Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: When hurt runs deep, how does forgiveness begin? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The starting place is acknowledging I really was sinned against. It was a horrible thing, and God agrees it was a horrible thing. Yet God has mercy and grace for me to deal with that situation and to be able to extend His mercy and grace into someone else’s life.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, November 8. How do you forgive when it seems impossible to forgive? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has written about this in the helpful book, Choosing Forgiveness.

When that book was released, she sat down with her friend, Lisa Barry, to talk about it. We’re going to listen to this practical conversation as we focus on forgiveness this week. It’s part of a series on personal revival called Seeking Him. Now, here’s Lisa.

Lisa Barry: Nancy, we’re talking about Choosing Forgiveness. By the way, thank you for writing such an insightful book. It’s been just a delight to read it. As I’m reading it, I’m thinking to myself in all of your travels and all the people that you visited with and all the places you’ve been, you thought to yourself this book really needs to be written.

Can you paint a picture of what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard that made you think this is a major, major issue that needs to be discussed more thoroughly than the way it has been discussed up until this point?

Nancy: Yes, Lisa, I think it’s the result of years of being out doing women’s conferences, talking with women after the conferences, in between the sessions, and looking into these women’s eyes, hearing their stories, the stories of pain, of wounds, of broken, fragmented relationships.

It’s the woman who came up during a testimony time actually in one of our conferences. She stood next to me at the microphone and told to all these women the story of how her young adult daughter 14 years earlier had been stalked and then brutally raped and murdered. She turned to me in front of all these women and said, “You’ve been telling us we need to forgive, but for 14 years I have hated the man who did this to my daughter. You’re saying forgive. How do I forgive? How do I forgive?”

I’ve heard that question phrased so many different ways with so many different details and stories. As Christians we’re talking about the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ who forgives our sins. Yet we so struggle with what it means to be not only receivers, but then givers of the forgiveness of Christ to others.

I just wanted to think it through for myself and then for others—the women that I’m serving. How do we take the forgiveness we’ve received from Christ and extend that to others in a way that is restorative, reconciling, healing? God is the healer of broken relationships and forgiveness is such a key to being able to experience that.

Lisa: Before we get too much deeper into the book, let’s back up just a little bit and say, can we make a comparison here between the way the world describes forgiveness and the way God describes forgiveness? Is there a disconnect between the way we’re looking at it and the way the world is using and defining that word?

Nancy: Yes, I think the world actually has very little concept of the whole idea of forgiveness. Let me back up a little further and say—it doesn’t sound very profound, but we need to remember—that everyone will get hurt. Everyone will get wounded. We step on each others’ toes. We hurt each other. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes unintentionally. But we all get hurt so it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Then the question is how do we respond to those hurts? The natural way of responding and the best way the world knows how to respond is either to stuff it, just bury it and try to move on. Now you have a lot of wounded people who have never dealt with these issues walking around becoming victims themselves and perpetrators of hurt on others.

Or the world says become a debt collector. What do I mean by that? This person hurt me. They have got to pay, and I will make them pay. Now I may do it overtly. I may press into their life and inflict pain on them with my words, with my spirit, with my behavior, or I may do it the more sophisticated and respectable way, which is subtly in my heart in the way I speak to others about that person, holding this person hostage in my heart.

The point is until you realize what you have done, that you have seen the damage you’ve done and you have repented, I am going to hold this against you. I’m going to put you in debtor’s prison, and I am not going to let you out until you pay.

I find that that’s the pathway most people choose. What happens is this is the pathway to resentment, to bitterness, to broken relationships. That kind of bitterness is like an acid that destroys the container in which it’s held. I think most people have not realized that there is a better way.

Lisa: You’re saying that this is a fundamentally destructive behavior in itself?

Nancy: Bitterness is so incredibly destructive. You will never find a bitter person who is happy.

  • Bitterness steals joy.
  • It steals peace.
  • It steals relationships.
  • It affects our relationship with God.
  • It affects our relationships with others.

Think about it. You don’t want to be around bitter people, and people don’t want to be around us when we’re bitter. So as we think about how God structured the whole fabric of the universe, this is not just a command He gave on a whim. Gods says I know that it’s in your best interest and it’s in the best interest of your relationships.

Do you want to be happy in Jesus, as the old song says, “trust and obey”? Releasing that bitterness, coming to the place where we can learn to let it go is something that will bless us. It will bless marriages. It will bless our work environment, our church environment. God knows that bitterness is destructive and forgiveness is a means to blessing and joy and peace. That’s why He wants it for us.

Lisa: Now, I can hear somebody who’s listening saying, “Well, that may be good in theory, but you can’t bring me to forgiveness until you’ve heard my story because my story is very complicated, and I don’t think you’d have me rushing to forgiveness if you really heard what happened.” Can you really bring somebody to be thinking about forgiveness without knowing all the details?

Nancy: Let me say, Lisa, that when we tread into this whole subject, I know that for many, many people we’re diving into some very murky waters and some very difficult waters. I don’t want in any way to minimize the pain, the hurt, the sense of being violated. It’s an appropriate word here.

