Thursday, May 7, 2015

ISI 6: Forgiveness

[This Bible Study starts at the bottom of the May posts, with the “Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study Intro” post.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question:
Who in your life, in the world, or in history do you most admire?  (Besides Jesus.)  Why?  Who in the Bible (besides Jesus) do you most admire, relate to, or find intriguing?   
 
Open With Prayer
 
Read Lesson and Bible Verses:
            Okay, so we looked at our relationship with the Lord and how our past and our fears affect it.  Now let’s turn our attention outward, to other people.  As humans, we all hurt others and are hurt by others.  And the world’s way to deal with this is to hold grudges or to punish others.  But God has a lot to say about forgiveness – His forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.  And these have major impacts on our relationship with Him and our standing before Him. 
            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  
            Matthew 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.” 
            Psalm 66:18:  “. . . If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”


 
            If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened!  By holding onto our sins, we are blocking God from hearing our prayers and answering them.  And if God requires that we forgive others, then “unforgiveness” is a sin.  A sin that ends up hurting our relationship with the Lord.  This is a very hard teaching to absorb – that I will not be forgiven based on my unforgiveness towards others. 
            Now, I don’t believe that these verses are saying that we will lose our salvation.  I believe there are two levels of forgiveness.  One relates to the moment we chose Jesus as our Savior and we were forgiven of our sins, as a whole, so that we could attain salvation.  This is a permanent forgiveness.  And we can’t lose that by any sin we commit.  Because if we could lose it by our sins then Jesus’ death was not enough.  (Although not all Christians see it this way.) 
            Now, the other level of forgiveness, though, relates to the condition of our relationship with the Lord and our daily walk with Him.  When we sin, we break fellowship with Him and we prevent ourselves from attaining the abundant, God-glorifying life that we should have.  Like in any relationship, a sin doesn’t necessarily mean that you dump the friendship, but it does interfere with the condition of your relationship, with the level of closeness you feel with the other person. 
            We need to take it seriously when God says that He forgives our sins as we forgive others.  But how many of us just consider this poetic?  But it’s not just poetry.  Being unforgiving to others - holding grudges and being bitter - puts up a wall between us and the Lord.  And we cannot have the kind of relationship with Him that we were meant to have if we have unforgiveness in our hearts.  Being unforgiving doesn’t just hurt the other person; it hurts us and our health (stress hurts our body) and, most importantly, it destroys our fellowship with the Lord.  And we need to confess these sins as we become aware of them in order to restore proper fellowship. 
 
            Psalm 139:23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
 
            We should regularly be asking for God’s help in searching our hearts for anything that gets in the way of our fellowship with Him, anything that grieves the Spirit, because we need that intimate fellowship in order to have the best, most rewarding, most God-glorifying life possible.  (And if we need it, we should ask for His help in forgiving others.  He will help us do what we cannot do on our own.)
 
            Obviously bitterness can sneak in when someone deliberately wrongs us or hurts us.  But I think one rather sneaky area where bitterness can set in is when someone fails to do something for us.  And this happens a lot between spouses, where one spouse feels that the other spouse is not meeting their “needs.” 
            I have a bit of a problem with how we define “needs.”  I think many of our “needs” are simply great, big wants.  Real, desperate, good wants.  But not needs.  Financial security, appreciation, more friends, a more significant role, fulfillment in earthly things, more influence or power or attention, a spouse who listens better or pampers us more, a better job, health, a bigger home, a fancier phone, freedom to pursue selfish pursuits, etc. 
            The problem is that when we call them “needs,” we turn them into something that we are entitled to, that we passionately pursue, and that we are unfulfilled without.  These needs can become idols.  But we are not entitled to any certain blessing, and everything we already have is a gift from God.  And God should be what we passionately pursue.  He should be where we find our fulfillment.  And we have to get to the point where we can learn to praise Him, be content in Him, and glorify Him, even when those “needs” are unmet.
            When I defined my desire to be appreciated at home as a “need,” I was miserable because I wasn’t getting something I thought I had to have to be joyful and content.  But when I redefined it as a “want,” I was able to hold it loosely, to give it over to God so He could do what He wanted with it, and to allow God to be enough for me, regardless of if I was appreciated at home or not.
            We have to start calling our “needs” what they are: great, big wants that we need to put into God’s hands if we want to be truly fulfilled in the best way possible. 
            We think we “need” more attention or appreciation or help around the house or our spouse to listen to us more or our spouse to change for the better.  But God knows we need to honor our vow to our spouse even when things are not going the way we want, to learn to love them as He loves us, to focus on changing ourselves instead of trying to change them, to let go of bitterness, to pray for them, and to let God be our all and meet the “needs” that our spouse doesn’t.
            We think we need to fight for our “needs” to be met, to dish out justice when those needs are unmet, or to seek revenge.  But God knows we need to let go of unforgiveness and learn to fully and completely forgive as we have been forgiven, to trust that He is a righteous judge who will avenge all wrongs and make all things right again in the end, to be more concerned with our standing before Him than other people’s standing before us, and to be more concerned with the plank in our own eye than the speck in someone else’s.
 
