Why is it important to forgive people?

What I want to start off with is just a show of hands: Has anyone ever hurt you? Okay, we've got a few. Has anyone ever hurt you? Some people here have way better lives than mine. Okay, this is not going the way that I thought; I think that some people are distracted.

I think that it's fairly safe to say that in most of our lives' we've been hurt by someone. Maybe emotionally, or perhaps physically, but there's been something that's been done to us, and we didn't like it very much. Now we can react in many different ways to people hurting us. For some things, we might just shrug it off. We might just say, "Hey, it's all good," and we never think of it again. This is the kind of stuff where someone steps on your toe in the line at Disneyland—actually, I've been to the lines at Disneyland, and that's not usually how you respond to someone stepping on your toe, it often goes a bit beyond that.

But okay, when you brush past someone on the street in Canada, right, “Oh, I’m so sorry, it’s all good!” You never think of it again.

For others of us though, and for other types of pain, types of hurt that we’ve experienced from people, we might wallow in it.

Have you ever done this before? Someone does something to you, and you go "Ahhhh! I can’t believe they did that!” And you just replay it in your mind over and over and over again? Maybe you begin to wonder if there was something that could have been done differently…where you just picture the situation vividly in your head, thinking, "I can't believe that that happened!”

Often when we do that we begin to think of all the bad things that we'd love to happen to the person that did that to us, have you ever been there? You know? Somebody hurt you, and now you want to see them hurt? Or someone hurt you and now you want to get revenge against that person? You want to show them that things are going to come back on them, right?

You hear people talk about Karma all the time---and I'm not a big believer in Karma—but what I will say, is it kind of echoes for many of us this feeling that we want things to come back on the people that hurt us. You hurt me, and so, I need to hurt you, or something needs to happen to you to hurt you.

I remember a few years ago, I was holding on to some hurt. Somebody that I'd let get close to me, somebody that I'd thought of as a friend, really did several things that hurt me deeply. As I went through this experience, myself being a good Christian: I thought I'd let it all go. I thought that all these things that had happened to me, I'd said, "I forgive you!" You know, the cursory words: Yep, I forgive it!

Yet, I remember, every time I would hear this person’s name, it was like somebody was reaching into my stomach and grabbing ahold of all that’s in there, and twisting it into a knot. Every time that I would see that person on the street, I could be having a great day and suddenly my day was not so great. I was exhausted. I actually entered into a year-long depression through this experience as I continued to hold on to this anger, and this pain inside of myself.

I don't know if I'm the only person in this room that's been into this kind of situation before: where you're physically taken down by the exhaustion of not letting go. But that's where I was at that point in time.

See, when we have these hurts, and we don't healthily deal with them, they just begin to compound into many many more problems. In fact, did you know that when we refuse to let go of our resentment and our bitterness, that it doesn't just hurt us? It doesn't just hurt the person that we're upset at, but that it actually hurts those around us—those whom we care about the most. You see this a lot with children. Mom and Dad are separated, divorced, kids are over at Dad's place, and they hear a lot of stuff about Mom. They're over at Mom's place, and they're hearing a lot of things about Dad. They just start to get a little jaded. 

Or maybe something went on with the grandparents, so they hear these conversations late at night where the parents are talking, and they're listening, and they're hearing all this vitriol being spewed out about the grandparents. And they're thinking, "I don't want to go see Grandma and Grandpa, they're not very good people!"

I've seen this with the Church and with God, where parents have a problem with the pastor or Sunday school teacher or someone who goes to their church or another church and they get so upset, bitter, and so they begin to talk about these people at home, and maybe they stop going to that church, or maybe after 3 churches—each church finding something they didn't like or someone they didn't get along with—and talking about people, they just stop going to church altogether. And so you find these children that grow up in homes where they know, “Yeah, I used to go to church, but then something happened. My parents got really angry at someone, so we stopped going." Or, "Yeah, my parents used to pray and read their Bible, and then something happened, they didn’t feel like God came through for them, and they just took all that hurt, and they couldn't let it go, and it all stopped. Let me tell you if that's the way that the church was to my parents, if that's the way God was to them, then I don't want anything to do with any of it." 

We hurt those closest to us when we don’t let go. It also hurts us. Holding on to resentment presents health risks to us. In fact, literally, holding on to hurt is killing you. Serious: holding on to hurt is killing you! 