Sin is destructive. It is harmful. It is deadly. We are sinned against and we sin against others and that creates complex issues. I’ve heard a lot of them. Sometimes just when you think I can’t imagine a story being any worse than the one I just listened to, then another woman will come up.

Humanly speaking, I want to say I’d be bitter too. Yet I know that if I don’t lovingly, graciously help that woman walk through what I would want someone to walk me through, and that’s to say how can we get past the hurt, the pain, the anger, the resentment, the desire, the drive for vengeance? How can by God’s grace I come to healing?

This book I know for some surfaces memories that other counselors have told them you don’t want to deal with these. Put them behind you. It’s a little scary to think of having to pull off that scab and let the wound come fresh again, but you know we can’t really experience the fullness of God’s healing, restoring grace until we’ve been willing to look honestly at the offense and say this really was wrong. This really did hurt.

The peace doesn’t come by stuffing it or pretending it never happened or medicating it or having somebody just tell me to get over it. The starting place is acknowledging I really was sinned against. It was a horrible thing, and God agrees it was a horrible thing. Yet God has mercy and grace for me to deal with that situation and to be able to extend His mercy and grace into someone else’s life.

Lisa, as we think about atrocious offenses, there’s not anyone who’s ever been wronged more deeply or more greatly than the Lord Jesus Himself was. Isn’t that what we read about in 1 Peter? Remember that the whole book of 1 Peter, by the way, is a book on the theme of suffering, so how does Peter introduce this whole concept of suffering in human relationships?

It starts at the end of chapter 2 where he sets up the example of the Lord Jesus. Before he introduces this concept of how we live peaceably and forgivingly with one another in human relationships, he says, “To this you have been called,” chapter 2 of 1 Peter, verse 21, “because Christ also suffered for you.”

Now I’ve heard messages about being called to lots of different things, called to the mission field, called to marriage, called to singleness, but you won’t hear a whole lot of messages on being called to suffer. But Peter says this is actually a calling. When you follow in this calling, when you embrace this calling, you are following in the steps of Christ.

“Christ also suffered for you,” he says, “leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Then listen to verse 22, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” He did absolutely nothing to deserve the behavior that He received, the insults, the wounds, the offenses. He did no sin.

But verse 23, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” What did He do? Instead He “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” So what did that mean? For Him it meant death.

Verse 24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Then here’s the phrase I love. “By his wounds you are healed.”

You see, not one of us could ever call ourselves a Christian, not one of us could be a child of God if it weren’t for the fact that Christ had died in our place. By His willingness to take those wounds that sinners, including us, inflicted upon Him, we were granted healing, forgiveness, released from the debt that we owe God.

I think there’s a powerful principle there, Lisa. It’s the principle of the cross as it applies to our human relationships. I believe there are relationships that God puts us into or that we find ourselves in through the course of life where we are being wounded.

In some cases, I believe that wounding is for the sake of the offender ultimately being able to be healed, of them being able to be released from their sin. When we revile in return, when we give back the pain and the offense and the wounds that have been given to us, we miss the opportunity for that offender to be brought to a place of brokenness, repentance, surrender, and healing in their own life.

So by my willingness to embrace the wounds, to commit myself to God and to extend forgiveness where the whole world would understand if instead I took vengeance, then I become an instrument of God’s blessing in that person’s life and of course I’m set free from my own prison even if that other person never changes.

Lisa: Let’s continue on with that imagery that you just started right there of the prison because I’m imagining there’s somebody who’s listening who’s behind those prison bars holding on with both hands, tears streaming down her face.

Nancy: Fists clenched.

Lisa: Fists clenched.

Nancy: White knuckled.

Lisa: Yes. She wants out but she also in a very strange sort of a way feels safe in there. She’s made it very comfortable for herself. Yet when you look around that cell, you see pictures of death and destruction, so to speak. Yet she’s calling it a safe place to be.

Nancy: I think it’s a scary thing for a lot of women. I don’t want to exclude men here, but I’ve talked with a lot of women and we’re holding out the prospect of forgiveness. You don’t have to live with this, in some cases, years of bondage that you’ve been in spiritually, emotionally, mentally. We’re saying you can be free from that.

Yet some women, I think, have become accustomed to their prison cell and are thinking, "I guess I’d rather spend the rest of my life here than to have to take the risks of whatever would be involved in getting out. Rather than releasing that other person from the prison cell of my mind, I want to think about this more."

In your mind you’re trying this person. You’ve got them in court. There’s something—I hate to say it—sweet about those vengeful thoughts. At least we think it is. We don’t realize how destructive it is.

Then there’s something scary about saying, “What happens if I let it go?” Think of the wife in a marriage where her husband has wounded her spirit, has perhaps been unfaithful in that marriage.

If I release him from this prison cell I put him in, you tell me it’s going to make me free, but maybe it will make me more vulnerable. Maybe he’ll hurt me again. In fact, the track record being what it is, he will hurt me again. I don’t know that I want to go there. I don’t know that I really want to release this.

In fact, I want him to hurt. I want him to feel the pain that I have felt. He’s made me miserable. I want him to be miserable. If I forgive, then I’m going to be letting that person off the hook.

