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- Biblical Counseling
Intentionally seeking and granting forgiveness is first and foremost about the glory of God. As we humble ourselves to His will and seek to imitate Him in our relationships with others, forgiveness serves as the foundation upon which relational and emotional healing may take place.
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgiven him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him. The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’” (Luke 17:3-4).
As we consider and pursue resolving conflict biblically, it’s helpful to clarify what biblical forgiveness is and is not. Here are some common myths above forgiveness.
Myth 1: You cannot forgive until you have worked through your negative emotions against the offender. Most psychological models of forgiveness are feelings-based in that they purport the idea that a person may grant genuine forgiveness only upon working through negative feelings experienced by the offense. Such theories tend to contradict the teaching of Jesus in the above passage since it would be unlikely for you to effectively “work through” your negative emotions if someone committed the same sin against you seven times in the same day. Jesus’ command is to forgive immediately upon the offender repenting.
Myth 2: Forgiving while still angry or upset is hypocritical. Hypocrisy, from the vantage point of being a Christian, is to say one is a Christ-follower, but refuse or reject to abide by his teachings. Therefore, hypocrisy, in the context of forgiveness, would be refusing to forgive when a person seeks forgiveness since it counters Jesus’ instruction in Luke 17. To grant forgiveness while still hurting is not hypocrisy, it is obedience.
Myth 3: Forgiveness is essential so that I (the offended) am not harmed emotionally or psychologically. Many well-intended pastors and counselors have made the central aspect of forgiveness as one’s own self-healing. While harboring bitterness and resentment will certainly have a negative impact upon our spiritual and emotional lives, forgiveness is not a therapeutic intervention designed for psychological health. The primary aim of forgiveness is the glory of God. We glorify God most when we humble ourselves to his will and seek to imitate Him in our relationships with others. Forgiveness exposes the heart of an unworthy servant of God who simply carries out his or her critical duty to grant what they have been given by the Lord (Luke 17:10; Ephesians 2:4-10). Make the motive of your forgiveness first about loving God, then about loving your neighbor. The spiritual maturity that will accompany this mindset is far more significant than the temporal self-help messages so popular in Church culture today.
Myth 4: If I forgive, I must forget: Nowhere in Scripture does it infer that once we forgive, we must forget. Some quote Hebrews 8:12 in which God promises, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” These beautiful promises are fulfilled not because God’s memory is erased, but because He willfully chooses not to hold our sins against us. God is omniscient, and he has not forgotten our sins as we might forget where we placed our keys. God, out of the abundance of His mercy and love, foregoes justice against the believer, therefore upholding his covenant promises to those who have placed faith in Him for salvation.
Furthermore, some offenses are quite painful, even traumatic. To ask someone to completely forget the incident or the pain related to it would not be a compassionate approach to ministry. The key is not to erase one’s memory of the past, but to learn how to honor God when past memories seek to infringe upon one’s present awareness.
Myth 5: Forgiving someone means I can never talk to them about the incident again. While forgiveness entails not attacking the offender with past interpersonal sins, sometimes the restoration process may give rise to discussing the ongoing pain caused by the offense with the offender. The purpose of such conversation is not to resurrect past sins or accusation, but to provide the offender with the opportunity to love and care for the person he or she has hurt. For example, if a wife is struggling with deep sadness and an overwhelming sense of betrayal as a result of her husband’s confessed adultery, it will be important for her to share these burdens with him so that he may humble himself in seeking to restore the relationship.
Myth 6: Granting forgiveness is saying that what the offender did was OK or not that bad. Forgiveness does not lessen the gravity or severity of any sin. Sin, in all its forms is evil and vile. Forgiveness is granting to your offender something he or she may not necessarily deserve while refusing to take matters of punishment into your own hands. It is choosing mercy over justice and imitates the heart of God towards his people.
- Forgiveness is not an emotion, but a covenant promise to forgive the debt of your offender. Ideally, it should not be granted at the end of the healing process, but at the beginning. It is the foundation upon which relational and emotional healing may take place.
- Forgiveness is to promise that you will not hold the sin against your offender. You, as God, will work to willfully “remember the sin of your offender against him or her no more.”
- Forgiveness is to promise that you will not ruminate over your offender’s sin while alone. When you make this covenant promise to your offender, it serves as a powerful reminder with which to engage the mental battle when the temptation to ruminate arises.
- Forgiveness is to promise that you will not gossip about your offender’s sin with others.