 
A theory
            I have a theory.  All of us who decide to passionately pursue God (and not everyone chooses to do this, many just coast in their relationship with Him) will eventually find ourselves in a painful struggle with our deepest fears and “needs.”  We may be struggling with an illness, a wayward child, a difficult or drifting spouse, an unfulfilling role.  Or maybe it’s our fears about being insignificant, unappreciated, unloved, alone, about pain, about loss, about death.   
            Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with “our issue” until we make a decision: hold onto the fear/”need”/desire/resentment/difficult situation (etc.) and try to maintain control over it, or place it fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.   
            He will not allow us to hold onto both.  We cannot hold onto control, fear, “our right to have our needs met,” resentment, selfish desires, etc., and yet still hold onto Him, too.  He knows that it’s not best for us to carry those burdens ourselves.      
            These “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long.  And they often involve learning to be vulnerable and to trust God, whereas we prefer self-preservation and having control. 
            But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us.  And so we are asked to eventually face, work through, and let go of the self-reliant, self-protective, self-focused thoughts and behaviors that hinder our relationship with Him, with ourselves, and with others.
            And to correct a common misconception: You don’t have to be happy about being obedient, handing things over to God, giving up “needs,” forgiving someone else, letting go of bitterness, or living with heartache and longing in order to do it.  You don’t have to “feel like it.”  Even if you are still heart-sick and sad, you can still humbly submit your life to the Lord and forgive from your heart.  Because He has forgiven us.  Because we know He will right all wrongs in the end and that He alone has the right to avenge all wrongs. 
 
 
Forgiveness and Other People
            Not too long ago, I was bothered for days because someone was sharing something about me with others that was a misrepresentation, and they were delighting in this misrepresentation.  But they would not listen to me when I tried to correct them. 
            I was really bothered by this, but I had no recourse.  So I complained in my head about it for days.  And it was eating me up inside, making me bitter and miserable. 
            But what finally put a stop to it is when I realized that, in God’s eyes, my thoughts and critical attitude were probably “more” sinful than what this person was guilty of.  And I found myself saying, “Yes, Lord, what they did wasn’t right, but I am guilty of pride, unforgiveness, and a harsh, critical attitude.  And this is a sin against You.  Forgive me!” 
            It helps us keep a soft, forgiving, repentant heart when we look at ourselves instead of at others.  Of course, it is a great thing when we move from saying, “Look at the wrongs they have done to me” to saying, “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing.”  But it is an equally great thing to move from “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing” to “Lord, forgive me for I don’t know what I have been doing.” 
            God will deal with the sins of others.  He is the one who will avenge wrongs.  We just need to be concerned with the plank in our eye and with our sins.  And all sins, whether they are actions or thoughts or attitudes, are really sins against God.  He alone really has the right to avenge them.  And He will right all wrongs in the end.  If we keep this in mind, it will help us to put bitterness, criticalness, and indignation aside.  (These things just kill us slowly on the inside anyway.)        
 