I’ve heard women actually say that to me.

I don’t want to let this go as it relates to my husband because then he won’t realize that he needs to change. He won’t want to stop.

So we play these things in our minds and ultimately what we’re doing is putting ourselves in the place of God. "I want to be God in this situation. I want to be in control. I don’t want to relinquish control."

Letting go of the right to exact payment, the right to make the person pay, that’s a scary thing. That’s why the pathway of forgiveness requires faith. It requires that I trust what Jesus did. In 1 Peter 2 it says He committed Himself, He continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly.

If we didn’t know that we have a Heavenly Father who is a just and wise and loving God who in the end will make all wrongs right, then forgiveness would be like jumping off a cliff. It would be unthinkable. But when we forgive we cast ourselves and our situation into the hands of God.

I’m thinking about that wonderful story of grace and forgiveness in the Old Testament, the last part of the book of Genesis, the whole story of Joseph, who was wronged in so many ways. I mean it was one wrong piled on another, not just one offense. His brothers wronged him in so many ways over so many years.

Then in Egypt at the hands of Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife, and he ends up thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Then the guy in prison who could get him out fails to keep his word so Joseph ends up in there more years. This guy is having a bad day for a lot of years.

When the point comes in his life when all that’s behind him and he’s in a position where he now can take vengeance on anyone and everyone who sinned against him, his brothers, realizing now who he is, come quivering and trembling and fearful and knowing he is the law of the land now. What is he going to do to them? They’re terrified and Joseph says, “Am I in the place of God” (Genesis 50:19).

That’s God’s job. That’s what the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 12, verse 19, “Vengeance is mine [God’s].” He will repay so don’t take vengeance into your own hands.

Then we can think, “Well, God, go get him. Lord, I’m going to pray for You to take vengeance.” That’s not the heart. The heart is, “Lord, I want You to forgive this person. I want You to restore this person.”

It takes faith. It takes the willingness to relinquish control and to say, "I’m not God. I’m not in the place of God. That’s not my job. I don’t make a good God. I’m not capable of being God. I cannot run this universe. It’s not my job. I don’t have the skill set to do it." When I insist on doing it, I’m really distancing myself from God.

So the woman, to use the picture you started with here, hanging onto the bars of the cell saying I want to get out but I don’t know if I want to get out. I want to hang onto this, but I want to let it go. We’ve all been there, knowing that we need to let it go, but wanting to hold onto it.

I got to tell you, Lisa, I’m going to interrupt myself here. I had no sooner finished writing this book, turned the manuscript over to the publisher, and for the next two or three weeks, having lived in this subject for months, a year or more probably, I found myself the (I hate to use the word victim) recipient of several offenses.

Now, none of them compares to what many of our listeners are going through right now, but they were things that hurt. They resurrected some old wounds that I thought were past and behind and forgiven and forgotten and I had moved on from there.

I found myself in a couple of relational situations being freshly wounded and really wanting to hold onto it, standing myself with my fists clenched on those prison bars and knowing I’ve just written the book on forgiveness. I’ve just said to all these women, "Let it go. Let it go. Press the delete button," to use an analogy I use in the book. "Let it go. Clear the record. Don’t hold onto this. You will only hurt yourself."

I’m seeing there’s freedom outside this prison cell, but I’m in that prison cell, saying, “I think I like it here. I want to make sure that this situation gets handled.” I had to preach the gospel to myself. My words in this book, my own words, came back to haunt me.

It was a wrestling match. I’d like to say that just very immediately I laid it down, but it was a matter of at least days, maybe a couple of weeks there of just nursing this and not wanting to let it go.

But my heart knows that I don’t want to live there, and God won’t let me live there. I’m so thankful because the conviction of God’s Spirit was such that He kept pointing to my sin of unforgiveness, my sin of not letting go. While I was wanting to focus on the sin that had been committed against me, God was saying, "I want you to look at your own sin."

I just had to take the step that I’ve exhorted others to take in this book and that is turn it over to God. Let it go. Press the delete button. You don’t have to figure it out. They don’t have to know.

I had a letter written—actually, it was written more than in my mind. I had actually written it on my computer. I shared it with some of the close accountability group in my life and said what do you think about my sending this letter? They said, wisely, "You’ve got to let it go. You have to let it go." I was thinking, "But they need to know." Let it go. Let it go.

Now in some cases, I think there is something that we need to do in terms of making the other person aware of what has happened but not as long as we’re holding onto the right to punish, not as long as we’re holding onto to bitterness, the unforgiveness in our hearts. With that heart we can never be an instrument of their restoration.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving us a practical look on forgiving when we don’t feel like it, talking with her friend, Lisa Barry. This is a crucial issue for everybody. To help you develop a biblical view of what releasing your offender looks like, get a copy of Nancy’s book, Choosing Forgiveness. We’ll send you a copy when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. You can do that on line at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

Do you have to heal from emotional pain before you forgive? Nancy will address that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Don’t forget the True Woman ’08 National Women’s Conference is coming.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.