Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?
Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).
Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.
Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.
This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.
Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.
“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”
But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”
Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?
One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.
Empty your grudge account
But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.
Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.
When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Do we earn God’s forgiveness?
When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).
This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”
Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.
Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.
On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.
Worshipping God, not using Him
Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.
But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.
When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.
In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Punishment of wrongdoers
Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.
When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.
When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.
This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).
If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.
The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.
We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.
“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.
Mature perspective on conflict
The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).
So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).
Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)
- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
- “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
- “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
- “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
- “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
- “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building
- “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
- According to Scripture, conflicts must be resolved based on two principles (see - Two principles for resolving conflict).
- It’s not always what you say but how you say it (see – Watch Your Tone)
- How do you move toward reconciliation when you’ve been deeply or repeatedly hurt? (see - 7 signs of true repentance)
- Confronting those we love (see – Instruments of godly sorrow).
- Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same (see – Forgiveness & Reconciliation).
Short audio clips
I am convinced that most personal and relational problems have strong connections with what I call the eighteen-year factor. This refers to the time lived in your family of origin. These years have defining influence as in them we learn and experience many things that we carry with us for life.
You had an increasingly rare experience if you grew up in a functionally healthy home.
If, on the other hand, your eighteen-year factor was disrupted by a significantly negative experience, you can be sure that it affected your security, identity and approach to relationships. The loss of a parent or sibling, the divorce of your parents, sexual abuse as a child are examples of life-altering experiences in an eighteen year factor.
You must be honest about your past and the way it affected you if you hope to have a healthy future.
Families plagued with severe dysfunctions are very damaging to children. If you lived under an alcoholic parent or in an atmosphere of physical or emotional abuse, or with significant neglect of nurture and discipline, your life has been deeply affected – usually beyond what you realize.
I’ve observed how emotionally aloof fathers or parents who withhold affirmation and acceptance leave deficits in the lives of their children. It’s not uncommon for men of all ages to battle issues related to bad father-son relationships. Women are especially vulnerable to future instability when their fathers withhold affection and affirmation. Many pursue unhealthy male relationships. Some battle deep feelings of inadequacy and a continual sense that something important is missing. Others struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
Children in such homes tend to develop protective mechanisms to shield themselves from pain. When forced to deal with things that they lack the maturity to handle, they find a means to protect themselves. But they’re typically unaware of these protective instincts when they carry them into adulthood. They don’t understand how protective mechanisms no longer protect you in adult relationships.
A tendency to shut down emotionally may protect a child in an abusive home, but the same response is harmful to adult relationships. Children of alcoholic parents often become enablers and co-dependents — the need to be needed. Others find relief in anger or excessive efforts to control their lives. All of these protective responses are damaging to future relationships.
Those who carry protective mechanisms into adulthood usually don’t understand why they feel and act as they do. They remain unaware of the significance of their upbringing until they enter an intimate relationship like marriage. The walls used to shield them from hurtful experiences in childhood hinder them from enjoying meaningful and mature adult relationships.
The damages from an unhealthy eighteen-year factor must be identified for the path of healing and restoration to be effective. Although it seems easier to pretend that you have not been affected by your upbringing, denial always makes matters worse. Denial will likely assure that the next generation will experience the hurt and perpetuate the damage.
Overcoming the past can only begin when we admit the hold it has on us and recognize how it’s affecting us and those around us.
We need to confront ourselves with truth. We must fight against the drift into an emotional state of loss, self-pity, self-hatred, anger or guilt by dealing honestly with the damage. Many make the mistake of trying to hide behind superficial clichés that sound noble or spiritual. But change is rarely an overnight accomplishment and rarely attainable alone.
Overcoming a significantly dysfunctional past usually requires assistance from a wise counselor. But first you must allow those closest to help you see the walls and defense mechanisms you’ve allowed. Usually the hardest part of this is the vulnerability it requires. Fear and a desire to be in control are typical obstacles to true freedom.
Those who have lived with neglect or abuse find it difficult to trust others and often allow their fears sadly to hold them in defensive postures. Their loss is then multiplied as they never learn the joy of intimate relationships.
One of the biggest dangers in identifying the failures and neglect of one’s parents is a temptation toward a combination of self-pity and resentment. Resist the strong temptation to wallow your pain and allow the past to ruin your future.
Remember that the only thing we can change about the past is how we let it affect us in the future.
