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The past

How can a person overcome his or her past? How does one forgive, forget and receive forgiveness?

By Richard W. Dortch

We often think of supposed injustices, the hurts that have crossed our paths. Often these feelings focus on individuals. Why did they do that? Why would they hurt me the way they have? Our minds pull out all of the details of our hurts. Some of us cannot remember what happened weeks ago, but we well remember what happened 12 years ago.

It was Thursday. It was raining. The temperature was 57 degrees. Bobby walked in the house with his boots on. He raised his right hand 14 inches, pointed his index finger at me and said, "I can’t stand you." The enemy of our souls sees to it that we remember every detail. Satan assures us that we are justified in feeling hurt and offended; now we must have revenge.

Forgiving. I have experienced it. The hurt, the rejection, the pain of my past failures. We are less than honest if we say, "It doesn’t bother me." It does. How do we deal with those feelings of failure, rejection, misunderstanding and other people’s conduct? Our future, our relationship with God, our family, our friends and ourselves are at stake. Freedom from sin and bitterness will only come when we forgive. There is nothing more important than forgiveness. Forgiveness is more than the pardon of penalty; it is restoration of broken fellowship. George Herbert said, "He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself."

In Psalm 103 David lists 30 benefits. Forgiveness is at the head of the list: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all [our] iniquities" (v.2). To grant forgiveness to others is commanded: "When ye stand praying, forgive, if you have aught against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25).

The apostle Paul gives the standard: "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted [compassionate], forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). He also tells how to live: "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13).

Forgetting. Remembering past hurts is difficult when we have truly forgiven. When we reflect on God’s forgiving us, as undeserving as we are, it is easier to release others from wrongs that have hurt us.

I am learning to make people and events from my past the targets of my love and affection. Joyous freedom comes when I release people and what they have done to hurt me.

Receiving forgiveness. "Forgiving ourselves and receiving forgiveness is a condition of the soul," said Dwight L. Moody.

A pastor saw a friend come into the service. He whispered to someone on the platform, "I see a friend I offended, and I want him to forgive me."

As the pastor walked down from the platform, the man met the pastor halfway and said, "Pastor, I’ve forgiven you with all my heart."

Those who were there later said there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the service. Both men were determined to keep their consciences "void of offense toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).

When the prodigal son, after a time of great sin, "came to himself," he said, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say … I have sinned against heaven, and before thee" (Luke 15:17,18). Forgiveness was available, and he received it. In fact, "his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (v.20). The father did not wait for his son to come all the way.

We cannot know God’s blessing if we hold on to the past and the hurts caused by others. When we do not forgive, we become slaves to those we have not forgiven. Unloving and critical attitudes are evidence that something is tragically wrong in our hearts.

In order to be used of God, we must forgive others and also receive forgiveness.

Richard W. Dortch is an Assemblies of God evangelist.


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