Dr. Everet Worthington, an author, clinical psychologist, and professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University states, “Science has shown that chronic resentment can lead to higher blood pressure, increased tension and inflammation, elevated cortisol levels, which all disrupt nearly every bodily process." It's killing you! And you may think, "Well, it's not so bad! I'm not noticing a lot going on right now, I can hold on to it a little longer," but later on, Dr. Worthington says, "You pay the piper later on on this. We get angry and stressed all the time, and we don't notice those effects right away, but they will show up eventually if we practise them for a long time." 

If you hold on to it, if you exist in a stressed-out state, for weeks or months or years, science actually tells us that toxins begin to be released into our body that wear us down and break us down. We get sick. See, all this holding to hurt is literally killing you, and all of this can result in a worsened quality of life and a shortened lifespan.

What I’m here to talk to you about today is that there is an antidote. And we're going to talk about it in just a moment. I think that we'd better pray at this point, because when we're in a dire circumstance like this, looking around at our world that is obviously full of people that are full of hurt: and I know that some of us that are in this room right now, maybe you walked into this room full of pain. Perhaps you're sitting across the aisle from someone who hurt you, or you left a situation at home that you're going to be going back to that hurts you. But whatever your situation is, whatever you're going through in life, I wanna let you know that there is One who can enter into your situation, who can begin to change it. We’re going to pray to him today.

Will you join me? “Heavenly Father, I just thank you so much that when things are too big for us, we can turn to you. And this morning, as we talk about what we can do in the face of the hurts that we’ve experienced, will you just open our hearts today to receive? Will you help us to understand the importance of this all today? And Lord God, please take these feeble human words that I’m about to speak and make them something worthwhile through the power of your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

Today we're going to look at an important principle in the Bible. The Bible, for those wondering, it's an essential book for those of us who follow Jesus. What the Bible is, is the revelation to us of who God is. Of his plan for us and of how it is that we can enter into his love, which is always there for us, and find his grace and forgiveness. So today, as we open this book up, and we look at this principle that God created called forgiveness, we're going to find that it has some important benefits as we start today with the first in our four-week series on forgiveness.

The first benefit that we see of practising forgiveness is that you will keep your children and others from falling prey to bitterness.

If you forgive, if you don’t hold on to the hurt, if conversations aren’t happening night after night that your kids are listening to—where they’re hearing everything that you’re pouring out against the people who hurt you—you’re guarding their hearts. You’re protecting them from becoming bitter too. From taking on themselves the hurt that you’re carrying. I don't know about you: if you're a parent or a grandparent here, but I know for myself, I've got four young kids, and there's nothing that hurts me inside more than to think that if I'm going through something or hurting inside, that they might pick up on my pain and start to hurt inside too. I don’t want that. So, if there’s a chance that I can take, there’s something I can do, to prevent them from going through what I go through, then I’m going to do it. ‘Cause I don’t want them to grow up bitter against God, or the Church, or their grandparents, or my spouse. I want them to know that there can be wholeness, and that there can be restoration and love. 

The second benefit of practising forgiveness is you prevent the devil from gaining a foothold in your life.

This one here, I know it sounds really Christiany, right? What does that even mean? First of all, I want to pull from Scripture here, ‘cause I’m not just making terms like this up. 

The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Ephesians in the Bible, “In your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” What Paul is saying here is that things like anger and unforgiveness and bitterness and sin: they all create a foothold in our lives for the enemy.

You can think of it this way: this time of the year, things are starting to heat up a little bit, and those of us that don't have airconditioning are probably beginning to open some doors and windows, right? And I don't know if you've noticed, but outside, especially as the sun starts to go down, there are these friendly little critters—there must be billions of them just in Pincher Creek alone—they bite! They itch! And they’re really annoying!

Many of us put in front of our windows and doorways these things called screens. They're great devices. They keep all these insects OUT! It's perfect! But have ever had it wherein one of your screens—whether on your window or your door—a hole starts to develop? You get a hole, maybe the size of a dime or a quarter, in that screen? Suddenly what happens? You're sitting on the couch going what…is…going…on?!? Everywhere you go, these little creatures are trying to suck your blood!

Now, when that happens, you can do a couple things. The first thing you can do is you can live the entire summer with a flyswatter in one hand. And a lot of us, in our lives, we do this. We walk around with a flyswatter in our hands, and we say, "That's not a good thing, why am I doing this bad thing? I've gotta stamp out this ting! This sin! This behaviour! This thought!” And we’re smacking all of these little mosquitos that’re coming into our lives, into our hearts and we can’t figure out why they keep on coming. Let me tell you: if you’ve got a hole in the screen, that’s where they’re coming from! Your other option is that you fill in the hole. Then you don’t have to worry about those pesky mosquitos. That hole, friends, is like giving the devil a foothold in your life. There’s a hole in the screen, and you’re going through life with a hole in your defences wondering why it is that attack after attack after attack is happening to you. Why it is that you keep on falling flat on your face spiritually, and let me tell you why: because there’s a hole in the screen and we need to fix it.