It’s sometimes hard to recognize that when we choose anger and bitterness, we double our loss and extend the effects of the evil done against us. I’ve observed far too many people who hold cherished resentments as a means of dealing with their painful experiences.
I encourage people to recognize that resentment at least indicates a level of emotional connection with the reality of one’s past and could become a catalyst to freedom. But resentment also offers a false feeling of control through a kind of emotional retaliation. Feelings of resentment can only lead to freedom and true control if processed in God-honoring ways. But this often requires assistance from a wise counselor.
Seek help before the years of damage accumulate and spread more misery.
This distinction is worth conversation among singles:
“Infatuation has been defined as an emotional response to false impressions or mere externals of another that have been overvalued or lusted after. By contrast, genuine falling in love is a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical response to the actual character and total being of another who embodies attributes long sought and admired” (Ed Wheat).
- Passive Responders: the good is they tend to have a ton of patience. The shadow side is their silence often makes them complicit in the conflict, or at the very least uncaring toward the people in it.
- Evasive Responders: the good is they don’t want to hurt others and often have high mercy gifts. The shadow side is in their avoidance they become the patient who doesn’t want to hear they have cancer until it’s too late and then don’t want to deal with surgery or chemo because it will hurt too badly.
- Defensive Responders: the good is they think/know they are called by God and are ready to do what He said to do. The shadow side is they can leave a trail of scarred souls in their wake, chopped up in the propeller of their rightness.
- Aggressive Responders: the good is they have a clear sense of where they are going and what needs to be done. The shadow side is they pummel people into submission, working on a sense of power and control instead of love and trust.
(source: Jim Van Yperen’s Making Peace)
Destructive communication patterns are almost always part of the reason that marriages fail.
Consider four negative patterns of communication that hurt good relationships.
1. Escalation - What Goes Around Comes Around
Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so the conversation gets more and more hostile.
2. Invalidation - Painful Put-Downs
Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other.
3. Negative Interpretation - When perception is worse than reality
Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than is really the case. This can be a very destructive, negative pattern in a relationship. It makes any conflict or disagreement harder to deal with constructively.
4. Withdrawal and Avoidance - Hide and Seek
Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as “turning off” or “shutting down” during an argument. The withdrawer often tends to get quiet during an argument, look away, or agree quickly to a partner’s suggestion just to end the conversation.
(source: A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, Scott Stanley)
Last week, I asked more than 50 singles in my Relationship 101 class what would constitute a red flag in a relationship that would make you hesitant about it.
I also asked what they would consider to be a “deal breaker” to end a relationship. I was surprised by the silence. They didn’t know how to answer the questions.
As I thought about this, I realized that when it comes to dating relationships and marriage, many singles don’t have much of a plan. They have not thought through a criteria or a “must have” and “can’t stand” list. We tend to go with the flow or follow our often ambiguous gut instincts.
I tried to jump-start the conversation by offering one thing that ought to be a deal breaker. If a guy uses any kind of hurtful physical force on a girl, it should be an automatic deal breaker for her. The class seemed to agree. But other answers were not plentiful.
In the resource notebook I give to each participant, I have fairly extensive lists of positive and negative qualities to consider. I include “must have” and “Cant stand” lists also.
Most singles could likely give more detail about the kind of car they want than the kind of mate they’re looking for. Perhaps some are following the well-intentioned but misguided advice that “you’ll just know when it’s the right one.”
When you realize how little thought often goes into the marriage decision, it’s not too surprising that over 200,000 marriages a year end in divorce before reaching their third anniversary.
Let’s be more careful in the way we make one of the biggest and most life-changing decisions!
If you would like a copy of the lists I offer, contact me at email@example.com
As a starter, consider this list:
20 Questions About “The Right One”
- Can you talk ?
- Can you play?
- Can you work together?
- Do you have mutual friends?
- Are you proud of each other?
- Are you intellectually on the same level?
- Do you have common interests?
- Do you share the same values – honesty, cleanliness, Church, roles?
- Do you feel comfortable with how you make decisions together?
- Do you help each other emotionally?
- Do you have absolute trust in each other?
- Are you more creative and energetic because of each other?
- Do you help each other grow closer to God?
- Can we accept and appreciate each other’s family?
- Do you have unresolved relationships in your past?
- Is sex under control?
- Have you spent enough time together?
