The Webster’s Intercollegiate Dictionary defines forgiveness as, “To give up resentment of, or claim of requital, or to grant relief from payment of debt or personal injury.” Many things will happen over the course of your life that could cause resentment, bitterness, and a desire for revenge. But to live a full and successful life, you must develop the ability to let resentments go. I realize this is easier said than done. The Scriptures give us at least twenty-two different spiritual exercises that help us let go of these toxic feelings and desires that can hold us back from the kind of life God has for us. I think God gives us so many different instructions knowing we will experience all kinds of different hurts and difficulties during our life.
Today I will discuss two of the spiritual exercises that will help you to let go of resentments. In one sense, it’s as easy as just “letting it go.” But in reality, it is much harder than that. We often are so troubled, blocked, or redirected by what another person did to us that we have a hard time just letting it go. It could be that you were cheated out of your business; your husband/wife cheated on you; you were mentally, emotionally, or physically abused; you were injured in an accident; you were robbed of the promotion, and so forth. So we want to work on your ability to release your grip on the issue that may have become a defining issue in your life.
Now I must say that developing forgiveness does not mean allowing a person who harms others to be released to continue harming others. It does mean not allowing what someone else did to you to continue to haunt you for the rest of your life. The ability to forgive is about building your future from where you are right now instead of allowing the other person continue to define your future.Yes, they may have done things which are the reason why you are where you are today, but it is essential that you do not let them control your future. You can leave the past in the past and move forward with a new sense of purpose and zeal.
Spiritual Exercise #1 -- Drop Your Keys
In the verses that make up the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asks us to talk with God on a daily basis about who we should forgive, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12). Whenever I speak on this topic, I share that our resentments are like our keys that we hold in our hands. Forgiveness is like choosing to drop your keys and walk away. (I will usually drop my keys on stage in dramatic fashion and walk away from them.) If I continue to hang on to those resentments, I cannot move into the future. I must chooseto no longer hold the person liable for the things that they did. They may be liable to the State, to the Lord, to the company, or whatever, but I will no longer be looking for, and taking advantage of, opportunities to pay them back. I tell God that I want to move into the future from where I am. I may not be able to go back to where I was before they did what they did, but I want to move into the future. I want to separate myself from them by forgiving.
Every day when I talk to the Lord about people I need to forgive, I am forced to let the Lord speak to me about whether I have dropped my resentments toward my spouse, neighbor, boss, parents, etc. Start by saying to God and to yourself, “I forgive __________ for what they did to me, and I will no longer look for opportunities to pay them back. I want to forge into the future and embrace all that God has for me.” It may take a number of days and a few spiritual exercises until God no longer brings up their name when you ask in prayer, “Lord, is there anyone who I have not forgiven, since you have forgiven me so much?”, but don’t give up. This is God’s will for you, so He will see it through.
Spiritual Exercise #2 -- Leave the past behind and focus on the future.
Inevitably, I have to repeat my declarations of forgiveness because the keys end up back in my hands without me even realizing I picked them up again. This is a test to see if I am really willing to forgive them! Will I focus on the future and not the past? Will I drop those keys again? This spiritual exercise is really useful to once-and-for-all drop our resentments. God tells us about this exercise through the inspired statements of the apostle Paul in the book of Philippians, “But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
One of the only ways that we can conquer our resentments, bitterness, and desire for revenge is to go after our goals. If our anger at what someone did to you is so strong that you have no goals except to see them paid back, then your resentments have created a prison you now live in. Break out of this prison by forgiving the person and stretching toward the life that God has for you. There are lots of positive things that you can do, and it will require all that you are and much of God’s grace to accomplish them. Ask the question, “God, what could I be doing three to five years from now that I am not doing now?” I have used this relational grid to help focus my future, and I would highly recommend it. I ask God to give me insights, ideas, and goals for how to make each area of my life better. I ask, “God, what can my ideal marriage (family, work, finances, etc.) look like in five years? What can I do now to begin moving toward those goals?”
I can focus on the positive aspects of my future and the things I can control to get there. When I do, I become more excited about the future than the petty resentments of the past, enabling me to move beyond them. It doesn’t matter what your past was like. Let your resentments go and move into a much brighter future.
Good luck with this, and I would love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect.
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