God used pain in my life to change me. Through suffering, I learned to lean on the Lord and trust Him to use all things for my good. My brokenness became my strength as I allowed the Holy Spirit to shine even through the cracks in my life! Pain doesn’t automatically make us more like Jesus, however. Yes, we all suffer, but what we do with our suffering determines whether it will make us better or bitter!
Without God, pain can leave us damaged. I have met people who suffered a terrible loss, and they still carry their pain like a memorial. They nurse and feed it every day and it grows . . . every day. The pain turns into bitterness against God, against others, or even themselves. Slowly, bitterness poisons the body, the mind, and the spirit.
Bitter people are toxic to be around. When someone comes to me for prayer and I see multiple physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments, I ask questions and often find a root of bitterness deep within the person’s soul. Without repentance along with a willingness to accept and forgive offenses of the past, these people are hindered from receiving the healing and life God has for them.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14–15 NIV)
Bitterness and unforgiveness create a wall between us and God. Because our entire relationship with the Lord is based upon grace, we cannot receive His grace if we do not extend it to others. In fact, we will continue to live in pain when we refuse to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us!
In Matthew 18, Jesus told a story about a servant who owed the king a great amount of money. The king forgave the man’s debt, but that same man refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant. When the king discovered this, he “delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (vv. 34–35).
I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child. When I first met her, she struggled with depression, addiction, self-harm, sexual confusion, and chronic pain. She was a Christian, but regardless of how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to find the freedom and joy she knew God had for her. Finally one day, through wise counsel and prayer at church, she realized she was ready to forgive the one who had abused her so long ago. She said that immediately it felt as if she was literally lifted off the ground! She experienced joy and freedom for the first time in years and her life was dramatically changed from that moment on. Addiction, oppression, and confusion departed and now she is happily married and experiencing daily peace.
Forgiving someone doesn’t excuse evil actions. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on our emotions; instead, true forgiveness chooses to release the offender from their debt to us. When Jesus hung on the cross, He had mercy on the ones who crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). In like manner, a forgiving heart has its eyes on God rather than itself.
When we forgive we are trusting God to bring good from the situation even if the one who hurt us never apologizes or seeks forgiveness. Like Joseph whose very brothers sold him into slavery, we can say by faith, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
God wants us to be able to experience the fullness of His love and then share it with others. As we forgive those who have offended us, we free ourselves to become vessels God can use to show His love to the world!
Father, You saw when I was treated unfairly. You were there when I was hurt and betrayed. You wept when I was abused. Give me the courage to place all my offenses and hurts into Your loving hands and trust You to use them for my good. Help me to forgive as I have been forgiven. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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