            Not only do we have the responsibility to forgive others and to seek forgiveness from God, but we are to ask for forgiveness from others for any offenses we have made against them.
            Matthew 5:23-24:  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” 
            Being reconciled to others is so important to God that we are not even supposed to offer our gifts at the altar until we do.  But how many of us sing God’s praises at church while we have unfinished business in a relationship with someone else?  How many of us won’t seek reconciliation because we don’t think that we should have to?  (After all, we didn’t do anything wrong, did we?  It was all them!  Besides, it’s history now!)
            And how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense?  How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified?  (After all, they deserve it, right!?!)   
            Or how about the things that we get upset or bitter about that were never attacks on us to begin with?  How about holding grudges against people who aren’t even aware of it?  Like misreading someone’s tone of voice or body language?  Making assumptions about what someone is thinking?  Or how about “road rage,” when we take it personally that someone is driving too fast or that they passed us in a “no passing” zone? 
            I used to struggle with road rage, with being offended by other people’s driving.  But one day, after someone erratically passed me in a crazy hurry, I heard myself say, “Someone better be bleeding to death in the back of that car or on their way to hospital if they are passing me like that!”  And I stopped for a moment and listened to what I said.  I was saying that I preferred that someone was in the middle of a crisis than that they were just driving irresponsibly.  (Of course, I wouldn’t really prefer that, but I responded like I did.)  I decided that day to always hope that crazy drivers were just being irresponsible, but to assume that they could be on their way to the hospital.  And I virtually never took it personally again. 
            I think that some of us are just so used to being upset or indignant that we will make up things to be bitter about.  And this is not a healthy, godly way to live.  We need to be willing to especially forgive the things that are not really personal attacks on us anyway.  To let go of our “right” to be angry at the world.      
 
            Forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God.  And even worse than just blocking God from hearing our prayers, unforgiveness towards others (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God.  And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  And the longer we resist, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord.  And the more numb and desensitized - and self-justified - we will feel.  
            It’s all about our heart and if we humble ourselves before a holy God.  But how many of our prayers go unheard because of our heart’s condition and our attitude towards others?  Pride, bitterness, envy, gossip, idol worship, unforgiveness, ungodly speech, getting drunk, cheating, giving into temptations, lust, affairs, sex outside of marriage, acting out in anger, worry, etc., are all sins that need to be confessed and repented of, if we want God to hear our prayers, to be close to Him, and to have the most effective life for Christ.
            Forgiveness is never easy, because it makes us feel like we are letting people get away with something.  But we all need to remember that not only has God forgiven us all our sins – to the point that we can have eternal life – but that He alone has the right to avenge all wrongs.  Any sin is really a sin against God, because He is the Creator of all and we are all His creations.  So any sin against us is a sin against God, and He alone has the right to dish out justice and punishment. 
            Same thing for any sin we commit against others.  When we sin against someone else, we are ultimately sinning against God.  This is why David could say in 2 Samuel 12:13 that he sinned against God, even though he obviously sinned against Uriah, too. 
            This should give us pause when we want to condemn others for hurting us or let ourselves off the hook for hurting others. 
 
