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Cultivating a Lifestyle of Forgiveness

with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth | March 1, 2007

Inspirational author Nancy Leigh DeMoss, host of the syndicated radio broadcast "Revive Our Hearts", talks today with Dennis Rainey about how to practice the art of forgiveness.

Inspirational author Nancy Leigh DeMoss, host of the syndicated radio broadcast "Revive Our Hearts", talks today with Dennis Rainey about how to practice the art of forgiveness.

Cultivating a Lifestyle of Forgiveness

With Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
|
March 01, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: When God calls us to forgive one another, which is, admittedly, sometimes a difficult thing to do.  We can rest in the knowledge that it is always for our good and for His glory.  Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy: We are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us.  God is all knowing, so He can't forget anything, but when He forgives, He promises never to hold our sins against us again, and we are called to do the same.  Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean that we forget every painful memory, but that can actually be good.  Those memories can help us be tenderhearted and compassionate toward others who hurt.

 There may be a lot of hurt in your past, but if you'll let Him, God can use those memories for His glory.  You may even be able to use those very experiences to help someone else who has been wounded.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Are you in a prison of your own making because there is someone you simply can't forgive?

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I think one of the most remarkable scenes in the Bible has to be the scene at the Crucifixion, where Jesus, on the cross, looks down at those who have just put Him on the cross, and says, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."

 How does somebody do that to men who, just hours before, were mocking you, spitting on you, scourging you, gambling for your clothes, they have no respect for your innocent life, and you look down with grace and compassion.  Talk about something that is supernatural, I just think it's a powerful scene that causes people to pull back and go, "How does somebody do that?"

Dennis: Well, I wouldn't want to profess to know all the reasons how that could take place, Bob, but Jesus knew His Father.  He knew His Father's heart, and ultimately that Father's heart had placed Him there to die on a cross for our sins, and we're told in Scripture that Christ lived an obedient life, and He obeyed the Father, trusted the Father's wisdom, and, in essence, that really is what He's calling us to do when He calls us to forgive other people – the same kind of trust and obedience to Scripture that the Savior displayed as He went to that cross on our behalf.  And we're having a conversation here today with a friend of ours, goes way back in ministry, a good friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, welcome back to the broadcast, Nancy.

Nancy: Thank you, Dennis, and as we're talking about the cross, I'm thinking, you know, the question probably isn't as much how did He do it, it is supernatural to forgive, but what strikes me is the fact that we are here today because He did do it.

Dennis: Yes.

Nancy: And the power of forgiveness is why we are free from our sin.  And so as we think about forgiving others, the question is, how do you do it, how do you do it, but if we could stop to think about the power to release us and others from the chains of guilt and sin, then I think we wouldn't focus so much on how do you do it, but it's worth doing it.

Dennis: No doubt about it.  That voice that you're listening to, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is the voice of "Revive Our Hearts."  A lot of our listeners listen to both broadcasts.  We encourage that, don't we, Bob?

Bob: Yes, we absolutely do.  That's right.

Dennis: Absolutely.

Nancy: And could I just steal the mike a moment to say – I know this isn't about forgiveness, but what a blessing it has been to be partnered with FamilyLife over the years since "Revive Our Hearts" started, and, actually, Dennis, you and Bob were the ones in whose hearts God first put it to have this ministry of Revive Our Hearts, as we're calling women to freedom and fullness and fruitfulness in Christ, and it's been such a privilege to work with your team.  I think some of the Revive Our Hearts listeners may not know that FamilyLife Today actual produces the Revive Our Hearts program, and I'm so thankful for the burden God gave you men and for the privilege of serving together.

Bob: Well, we are both Nancy Leigh DeMoss cheerleaders, and I like listening to "Revive Our Hearts" myself, and have always appreciated your Bible teaching ministry and the impact I've seen it have in the lives of thousands of women all across the country.  So what a great privilege for us to be able to cheer you on and help facilitate that in any way we can.