Granting forgiveness is not ultimately contingent upon our interpretation of the offender’s genuineness in repentance. The Christian ethic seeks to operate in love towards all people, including one’s offender(s). Therefore, it is important to reflect the following: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Relationships are difficult. Interaction with others is essential-which means that someone will offend you. You may have experienced at least one of these statements in your lifetime:
You took advantage of me. You stole from me. You lied to me. You cheated on me. You fired me. You abandoned me. You abused me. You ruined my reputation. You killed my loved one. You took everything from me.
When someone sins against you, it hurts deeply and causes emotional pain. Just as a car accident causes physical injury, someone sinning against you causes emotional injury (Ps 41:9).
The Healing Process
Emotional hurt is trauma to the heart. Like physical injuries, emotional injuries must go through a three-phase healing process.
The body reacts to trauma with an inflammatory process to destroy harmful substances entering the body. This is when you feel the most intense pain. The heart is the target of emotional hurt, reacting in self-defense (shock, denial, confusion, withdrawal) to prevent further hurt. This is when you feel the most intense emotional pain such as sadness, grief and rejection (Ps 25:16-17).
Just as the body forms a scab (a protective layer) to prevent infection, the heart-by thinking biblically about God, yourself, and the offender-builds and cultivates a shield of protection against a sinful response to an offense (Phil 4:8-9; 2 Cor 10:5).
The body replaces damaged tissue with healthy tissue. Similarly, the emotionally damaged heart is renewed by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. God heals your broken heart and binds up your wounds (Ps 147:3), enabling you to respond to the offender with a heart that produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
Unforgiveness Hinders Healing
A wounded heart can lead to unforgiveness-the sin of being judge and executioner of the offender. Resentment takes root in the heart cultivating anger, hate and bitterness (Heb 12:15; Eph 4:31).
Offenses will come into your life and cause pain. You can either hold on to the hurt until it wrecks you, your family and your life-or you can minimize the damage by responding rightly to those offenses (Eph 4:32).
Freedom in Forgiveness
Forgiveness is essential to emotional healing. It is a command that requires you to accept the reality of the wrongs committed against you and to release yourself as the offender’s judge and executioner (Eph 4:32).
Forgiveness is a critical spiritual principle much like the law of gravity (Matt 6:12). You can no more alter the law of gravity than the spiritual principle of forgiveness. If you withhold forgiving others, God withholds forgiveness of your daily sins. (Matt 18:21-35)-not forgiveness leading to salvation, but the forgiveness you seek when your sin grieves your Heavenly Father (1 Jn 1:9).
An unforgiving heart forfeits God’s blessing and ushers in His chastening. Forgiveness is a gift you can give because it was given to you in Jesus Christ (Col 3:13). Forgiveness frees you to have unfettered fellowship with your Heavenly Father.
*This post is republished by permission and originally appeared on Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship blog. Click here to view the original article.
We often think about grief and adults, but what about when our children struggle with loss and grief? When they face life’s losses, how do they find hope when they’re hurting?
In Grief and Your Child, I apply biblical principles of loss and hope to the grief experience of children and teens. The book focuses on helping parents and counselors to understand and empathize with a child’s grief. It then seeks to equip parents and counselors to help children and teens to find God’s healing hope in the midst of life’s painful losses.
In Grief and Your Child, I walk through a “counseling vignette” with “Jared” and his parents (“Elyse” and “Dexter”). The vignette illustrates the patient, compassionate, back-and-forth journey of grief that adults can take with each unique child.
At the end of the booklet, I share four parental grief ministry principles. I introduce this section with these words:
“Parents, by sitting in on our counseling sessions with Jared, Elyse, and Dexter, you’ve gained a glance into your own child’s grieving heart—understanding and empathizing with your child. You’ve also read a number of practical/relational/biblical principles for ministering to your child. In this final section, we want to expand on how to minister Christ’s compassionate comfort and healing hope to your child’s grieving heart.
Remember, children need good parenting even more than they need good counseling. You can be your child’s best biblical counselor.”
Parental Grief Principle #1: Face Your Grief Face-to-Face with Christ
You’ve heard the illustration about what flight attendants say concerning a flight emergency, “Adults, first put on your oxygen mask, and then put your child’s mask on them.” Without your oxygen mask, you’ll pass out and be no help to your child.
