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by Scott Wylie

Forgiveness is a powerful and transformative quality that is central to the message of the Bible. From the Old Testament to the New, we see countless examples of people forgiving one another in the face of betrayal, hurt, and wrongdoing. Most significantly. the Bible is the story of God offering His forgiveness to us. But what exactly does it mean to forgive, and how can we cultivate a spirit of forgiveness in our own lives?

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Infographic on Biblical Forgiveness

What is Forgiveness?

At its core, forgiveness is the act of letting go of anger, resentment, and bitterness towards someone who has wronged us. It's about choosing to release the other person from their debt, even when they don't deserve it. But forgiveness is not just about the other person - it's also about our own healing and liberation from the pain of past hurts.

One of the most well-known passages about forgiveness in the Bible is the Lord's Prayer, which includes the line, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12, ESV). This prayer reminds us that forgiveness is not just something we seek from God, but something we are called to extend to others.

Another powerful example of forgiveness in the Bible is found in the story of Joseph and his brothers. After Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, he rose to a position of power in Egypt and was able to save his family from famine. When he revealed his identity to his brothers, they were terrified that he would seek revenge. But instead, Joseph forgave them and said, "Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Genesis 45:5, ESV).

This story illustrates the transformative power of forgiveness. By choosing to forgive his brothers, Joseph was able to rise above the pain and hurt of the past and see God's hand at work in his life. He was able to let go of his anger and bitterness, and to extend grace and mercy to those who had wronged him.

Cultivate Forgiveness

So how can we cultivate a spirit of forgiveness in our own lives? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray for a heart that is open to forgiveness. Ask God to give you the strength and grace to let go of past hurts and to extend mercy to those who have wronged you.

  2. Practice empathy. Try to see the situation from the other person's perspective, and to understand the factors that may have led them to hurt you. This doesn't excuse their behavior, but it can help you to approach the situation with compassion and understanding.

  3. Seek reconciliation. If possible, try to reconcile with the person who has wronged you. This may not always be possible or advisable, but when it is, it can be a powerful step towards healing and forgiveness.

  4. Let go of resentment and bitterness. Holding onto anger and resentment only harms you in the long run. Choose to release the other person from their debt, and to move forward with a spirit of forgiveness.

  5. Remember God's forgiveness. When we struggle to forgive others, it can be helpful to remember the incredible forgiveness that God has extended to us. As Jesus said on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34, ESV). If God can forgive us, surely we can extend that same grace to others.

Prayer and Reading Guide for Developing Forgiveness

  1. Pray for a heart that is open to forgiveness. "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." - Mark 11:25

  2. Pray for the ability to see others as God sees them. "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." - 1 John 4:16

  3. Pray for the grace to let go of anger and bitterness. "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." - Ephesians 4:26-27

  4. Pray for the strength to forgive even when it's difficult. "Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" - Matthew 18:21-22

  5. Pray for a spirit of humility and compassion. "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." - Colossians 3:12-13

  6. Pray for the grace to seek reconciliation. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." - Matthew 18:15

  7. Pray for the ability to forgive oneself. "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." - 2 Corinthians 7:10

  8. Pray for the strength to resist the temptation to seek revenge. "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" - Romans 12:19

  9. Pray for the grace to see forgiveness as a journey, rather than a destination. "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 3:13-14

  10. Pray for the ability to see the good in others, even in the midst of hurt and pain. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8

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