 
Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving God
            There is another aspect to forgiveness that we might struggle with.  And that is forgiving ourselves and “forgiving” God.  Sometimes it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have done.  Some of us live our whole lives punishing ourselves or keeping our distance from God and others because we feel too guilty for things we have done.  We do not feel that we deserve to be forgiven, and so we do not accept the forgiveness that God is so ready to give us.  Like knowing and accepting that His love is a free gift, we have a hard time knowing and accepting His free gift of forgiveness.  And for some people, His free gift of salvation. 
            Maybe we have never experienced true mercy and grace from other people in our lives?  Maybe we have never been given anything and we are used to earning everything we have? 
            But we cannot earn forgiveness and grace and mercy.  The only way to truly be forgiven is to accept it with a grateful, humble heart.  And when this happens, we find God’s love and healing.  And we begin to want to live a life that honors Him, out of thankfulness for the unearnable gifts that He gives us.  If we are still trying to earn anything from God then we don’t have a correct understanding of Him. 
            I want to look for a moment at the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.  (I wonder how they knew it would be happening at that exact time?  And why did they not bring the man who was just as guilty?  Sounds like a set-up to me.  Just speculating.) 
            They are trying to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him.”  And instead of answering their question about if she should be stoned, Jesus writes on the ground.  We don’t know what he wrote, but we do know that it is enough to make them all leave after He says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (Verse 7)  (I think it’s interesting to note that the older ones left first.  I think as we age, we lose some of that dogmatic, self-righteousness that we might have had when we were young, and we begin to see that we are just as human as the next person.)        
            What I want to specifically note here are two things. 
            1.  Jesus was more disturbed by the unforgiving, self-righteous attitudes of the “spiritual elite” than He was by the humiliated, shamed, guilty woman.  And this should be sobering to those of us who are more bothered by what everyone else is doing wrong than by what we are doing wrong and to those of us who are so eager to accept forgiveness that we don’t deserve but who are unwilling to give it to others. 
            2.  And Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from.  He was much more concerned with where she was going.  “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”  (John 8:11) 
            I point this out because I think too many people do not realize how ready and willing God is to forgive them.  They hold onto their guilt as a sort of punishment, too full of shame to accept God’s forgiveness and love and healing.  But God is much more concerned with where you are going than where you’ve been.  Accept His forgiveness, let it make you free.  And forgive yourself and “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 
 
            And then there are those of us who struggle with “forgiving” God.  Maybe our own sins and shortcomings don’t bother us, but God’s “shortcomings” or the ways He lets us down bother us immensely.  This is a whole different kind of heart attitude.  This is one where we feel like life should be the way we expect it to be, and it really upsets us when God doesn’t make it so.   
            Some of us have lost health, loved ones, jobs, homes, etc.  And we struggle with wondering how a good, loving God could allow this to happen to us.  And we become unforgiving toward Him, living as though He failed us or owes us some explanation. 
            But at some point, we have to decide if we will still trust God even when things don’t go the way we want or if we will harden our hearts toward Him because He isn’t the kind of God we thought He should be. 
            If this is where we are at in life right now, I believe that we need to look at our expectations of God.  Because I’m going to guess that we do not truly see Him the way that He is, the way the Bible says He is.  When we try to smoosh Him up into a little box that we made or to define Him according to our faulty or unreasonable expectations, it is easy to lose hope and faith and trust when things go wrong.  He isn’t the God we thought He was. 
            But it isn’t God who is failing us; it is our own ideas of God and life that are the problems to begin with.  And we need to sort these out if we are going to be able to see the situation clearly, to “forgive” Him, and to humbly trust Him and seek His comfort when things go wrong.  Life is hard enough without holding grudges against God.  Or against others or ourselves, too. 
 
 
            Forgiveness (of others and ourselves) becomes easier when we remember that we all wear a construction sign on our souls that says: “Work in progress.  Please be patient and pardon my dust.”
 
 
 
Questions:
1.  Does this topic trigger any thoughts or questions you want to share? 
 
2.  What are your thoughts on these Bible verses?  Any other ones you want to share?
 
3.  What is your view of forgiveness and salvation?  Do you believe salvation is secure or are you concerned that maybe we can lose our salvation by our sins?  Explain.  Can you find Bible verses relating to this?
 
