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Seeds of the Kingdom

How do I forgive when I can’t?

by Jill Southern

30 January 2013

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For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:14-15, NIV

Some years ago I came to the place where I felt completely unable to forgive. Somebody close to me had hurt me deeply, breaking my trust through betrayal and broken promises. I found myself saying to God, “I’ll do anything for You, but don’t ask me to forgive, I can’t do it!”

I continued to pray and read my Bible, but something wasn’t the same. I felt distant from God, as if something was getting in the way when I tried to connect with Him.

Around the time this was happening, I’d moved to a new area, and hadn’t been going to church. I felt convicted to attend, and as I found there was a large charismatic church in the nearest city I decided to try it.

The preacher began his sermon with Matthew 18 - the Parable of the Unmerciful servant. He was preaching that we had to forgive everyone, for everything. I felt quite angry at this, and didn’t even stay for the final hymn.

The next Sunday I decided to try a different church, in another nearby town. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered the sermon was on Matthew 6 - The Lord’s Prayer – which teaches us to pray ‘forgive us our debts in the same way as we have forgiven our debtors!’ The preacher explained that we need to forgive if we want to be forgiven by God. I couldn’t stand listening to it, and again left early.

Following these two encounters, I wanted to choose the next church very carefully! I felt that the nearby ‘sleepy’ Methodist church would be just the thing. By 11 am there were only a dozen people in church, most of them elderly ladies in their eighties wearing felt hats! A very aged Methodist minister was helped into the pulpit, and as he prepared to speak I noticed some of the elderly ladies beginning to doze off – I felt reassured that this wouldn’t be too challenging!

He opened his message with the words: “I want to teach this morning on how to forgive when you can’t”. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to - the third sermon in three weeks on forgiveness! But this sermon was different.

He began by explaining that within our own selves (independent of God) we have no resource with which to forgive. We need to ask God to come supernaturally and fill our empty forgiveness tanks with His spirit of forgiveness. Having received this empowerment from God, we are then able to release our forgiveness to those people who have hurt us the most. Apart from Him we can do nothing!

Secondly he taught that forgiveness is not a transaction between us and the person who has hurt us, but it’s a transaction between us and God. Forgiveness is an act of obedience on our part – if we don’t obey this command then our relationship with God suffers and we end up in prison ourselves. We must look upon the face of God when working through forgiveness, rather than seeing the face of the person who has hurt us.

Finally he explained that we need to release those who have hurt us, from our judgement. We must let go of our ‘right’ to judge, and hand them over to God, trusting that He alone is the righteous judge of all men. We can’t (and don’t) pardon them for what they have done (only God can do that), but we forgive and release them into God’s hands.

The preacher then said, “I believe that there’s someone here this morning who knows that they need to forgive, but they don’t know how to do it. I would like to pray with you.”

I went forward and knelt at the altar with this old man, as he helped me to understand how to forgive. I sobbed for nearly an hour as I worked through it all, and finally I experienced the freedom that full forgiveness brings. I was then able to pray blessing into the life of the person who had hurt me and discovered that I had let myself out of prison!

I am so thankful to this Methodist minister, and to God, who had been so patient with me. He went to such lengths to help me forgive and enter into the freedom that forgiveness brings. I still remember what happened to me, but when the memories surface they no longer have the power to trigger pain or anger, because I’ve received inner healing from Jesus. When God forgives us He chooses to remember our sins no more.

Prayer: Father, will You help me today to list all the people that I need to truly and completely forgive? Will You come and fill my empty forgiveness tank with Your spirit of forgiveness, so I can release forgiveness to all those who’ve hurt me. I love You and choose to be obedient to You in forgiving others, as Your Word teaches me to do. Please come and bring healing to all the wounds I’ve received, and all the pain I’ve been carrying, especially where I’ve been hurt by those closest to me. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.

Jill Southern is the founder of Ellel Ministries Pierrepont and directed the work for 21 years. She has recently stood down from that role but still teaches on the NETS programme and has the passion to train and equip God`s people to fully walk in their destiny and calling. She is the Regional Director for Ellel Ministries International in South East Asia and China and is also on the Executive Leadership of the ministry.


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