This summer I got be a part of a pretty cool experience with our high school students when I joined them on a trip to the Move Student Conference in Holland, MI this summer. The picture here is a picture from Thursday night of the conference when everyone was a part of a whiteout.
The whole night was themed around forgiveness. We were being encouraged to forgive others the same way God has forgiven us: totally and completely. Before the main session that evening, we all had a piece of red paper and we wrote the names of people we needed to forgive. Then, we folded it up and had it taped to our backs. And the challenge was that at the end of the service, students were encouraged to get out of their seats, go grab one of their student leaders, another student, or someone from the camp, and then to pray a prayer of forgiveness for those names they wrote down. And then when you were finished, you got to take the piece of paper off of your back and throw it away.
To this day, it’s one of the cooler ministry experiences I’ve gotten to be a part of. It was an incredibly powerful and also humbling thing to watch over 1,000 students take next steps in the area of forgiveness. Some were forgiving people in their youth group, or maybe someone at school they held a grudge against. What was most powerful to me was getting to pray with someone who had an alcoholic and absent man for a father as she was taking first steps toward forgiving him. I have no doubt there were many other stories just like hers. Needless to say, there were a lot of tears, but also a lot of smiles as you saw some real chains being broken.
I underestimate the power of forgiveness. And as a follower of Christ, that goes on two sides.
For one, I tend to underestimate God’s forgiveness of me. Think about it. If you are a follower of Christ, then you believe that your sin was bad enough that Jesus Christ, the Son of God had to offer his life. That’s something huge. And yet, I take it pretty lightly. Yeah, I know my sin’s bad. Yeah, I know I should probably stop doing this or start doing that. But sadly, my sin oftentimes doesn’t move me. It doesn’t grieve me the way I know it does God. I certainly don’t understand the chasm it builds between myself and God. And as such, I usually end up being a “repeat offender” time and time again.
There’s a story in the gospels where Jesus is in the home of a prominent religious leader and while eating dinner, a sinful woman comes in, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and then wipes his feet with her hair while anointing them with very expensive perfume. All who were in the home knew this woman was a sinner (her long hair is a very good indication that she may have been a prostitute). Simon, the religious leader, saw this event as proof against Jesus being the Messiah. His assumption was that if Jesus was really the Son of God, he wouldn’t allow such a woman to be around him, let alone touch him. But knowing the heart, Jesus fired back with a nugget of spiritual truth that is still lodged into my heart this day: “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).
As long as I fool myself with thinking I’m not that bad, I’ll never discover the depths of the riches of God’s love and mercy for me. In reality, I’ve been forgiven much by God. Very much, in fact. But as long as I underestimate my sin, I underestimate the power of God’s forgiveness of me. But when I see things in the perspective of who God is, I am absolutely moved to worship. Not because of the depths of my sin, but because of the riches of his grace.
But secondly, I tend to underestimate the power forgiving others has in me. I’m not a “grudge” person. Some people get a lot of energy from holding grudges against others. I’ve always tried to not do that. I feel like it’s bad and toxic, and it’s never appealed to me.
But yesterday I was both jarred and reminded of the incredible power that forgiving others has on my own soul. I receive an e-mail from the Daily each morning and it’s just a brief devo that I’ll walk through at some point during the day in my own personal time with God. Usually you read a Scripture, reflect on it a little bit, and then do some sort of response exercise. Last week, one of the responses to a lesson on forgiveness was to start a journal entry with the phrase “I forgive…” and then see where that went.
I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a thing, but I really wasn’t quite ready for what happened. My journaling started off fairly surface level. Little wrongs and hurts from life. But it soon developed beyond that. There was some stuff lodged in my heart that I didn’t even realize was there. Someone who had lied to me in high school and it always just ate at me. Someone who tarnished my reputation while I was in college. Some anger and hurt over disappointment in a relationship in my life that didn’t work out the way that I hoped it would.
What was especially scary to me was that I discovered I had some built up anger and frustration toward God ultimately for some of the stuff in my life that didn’t work out according to plan. You can hardly forgive God… I mean, he’s God. By nature, he’s perfect and therefore needs no forgiveness. There’s no wrong in him. But there was clearly some pent up anger about life in my heart. I was jealous God didn’t act in my life the way he had in the life of some people around me. And getting all this out into the open and getting an honest dialogue started with God about my feelings toward others and even my feelings toward him was incredibly helpful for me spiritually.
Despite not being a “grudge” person, I had a lot of stuff built up. And while I know forgiveness is great and important for others, I forget how huge it is for me as well. I underestimated the power there. I’d highly recommend this same exercise I tried for all of you. Start a journal entry, a Word doc, or something else with the phrase “I forgive…” and see where it goes. You might be surprised.
Forgiveness is huge. Life-changing. And developing a discipline in our lives of being reminded of God’s forgiveness of us and our need to forgive others is huge. It’s my hope that today, you might adopt that as a practice. Allow it to renew your soul and cultivate your personal relationship with Jesus.