4.  What does “forgiveness” mean?  Does it mean “forgive and forget”?  Is this what God expects from us?    
            [My answer:  Forgiveness (in the “salvation” sense) means that our record of sins was wiped clean by Jesus’ death on the cross.  He paid for our sins.  There is no more debt to pay or punishment to serve.  All we have to do now is accept His payment on our behalf and then we will be able to spend eternity with God in Heaven.  If we don’t accept Jesus’ death on our behalf then we are choosing to pay the debt ourselves, which is eternal separation from God. 
            But then there’s the kind of forgiveness that humans are called to give other humans.  Forgiving another person means letting go of the right to avenge the wrong or to hold the offense against them in our hearts.  It is letting go of bitterness and your “rights” to seek revenge and be angry and feel offended.  It’s placing the other person and their offenses in God’s hands, and hopefully learning to see the other person as God does, as someone who is broken and hurting and in need of love and mercy and grace.  Just like us.
            It does not necessarily mean that we have to “forgive and forget.”  Sometimes, there are legal or social consequences for another person’s choices, such as a thief going to jail or someone seeking a divorce after their spouse had an affair.  But you can still forgive someone in your heart even if the offense has legal or social consequences. 
            And “forgetting” is not always possible or wise.  Some things shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked, such as ongoing abuse or someone cheating us or a spouse’s affair.  Forgiveness does not mean that we throw out all caution and discernment, that we overlook ongoing abuses.  Sometimes we have to take certain actions or measures to make sure that the offenses stop.  (Although sometimes God does heal the situation or relationship enough that we do “forget” and the relationship becomes stronger and healed.) 
            But forgiveness does mean that we hand over to God the right to punish any wrong-doers, even those who have wronged us.  We do not hold bitterness or vengeance in our hearts because that destroys us and puts up a wall between us and God.  It means that we remember that God will eventually deal with the person in His way (and that He will eventually deal with us).  Our job is to let go of our right to avenge the wrong (even if there are still social or legal consequences for that person’s actions) and to forgive the offense in our heart.]      
 
5.  Are there things we should not forget?  In those cases, what does forgiveness look like?
 
6.  Define “bitterness.”  What are some things that might look like bitterness but that aren’t?
 
7.  Can you think of any situations when it is okay to remain bitter or to withhold forgiveness?  To punish the offender yourself?  (I’m not talking about having them face appropriate legal or social consequences of their sin, but about dishing out your own kind of justice.) 
 
8.  What are some appropriate legal or social consequences that someone might have to face, even if they sought and received forgiveness?
 
9.  What are some ways that people might use the idea of forgiveness to manipulate others? 
 
10.  What are some misconceptions that people have about forgiveness?  How do these misconceptions affect people?
 
11.  What are some ways that we create things to be bitter about, things that we take as personal insults or injuries that were never meant to be attacks on us?  Why do some of us feel like we have a “right to be angry at the world”?  What effect does living like this have on us and our relationships?  And how could we handle these things better?
 
12.  When and why is it hard to forgive others?  And what are some ways that we avoid doing it?  Any examples from your own life?  Do you think Christians in general do a good job of forgiving others? 
            [It’s hard to forgive those who deliberately hurt us and those we trusted who let us down.  It’s hard to forgive those who didn’t care that they were hurting us and those who made us feel worthless or really, really small.  It’s hard to forgive those who overlooked us or abandoned us.  There are so many other things that are hard to forgive, but the hardest ones to forgive are the ones who have make us doubt our self-worth, who have made us put up walls around our hearts, and who have made it hard for us to feel love or to love others.  These are things that we will spend our lives trying to overcome. 
            We might avoid really forgiving people when we shrug off the damage that they have caused in us instead of dealing with it and working through it with the Lord’s help.  I think it’s hard to really forgive them when you don’t work through all the pain that is still there hidden in your heart.  Sometimes, genuine forgiveness can’t really happen until we let the Lord heal those broken, hurting parts of our hearts.  But so many of us would rather just keep those broken pieces of our heart securely wrapped up and tucked away, and pretend that we are okay and that all was forgiven.
            We also avoid forgiving with excuses or reasoning like this:  “That person doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”  “They deserve what they get!”  “I’m just making sure that they get what’s coming to them.”  “They have no right to do that to me.”  “Forgiving them means letting them get away with it.  And I can’t let them get away with it.”  
            I think Christians can easily end up holding grudges and being bitter and unforgiving because we easily forget how much God forgave us and how much we also have offended others.  We tend to put ourselves up on some sort of pedestal.  We forget that at the foot of the cross, we are all on the same level ground.] 
 
13.  Does a person have to be deserving of forgiveness in order to be forgiven, by God and by others?  Do they have to ask for it and be sorry before we can forgive them? 
 