Likewise, if you’re not dealing with your grief—in whatever losses you’re experiencing—you’ll be less helpful to your child. Recall 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: the God of all comfort comforts you in all your troubles so that you can comfort those—like your child—in any trouble, with the overflow of the comfort you’ve received from God. The best comfort-givers are comfort-receivers from the God of all comfort.
Parental Grief Principle #2: It’s Normal to Feel
Jared felt a variety of emotions: grief, sadness, fear, and anger. All casket experiences—especially the final casket of death—are intruders. Grief has a piercing stinger that wounds deeply.
Allow your child to vent and lament. Don’t force your son or daughter to “get it together.”
Give your child permission to grieve. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by giving yourself permission to grieve and allowing your children to experience—to the degree they can handle it—your own sadness.
Mourn with your children when they mourn. Weep when they weep (Rom. 12:15). Hurt with them when they hurt.
Practice lingering listening. Hear before you speak (Prov. 18:13; James 1:19). Feel before you fix (1 Cor. 12:26). Like the Holy Spirit, groan (Rom. 8:26) before you teach (Rom. 8:28).
Share your soul and Scripture. Our tendency is to rush in with answers before we even hear the question and before our child knows we care about their concern. As parents, we can follow Paul’s model of sharing Scripture and soul. “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:7-8).
Realize that children’s actions often express emotions. Children rarely have the emotional intelligence or maturity to verbalize exactly what they feel. Their actions speak for their emotions. Seek to prayerfully discern what emotional message your child’s behavior is sending.
Parental Grief Principle #3: It’s Helpful to Prepare Where Possible
In Jared’s vignette, his parents could have prepared him better for what he was about to face. It’s understandable that they did not—they were not prepared either. Nothing truly prepares us for death. But a few actions and attitudes can help.
Pray before communicating. Elyse blurted out, “Get in the car, Jared. Your Grandfather just passed away.” Her communication could have been improved with a prayer, “Father, help me to share this difficult loss in the gentlest way possible.”
Communicate before attending funeral services. Jared was ill-prepared for many of the experiences at the funeral home and the funeral—especially the open casket. Walk your children through what they are likely to experience. Talk openly with them about their questions, concerns, apprehensions, and fears.
Parental Grief Principle #4: It’s Possible to Hope
Do not merely give your child permission to grieve, but also offer your child encouragement to cling to Christ. Model for your child clinging-courage as you take your grief to Christ your Victor, to Christ your big and loving Shepherd-King, to Christ your Deliverer and Savior, to Christ who hears and cares, to Christ your comforting and encouraging Divine Counselor. Model finding hope in the Trinity—in the Father of compassion, in the sympathizing, suffering, helping High Priest, in the groaning Holy Spirit.
Bathe your child in hope-giving Scripture. Grief, loss, casket experiences, and death can be the exact time the Word comes most alive—what a paradox. The written Word points to Christ the Living Word—who is alive forevermore. Read Scripture together. Weep Scripture together. Cling to Scripture together. Pray Scripture together.
Relate God’s story to your child’s story. Picture it like this: You stand with your child between two worlds, between two stories—the earthly temporal story of death and the heavenly eternal story of life. With one foot, always pivot into your child’s earthly story of grief, pain, hurt, loss, and confused feelings. With the other foot, always pivot together with your child into Christ’s heavenly, hope-filled story.
Remind your child that you’ve read the end of the story. Life triumphs over death, hope triumphs over hurt, and Christ triumphs over the devil and evil.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Rev. 21:3-4).
Questions for Reflection
1. As a parent, pastor, or counselor, how prepared are you to minister to children in their grief?
2. How could you become better equipped to share with a child about God’s comfort in loss?
3. Of the four grief principles in the post, which one do you think would be most important for you to add to your grief ministry focus?
A Word from Bob: On August 21, 2021, New Growth Press will release Grief and Your Child: Sharing God’s Comfort in Loss. You can learn more about the booklet here. Today’s post seeks to capture the big picture of how to comfort children during times of loss and grief.
You’ve heard it said before… There are no perfect marriages. It’s true, all marriages go through hard times! The difference that exists in marriages is how the husband and wife decide to get through the hard. It’s not about how many differences there are between two spouses, it’s about how you handle those differences. The hard can come and go, it can be for a season or multiple seasons and it can exist for a multitude of reasons. The hard can strengthen your marriage or it can break down your marriage. So what happens when the hard turns to broken, what do you do? Where is the hope for a marriage that seems so broken that you don’t even know how to start to pick up the pieces?