Dennis: Bob and I are good cheerleaders.

Nancy: You are great cheerleaders, and I'm a big cheerleader of FamilyLife Today.  And, you know, it's because of issues like this that we really share the same heart and speak the same language through the ministry of FamilyLife Today and Revive Our Hearts.  We're calling people to a lifestyle of forgiveness, and it goes radically against our natural bent to forgive.  There's nothing in us that would naturally choose forgiveness.

Dennis: No, we naturally want to collect debts.

Nancy: Yeah, we do.

Dennis: And we want to just keep our hands clutched around those things that have hurt us.  Nancy, when you speak around the country, you actually ask people to hold their hands up?

Nancy: I do.  No heads bowed.  When I'm speaking on the subject of forgiveness, as I almost always do, because I think it's so core to a right walk with God, so I'll be speaking on forgiveness, I'll define it, I'll talk about releasing our debtors, and then I will say, "Okay, now that we've seen what forgiveness is, how many of you would be honest enough to say there are one or more people in my life, past or present, that I have never fully forgiven?"

Dennis: And at that point how many hands go up?

Nancy: I'll ask them to raise their hands – I've asked tens of thousands of women this question, and I would say never less than 80 percent, many times 95 percent or higher.

Dennis: Really?

Nancy: These are women who pay money to come to a Christian Bible teaching conference, and I said, "You know, look at this picture.  The vast majority of us in this room are acknowledging there is some root of unforgiveness or bitterness in our hearts, and yet we're telling the world that we are Christians who have been forgiven by God, and that we want them to believe this Gospel of God's grace and forgiveness," but they live with us.  They see that we're not living it out, so we miss our platform and our credibility to talk about the Gospel, if we are not forgiving people.

Dennis: Nancy, you've now seen this happen thousands of times across the country in terms of number of women who lift their hands at that point.  Why in the world is that taking place?  What's going on there?  Why don't we forgive?

Nancy: I think some people don't know that they could be released from the bonds of unforgiveness and bitterness, and I think some people know the truth.  Many of us do, but we get a perverse sort of joy out of nursing those hurts and maybe don't want to release those offenses and let them go.

 But what we've got to realize is that the consequences of failing to forgive are far greater than any temporary pleasure we could get out of holding that other person hostage.

Bob: You know, I've had occasion where I'm talking to somebody, and they'll describe a hurt, an offense, from another person, and they'll, almost casually, say, "Of course, I've forgiven her," or "I've forgiven him," and just in the way they describe the hurt, I wonder, "Have you really?"  Because you describe it with such detail, such relish, that you wonder if they're just throwing in, "I've forgiven them," because they know they're supposed to.

 One of the things you talk about in the book is how you can diagnose for yourself, "Have I really forgiven another person?"  What are some of the ways you encourage people to examine their own hearts and see, "Have I really forgiven somebody even if – I may say I have, but have I really?"

Nancy: Well, when a woman comes up to me and says, "I have forgiven my husband, but" – or "My ex-husband, but" – and then lists this litany of offenses he has committed, then I think it does beg the question, "Have you really forgiven from your heart as Jesus said we must."

 So we ask, "Do I tend to replay incidents or details of those hurts in my mind?  When I think of that person, do I kind of grit my teeth or get this knot in my stomach or find that I am feeling angry in response?  Or find that I am feeling angry in response?  Do I have a subtle, secret desire to see that person pay for what they did to me?  Do I find myself speaking to other people negatively about that person or rehearsing the ways that they sinned against me?  When that person's name comes up in a conversation, do I find myself more likely to say something negative or to put that person in a negative light?"  And these may be signs that we really haven't fully forgiven, that there's a root of bitterness still in our heart.

Dennis: You tell a story, Nancy, about Margaret Ashmore and a story about her father who forgave someone who had wounded him and really changed the course of his life.