14.  Can we forgive someone even if we never get the chance to tell them?  What about if they are not around anymore?  If so, how can we do this?
 
15.  How might we act toward someone if we say that we forgave them but really didn’t?
 
16.  What kinds of things do we do when we are bitter?  What effect does unforgiveness have on us, our relationships, and our faith?  What does it reveal about the condition of our heart and our view of our own fallenness and need for grace and mercy?
 
17.  Earlier I wrote this:
            “I have a bit of a problem with how we define “needs.”  I think many of our “needs” are simply great, big wants.  Real, desperate, good wants.  But not needs. . . . The problem is that when we call them “needs,” we turn them into something that we are entitled to, that we passionately pursue, and that we are unfulfilled without.  These needs can become idols. . . . And we have to get to the point where we can learn to praise Him, be content in Him, and glorify Him, even when those “needs” are unmet. . . . We have to start calling our “needs” what they are: great, big wants that we need to put into God’s hands if we want to be truly fulfilled in the best way possible.” 
            What do you think about this?  What kinds of “needs” do we demand that others meet?  (How about you personally?)  Which are fair and which are not fair?  And how does our view of our “needs” affect our lives, our attitudes towards others and God, and our relationships with others and with God?
 
18.  For the record, in an ideal world and in ideal relationships, our “needs” would get met and we would not be left wanting.  But we do not live in an ideal world or have ideal relationships.  So how can we best manage when our “needs” are not met?  What should we do when we don’t get what we want? 
 
19.  When and why is it hard to seek forgiveness from others (and from God) for our own offenses?  And instead of just asking for it and accepting it, what are some ways that we might try to earn it?  Any examples from your own life?  Do you think Christians in general are doing a good job of seeking and accepting forgiveness?
            [It’s hard to seek forgiveness for many reasons.  Maybe we feel like we have nothing to feel sorry about or like it’s too far in the past.  Or we’re afraid to hurt the other person again by bringing it up.  Or maybe we are not even sure if we did hurt or offend them, so we don’t even know if we need to seek their forgiveness.  And sometimes we still feel so angry about their part of it that we don’t want to be the first person to say “I’m sorry.”  Maybe we want them to squirm a little in their discomfort before we make things right.
            And when it comes to seeking God’s forgiveness, sometimes we don’t do it because we haven’t examined our hearts enough to find any offenses.  Or maybe we feel so bad about what we have done that we fear bringing it up to the Lord.  Maybe we don’t like who we are inside and so we don’t want to be that transparent with Him.  We are afraid of His wrath and displeasure.  Or maybe we are a little indignant that God would call what we did “sin,” and so we excuse it as just being human or as reasonable behavior.
            I don’t know how Christians are doing in general with seeking forgiveness.  But I do believe that most of us don’t like to admit that we did something wrong.  And in a day and age of “moral relativity,” we are not even clear anymore about what is an offense against God.  We have been convinced that anything that we do is okay as long as it doesn’t hurt another person.
            So if we are not in the Word regularly, and if we are not learning about God’s rules, character, and how He defines “morality” and “sin,” and if we are not seeking righteousness, then we may not even be aware of all the offenses that we need to seek forgiveness for.  We may not even be aware of the pride, bitterness, envy, greed, idolatry, self-sufficiency, etc., that is in our hearts.  And these will hinder our relationship with the Lord.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit’s help in searching our hearts.]
      
20.  What other kinds of things might we do instead of just seeking forgiveness?  How might we behave when we try to ignore our responsibility to say sorry and ask forgiveness? 
 
21.  How does failing to seek forgiveness affect us and our relationship with God?  With others?  With ourselves?  What if the person we need to seek forgiveness from isn’t around anymore?  What can we do in this situation?
 
22.  What do you think about the following idea? 
            “It helps us keep a soft, forgiving, repentant heart when we look at ourselves instead of others.  Of course, it is a great thing when we move from saying, ‘Look at the wrongs they have done to me’ to saying, ‘Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing.’  But it is an equally great thing to move from ‘Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing’ to ‘Lord, forgive me for I don’t know what I have been doing.’” 
 
