cannot pray effectively.]” – 1 Peter 3:7
“So if when you are offering your gift at the altar you there remember that your brother has any [grievance] against you, Leave your gift at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come back and present your gift.” –Matthew 5:23-24
“For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matthew 6:14
Yes, forgiveness is clearly a command in Scripture, not a suggestion. So, why isn’t prayer enough? It is because our flesh that wars against God and His ways seeks to entrap us so that we do not stay close to our Life Source, God Almighty.
In James 2:26, we read, “For as the human body apart from the spirit is lifeless, so faith apart from [its] works of obedience is also dead.” And in James 2:17-18, we see, “So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead). But someone will say [to you then], You [say you] have faith, and I have [good] works. Now you show me your [alleged] faith apart from any [good] works [if you can], and I by [good] works [of obedience] will show you my faith.”
I contend that Scripture makes clear that if you believe (have faith) when you pray, then you will receive. Faith, therefore, is an integral part of the process of forgiveness. If you say, “I forgive you” but then you continue to recount to others for their pity and sympathy the list of wrongs you have suffered at your offender’s hands, you are sabotaging your own prayers. But if we do acts of kindness toward the one we are struggling to forgive, we will overcome the unforgiveness in our souls (see Proverbs 25:21-22 and Romans 12:20-21).
Steps to True Forgiveness
You may have to become tenacious to move from unforgiveness to forgiveness. Yes, doggedly or relentlessly pursue forgiveness because it is a command but also because it will bring you into a place of peace and rest.
Are you not tired from the treadmill of your mind, will, emotions, friends, and worldly messages telling you that you deserve to hold a grudge and that you must do so until the other persons apologizes and seeks restoration? Do you notice that you are in physical pain, emotional distress, having restless sleep or no sleep at all?
Do you want peace?
If you do:
- Realize that no one deserves forgiveness—not you, not me, not them.
- God has called us to mimic Jesus Christ. He not only forgave you but everyone who repents and asks Him to do so. Think of how it was for Him, the perfect, sinless Son of Man being lied about, abandoned by His best friends, scoffed at, spat upon (in His face), beaten bloody, feeling like Father God had turned His back on Him, dying a death that was doled out for criminals. He knew He could have called for the Angel armies to come down and be with Him, that He did not have to make a conscious decision to go the cross for us; but He did. That is the ultimate grace.
- Know that Jesus loves you more than you love yourself, and He feels the same way about the one that has offended you.
- You must drop the arrogance of unforgiveness. Jesus paid it all. If you are not forgiving yourself, you are saying that His blood sacrifice was not enough. And, yes, it is also arrogance if we think we can hold someone guilty when God is the judge.
Forgiveness for You
Now, maybe you are not a Christian and you’ve read this far and you’re thinking this seems pretty outlandish, crazy, bizarre, etc. Sure it does, because human nature is opposed to God’s ways. But let me ask you this: Do you have true peace, not just here and now, but about where you will spend eternity?
See, here is where a prayer of forgiveness is enough. If you accept that Jesus is Who He said He is, the Way, the Truth, the Life and that without Him, you cannot see God, you can pray in His name to God, asking that He forgive you of your sinful life, telling Him you repent or turn away from that lifestyle and ask Him to be your Savior. That is enough to receive salvation.
But then, you have to implement all of the things I’ve already written about with Christ’s help, not relying on your own strength or wisdom.
For both Christians and non-Christians, life is messy and there is daily maintenance required. You don’t expect to only have to change the oil in your car once every 20 years or eat one meal or take one bath and be good to go for the rest of your life. So, too, we must tend to our thoughts, words, and deeds not only daily, but with each moment and interaction.
Sometimes Christians will be tempted the most because the devil wants to sideline you. If he can make you ineffective for the Kingdom of God, you can’t help lead anyone out of darkness and into eternal light. He often uses distraction and unforgiveness or hatred to carry out his mission. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being played or pegged for the fool.
Forgiveness will throw him off and get you back on the playing field. This is critical. Life is not about what we see (the natural) as much as what we don’t see (the supernatural). Most of us wouldn’t take it lightly if we were played for the fool in a business venture or a relationship, so why allow this through unforgiveness? Really, you gain the upper hand when you forgive. You are also walking in obedience in this area of your life.
If you’re a ball player, you follow your coach. You obey. If you don’t want to go to jail, you follow the laws of the land. You obey. Yes, it is a four-letter word but one that brings life and hope.
Think of it like this:
Yielded (to God)
Christian Counseling for Unforgiveness
So, is a forgiveness prayer enough? No. You must put it together with faith and actions. What you do to maintain unforgiveness cannot be continued if you want to walk in forgiveness. You have to really get on another road if you want a different destination and a more beautiful and fulfilling journey.
You have to choose to do it afraid, angry, bitter, half-heartedly if that’s all you have to start with. God sees your heart. Time does not heal all wounds; a good clean out (forgiveness), fresh oxygen (the Word) and maintenance (obedience) does.
I know how it is to be at a crossroads of wanting to choose the higher and better way and feeling like I’ve been so beaten down and in such a quagmire for so long that it is really too hard and hopeless and that maybe it’s better if I just bow out of the race. Let someone tougher stand in the gap and do the hard work. I’ll cheer them on from the bench or tend the water station. That’s anesthesia from the pit of Hell, Friend. Wake up!
Whatever you have to do to not give up, do it. Rally your support system. Tell your family that you need extra time alone with God and ask them to support you with prayer, babysitting, or whatever you need. Listen, it’s more selfish to stay stuck and dead inside than to get things straightened out in your soul, spirit, and body. You can’t give life if you’re filled with the death cancer of unforgiveness. Call true prayer warriors. Be real with a godly friend who will pray with you and for you.
But what if you’ve tried all of this and it just hasn’t moved you out of the place of unforgiveness? I challenge you to seek out godly counsel. A Christian counselor or therapist can help you sort things out, implement practical behavioral tools and be a source for accountability so that you do not give up. Perhaps there is work to do to clarify your mission/purpose or identity in Christ to help you to become successful on this journey. When you change your behavior, your beliefs and emotions will follow.
Scripture references are from Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC), Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation.
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