This past week has been a tough one for me. I have been trying to obey one of the beatitudes in Matthew 5:9 that says, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. I always like to obey that verse when possible. I’ll even go out of my way to obey it. This past week, however, there was a situation happening that I couldn’t resolve. I tried my best but there just was no peace.
After I’d surveyed the whole thing, looking at it from every possible angle, I determined that it all boiled down to unforgiveness, bitterness, and anger. Unforgiveness and bitterness is like you drinking poison and hoping it kills the person you are mad at. It never works that way. I promise you it will cause you way more damage than the person you have the offense against.
When you stay mad at someone, you give them power over you. That power will control your life until you are willing to let it go. It will not only affect you but will affect everyone around you.
When I get upset with someone and just start to get a little bit angry or bitter, my wife is there to stop it. He who finds a wife, finds a good thing (Proverbs 18:22). God gave me Debbie as my helpmate, and she’s that for sure. She always reminds me that if I harbor bitterness, it will start affecting her and everyone else around me. I don’t want my prayers hindered so I work hard to honor my wife (1Peter 3:7).
One of my very good friends was at one time a multimillionaire. He lost his business, his home, his wife, and his family. He then started using drugs and ended up in jail. I’m used to dads calling me and asking me to pray for their kids in jail, but this situation broke my heart. His kids, who I’ve known all their lives, were calling me to pray for their daddy. I even took them to the jail to see him.
For the twenty-five years he and his wife were married, they talked all the time about how they couldn’t wait to have grandchildren. He is now divorced and has three grandchildren he has never seen. I’ve been heartbroken over this for years because I love him like one of my own kids.
It used to be that everything he touched turned to gold. Now it’s like everything he touches falls apart. He has a job and makes good money but can never get ahead. His vehicles are always breaking down and he faces one problem after another. He is so unhappy and miserable. When I get together with him, he spends the whole time telling me about how terrible his life is going and that nothing ever seems to go right for him.
Would you believe I know the answer to getting him out of this rut he’s in and back on the path to a better life? I’ve shared with him what I believe is the one thing holding him back and keeping him in bondage. I know he listens to me and maybe even knows I am right. But so far, he’s unwilling to do the very thing that could set him free. That is—"Let that bitterness go. It’s eating you like a cancer.” When you have that bitterness and unforgiveness deep down in your soul it affects everything—your relationships, your finances, your health, everything. If only he would be willing to forgive, his circumstances would start getting better.
Ephesians 4:31 says to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Here’s one that’s scary; For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14–15).
When I am teaching in prisons, I tell inmates that forgiveness is not even an option for Christians. The verse right above is clear on that. God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive others. The worst thing anyone has ever done against you, or I, is nothing compared to what Jesus went through on the cross for us. And in the midst of His worst suffering He was willing to forgive them for what they had done to Him.
Several years ago, I spent quite a bit of time with the great heavyweight fighter, Earnie Shavers. Earnie is one of the few men who went fifteen rounds with Muhammed Ali. Ernie told me about something that happened after he became a Christian. It’s a great example of forgiveness. His daughter had been raped. When they found out who the guy was, Earnie planned to take care of it. He was getting ready to call someone from an east-coast mafia family he had been involved with when the phone rang. It was his daughter. She said, “We have to forgive him, Daddy.” He knew she was right and agreed to meet and pray with her. They forgave the guy and were able to move on with their lives. That was probably close to 40 years ago. If they hadn’t forgiven him, things would have gone a lot different for them both.
Forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling. When you forgive someone, it is not saying that what they did to you is okay. You may not feel like forgiving them, but if you choose to, God will help you feel like forgiving them.
Is there someone you need to forgive?