I have found that there are consistently two kinds of people that many Christians either don’t want to forgive or struggle to forgive. It might not be who you think.
We have a prayer ministry at our church, so I have prayed for a number of people. We offer extended, scheduled prayer sessions where we pray through really complex issues. During these sessions we always start with forgiveness. Forgiving those who have failed us and hurt us is the most important step in experiencing spiritual freedom and inner healing. And I have seen people pray and forgive people who have done horrendous things to them. Watching God empower people with His grace to forgive others is so incredible!
I have seen people forgive their abusers, their violent ex-lovers, their neglectful parents, and their selfish friends. I have seen people forgive all manner of harm, both physical and emotional. Especially when the Presence of God fills the room, I have seen people forgive in a moment what might seem impossible to forgive in a lifetime. Yet, there are two moments of forgiveness that tend to be particularly difficult for Christians.
There are often moments when I or my prayer partner senses that there is a need for the person to forgive themselves. This kind of person usually does a wonderful job forgiving others. Yet, they carry the weight of shame and guilt around their neck like a heavy yoke. Even after they receive God’s forgiveness, the yoke still seems to be there. It isn’t until they stop condemning themselves that their yoke lightens. Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). I have seen people who just forgave a number of people without a tear in their eye completely break down and weep as they try to forgive themselves.
We often have to remind this person that they don’t have to be the Holy Spirit. They don’t have to try to enforce conviction in their own lives. That is the Holy Spirit’s job, and He’s really good at it. The Holy Spirit brings conviction without shame and condemnation. When we try to do it, we easily fall pray to perpetual shame and guilt.
Maybe it’s time you forgave yourself. Maybe it’s time you stop judging yourself so harshly. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, clothed in righteousness, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. Take some time to forgive yourself. Pray out loud something like this, “In Jesus’s name, I choose to forgive myself for ___________.”
Forgiving the Church (or Church Leadership)
I was at a large conference and I was serving on the ministry team there. We were the ones praying for people during the conference. I was there a day early with the rest of the team for some training. In a group of nearly 50 people, I was one of only 4 or 5 pastors in the room. In one of the sessions, I could sense that many of these amazing men and women–people who were incredibly gifted–had been ignored or silenced by their church leadership. This was especially true of the women in the room and those with prophetic gifts.
I asked our leader for permission to say something to the group. I stood in the center of the room with everyone encircled around me and I asked them for forgiveness on behalf of all the pastors who hurt them. A few other pastors joined me in the middle and we knelt before the whole room. After I was done repenting and asking for forgiveness, a few of the people who had been hurt declared forgiveness out loud to us pastors. It was an incredible moment! Something unlocked. I received some testimonies later where people said that they never again interacted with their church leadership the same. Their willingness to forgive shifted something.
So many people will forgive anyone and everything but the Church. They walk around daily with resentment and bitterness toward the Church and toward church leadership. These same people who can forgive horrendous abuse sometimes can’t seem to forgive smaller offenses they have experienced in church. Their bitterness and resentment start to paint the church in awful ways. They grow distant from God because they refuse to forgive the church for making mistakes. For these folks, everyone else is allowed to make mistakes, but not the Church and definitely not church leadership. They think they are holding the church accountable, but really they are just holding on to unforgiveness. And it ends up imprisoning the person in a cage of resentments and offenses.
Maybe you need to forgive the Church in general for decisions it has made. Or maybe you need to forgive particular people in the church who have offended you or harmed you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what they did was okay. It just means you’re acknowledging that you are not their judge and jury. God alone is the Just Judge and you are surrendering everything to Him. You are giving up your right to bring revenge and punishment, and you are laying down your bitterness and resentment. Unforgiveness is so toxic. Forgiveness is when we choose to bless those who have hurt us instead of cursing them. The apostle Paul said to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers“(Galatians 6:10). If there is anyone we should get good at forgiving, it is the “family of believers.”
Who do you need to forgive? Don’t let unforgiveness toward the Church imprison your life with Christ. Don’t allow the enemy to bury you under a pile of anger and resentment. Forgiveness is your way out if you’re willing to take it.