Forgiveness sets you free
Allow yourself to grow spiritually by forgiving and letting go of the past.
This lesson is born from my own experience. For the sake of those who will benefit from this, let me tell the story as it happened to me.
The single most devastating event that has occurred in my life was the divorce of my parents in 1982. As the oldest son, I was caught up right in the middle of a fierce battle. Who was right and who was wrong is not relevant at this stage, although there may be some hints as to whom I felt I could apportion blame.
The months preceding and following the divorce were a nightmare for me, with my university studies hanging by a thread. I failed four of five subjects in June that year. A friend of mine alerted the dean of the faculty, who called me in. When I explained what I thought to be the reason for my poor performance, she interrupted and indicated that she already knew. I offered to take another subject for the second semester, along with the other five. I just had to bury myself in work, desperately trying to make sense of my life that had fallen apart. I managed to get my university degree, but only just. Life had to go on. My work life was about to start. However, a sense of anger and resentment remained.
After my rebirth on 5 December 1989, I felt I had to deal with many issues in my life. I never mentioned my past to anyone in the local church, and this fact would play a big part in what was to follow. On 14 April 1990 I received a call from an elder, someone I trusted, in my church who wanted to come and see me right away. I had no problem but could not understand his urgency. It was a Saturday, and I was not busy. I did not know that my life would be changed.
He walked into my apartment, sat down, and without wasting time, told me that I could not grow spiritually as a young believer as I had never forgiven my parents for what had happened. I always felt my life was ripped apart by something that was not my fault. I was stunned that the elder knew about this. As I said, I never told anybody about this before, preferring instead to hide my hurt. He said that the Holy Spirit had revealed the truth about my situation to him.
In the next two hours that followed, he explained that as hard as it was for me, I had to
- forgive my parents, and
- set them free.
If I did not, I would forever be burdened by a spirit of unforgiveness. Forgiving is one thing that we are taught as believers – our sins are forgiven if we forgive others their trespasses against us (Matthew 6:12-15). Setting free is not always taught. How do you set something or someone free if you feel you are not holding them captive? It is simple really: by forgiving but not setting free you are trying to clear your sin, but you are holding the other party back.
I first had to forgive my parents, and the I had to set them free so that they could pursue their own lives. They were hurt as much as me, probably more, but by constantly focusing on what I believe they did to me, I did not allow myself to see either of them finding happiness. Both did, eventually marrying again, and I came to have a genuine son-father relationship with my mom’s new husband, one I never experienced before. Here was a man who showed me what a father was supposed to be like, and how a son was supposed to interact with a loving father. If you did not have this, how could you experience God the Father as a loving father? As an adult male and a young believer, I first had to love an earthly father, so that I could then love a heavenly Father. I learned to understand what Paul meant when he wrote to the Ephesians:
32And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:32
Did my setting free my parents immediately heal the lost relationship? Sadly not, especially with my father, but I had to continue with my own life. I can today use this as a tool to help others. There are so many men I deal with on a daily basis that struggle to come to grips with forgiveness. We are taught to be hard, be a man. But a man who cannot forgive and set free, is not a Godly man. God wants men who are aware that we are sinners set free from our sins, and we should act in like manner towards others.
The resentment many of us feel is harboured in the heart, and since the heart is the seat of our emotions, this resentment threatens to determine how we feel, and act. To ensure that the decision I took that day to forgive and set free, would remain valid for the rest of my life, I wrote a letter to God the Father, in the front of my favourite Bible. I declared there that I could not expect to get His forgiveness if I could not forgive others. I have been able to use this Bible and show others what I had written as an example of my decision.
What about you?
Are you in the same situation today? A very close Christian brother of mine, on hearing the same message at a men’s meeting, but given by someone else, went to his father immediately, asked for forgiveness, was reunited, and posted a photo of the two of them as a living example that through the Holy Spirit we can experience forgiveness, and be set free from burdens of guilt. Often the other person you approach may have yearned for an opportunity to be set free himself. God sent you to that person not only for your own sake, but probably more for his sake.
If it is at all possible, try to contact that friend or family member that you may have had a fallout with. Try to make amends, even if you feel you were never in the wrong in the first place. Let the Word of God be your guide:
23Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. – Matthew 5:23-24
Maybe you were not in the wrong – your brother has something against you – but now the onus is on you to reconcile with him, not the other way round. This is an example of Christian love! I cannot expect a blessing from God if I cannot be a blessing to someone else. You cannot determine how the other person will react. However, it is not what they do, but what you do, that starts the healing process.
What are the issues in your past that you are still aware of? Maybe you think you have forgotten about them, but unless you deal with them, they will come back to haunt you. Take some time today, find a quiet place and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you situations and people that you should forgive, set free, and be set free of. If you can see them in person, it is preferred. If this is not possible, for your own good, pray, ask forgiveness from God, forgive them, and set them free. God will not let you down if your intentions are honest, and in line with His Word as set in Matthew 5.