When someone does something wrong to us, it is sometimes hard to forgive and forget, and yet Jesus teaches that we should forgive. What does it mean to forgive? How do you know if you have an unforgiving heart?
According to the Greater Good Science Center, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
If you find yourself unable or unwilling to release these feelings of resentment and vengeance, you may have an unforgiving heart. Learning how to overcome an unforgiving heart can be a huge mountain to climb. If you need some reasons to conquer an unforgiving heart, I offer you the following list in an addition to 7 ways to help you overcome.
1. We are commanded to forgive
The most important reason to overcome an unforgiving heart is because Jesus commands that we be forgiving.
“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)
According to the above verse, we are to keep on forgiving. If we are not willing to forgive others, God will not forgive us of our wrongdoings.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
2. An unforgiving heart is a sin against God
Since we are commanded to forgive, if we choose not to, then we are electing to disobey God. We may think, “Well, what someone did to me was wrong, and they don’t deserve forgiveness.” The fact is that all of us have done wrong, and none of us deserve God’s forgiveness. Certainly, none of us are worthy that Christ should have died for us. Yet, He did it anyway. Because He is willing to forgive us, we have to choose to forgive whether it is deserved or not. Otherwise, we are in direct opposition to God.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
3. An unforgiving heart disrupts our fellowship with Christ
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)
If we refuse to forgive, we sin, and sin separates us from God and Christ. Keeping a good relationship with our Lord should be what is most important to us. When someone is important to you, you are willing to make sacrifices to keep your relationship with them in good standing. Forgiveness is a sacrifice we must be willing to make to guard our relationship with Christ..
4. An unforgiving heart belies our identity with Jesus Christ
“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.'” (Luke 23:34)
When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, He was speaking for all of us because His blood was shed that all of us could receive forgiveness of our sins. In doing this, Jesus set an example for us all to follow. As Christians, we are to be like Christ, and being like Christ means possessing a forgiving heart. To be unforgiving contradicts our identity as someone who follows Christ. When we refuse to be like Christ by being forgiving, we give others reason to call us and other Christians hypocrites.
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
5. An unforgiving heart sprouts a root of bitterness
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14- 15)
When we harbor resentment, a root of bitterness sprouts in our hearts. Like a root spreading widely and burying deeply into the soil, so resentment causes bitterness to do in our hearts. Unforgiveness will eat you, filling your mind and heart up with dark, angry animosity. Even if someone totally wronged you for no good reason, refusing to forgive them will fill you up with bitterness and steal your joy.
6. An unforgiving heart enslaves you
When we refuse to forgive, it takes over us. All we can think about is how we were wronged. We can’t think about anything else. It consumes our thoughts, our emotions, our facial expressions, and our behavior. When we are enslaved by resentment, we often take it our on others such as our family, children, pets, co-workers, which in turn only breed more resentment like an infectious disease. Jesus has a cure for this enslavement.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
7. An unforgiving heart causes us self-inflicted pain and suffering
“A grudge is a heavy thing to carry,” is an often quoted phrase. The author, Anne Lamott, of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, says it like this:
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
Research studies show that an unforgiving heart can affect the physical heart. It can increase blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Why bring all this on yourself when all you have to do is forgive? When you allow someone else’s wrongdoing to affect every part of your life, even your health, you are willingly giving them this victory over you. Is your physical and mental health really worth keeping a grudge?
8. An unforgiving heart hinders our prayers
“Husbands, likewise dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may be not hindered.” (I Peter 3:7)
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
We cannot properly worship God if we have an unforgiving heart. Jesus says before we can pray to God with the right frame of mind and heart, we must first forgive, make things right, and then we can be in a right position to worship God.
9. An unforgiving heart stands in the way of our blessings
As stated above, when we rebel against God’s will by choosing unforgiveness, we are separated from God, and this limits the blessings that God wishes to bestow upon us.
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries……He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.” (Psalm 81:13-16)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
10. An unforgiving heart damages our Christian influence
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
When we shine our light, we are reflecting Christ’s love and goodness, but if we walk around always feeling bitter and resentful, how can we do this? How can we reflect Christ’s peace, love, joy, and hope if our minds and hearts are filled with anger? On the other hand, consider what a testimony and influence we can offer when others see us expressing love and joy in spite of what others have done to us? By choosing forgiveness, we can shine a powerful light that encourages others.
7 Ways to Overcome an Unforgiving Heart
If you want overcome unforgiveness, you can follow these suggestions.
1. Acknowledge that you are contrary to Christ (Psalm 32:5-6)
2. Confess it to Christ (I John 1:9)
3. Ask for His forgiveness (Matthew 6:12)
4. Ask Christ to give you strength to overcome unforgiveness and to fill you with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
5. Pray for those who have done you wrong (Luke 6:28)
6. Say or do something kind to the one who has done you wrong. If you can take this step, you will be amazed at how much it empowers you over resentment and fills you with joy. (Luke 6:27)
7. Try to talk to the one who offended you. It could be that God is working in them in convicting their hearts as well. (Matthew 18:15)