I think you have to start with some serious questions. What does God say about your role in marriage? (Ephesians 5) What do you believe to be the purpose of marriage? Our belief directly affects our behavior. So if you believe that marriage exists to bring you happiness and then you find your marriage in a broken place, well then you might just be tempted to leave those pieces of brokenness and walk away. But, if you believe that the purpose for marriage is more than for your happiness, if you believe that God created marriage and it is first about Him and His glory (Colossians 1:16-17); then we have a whole different framework to view our brokenness.
Brokenness is a place we try to stay away from. We definitely don’t like to feel broken or view out marriage as broken. But Brokenness is a requirement for growth, at least growth that is lasting and rooted in true biblical change. The good news is that Jesus came and lived a sinless life and died on the cross for our sins and our brokenness. He is the One that provides wholeness (2 Corinthians 12:9), purpose and new life! And if he provides that to us individually, He will provide that in our marriages as well.
When we have been saved by God and are given new life in Him, he calls us to die to our old self and put on the new self given to us through Jesus. (Colossians 3) Daily we have to take our eyes off how we feel, how things affect us, what we want and replace them with focusing our eyes on Him. Then our questions and thoughts become what is His will for our life, how does He want us to think and feel about things, How does it grow His kingdom and how does our behavior honor Him and love others. It is hard to think that we have to start with ourself when we are broken and hurt, but if we want true and lasting change it starts in our own hearts first. Again, more good news, God freely gives himself through the Holy Spirit to live inside of us and make it possible. (Acts 11: 16-17) He has already done all the work and will continue to work in our hearts if we decide to trust Him and be obedient.
When you decide to fix your eyes on the One that gives new life, then you will find the limitless love, hope, grace, mercy and forgiveness that is needed to restore our souls and our brokenness individually and in our marriages.
I get it. Anxiety is real. Life gets tough, trials hit, pressure mounts, and our flesh takes over. Before we know it, we’re overwhelmed with worry. In fact, that is exactly how the dictionary would define anxiety.
Thankfully, for those of us who trust in Jesus, we don’t have to wander aimlessly when it comes to anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety and worry, you are not doomed to a life without answers. God’s Word holds the key to your anxious heart.
First, we need to see how the Bible defines anxiety, and one of the best places to start is Philippians 4:6-7. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God…” The word anxious is the idea of being deeply concerned, worried, completely occupied with, or showing obsessive interest in that which is weighing heavily on our hearts. With this understanding, it becomes clear why we miss the mark when we expend our mental energies and emotions on being anxious. When we allow our hearts to do this, we are essentially telling the Lord, “I don’t trust you fully, you can’t handle my situation, and I don’t genuinely think you are powerful enough to carry this burden, Lord!” You may think that is an exaggeration, but deep down, our worry and anxiety are rooted in a lack of trust. Worry and anxiety can even be rooted in our selfish motives as we think, what if God doesn’t work this out the way I want or give me what I want?
If we are clear and honest about the wrestling match going on in our hearts, the natural questions become: So what do I do? Am I just a victim of my emotions? The Bible helps us answer those questions.
Here are three initial steps to take if you struggle with anxiety:
Recognize the Onset of Anxiety
Mark the moment when circumstances overwhelm you or when you begin to doubt God’s sovereign power. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. This may be the hardest step in the process, but it is where victory over anxiety begins. Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Why does David feel this way? Because he knows the truth about what God has done for him! The final verse of Psalm 56 says, “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (v. 13). David is reminded that circumstances don’t matter in the light of God’s eternal plan! Regardless of what is happening in life. And if anyone had the right to be anxious, it was David at this moment. He had just been captured by the Philistines, and those guys were bad news. They were like wild pirates who lived to inflict horrible pain and death on people. But in the moment, David recognized his heart’s desire to be anxious, and he fought against it. And what was the tool that he used in the fight? He ran to the Lord in prayer, and He trusted in God.
Run to the Father in Prayer
Like David, when we recognize our heart falling into the snare of anxiety, we must run to the Father in prayer. Prayer is the natural and immediate response to our worry because we are called to place our faith in God—our full and complete trust. When we worry and embrace our natural emotional response to be overly concerned with our circumstances, then we are by nature denying the complete and perfect trust that we should have in God. To rob God of our trust in Him is to tell Him that He is unworthy to be our God.
