For God, forgiveness is miraculously instantaneous. When he forgives us, he does so perfectly, and we are miraculously healed.
For us, however, mercy is a process that unfolds over time.
When we forgive, that isn’t the end of the process. It’s just the beginning.
A true act of forgiveness continues for the lifetime of the person doing the forgiving.
It has three main steps.
STEP 1: MAKING THE CHOICE TO FORGIVE
Forgiveness is not a feeling, at least not initially. Many people drag their heels on making the choice to forgive, as they “don’t feel like forgiving” or they say “I can NEVER forgive him for doing that!” But for born-again believers, forgiveness is not optional: It is a command. There is no time and no circumstance when you can righteously choose not to forgive.
Forgiveness is first and foremost a decision of the will.
In other words, it’s a choice. It’s a decision you make of your own free will.
You CHOOSE to forgive, you don’t always necessarily feel like forgiving.
You make the choice to forgive, and then the process of forgiveness begins.
STEP 2: FOLLOWING THROUGH ON THE CHOICE TO FORGIVE
I watched a video a few months ago posted by a pastor who claimed to have forgiven his wife for having an affair with his father. I’m not naming the pastor (to protect the identity of his wife and father), but the whole thing blew me away. It was essentially a textbook case of what NOT to do after you make the choice to forgive. It was clear from the video that the pastor was still hurt and angry about the affair and was still pointing fingers of blame. The anger and the pointed fingers are clear indications that no genuine forgiveness has taken place. I find this deeply saddening for everyone involved.
After you choose to forgive, you don’t talk about the grievance anymore, not even as an example. I can’t stress enough how important this is. You don’t say “Oh, I chose to forgive him for what he did to me, even though it nearly destroyed my life”, you just simply say (if anyone asks) “I don’t talk about it anymore, thank you”. And people will ask, trust me. The devil will prompt someone every now and then to remind you about the grievance. Don’t give into the temptation. Similarly, if the grievance pops into your mind (as a test or temptation), simply dismiss it with “I’ve chosen to forgive”, and say another prayer for whoever it is you’ve forgiven. And thank God for his love and mercy.
That is how you follow through on your choice to forgive: You don’t talk about it anymore and you don’t choose to think about it anymore, even when you’re tempted and tested to do so.
It’s also critically important not to put yourself in a position to be hurt again. Your decision to forgive the person who hurt you doesn’t require their repentance. Of all the people in my life I’ve forgiven, none have come to me with an apology. I don’t expect an apology. Their apology isn’t required for me to forgive them. However, I also will not put myself in a position to be hurt again. To do so would not be using the brain and common sense that God gives us all. Forgiving does not mean to look past the physical or emotional danger and pretend it doesn’t exist; forgiving means stopping blaming someone and refusing to think or talk about it anymore. But it NEVER involves putting yourself into the position to be hurt again. That is not part of the forgiveness process.
STEP 3: HONORING THE CHOICE TO FORGIVE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
The decision to forgive is just the start of the process. You must honor your choice for the rest of your life. Just as in the short term you’ll be tempted on occasion to remember and relive the grievance, you’ll also be tempted to do so over the long term. The temptation to blame will likely not leave you until the day you die. Your response should be the same regardless of the time that’s elapsed between your choice to forgive and the test or temptation to resurrect the grievance: You simply say that you don’t talk about it anymore or think about it anymore, thank you very much. And then you say a prayer for the person you’ve chosen to forgive, and you thank God for his love and mercy.
The best and most representative example of how to forgive is Jesus’ final prayer just before he dies on the cross. He simply states: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” In this statement, he doesn’t name the grievance, he simply indicates his choice to forgive while at the same time praying to God to forgive them. This prayer of Jesus is, hands down, the best example of how to choose to forgive, regardless of the extremity of the circumstances.
The three-step process of forgiveness outlined above I have used myself for the past 23 years (and counting) since my rebirth. I have tested it on numerous occasions, and I guarantee you that it works 100% of the time.
THE MIRACULOUS HEALING OF FORGIVENESS
The miraculous part – the part where God gets involved – is when the choice to forgive turns into the feeling of forgiveness and then the ongoing desire to forgive. When God knows that your choice to forgive is genuine, he then effects the feeling of forgiveness in you. That means, he certifies the forgiveness with his own personal seal of approval. When that happens, you feel God’s mercy flowing through you, directly from God.
There is no greater feeling on Earth. It’s God’s love, straight from the source.
God’s love straight from the source was in fact the first feeling I felt when I was reborn 23 years ago.
When we make the genuine choice to forgive (and God knows whether or not it’s genuine), God then forgives us whatever sins we’ve accumulated. The feeling that results is the feeling of God’s grace and mercy interacting with our soul.
It’s healing and feeling all at once, giving us a taste of divine ecstasy.
And once you’ve tasted divine ecstasy, you want more and more. You don’t want it ever to stop.
That’s when the directive to forgive becomes the desire to forgive and you cannot imagine not forgiving.
But remember – God forgives us only to the same extent that we forgive others. That is the fair exchange that Jesus spoke about when he gave us examples of prayer topics. For one topic, he advised us to pray the following: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. In this request (which is actually a formula), we are to forgive first, and then God will forgive us to the same extent and at the same time as we’ve forgiven others.
My advice is always to forgive entirely, holding nothing back.
And rush to forgive. Don’t drag your feet – RUSH TO FORGIVE.
And God will rush to forgive you.