Words of LIFE - Weekly Devotional
The Call to Forgive
by Karen Kingsbury
“Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?''No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'” (Matthew 18:21-22)
The other day my husband asked me to check into airfare for a few of our kids, so they could travel with him to Nevada for a visit with his aging grandma. I was on deadline finishing my latest book, and the task completely slipped my mind. Not until the day before the trip when it was too late did he ask me again about the airfare.
“Are the boys going with me?” He smiled, trusting me.
I felt my heart sink. Then I rattled off a string of excuses starting with how I wasn’t sure which kids, or if he wanted them there the whole time. Or if kids could really spend time in the retirement center. I threw in that I was on deadline, and I had radio interviews each morning. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
He paused for a moment, then he smiled. “It’s okay. I guess maybe I just need some alone time with my grandma.” He hugged me. “You have a lot on your plate. Don’t worry about it.”
Only then did it hit me. He forgave me for something I didn’t admit. I should’ve said, “Honey, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot.”
This incident stayed with me, and God brought it up again the other day at church. The truth is, I love going to church. I mean, I really just love it. Always God brings about some reason why I’m supposed to be there something I can work into my life or my work writing fiction. Lately, the sermon series at church has been on spiritual exercises. Our pastor has done a fantastic job talking about forgiveness, confession, belief, how to pray, and faith.
He continually likens spiritual exercise to physical exercise. If we don’t work out, we’ll be flabby and out of shape. That’s true for our bodies as much as it’s true for our souls. At first I thought this would be a great chance at having a refresher course on the obvious tenets of being a Christian. A brush-up on what matters most. But God has shown me otherwise.
I desperately needed to hear this series especially the part about forgiveness. Over the course of my life, I’ve had countless occasions where I needed to be forgiven . . . and countless occasions where I’ve needed to forgive. Especially lately.
When someone apologizes for something they admit they’ve done, it’s fairly easy to forgive. I’m sure this might not be true if the offense was a deadly one against someone you love. When a drunk driver kills someone, that person’s family will struggle with forgiveness no matter how genuinely sorry the drunk driver is.
But what if the person who’s harmed you isn’t sorry? What if they won’t even admit the harm they’ve caused you, but rather act as if it never happened? In some cases, someone causes harm, and then lies to everyone they know even their families so that no one will find out what they’ve done. How are we supposed to forgive someone in that situation?
Herein lies the exercise. God asks us to do more than forgive our enemies. He asks us to love them. The key is to forgive and to love ahead of time in anticipation of the moment when their hearts might be changed by God, when they might step forward, admit their wrong, and truly seek forgiveness.
In case we have any doubt, Jesus gives us the perfect parable to teach us. The story is found in Matthew 18:21-35. Peter comes to Jesus and asks how many times a person should be expected to forgive. Jesus first answers him with a slightly sarcastic but very real number. Not seven times, but seventy times seven. Basically, Jesus is saying there is no limit to the number of times we must forgive the people in our lives.
In other words, Jesus has no tolerance for people who can’t find it in their hearts to forgive no matter if the person who has harmed us is sorry, or if they’ve done the same thing to us dozens of times. We are not to hold a grudge because we serve a mighty and forgiving king. He’ll take care of all accounts. As the story winds down, for those still not sure what Jesus was getting at, He makes the point at the end of the chapter. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Forgiving is like trusting. If we forgive it means we trust that God will take care of our hurts and broken hearts. We trust that our Heavenly Father will address the person who has harmed us. Our job is only to forgive.
The thing is, if we learn to forgive and love first without any sign of change on their part then we’ll live in that perfect state of peace God’s peace. And we’ll have no regrets. The question I’ve been dealing with is how, exactly, do we learn to forgive and love that way. Especially if we have to deal over and over again with the person who has harmed us. The answer is something God is teaching me.
The people who are most difficult to forgive, present us with the greatest opportunity to grow in our faith. We cannot gain physical strength without doing exercises that push us past what is comfortable, past what we are already able to do. The same is true for spiritual growth.
And so, I pray that God is patient with me while I learn this lesson, while I deal with the tears and frustration and awkward feelings associated with learning this type of forgiveness and love. I’m not very good at it, and God knows I have a long way to go. But I thank Him for placing me in a church that is helping me draw closer to His truth, His ways.
Also, practicing forgiveness and love will help me understand better what someone else has to go through when I’ve wronged them, and they forgive and love me. After our latest church service on forgiveness, I pulled my husband aside.
“About that trip to see your grandma . . .”
He looked confused. “I told you, honey, no big deal.”
“Wait.” I put my hands on his shoulders. “You need to know something.” I looked straight in his eyes. “I have no excuses whatsoever. I completely forgot to book airfare for the kids.” I felt the sorrow to the depths of my heart. “I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
He wrapped his arms around me and loved me the way he had from the beginning. Ahead of time. Before I asked for his forgiveness. And somewhere in the shadowy back alleys of my soul I felt a ray of sunlight.
This Week If you haven’t been to church in a while, maybe it’s time to go. You never know what you’ll learn. Consider these exercises this week:
Write or share about a time when you were called to forgive.
Did you find it easy to forgive? Why or why not?
What was the outcome of forgiving that person?
How did God help you in your attempt at forgiveness?
When was a time that someone forgave you?
How did you feel after you’d been forgiven?
What did the story of the two debtors mean to you?
Read Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. How can you apply this verse to your life today?
Prayer “Thank you, God . . . thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for showing me that the forgiveness you want from me, is only the same forgiveness others have already extended toward me.”
New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury has more than forty Life-Changing Fiction™ titles, with more than 10 million copies in print. She is married to the love of her life, and together they have six children including three adopted from Haiti. You can learn more about Karen at http://www.karenkingsbury.com/.