And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Pánfilo de Narváez, the noted Spanish conquistador, was a solider, explorer, and nobleman in the service of King Charles V during the Middle Ages. He was also violent and ruthless in the administration of his duties and in the living of his rough and tumble life. When Narváez lay dying, his father-confessor asked him whether he had forgiven all of his enemies. He looked astonished and said, “Father, I have no enemies, I have shot them all.”
What do you do with your enemies in life? I ask because I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of us, figuratively at least, shoot them…sometimes over and over again.
You can talk about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, you can talk about its benefits in both the receiving and extending of it, and you can talk about its necessity in our lives…again, on both the receiving and extending ends. But here’s the deal: sometimes forgiveness is incredibly difficult. In fact, shooting somebody down is generally a much easier and more convenient proposition. Hear what David Augsburger writes about this, because his words are powerful:
Forgiveness is hard. Especially in a relationship, any kind of relationship, tense with past troubles, tormented by fears of rejection and humiliation, and torn by suspicion and distrust. Forgiveness hurts. Especially when it must be extended to someone who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, and who may misuse it. Forgiveness costs. Especially when it means accepting instead of demanding repayment for the wrong done; where it means releasing the other instead of exacting revenge; where it means reaching out in love instead of relinquishing resentments.
It’s hard. It hurts. It costs. That’s why forgiveness is often so fraught with difficulty.
Still, the art of forgiving — and it is indeed an art — is a spiritual grace every Christian should develop, and ultimately must develop. God’s Word is clear: if we don’t forgive others, then neither will our heavenly Father forgive us. I understand how hard it is. I tend to be a “ready, fire, aim” person myself. It’s easier for me to shoot first and ask questions later, and it’s easier for me in my hurt, pain, and sorrow to mow someone down than to make peace with them. The bottom line, in fact, is that it’s just much easier to hate my enemies instead of love them and pray for them. But here’s the deal: they need to be loved and prayed for…and I need the release that comes from making that conscious, though difficult, choice. And you know what? So do you.
If it’s as hard for you as it is for me to forgive at times, I want to invite you to join me in confessing that to the Lord and asking for His help today. And because forgiveness is so necessary and yet sometimes so difficult to put into practice, I’d like to close this post by sharing some practical suggestions about how we can begin to intentionally move from merely knowing about forgiveness and its importance, to being actual forgivers who experience God’s intended blessings through this very special gift that He has given to us. I’ve adapted the following eight points from Dr. Roy Smith, the late, great Methodist pastor who had to learn, by God’s grace, to do these things in his own life. I pray they’ll be a help to us all.
1) Begin by assuring yourself that compared to Christ’s suffering you haven’t been seriously wronged at all.
2) Recall the many kind deeds that have been shown to you, perhaps even by the person who has harmed you.
3) List the benefits you have received from the Lord.
4) Thank Him for blessing you with His love and forgiveness each day.
5) Make an honest effort to pray for the one who has injured you.
6) Go even further by looking for an opportunity to help him or her.
7) If the offense is especially hard to forget, try to erase the memory by thinking gracious and generous thoughts.
8) Finally, before you fall asleep at night, repeat slowly and thoughtfully that phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
God’s grace and mercy be with each of you in our Lord Jesus, friends. Go in peace, and take care!