23.  What things are hard for us to forgive ourselves for?  What are some reasons we might have a hard time accepting forgiveness or forgiving ourselves?  What effect might this have on our lives and our relationship with God?  Have you ever felt this way?  (And what are some biblical truths that might help us forgive ourselves?)   
 
24.  What are some faulty expectations/assumptions that we have about God, about ourselves, about others, and about life?  How might these lead to problems?  How might they hurt our relationship with God?  (Expectations such as “God said that if I had faith, I would always get what I asked for in prayer” and “God just wants us to be happy” and “We can’t really forgive others or obey God unless we ‘feel like it.’”) 
            [I think a lot of our problems in relationships, including with God, happen when we have expectations of how the other person should act or treat us.  And having expectations of God that are not clearly from His Word or having assumptions about how He should act can cause us a lot of spiritual heartaches and problems.  We need to be in the Word regularly in order to know who God reveals Himself to be, what He expects out of us, and what we can expect out of Him.  The more you read it and pray for wisdom, the more you will understand what the Word really says.
            I think some other faulty expectations or assumptions are that God will always keep us physically safe from harm, that He will always give us enough money to be comfortable, that we can somehow get Him to move or act when we want Him to, that we can earn answers to our prayers if we just pray the right way or in the right attitude, that a certain sin of ours is beyond God’s forgiveness and mercy, that He couldn’t possibly love us if He knew what was really inside of us, that everything that happens is because God wanted it to happen and because He caused it to happen for a reason, etc. 
            (There are people who will disagree with that last one.  They do believe that God causes everything and everything happens for a reason.  I believe that there is a lot that God does cause, but there are other things that He simply allows because He knows how it can be used for His glory and for the good of those who love Him.  The thing is, we have the free will to obey or disobey, so a lot of what happens is a consequence of our free-will choices.  God allows it, but doesn’t cause our disobedience.  But He will use the consequences for the good of those who love Him.  I examine this issue more in the “Understanding God’s Will” series on my two blogs: sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com and myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com.  And in some upcoming lessons.) 
            We have many assumptions and expectations that we don’t even realize are there.  And as you grow in your spiritual life, staying intimately connected to God in His Word and in prayer, you will begin to realize how many things are not what you thought they were.  It will become clearer at the same time as becoming more complex.  Just goes to show us how we never stop growing and learning.]       
    
25.  What or who do we blame for the problems in our lives?  What are the consequences of doing this?     
            [Come on, raise your hands . . . How many of us blame Mom or Dad for “the way we are”?  Or our siblings?  Or a childhood friend or teacher that hurt us badly? 
            We blame others for our failures and shortcomings, our low self-esteem, our bitterness or unhappiness.  And while parents and siblings and others definitely affect the way we grow up and how we view ourselves, the problem is when we do not forgive them for it and when we do not rise above it.  This not only affects our relationship with them, with ourselves, and with God, but it also stunts our growth and our ability to succeed and thrive.  When we carry around giant chains of unforgiveness and bitterness, it only weighs us down, making our futures as pathetic as we think our pasts were.  Let God remove those chains from you.  They were never meant to be carried around by you anyway.
            But what if it’s God that you blame?  What if He didn’t protect you or provide for you the way you thought He should?  What if He allowed those you love to be taken from you?  What if He let you suffer more than any child should have to suffer?  If that’s the case, my heart breaks for you.  Offenses against children and tragedies involving children are of the worst kind, and early losses can be so traumatic. 
            And I think God’s heart breaks for you, too.  He never wants those kinds of things to happen.  But since He has allowed free will, there are those who will make horrible or damaging choices.  And the only way you will be able to find healing is to hand those wounds and fears over to God.  He can make something good out of them.  He can make you stronger, healed, and more whole.  But you have to be willing to take the risk of trusting Him, of leaning on Him. 
            Many who have been hurt in the past are terrified of leaning on God because you don’t want to find out that He will pull away and let you fall on your face.  Or you do not trust in His love and goodness because you have not known love and goodness.  But in order to find out that He will be there for you, you have to take the risk and lean.  Only then will you find out that He will catch you.  That He will hold you.  That He is big enough to handle any problem you have.  And that His love will heal you and make you stronger. 
            And sometimes, we have to work through the reasons for why we do not trust in His love and goodness.  We cannot just force ourselves to trust, we have to figure out why we don’t.  We have to find out what in our pasts ruined our ability to trust or to believe in God’s goodness, or to love and feel loved.  Take the time to search your heart and mind with the Spirit’s help, and maybe with a good counselor or friend.  The truth will set you free!]
  
