Together Series – Forgiveness

Readings for this week April 11 – 15
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

Together - Cover











Day 1  – Who Would Stand a Chance?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 30
Perhaps we struggle to offer forgiveness because deep down we haven’t been able to accept forgiveness ourselves? Perhaps I don’t deserve forgiveness!

The Psalmists would answer uniquivically, No! No one deserves forgiveness. In Psalm 130 the writer cries out to God from a very dark place, from ‘the depths’. The Message puts it:

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings,
    who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit,
    and that’s why you’re worshiped.

Mostly we like to think of ourselves as fairly ok people – no worse than anyone else, and better than many. But in God’s book none of us come up to scratch through our own efforts. Rather than wallowing in his dark place, the psalmist accepts his pitiable state but reached out in hope, based on the nature of God.

“But with you there is forgiveness” or “Forgiveness is your habit”. It’s part of God’s nature, an expression of his mercy.

It’s this same nature that God is intent on growing in us, so that forgiveness, the characteristic of offering undeserved mercy is something that will natually flow out of us, as children who reflect the character of their Father. We are to forgive, not because of the circumstances, or how we feel, but because we have seen and experienced forgiveness ourselves, and forgiveness is the character of God and by extension, the character of his people.

Questions to Consider
Why do we find it hard not to keep a record of wrongs?

Are we reluctant to let people “off the hook”?

Perhaps it would help to see forgiveness as handing the person over to God who is the perfect and just judge.

Heavenly Father, may I never lose sight of how gracious and forgiving you have been to me. Develop in me the capacity to willingly offer forgiveness, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 2  – Extending Forgiveness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6: 9-15
 “It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! [Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’ And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me. ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out— ‘will you forgive me?’

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that.

The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

-Corrie Ten Boom

Questions to Consider
“Forgiveness is an act of the will”. How do you respond to this statement?

Do I refuse to forgive because I want the right ‘feelings’ first? Reread Corrie’s experience in the last two paragraphs. Did feelings or ‘will’ have the upper hand? Can I expect God to do the impossible if I will not take the first step?

Gracious God, help me to humbly accept your command to forgive others and make the conscious choice to forgive despite my feelings. Help me trust you with the hurt and disappointments that I carry. May a willingness to extend forgiveness become more and more a part of my character, through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 3  – The Rope

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 12:2
One would like to think that after being able to forgive a Nazi guard from the concentration camp where her sister died, Corrie ten Boom would not have struggled with forgiving small issues between friends and family. But it was not so. Reflecting on forgiveness she wrote, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behaviour–but only draw them fresh from God each day.”

Following repeated disturbed sleep, rehearsing wrongs done to her, it was an elderly sexton whose advice helped:

““Up in that church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops.

“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”

And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversation. But the force–which was my willingness in the matter–had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether.

And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness: that we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”

Questions to Consider
Do I harbour angry thoughts? Try using the image of letting go of the rope, asking God to help you let go of replaying old wounds and unhelpful thoughts.

Father God, I want to stop tugging on the same old grievances, and I am trusting you to renew my mind as I offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 4 – They Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 23:32-34
In speaking of unforgiveness we often use the image of holding on tight to something, or being unwilling to let go of a hurt or offence. Perhaps no image better reflects the opposite attitude of forgiveness, than Jesus hanging on the cross. His arms spread wide, nails piecing his hands; hands that had relinquished any sense of grasping or greed, any sense of entitlement or self preservation. More than any other solitary human being Jesus had a justifiable cause for feeling hard done by and mistreated. Yet in the middle of an agonising death he let go of any right to accuse or blame. Instead he lifts up to his Father those who rejected and insulted him, plotted against him and tortured him, and asked that they might be forgiven. He was not endorsing their choices, but rather acknowledging that they did not understand or comprehend what they were doing.

What a challenge for each of us to find it in ourselves to offer the same compassion in situations where we could instead choose resentment. How quick we can be to not only hold on to a hurt or insult, but then to also attribute knowing and malicious intention on the part of the person who offends us. Jesus shows us a better way. Jesus’ willingness to let go and commit all judgement to God was based on his understanding of the finite capacity of humanity and the infinite wisdom and mercy of his Father.

Questions to Consider
Have I ever hurt or offended someone without intending to?

Why then is it so easy to assume deliberate intent in others?

How can I choose to let go of offences? Who is hurt if I refuse to?

Do I trust God to deal fairly with an offender?

Lord Jesus, even in the tragedy of the cross you modelled complete trust in your Father, his justice, his mercy, and his never-ending love. Help me not to add insult to injury by assuming the worst in others’ motives. Teach me in difficult situations to suspend my judgement and to hand others over to you. Show me how to relinquish resentment and with open hands offer forgiveness, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Day 5  – How Many Times!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 18:21-35
Isn’t there a limit? Isn’t there a point at which I’ve done enough in showing I’m the ‘bigger person’, willing to offer an olive branch? What Peter’s question is showing is that he is really only willing to put off revenge. He’ll forgive once or twice… but then it’s more than can be expected, and a cold shoulder, or worse, is more than fair! In essence, this attitude towards forgiving others is not forgiveness at all.

Jesus’ words are very strong here, and we would rather not face them head on. Seventy times seven? Don’t even think about counting, just do it, because there are consequences. He isn’t asking us to ‘forgive and forget’, acting as if nothing ever happened. At times hard conversations must be had and consequences spelt out. But, “the key thing is that one should never, ever give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal. If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge” NT Wright.

Forgiveness isn’t merely about what is offered to the other; it is about what happens in us. “Forgiveness is more like the air in your lungs. There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself. The ‘heart’…if it’s open, able and willing to forgive others… it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other” NT Wright.

Question to Consider
What do you make of this quote?

Father God, change my heart. Show me where I harbour unforgiveness. May I be open to others and open before you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)