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Restoring a Broken Heart Through Forgiveness

Restoring a Broken Heart Through Forgiveness

Last week we looked at God’s app for restoring a broken heart in James 4. First, we discovered that pride causes wars between us and as a result, we get hurt or we hurt others. Secondly, our pride pursues worldly things instead of God and we find no peace. Thirdly, pride also keeps us from applying God’s app for restoring a broken heart; that is, pride keeps us from forgiving those who broke our heart. Because we haven’t forgiven, bad memories of the past still affect the way we live today. Wouldn’t it be nice to snap our fingers and - poof! - all the painful memories would be gone. We can't do that, but we can do this:

Phil 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

No matter what has happened to us in the past, we can press on toward the goal God has for our lives. He desires to restore us to a condition where the negative issues of the past no longer affect our present and future life in Him. No matter what has happened to us, even if we feel like we've been totally destroyed, God intends for our broken heart to be restored!

However, for us to be really free from the problems and hurts of our past and to be free from the consequences that continue to plague us... we must forgive. This is a godly absolute, and God absolutely will not change His stand on this!

The Sermon on the Mount begins: Matt 5:1-2 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

To whom was Jesus speaking this crucial message? His disciples! This is not a message to unbelievers. To His disciples Jesus taught, Matt 6:14-15 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.

I don't know about you, but I want to be forgiven by God! I make mistakes! I do things that are sinful, and sometimes my attitude is just not what God wants it to be. I want to receive forgiveness, but God tells me that if I don't forgive, He will not forgive me.

I hear people saying, "Oh, I've forgiven - it's not a big issue for me anymore!" They want to pass forgiveness off as "no big deal," but they do not understand the seriousness God gives to the issue of forgiveness. To God - it's a very big deal – it cost Him death on a Cross! Therefore, we need to understand what forgiveness is, and what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you're waiting for some sensation to come over you, you're going to have a long wait - maybe forever! I have never come across a hurting person who really "feels" like forgiving. Pushing your hurt far back into the recesses of your mind doesn't mean you've forgiven the person who hurt you. Yes, as time passes, our memory will fade and the hurt will become more distant, but time alone cannot heal the wounds. Only God can heal a broken heart.
 Pretending you weren't hurt is not forgiveness. Don't shove the incident aside! Don't rationalize and pretend that what happened to you didn't really hurt you. Pretending or ignoring the pain are not the same thing as forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not saying what the person did wasn't wrong. Sometimes we feel that if we forgive, we're actually declaring that what the other person did was okay.

If I walked up to you and punched you in the nose, then later came to you and said, "I'm really sorry, I should not have done that." what would you say? Would you respond back and say, "That's okay"? If you say this, do you know what you've just told me? You've just given me permission to do it again! You said, "That's okay!"

Was it okay to hit you? No! It was not okay! When someone comes to you saying, "I'm sorry - I was wrong," and you respond back with "It's okay, no big deal" - then you're giving them permission to hurt you, and that's really giving them permission to sin. We don't have a right to tell another person that it's okay to sin. Our proper response should be to simply say, "I forgive you."

Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust that person again. Trust comes after we get to know someone’s character. That's why we can trust God - because we are confident in His character! We develop trust in human beings only after they prove themselves trustworthy.

Therefore, we do not have to trust people who may harm us. If a spouse or parent is abusive, we have a right to remove ourselves or that person from the home. Once we understand that "forgiveness" and "trust" are two separate issues, we will see that forgiveness is possible.

Forgiveness is not relieving other people of their responsibility. Our thoughts usually follow this kind of logic: "They really hurt me! If I forgive them, they're gonna walk away scot-free. They're not going to have to face up to what they did, and they're not going to have to answer for their wrong actions!"

If they committed a crime, we have a duty to report them to the proper authorities so they do not continue their behavior. That is a loving thing to do for them and for others they may harm. Furthermore, regardless of the law, they will have to answer to God for their sin.

Rom 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

God is completely capable of holding a person accountable. We can't relieve anyone of their responsibility, we don't have that ability! Neither do we have a right to repay them for what they did. We must leave vengeance and judgment to God and the authorities He has instituted.

Well then, what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a decision I make to obey God, and to walk as a life-style in a higher realm, by not allowing someone else's actions or attitudes to dictate my actions or attitudes. Let’s break this down for understanding.

First of all, forgiveness is a decision. Although some decisions are very difficult, God has given us the ability to make them. Even if our emotions are screaming "No! No!" we're still capable of making a choice to forgive. It's not accurate to say "I can't forgive." That's not true. What we're actually saying is "I won't forgive."

Forgiveness a decision; a difficult one, yes! In addition, it is one we don't feel like making! However, it is possible to forgive although there is nothing within us that feels like forgiving. It's an act of our will - not our emotions! Jesus shows us how.

Luke 23:33-34 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals-- one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Forgiveness is a decision we make. Even God Himself cannot make that decision for us. Only we can decide to forgive. If we don't forgive, we will have to live with the consequences of our decision not to forgive. Unforgiveness will make us bitter and separate us from God.

Forgiveness is a decision we make to obey God. Forgiveness is not a suggestion - it's a commandment. God doesn't say, "It would really be a good idea if you could find it in your heart to do some forgiving." No! He says, "You must forgive"! Forgiveness is a choice of obedience to God and it's something that can take place in the privacy of our own heart.