26.  Can you personally think of anyone that you might be blaming for problems in your life?  Or any grudges that you are holding?  What effect has this had on your life?  And how might you actually be responsible for the problems that you blame others for or for the lingering aftereffects? 
 
27.  I said that “all sins, whether they are actions or thoughts or attitudes, are really sins against God.  He alone really has the right to avenge them.  And He will right all wrongs in the end.  If we keep this in mind, it will help us to put bitterness, criticalness, and indignation aside.”   What do you think of this idea?  What does it mean for our lives? 
 
28.  Is there anyone that you need to forgive?  What effect has unforgiveness and bitterness had on your life?
 
29.  Is there anyone you need to ask for forgiveness from?  What has your relationship been like because of your resistance to doing it?  How can you make amends?  (What if they are not around anymore?) 
 
30.  Is there any unconfessed sin that you need to ask God’s forgiveness for?  Or any sin that you know you know you are forgiven for but that you need to forgive yourself for?  How might finally doing this change your life and your relationship with God?  (If it’s too personal, keep it between yourself and God.)
 
31.  Do you think that we are required to remember and confess all sins in order to have the best relationship possible with God?  Does sin that we have forgotten about still negatively affect our relationship with God?  Is it still “held against us” or is it covered by God’s grace?  Can we take the idea of sin and asking for forgiveness to extremes?
 
32.  What do you think of my theory?  Have you experienced this? 
            All of us who decide to passionately pursue God . . . will eventually find ourselves in a painful struggle with our deepest fears and “needs.”. . . Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with “our issue” until we make a decision: hold onto the fear/”need”/desire/resentment/difficult situation (etc.) and try to maintain control over it, or place it fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.  He will not allow us to hold onto both.”
 
33.  What do you think about the idea of needing to “forgive God”?  What are some things that we might have a hard time “forgiving” God for?  What might help cause this unforgiving attitude?
 
34.   Is there anything that you need to “forgive” God for?  Anything that you have been holding against Him, that has been interfering with your relationship with Him?  How can you go about doing this and finally letting it go?
 
35.  How can we bear with the tragedies of life without becoming bitter: the lost loved ones, the loss of health, the accidents, etc.?
            [I think the only way to not become bitter is to remember that God will eventually make all things right.  If this were not the case, we would feel hopeless.  But knowing that everything will work together for good someday and that there will be no more pain, struggling, strife, and sorrow helps us to bear with it for the short time that we are on earth.  Our troubles are truly momentary in light of an eternity spent with God. 
            Plus, it makes it easier to bear with the hard times if we can somehow use our troubles and losses to be a help to others.  It helps to take the focus off of our grief and pain and to look for ways to help others who are hurting, too.  This is exactly why I wrote my blogs.]
      
36.  Forgiveness (of others and ourselves) becomes easier when we remember that we all wear a construction sign on our souls that says: ‘Work in progress.  Please be patient and pardon my dust.’”  Discuss this sentence.
 
37.  Are there any other thoughts or questions that you want to add? 

 

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A place for you to share your thoughts and to encourage each other. But please understand that as a busy homeschooling mom who is seldomly on-line, I may not be able to reply to most comments. But I will be reading them as I can and praying for you. Thank you for your comments! Please keep them godly and uplifting, as I will delete any that are mean or ungodly. I intend for this to be a safe place where people feel encouraged and respected.