Unforgivable

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.

Forgiving Oneself:
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.

Learn from Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus’s yoke of teaching was not a heavy burden. To take on Jesus’s yoke–his way of living in the Kingdom–is not about laboring to perform for God. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We get to come to Jesus, off-load our shame, guilt and sin, and receive from Him peace, joy, comfort and love. It’s an incredible exchange that we have available to us every day because of the price Jesus paid on the cross.

Many of us have read this passage a number of times and found encouragement and comfort from it. Life in Christ was never meant to be wearisome. If the burden of following Jesus starts to get too heavy, it means we are carrying too much. It means it’s time to take a trip to the cross where we can lay our burdens at Jesus’s feet and allow Him to carry them for us. When we spend time with Jesus we can find rest for the deepest part of our being–our souls.

One thing that is important to notice is that Jesus doesn’t say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn about me…” No, He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Jesus is alive! Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. When we read scripture, we don’t just learn about Jesus. We learn from Jesus.

Learning about Jesus is an important first step, but learning about Him is confined to what Jesus did in the past. Learning from Jesus is about imitating Him with our life today. Learning from Jesus is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us now. It is about hearing from Jesus about our lives today. We will never find rest for our souls if we are only learning about Jesus. Rest for our souls comes when we learn from Jesus.

When we allow Jesus to teach us and guide us today, in the present moment, when we learn from Jesus, we’ll find that He will lead us beside quiet waters as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

A Peace of God

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

In our prayer time with the Lord, there was meant to be an exchange. We come with our burdens, our heavy yokes, our anxiety, our worry, our stress, our frustrations, our failures, and we give them to God by prayer and petition.

Then we shift into gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving. This shift allows us to let go and receive all that He has for us in that moment. Many times we’ll feel God’s love; we’ll sense that He is with us and for us. There may be a release of joy that wells up from inside of us. But most often the thing that comes and wraps us like a blanket is the peace of God.

God’s peace transcends all understanding. It doesn’t make sense that we should be feeling such a calm and a peace in the midst of these storms of life, and yet that is exactly what we experience in God’s Presence.

Like a fresh coat of paint, God’s peace doesn’t just change the color of our heart and mind from dark to light, but it also seals, protects and guards our hearts and minds for the rest of the day. It protects us from the natural weathering that can happen to our emotions and our thought-life.

The Greek word here translated into the word “guard” refers to a military sentinel or guard. Another way of saying it is that God’s peace is militant. Sometimes we think of peace as a fluffy, white blanket. The connotation here is much stronger than a fluffy, white blanket. Picture instead a stern, special ops soldier assigned to be your body guard in a war zone. That is what the peace of God does as we get harassed by the anxieties of the world. It aggressively guards our hearts and minds.

Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30