Nancy: Yes, I remember the first time Margaret, who is a women's speaker and a friend of mine, told me this story, and I thought, "This is the heart of forgiveness."  Her parents had a 40-some year marriage, a close marriage, a loving marriage.  Her mom went into the hospital for what they thought was going to be a routine heart procedure.  Through a doctor's error, three hours later her mom died on the operating table.

 And her dad was not only grief-stricken, of course, through the loss of his wife, but was angry, was immediately thinking of how he could take vengeance on the doctor that had caused the death of his wife.

 And there came a time when he called for a meeting – the hospital doctors and administrators gathered together in a room waiting for this man to appear.  He had told them he was going to sue them for all they were worth, and that's what they were expecting. 

 But as he was en route to that meeting, Margaret's dad said the Lord just met with him and showed him, "You cannot hold this against this hospital and these doctors.  The only way you will be free is if you make the choice to forgive."  So he walked into that meeting, and these hospital staff expecting him to be angry and irate, and he said, "I have to forgive you."  And then extended his hand, as I heard the story, to the doctor who had actually made the mistake that caused the death of his wife and said, "I just want you to know that I forgive you."

 Now, nothing could bring that man's wife back, nothing could undo the damage that had been done, but when all those individuals left the hospital that day, the man who had made the mistake had been set free, but also the man who had lost his wife, the man who could have taken vengeance, he was the one who walked out that day a free man.

Dennis: It's interesting that, as you tell that story, you used your hand as an illustration of him reaching out to shake that surgeon or that doctor's hand, because as I've talked about forgiveness over the years, I've spoken of a hand that is clutched around hurt.  Maybe it's infidelity, betrayal, abuse, maybe it's a mean-spirited spouse, perhaps a spouse that is involved in pornography, anger, words that have wounded, maybe it's a family member who is constantly trying to hurt you, trying to get back at you.  But that hand grabs hold of that issue and clutches it tightly until the knuckles, like my hand right now, turn white.

 But forgiveness, as I picture it and as I try to practice it – not perfectly, certainly, but as I try to practice it, means you open the hand, and you let it go.  And I think for a person who has been wounded by someone over a period of years, maybe it was at a point in time, maybe it was a horrific, evil thing, maybe it was a small thing that just changed the course of your life or impacted you greatly – you have to look at it and say, "Open your hand and let go.  Let go of the right that you feel like you have to punish that person and to clutch that hurt, and release," as you said, Nancy, not only the other person but yourself as well.

Nancy: It also means an awareness of my own sinfulness, in the fact that I don't deserve God's mercy.  Think of C.S. Lewis who said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us."  And I cannot be unwilling to open my hand, to extend my hand, to give forgiveness to another person, and then expect that God will forgive me of my sins and my debts against Him, which is why one commentator on the Lord's Prayer, where we pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." 

 One person said to refuse to forgive is really to sing our own death warrant.  Lord, don't forgive me anymore than I've been willing to forgive that person, and we wouldn't want to be in that place.

Bob: You know, we've heard a lot of remarkable stories of forgiveness on FamilyLife Today.  And I think back to an interview we did with Gracia Burnham.  She and her husband, Martin, were missionaries in the Philippines, and they were captured by a radical terrorist group that held them hostage for almost a year. 

 And that hostage situation ended in a gun battle that took Martin Burnham's life, and Gracia was freed in that moment, but she was also faced with a very real challenge, obviously.  Her husband had just been killed.  How was she going to understand that and God's goodness in the midst of that, and how is she going to look on her captors from that moment on?  Would she harbor bitterness in her own heart?

 And I thought it would be good for our listeners just to hear her reflect on that moment when she realized her husband was dead, and she was facing a decision about what her attitude was going to be.