When you practise forgiveness, that hole in the screen of bitterness, that hole in the screen of resentment, of anger, you patch it up. You get rid of it. And the devil loses his foothold.

Benefits of practising forgiveness: you keep your children and others from falling prey to bitterness, you prevent the devil from gaining a foothold in your life, and number three: you will receive healing.

Dr. Worthington provides a solution to bitterness and resentment: “Forgiveness.” Here's a scientist doing her studies on the ill-effects of holding on to our hurt, and here's the very scientific conclusion that she has: forgive others. Forgive others. 

Forgiveness will help us find inner healing so that we no longer hold on to these toxin-inducing stressors, ‘cause suddenly our brains aren't wrapped up in the pain. We're not holding on to all this stuff and going through all the turmoil of playing it over in our lives again and again and again. We see the person on the street, and our stomachs no longer twist up in knots. You receive healing mentally, spiritually, but also physically. Because as the effects of long-term stress are removed, suddenly, you can begin to heal.

You see, I can call this healing. I can even call this a miracle. That's because I believe that my God created our bodies, and he created medicine. He created the ability for medication to have an effect on our bodies and the ability for our bodies to heal, so when God says "Forgive!" and we forgive, and we experience healing, you're experiencing a miracle programmed into our DNA from the very beginning of time by God. Because he loves you.

The fourth benefit of practising forgiveness: God will forgive you.

This one may have just set a few people back a little bit: “Hang on a second, I believe in a loving God! God loves everybody! I thought that God forgives everybody?” Or you’re thinking, “I’m a pretty good person, and I’m working toward something here! I know that I’m well-off, I’m going to be fine!” God will forgive you.

Listen to what Jesus says, this was recorded by one of his followers Matthew, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."

He’s not talking about love: God loves you. He loves every single one of you, wherever you’re at. Even if you’re like, “I don’t like this God guy,” He still loves you, he really does. But he says if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive you.

Jesus isn't' talking to somebody new to faith, who's trying to figure things out here and is still holding on to a few grudges. He's not talking to them. He's not talking to someone who's wanting to forgive and who's working through the process and just hasn't gotten to that fullness of forgiveness yet. What he's saying is that if you absolutely refuse to forgive someone, that's a BIG PROBLEM!

We have these three young people here today who got dunked into this tank here that I'm trying really hard not to pitch forward into, and when they went into that tank, we said that they were doing something that is symbolic of something else--what was that?--Jesus dying and rising again for us. Think of it this way: each of these three young people at some point in their lives recognized that there was a brokenness inside them. They realized that there was something in themselves that they just couldn't fix: a problem that they couldn't—no matter how hard they tried, no matter all the solutions the world offered—fix. Until they found Jesus. Why? Because God knew that in our brokenness, our brokenness which we end up in because of something called sin: living outside of God’s design for humanity. He knew that the only way that we could get back to his design is if someone perfect paid the price for us. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and lived a perfect life, but despite that, we murdered him. We nailed him to a cross and beat him and let him die. And as he hung there, bleeding, and suffocating on this rough-hewn cross, with Roman soldiers laughing at him, he took upon himself our brokenness. And our sin. And our shame.

Listen to this, some of the last words that he said on that cross, as he looked down on those that had put him there. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This Jesus is the one where if we turn from our old way of living and we turn towards him and place our trust in him, he begins to transform us and make us new. But let me ask you this: if someone claims to have been forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross, isn't it a little hard to imagine them being so unforgiving toward others? Jesus was tortured and killed so that you could be forgiven. What could possibly warrant refusing to forgive another human being?

Friends, I know that there are still some questions hanging in the air: what is forgiveness, really? Are there situations where I don’t have to forgive? What about reconciliation? Does that fit into anything? How do I forgive? What if I'm the one that needs to ask for forgiveness? These are things that we're going to talk about next week and the next couple of weeks after that.

