A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. He finally came to his senses…
So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
-Jesus, Luke 15
Luke 15 is known as the story of the Prodigal Son. Many think the word ‘prodigal’ has to do with the sin of being far from home, but the meaning goes much deeper than that! Prodigal literally means extravagant; wasteful; reckless.
Prodigal most often is applied to the attitude of the Son toward his inheritance that should’ve landed him on the Jerry Springer show, yet I’d love to change your mind on that. Have you ever considered that there was another in this story more extravagant, more reckless with the inheritance? Consider the FATHER! Which of you dads would grant the same request to your 21 year old son? Which of you would give half of what you own – a hard-earned living – just to be squandered away? I wouldn’t have, I know that. I’m appalled when I hear Dave Ramsey say that the average time for kids to spend their inheritance (60 years of saving) is only 18 months!
But that is the point of the story… this is about God and His parenting grace. GRACE: God’s goodness that is free of charge, no strings attached, on the house; the riches of God that scream to be abused; the undeserved favor of God that cannot be defined or captured by words; the unconditional love of God that is so often spurned; the acceptance of God that may or may not be accepted.
In a world of un-grace, where you hear: “no free lunch, you get what you deserve, earn your respect” … we can tend to parent the same. But God doesn’t parent that way – He is radically different… He parents with far less control that I exert, and with much more free will than I extend, and is perfectly consistent with the consequences. He considers the actions of his children, but they never dictate his response. He operates full of both grace and truth. Have you ever had a person extend that much grace to you? If so, how did you react? How will you respond to such grace from God right now?
People like Oprah and Dr. Phil are mainstreaming the idea that we cannot truly forgive anyone else unless we first forgive ourselves. We have all tried to apologize to someone only to have them refuse it. I have longed to say that I’m sorry after it’s too late and they’re gone. I know what it’s like to need to hear that I’m forgiven and to never have the satisfaction. And that’s why I can’t stop punishing myself for my mistakes.
The reason that it’s so hard to forgive yourself is because it’s impossible! You and I can’t set ourselves free—no more than a prisoner can will himself outside of the bars and razor-wire. Freedom must come from a higher authority—from God. The Bible never mentions forgiving yourself. Not one time. Our need is forgiveness, but not the kind you can give yourself… but the freedom that God gives.
Jesus also told the story of a servant who owed the king $15 million—but was totally forgiven. He could not repay, yet due to the kindness of the King, he would not have to! This servant then went out found a fellow-servant, grabbed him by the throat, and demanded $5,000 from him. Since the debtor could not repay, he was cast into prison. When the King heard the news, He demanded that his servant be brought to Him. Since this man received grace and forgiveness, yet could not grant the same, he would be judged.
You and I have been totally forgiven. Our sins have been paid for. That’s why Jesus Christ died on the cross—to suffer the punishment that you and I deserve. Just like He accepted the blame so that we would not have to, we must accept what He did as the payment for our sins. I met a man a few months ago that told me he was good enough to get to heaven. It shocked me! He said that he was a good man—better than most — and that he thought that was enough. I asked him, “If we can be good enough to get to Heaven, then why did Jesus have to die?” He replied, “That’s easy, for the bad ones.” What he was saying was that he did not need (nor accept) what Jesus did for him. He did not want God’s charity. Until we experience God’s forgiveness, we will never be able to forgive those who hurt us.
To forgive someone is to set them free.
We set them free of the penalty and debt that they owe us. When you have been wronged, something has been taken from you, someone has damaged you, injured you, or taken advantage of you—the greatest thing you will ever do is to let go. To forgive. To set them free. It’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Even though we know it’s the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean we will—sometimes I want to forgive and feel like I can’t! It’s not just a switch that I can flip and just, poof, there it is. It’s not that easy, and God knows that! He understands, that’s why He always links your decision to forgive another to a motivator (blessing) or a consequence (curse).
For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses. –Jesus
The funny thing about forgiveness is that it doesn’t just set them free, it sets you free, too. It frees you from the acid of resentment. It allows the wound to begin healing. When you forgive, you release yourself from negative emotions that will hold you hostage. The Bible is very clear about how bitterness will continue to cut and hurt your spirit (Hebrews 12:15). But that’s not all… the Scriptures teach that if the grudge isn’t dealt with, it’s toxins will leak out of our lives and ruin those closest to us.
Who is it that you’re letting hold you back? What grudge is it that’s keeping you stuck? Is there a tiny measure of bitterness you’re not letting go of because to do so would violate your strong sense of justice (or maybe even vengeance) for that person?
Let’s BOUNCE BACK
Take a minute and process back through those questions again, jotting down any event or person that comes to your mind. Next, doodle a cage (like a birdcage or a prison door) NEXT to the name of the offender or the wounding event. It’s a symbol that you are setting them free from your resentment …and thereby setting yourself free, too! It will be a reminder to your future self that you’ve already set them free, you can’t be locking them up again just because you’re having a bad day. See why it’s so important? So if you didn’t do it yet, what are you waiting for?