A Thankful Heart Forgives
Forgiving, as hard as it is, is not an option for the believer. Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). John made it clear that forgiveness is evidence of God’s work in us. In 1 John 4:19-21, he wrote: “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”
One of the surest ways, therefore, to miss experiencing God’s will and blessing for your life is to refuse to forgive. Yes, there are hurts that wrack the soul and losses that can never be replaced. Yes, there are injustices that beg for retribution, perhaps even punishment. But, the deeper the pain and the more heinous the evil inflicted, the more obvious it is that nothing can be done to replace the loss.
Forgiving is the only means of releasing the offender and freeing the spirit of the injured. How does this process begin? In the same way it did for the women who were victims of child abuse and the couples who lost a child: by first giving thanks.
Is this an insulting and absurd comment?
Some contend that the hardest part of giving thanks and forgiving occurs when new offenses continue to occur. Though they may have found strength to endure the big crisis, the onslaught of repeated injuries exhausts the soul. Whether it is a demeaning boss, a harsh spouse, a rebellious child, or losses due to illness, they struggle to rest in God’s peace because the consequences must be born every day.
Giving thanks and forgiving must be a daily discipline in order to survive.
One single mom I know explained it this way: “Forgiving my husband for the way he treated me during the divorce and custody process was just the beginning. For many years after, he verbally abused me and said things to try to turn the kids against me. When I thought things couldn’t get worse, he married a mutual friend and moved nearby. Crazy as it seemed at the time, I followed the counsel of friends and determined to ask God for the grace to forgive the both of us for the choices that had brought us to this point.” She explained that she turned her heart toward God and thanked Him that He saw her pain and would work in this situation in spite of her husband’s actions. She knew if she did not trust God and give thanks during her dark times that she’d turn bitter.
“Yes, this felt like a foolish thing to do! But, as I gave thanks, God let me see His love in rescuing me from a highly destructive situation. Though I had prayed for our marriage to be healed, when all doors closed, I began to see that God would bring His good in a different way. And He did! More blessings than I can count.
“The best part may have been watching my kids get a head start in seeing how God’s forgiveness is worked out in real time. As we walked it through together, we became bonded in God’s love, and we learned that forgiving is an ongoing process, something that is utterly impossible to do apart from God’s grace.” As time passed, she observed the merits in giving thanks. God would not command us to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18) as His Will and then absolutely ignore us.
This single mother’s ability to give thanks in the midst of ongoing pain allowed her to lead her children to rest in God’s father-love. She told me, “Without God’s grace we never could have begun to forgive. But, without giving God thanks—even while in the middle of the mess—we would not have felt His grace. Giving thanks was the turning point to a new life for me and my children.”
A thankful heart stays at the foot of the cross, aware of its own need for forgiveness and the need to forgive others. Just as we can never right our wrongdoings to please God, some wrongs done to us or by us cannot be righted, repaid, or replaced. The debt is too large. As this young single mother learned, giving thanks releases the debt and opens the heart to a new life. It lets you enjoy what you already have, gives you hope that God is working through the “unseen good,” and reminds you that there are ways you are being protected that you don’t even realize.
So I wonder: If thanksgiving is so powerful, why isn’t it our first instinct? Why don’t we do it before we can see a good reason for giving thanks?
Questions to Consider
- What situation or person in your life—current or in the past—comes to mind when you read the passage quoted above from 1 John 4: “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen”? Have you tried “working around” that before in order to justify your unforgiveness toward someone? How so?
- Do you believe that “forgiving is the only means of releasing the offender and freeing the spirit of the injured”? What other ways do we seek to free our hurting spirits before we try forgiveness? Why are we so often stubborn to forgive, even when we know Jesus commands us to?
- First Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances.” How is this different than giving thanks for all circumstances, a common misconception of this verse?
- What is meant by “a thankful heart stays at the foot of the cross”? How should always remaining aware of Jesus’ sacrifice help us be thankful and forgiving despite our dire circumstances?