The Lord doesn’t call us to merely forgive with our mouths. He calls us to forgive in our hearts. If you do not believe there is a difference, think again. Sometimes I find myself telling people that I have forgiven someone. But my thoughts and feelings speak volumes about the condition of my heart. While I have forgiven that person with my mouth, I am deluged in my thoughts and feelings with everything but forgiveness toward them. Not only am I aware there is a difference, but I have experienced this difference.
I have forgiven one person with the Lord’s love who acted criminally toward me. The world would say the person’s actions were not forgivable. But with the Lord’s heart in mine, I have forgiven. I have not merely spoken the words, and not only written the words to the person, but I have forgiven in my heart. How do I know? I love and miss the person. I do not wish them ill will. I have prayed for the person for years, and will continue to do so. I do not pray because I have to, but because I want to.
On the flip side of forgiving in the heart, I have experienced the exact opposite. I have told people that I have forgiven someone who for decades has defended the person who acted criminally toward me, and who has rejected me in subtle but hurtful ways for as long as I can remember. But I have held bitterness, animosity, and hurt inside me for so long I recently discovered I can no longer contain it. The Bible says that our mouths pour out what lies in abundance in our hearts (Luke 6:45 KJV) I had not forgiven with my heart, as my thoughts and feelings attested.
I cannot explain why I was able to forgive one of these people in my heart and not the other, but I can say I am quite sure of the fact. I also believe I am not alone in having believed that forgiveness is restricted to my mouth. I may not be alone either in having stumbled across the scripture that tells me I must forgive in my heart.
The heart is where thoughts and feelings lie, and it is also the place where the Lord’s love is designed to flow through to help a world in need. If my heart is clogged with ill feelings toward someone I say I have forgiven, then I am blocking the flow of God’s love both into my own life and through my life to others.
Not too long ago, a woman told me, “I forgive you.” I had asked her forgiveness because I knew she had been offended by something I had done. Though I was not entirely clear about the offense, I had sought forgiveness to clear the air and so we would stand in unity in Christ. I knew no sooner than the words were out of her mouth, that she had not meant them. I could tell by her tone, by her stance, and by her attitude. Yet there was nothing I could do but hope over time she would be convicted to truly forgive me.
How far short I fall when I believe that words are enough when it comes to forgiveness. And how far short I fall if I believe the Lord will not equip me to forgive in my heart. I have so often heard people say, “But I can’t forgive that person. What they did was not forgivable.”
When I look back at my life, I have so much that should not have been forgiven that it is a wonder I have been forgiven. But I have. I have been forgiven because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. He not only died for my sins, but He died for the sins of the world. If I do not feel able to forgive someone in my heart, it is because I have not gone to the Lord to receive from Him what I need to forgive. His love. His mercy. His compassion. His death and resurrection.
When I realized I had not forgiven the person I mentioned in my heart, I went to the Lord. I asked Him to help me forgive. Days later, I remembered what I had forgotten. I needed to repent for the junk I had allowed to clog my heart. I needed to ask the Lord to forgive me for holding onto the hurt, the pain, the loss, the rejection, the bitterness, the negativity, etc. I needed to ask Him to forgive me, too, for bad mouthing the person to others. Then I needed to receive His forgiveness as through my confession He forgave and cleansed me of what I had held in my heart.
This time, I did not desire to merely to forgive with my mouth. I wanted to so walk in God’s love that I would forgive in my heart. No bad feelings. No bad thoughts. When they come, when Satan tries to bring back the ugliness of the hurt, I need to cast all that junk down – and out. Then I need to carry on – with thoughts and feelings of love, provided by the Lord.
Is there someone you need to forgive? Do you believe you have already forgiven? Check out your heart. Move beyond your mouth. See if you have really forgiven. If you have not, and feel you cannot, think again. Go to the Lord and ask for what you need to forgive. Him.
Forgiveness is not an option. It is a command. It is also a gift – for us, for the world around us, courtesy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
21 “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet[d] and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’[e] 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. (Mt 18, underline added).”
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