- Have you fought and forgiven?
- Have you talked about each area of your future life?
- Have you had counseling?
Emotional attraction is powerful and can be dangerous. It can induce drug-like feelings of euphoria that come with a blinding effect on otherwise intelligent people.
Be careful not to overdose on emotional love because it has a potency that can take you into a delusional state of stupidity.
Although most relationships that lead to marriage begin with high doses of this dimension of love, emotions don’t last long and they always change.
Women tend to be especially vulnerable to this when allow themselves to be in love with the idea of being in love. They’ve dreamed of a wedding and marriage; a husband and a family. But (I am quick to remind them) it’s one thing to be in love — an entirely different thing to love someone for life. Emotions dissipate quickly in the routines and challenges of life together.
The danger with emotional love is that it can lead very bright people into a delusional euphoric state of stupidity.
Have you ever witnessed this in a friend? It’s tough to watch a friend become overly and irrationally obsessed with another person — especially when you see red flags about the relationship.
The delusional part is often in the irrational thinking about knowing the other person well when you’ve only known him for a short time. Or, when you think that she is just perfect and can’t see any flaws in her. It’s delusional when you let yourself think that you could never be happy without the other person and that you have to be together all the time to be happy.
This kind of euphoric state (often called the “in love” experience) tends to come with a number of superficial opinions based limited exposure and hasty conclusions. People in this “in love experience” typically exaggerate similarities and good qualities while overlooking differences.
When caring friends or family express concern, the delusional lover doesn’t tend to hear them or claims that, “You just don’t know him as well as I do.” But the euphoria of love can move from delusional to dangerous when people are unable or unwilling to see red flags.
Advice – Let your head lead your heart.
Let your head lead your heart when it comes to relationships. Use your brain! Don’t give your heart to anyone until your head has processed the necessary data to tell you that you are making a wise decision. If you give your heart to a bad relationship and I try to talk your head out of it, no matter how much I might make sense, I will probably not be very successful.
Emotional love is a natural part of human attraction, but we must not allow it to lead to a delusional euphoric state of stupidity. No matter how good it feels, always be aware that it can produce a blinding effect that hinders rational and wise decision-making. It can also lead to profound disappointment and perhaps even contribute to divorce.
Although people who are “in love” tend to think that the feelings will never change, studies show that the euphoria diminishes early in marriage. This often comes as a surprise or even a shock to the delusional lover. When feelings fade and differences emerge, conflicts become a reality. Delusional lovers often don’t have a plan for resolving conflicts because they don’t think they’ll have any. This is why they tend to be unrealistically traumatized by conflicts.
When this reality hits, it can make people wonder what they were thinking or why their partner changed. “I didn’t see this side to him or her when we were dating.” they tell me. I gently remind them that sides to people don’t appear out of no where. Character traits are typically cut in deep channels with extended histories. So either he was concealing or you weren’t looking — probably both!
Remember that dating often tends to be a time when people conceal information that marriage will inevitably reveal. This is why we must guard our hearts and use our brains.
Someone once recommended that we should focus on becoming the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for. Start first by becoming the person that your future spouse needs. This will more likely lead you to attract and be attracted to the right kind of person.
We also need a more mature understanding of love. Emotional love tends to be more selfish, more about how I like to feel. Those who are obsessed with emotional love reveal their immaturity.
Immature people are not going to enjoy deep companionship in a functionally healthy marriage. Perhaps the best advice an emotionally obsessed person can hear is that it’s time to grow up and stop making life about your feelings.
The emotional dimension of love (no matter how natural) is not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It’s far too superficial. Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the dimension of love I call “behaving in love.”
This dimension does not depend on feelings and chemistry. It’s based on a choice to value my mate and seek his or her best. It’s a daily decision to respond to my mate in a loving manner — regardless of feelings. While I can’t always make myself feel a certain way, I can always choose to act in a loving way.
Most marriages start with higher doses of emotional love and, in most relationships, the feelings diminish with time. When this happens, the key to love is not pursuit of feelings — but a choice to act in love even when we don’t feel love. And what I’ve learned is that the feelings often follow the actions.
I am not advocating dishonesty about feelings but a priority on and enjoyment of a more mature approach to love. Marriage is not about feeling love but an agreement to love.
Our relationships and our Churches would be transformed if we were devoted to practicing Romans 12:10 –
“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (NLT).