So, run to the Father in prayer! In fact, we are commanded to do so in Philippians 4:6-7. Not only that, verse 7 promises us the divine blessing of doing so! Verse 4 tells us not to “be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication (or humble worship), with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” The promised result in verse 7 is: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This peace will guard our hearts against falling into fear for those of us who love the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him for our salvation.
Rely on God’s Family for Strength
So, we must recognize the onset of anxiety, and in that recognition acknowledge the weakness of our flesh and our need for our Father in heaven through prayer. But also, we run to each other for support, fellowship, the building up of the body, and safety in faithful numbers. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Did you hear that? When we lift one another in prayer and strengthen each other in our weaknesses, we actually fulfill the purpose that Jesus gave to us! We are called to lean on each other for strength, as well as for the reminder that it is God who is our strong tower, as we learn from Proverbs 18:10.
The family of God is an incredible gift. We are all designed to function in God’s family to the benefit of one another, so when we see a brother or sister in Christ fall into anxiety, then it is the responsibility of the rest of us to build that individual up in love, strengthening their faith with the truth about God from the Word of God!
When you find yourself dealing with anxiety, or if you have suffered through it and are now dealing with the after-effects, take this with you to help find your strength and your heart’s peace in God. Recognize the onset of anxiety, and when it is there, run to the Father in prayer! And finally, rely on God’s family for strength to help get you through the storm.
Questions for Reflection
- According to Scripture, how is anxiety addressed, and what relief is offered?
- Is anxiety something that can be identified purely as an emotional response? Or is it something deeper?
When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3-5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept. Some try to make the teaching more palatable by offering a variant definition of “joy;” others try to promise that the outcomes of how God redeems suffering will be so significant the pleasure will be greater than the pain.
There are times when either approach can be accurate and helpful. Yes, there are times when our expectations of happiness are so temporal that we need to be challenged. And, there are also times when God does amazing things in our hardships which we would never change.
But these two options, by themselves, seem incomplete. I would like to offer a third possibility through a metaphor emphasizing the word “in.”
There is a rainbow “in” every drop of water. When light passes through a water droplet a full spectrum of colors are revealed. Depending on the source of light, shape of the water, and location of the surface on which the rainbow appears different variants of colors show up. The full ROY G BIV spectrum is there, but the thickness of each color varies.
Here is how the metaphor plays out:
- Water represents the suffering we experience.
- Light represents the redemptive work / truth of God.
- Colors represent the various religious affections that can be demonstrated; for the purposes of this blog, the expectation that we should experience joy.
Joy is not the only “color” that can express faith (light) in hardship (water). There is also courage, hope, honesty, authenticity, love, etc… Too often in these suffering-joy discussions we get hung up on one color in the rainbow. There are times; perhaps frequently in the early stages of suffering, when “joy” may be the skinny color in the rainbow.
Consider, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4).” In this case the dominant color of faith is authenticity – being vulnerable about the nature of one’s loss. God’s light takes the form of comfort in this context of loss. The result is the capacity for joy, a very skinny color in the immediate moment, is a slowly returned as precious memories you loved one can be savored again.
The reality is that various forms of suffering (water – pure, salted, colored) will produce different emotional experiences. How God cares for and speaks to each of these situations will be different (light – sun, florescent, colored). In return the emotional form our faith takes (color – full emotional spectrum) will be different and may initially be “dark” or “dull” colors.
But the promise is, as we cooperate with God’s redemptive work in the midst of our suffering, the “joy color” will be restored to our emotional experience. Suffering cannot remove the capacity for joy from our experience.
God does not call us to be emotionally fake – the equivalent of adding food coloring to the water to force the “appropriate-Christian” color change. Instead, God calls us to trust him that the capacity for joy is not removed from our life by the pollution of suffering.
While I know this is stretching the metaphor even further, I believe it is another important point to be made, sometimes God restores the capacity for joy by wiping away the droplet in the form of a tear and collecting it as a tender treasure (Psalm 56:8). God often choose tenderness as his “light,” even more than explanation, as the way he restores our capacity for joy.
Any post built on metaphors runs the risk of being as confusing as clarifying. My attempt has been to help those who are suffering see that God does not expect you to force a pleasant emotion on these experiences. God can comfort you in this moment and still bring forth the “color of joy” in the experience while honoring the genuine emotional turmoil of your suffering.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.