The very character of God is forgiveness. This is the number one contact point we have as His children. We couldn't be His children without forgiveness and it is the essence of Who He is and I am awestruck by the generosity of His forgiveness.
But it can't stop there - I can't just sit back and relish in the ability of God's forgiveness without thinking about the importance of that characteristic in the prayer life of a believer.
As children, when we did something wrong and tried to hide, knowing the consequences of our actions, we longed to receive some kind of release from that guilt. Forgiveness from our parents, elders, siblings and friends was the only way that finally gave release and we were restored again. We couldn't move forward without a tangle of emotions not unless we received forgiveness. Yes, we love to receive it but do we equally love to give forgiveness!
Offering forgiveness is definitely the hardest reciprocal act in our walk with Christ. Many people walk around with a plethora of spiritual characteristics: Bible knowledge, kindness, hospitality, commitments to mid-week programs at the corps, volunteering and many acts of Christian service. But there remains a hidden pocket of heavy baggage, unresolved weights of anger, unjust treatments, feelings of being wronged, that we tuck away and hide from the view of everyone around us and God grieves this relentless rucksack of complex emotions.
When we do not deal with our need to forgive others it is like cholesterol - it builds and builds over time and, without warning, it shuts down a major organ in your body and you have a heart attack. In the same way, your forgiveness factor will eventually block the arteries of your vibrant spirit and your spiritual heart slows, grows stale or even stops completely when you go to pray to a forgiving God.
We need to realize a few things about this part of our spiritual formation. Some people who have wronged you may never have known how they have hurt you. Other people who have purposefully, even cunningly, persecuted you will, quite frankly, never say that they are sorry. What do you do with that scenario? Carry it around and let it fester? Try to seek revenge or fight evil with evil? Remember Romans 12:21, "Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good" (Amp). Vengeance still belongs to God and He does not need your help. I can trust God to deliver His own consequences far better than anything I could ever devise and, in the process, I have been released from this stronghold to get on with holiness. Yes, having an unforgiving spirit will always hinder holiness.
If you don't think this is an important issue in your life, dealing with an unforgiving spirit, then why was it included in Christ's instruction on prayer? (Matthew 6:14-15) He knew this was a huge problem for us. Paul persecuted the church. After his conversion, there were people who had a hard time forgiving Paul. Some forgave but maybe there were those who did not - we will never know what came of them but they had to know the Lord's teaching on this point.
As part of a sermon one Sunday, I heard these seven steps in forgiveness: (1) Ask God for help. (2) Forget about forgetting. (3) Don't rehearse the matters with others.
(4) Move on with abundant life. (5) Quit waiting for the other person to apologize.
(6) Forgive as one who needs forgiveness. (7) Leave judgment to God.
Finally, the penultimate picture of forgiveness is the cross - and Jesus completed the lesson by telling His Father to forgive them that placed him there. Forgiveness marked the turning point of history. It is by far the most important feature of God's love and the only way we receive full restoration. "To be like Jesus" is frequently sung but until we exhibit this harder lesson, we remain blocked. Instead, break free and break through to full rest in Christ likeness as you forgive.