Even if we are angry or bitter towards someone who has already died, forgiveness is still possible for us, because forgiveness is an issue of the heart. And as we forgive, God heals our broken hearts. Forgiveness is for our benefit.

Forgiveness is getting our own heart right before God. That's where it must begin - between us and the Lord. We should not go and talk to someone until we first have our heart right before God. Then, as the Lord specifically directs, we can communicate forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation to the other person.

The real issue is obedience to God. What's the opposite of obedience? Disobedience. So if we don't forgive, what are we doing? Disobeying. And what is disobedience? Sin. That's pretty plain, isn't it? If we choose not to forgive, we choose to sin and live separated from God with a broken heart.

Ps 66:17-19 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.

Do we want the Lord to hear us? Then we need to forgive. Many Christians, who stop growing in the Lord and go through the same problems over and over again, are people holding on to unforgiveness, for unforgiveness will cause God not to hear us when we pray.

On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and forgive, we will immediately sense a heavy weight of sin lifting and a healing of our broken heart beginning.

Forgiveness is a lifestyle. Forgiveness is not a one-time act, but rather a lifestyle that has to be maintained. Otherwise, two elements of unforgiveness will dominate our lives—resentment and bitterness.

Resentment begins with the prefix "re." Re-sent. Therefore, resentment is an exchange. Something happens to me, and I say, "Well, if you're going to do that to me, I'll send it or do it right back!" That's resentment.

"They never call me, so I won't call them! They never write me, so I won't write them!" So we have this stalemate called resentment. If someone walks in the door, and just that person's very presence causes our blood pressure to rise, then there's an issue of resentment.

If someone mentions a name, and it causes a reaction within because it reminds us of another person by the same name... that's evidence that something is still wrong. Any person or memory that makes our blood pressure rise should give us an indication of something in our past that's not resolved. The Lord may be trying to show us that we haven't forgiven.

We are usually not aware of unforgiveness in our hearts towards someone unless we are doing battle with negative emotions daily. But the issue really isn't how often we think about that person, but rather what happens when we do think about them.

What happens internally when you recall a certain situation or think about a particular person? It might be something you only remember once a year, but when you do remember the anger and pain reoccurs. If that is happening to you, then there is bitterness in your heart. Moreover, bitterness will kill you - spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Heb 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

So we can't just forgive one time and say, "That's over with!" It's something that has to be maintained. I can't guarantee that after you've forgiven you won't be hurt again. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you will be! Forgiveness isn't saying, "I'll forgive... but just this once!" That's not forgiveness.

Matt 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (In other words, forgive every time your brother sins because you must not keep record of the offenses.)

Forgiveness is a lifestyle of walking in a higher realm with God, the Holy Spirit, and relating to the person who continues to hurt us as Jesus would, " Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." In addition, we do unto others, as we would have them do unto us. That includes loving and forgiving our enemies.

Living like this puts our emotional health and destiny in the Lord's hands, instead of letting the person who is giving us the problem rule our emotional life. The natural man cannot do this, but by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible. Walking by the Spirit is the only way we will rise above the constant conflicts we face in human relationships.

If someone hurts us, and we react to it in a sinful, wrong way, then we are as wrong as the one who hurt us, because a wrong reaction is just as bad as a wrong action. Forgiveness says, "In the name of Jesus, I am going to rise above that offense and not let their problem become my problem. I forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing. Lord, help me show them the love of Christ."

The bottom line is this: If we refuse to forgive (or say we can't) what we are really saying is that holding on to our hurt is more important to us than going on with God. It's that simple.

How to tell if you have forgiven

Many people wonder how they can know for sure if they have really forgiven someone.

Forgiveness is complete if we will allow God to use us as an unrestricted channel of His love for that person who hurt us. If we are willing to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit to bless that person in whatever way the Lord chooses, and if we will let His love flow through us to them, then we will know that we have forgiven.

Matt 5:43-48 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We can tell we have forgiven if we are free to relate to that individual as another imperfect person like ourselves. Although they cannot be trusted, we can be kind, gentle, patient, and loving in our actions towards them. We treat them like we want to be treated.

However, we still have unforgiveness if we have put up “walls” so that no one will hurt us again.

We have forgiven if we are free to relate openly with others as God’s ambassador in this world, giving the message of reconciliation through Jesus to others because we have experienced reconciliation with God and our fellow man.

Now test yourself. Does the thought of forgiving someone still seem unjust to you, or is it something you desire to do because you have been forgiven, you love the Lord, and you trust His promises if you obey?

I want to encourage you right now to ask the Lord to reveal any unforgiveness that might still be lurking in your heart. Forgiveness will let God to move on your behalf, and allow Him to restore your broken heart. Best of all, forgiveness will free you to continue growing in the Lord and to become the man or woman of God the Lord intends you to be.

Forgiveness is your choice. What will you choose—freedom or bondage—joy or bitterness?

Remember the consequences of unforgiveness—our Father will not forgive us of all our debt to Him if we do not forgive others of a lesser debt to us. God chose to offer forgiveness through the death of His Son for a debt we can never pay.

If you have never accepted His offer of forgiveness, I invite you to come forward and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Repent of your sin and give Him your life in baptism. You will be forgiven and receive a new life born of the Holy Spirit.