What I want you to recognize here today is that if you’re holding on to unforgiveness, you’re hurting yourselves, your children, those around you, and you’re damaging your ability to reach people for Jesus. We believe that Jesus desires, not just that a select group of individuals who meet together for church would follow him, but that this group of individuals that gathers for church would be so impacted by his love that we take it out there and tell people and show people how Jesus loves them. How they can begin to be transformed into what they were always meant to be.

I’m going to end with a story. In June 1973, Marietta Jaeger went camping in Badlands National Park with her husband, Bill, and their five children. As they slept in their tents one night, their seven-year-old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped. Marietta suffered all the pain and emotional turmoil you would expect in such a nightmarish situation. In the days immediately following the abduction, she was surrounded by people who talked about the kidnapper in venomous terms, routinely characterizing him as inhuman (even though his identity and gender were still a mystery).

Despite this climate of anger and vengeance, something inside Marietta began to shift as the days of waiting turned into weeks. As reported in the May/June 1998 issue of Health Magazine, Marietta heard a voice. "What Marietta heard was God telling her, ‘I don't want you to feel this way.' As she pondered the message, the weight on her chest seemed to lift, and her stomach relaxed. She fell into the first deep sleep since Susie vanished." This was the beginning of her commitment to releasing her anger and finding a path to forgiveness.

One year after the abduction, the kidnapper called Marietta's home. Because she had used the intervening months praying for forgiveness – searching within for the strength to find the humanity buried somewhere within the kidnapper – she was able to convey genuine empathy as she spoke with him. Despite the obvious risks to the kidnapper, Marietta kept him on the phone for more than an hour, ultimately providing the FBI with enough information to locate and capture him. His name was David Meirhofer. He had abducted and killed other children. In FBI custody, he confessed to murdering Susie Jaeger a week after taking her from the family’s tent. A few hours later, he committed suicide.

Given Meirhofer’s horrific revelation, it would be understandable for Marietta to abandon the course of forgiveness. Her husband never let go of his anger, and he died of a heart attack at 56 after suffering for years with bleeding ulcers, but Marietta stayed the course. She began travelling around the country to speak with others about forgiveness, sharing her experience. She even befriended the kidnapper's mother, Eleanor Huckert. “She and Huckert went together to visit the graves of their children,” the Health article concludes. “Afterward, the two mothers sat at the Huckerts’ dining room table sipping coffee and thumbing through old scrapbooks. There was David on the front porch – a rosy-cheeked little boy, scrubbed and eager to set out for his first day of school. As she studied the smiling boy in the snapshot, Marietta felt that her struggle to invest the faceless criminal with humanity was complete. ‘If you remain vindictive, you give the offender another victim,’ she says. ‘Anger, hatred, and resentment would have taken my life as surely as Susie’s life was taken.'

Today, I have a first step for you to take: a first step into this thing called forgiveness. Here's what it is: Take some time this week to ask the Holy Spirit to show you the hurt that you're holding onto, and who it is that you need to forgive.

Sometimes we've got hurt that just sits in the background that we haven't actually dealt with. Ask God to bring it to the forefront so that we can actually root it out and move forward. If you join me again next week, we'll make the next step together as we move forward into this thing called forgiveness and break the chains of the hurt that has held us down for so long.

Today, you may have heard me talking about Jesus and what he did for you. And maybe it is that something stirred in your heart, and you began to think to yourself, "I want to follow this man, Jesus.” I wanna let you know right now that if you in your heart are thinking “Jesus is real, and I want to follow him,” then welcome to the family of God. Welcome to the new life. What I want to do is to lead you in a prayer right now. This prayer is a prayer of commitment and thanksgiving to God for sending Jesus to change everything in our lives, ‘cause that’s what he does. Jesus is going to take your life, he’s going to turn it upside down. And you should know that you’re never going to be going through life alone. There’s a family here, there’s a God who goes with you. That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be pain or struggle, but it does mean that there’s someone with you, taking the load. 

If you pray this prayer from your heart, know that you are praying a prayer that is pushing you forward into a new journey. Heavenly Father, I know that I'm a sinner, I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. I trust in you that your death on the cross and your resurrection have provided for my forgiveness. I look to you as my one and my only Saviour and Master. Help me to turn from what life used to be, and through the power of your Holy Spirit, begin to walk forward into what you have made for me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you prayed that prayer for the first time, please contact us and let us know. It's so important that you have someone walking alongside you as you begin this journey with Jesus. We want to get you a Bible and someone to help you with what's next. We also want to make sure you get plugged in to a good church that can support and equip you—whether that's ours or one in your area if you're not local.

Join us for our next message, as we talk about what forgiveness actually is.