Gracia: (From audiotape.)  When we were sitting down in our hammock to have our rest, Martin had said to me, "Gracia, I don't know why this has happened to us, but Psalm 100 has been just running through my head all day, especially the verse that says 'Serve the Lord with gladness.'"  He said, "This may not seem like serving the Lord, but let's just choose to serve the Lord here, and let's choose to serve Him with gladness."

 And those are the last words he ever said.  Well, we prayed together and lay down.

 [sound of bullets]

 When I didn't hear the languages of the Abusayyaf coming from the river, and when the bullets, you know, there wasn't so much gunfire, and then when I heard the Tagalog from up at the top of the hill, the language the soldiers were using, I started moving my hands just very slowly so someone would know I was alive.  I didn't want them to be startled and shoot me.

 And some soldiers saw me right away and came down the hill and started dragging me up to the ridge, and as they drug me up the hill, I looked back at Martin, and he was white, and that's when I knew he was dead. 

 But, you know, the Lord gave me real grace right then.  We had been praying that we would get out of there and, to be quite honest, we didn't care how anymore.  And right in that moment, I thought, "This is God's answer.  Martin's with Him, and they're going to take care of me."  And I just had a real peace and you know what?  That peace has never left me.  I have a real peace in my heart that this is God's plan, and it is not how I would have planned it.  I would never have had this hostage thing happen in the first place.  And I certainly wouldn't have had it go on for a year.  And I certainly wouldn't have chosen Martin to die.

 But you know what?  God is God, and I'm not the one that does the choosing.  He's the one that does the choosing, and I trust Him, and I trust that He is good.

Bob: That's obviously hard to say.  I mean, it was hard for her to say that, even in that moment, because you look at circumstances and go, "Can this really be good?"  And yet I think of Job, who said, "You know, the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

 It's a decision we have to make.  Do we really have faith that God knows what He's doing?

Dennis: You know, I have a number of questions for God when I get to heaven, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my questions are going to evaporate as soon as I see Him, but on this side of the deal, I've got a few questions, and one of them is when a little girl is sexually abused, a little boy is wrongfully treated by his dad, I know God was there.  I know He is a sovereign God, and I've looked into the eyes of people who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, evil that is beyond comprehension, and I've watched them, Nancy, open their hands and forgive, and I've seen the freedom that comes.

 Undoubtedly, as we're talking today, there are listeners who – maybe they haven't had something that horrific occur, as Gracia Burnham, the murder of her husband or sexual abuse or physical abuse, but perhaps they have been wounded.  Can you lead that person right now toward opening their hands and forgiving another and literally setting themselves free in the process?  Giving up the right of punishment?

Nancy: Well, I think, even as we've been talking, the Holy Spirit has been working in people's hearts and bringing instances to mind, people to mind, situations to mind, and it's not that we don't know that we need to forgive, it really becomes a matter now of saying, "Lord, I trust you enough that I am willing to make the choice to forgive."

 So difficult as it is, as much as I may not understand how this situation ever could have happened, I am willing to do what you have told me to do, and that is to open my hand – I've been clutching this hurt, I've been hanging onto it, I've been clutching this person in my mind's eye, in my memory, in my heart, in my emotions, but I am going to let them go.  I am going to turn that person over to You and ask You, Lord, to deal with them as you know is best, but I am not the judge, I am not the jury, I release them, I let them go.

Dennis: And to that person who Nancy's just been speaking to, I would encourage you maybe right now to lift your hand out in front of you.  As more than symbolic, but go ahead and take a clutched fist and open the hand and say, "I forgive," and then name the person.  Say it again – "I forgive them."  And then take God at His Word that as we forgive others, we also experience His forgiveness, and we experience life, and, as you've said, Nancy, we are the ones who end up being set free.

Bob: And, you know, there may be folks who are listening, Dennis, who would say, "I don't know that I can do that.  It feels risky.  It doesn't feel safe to do that.  I just don't know that I can do that, honestly." 

 Let me encourage you to get a copy of Nancy's book, "Choosing Forgiveness," and prayerfully read through this book.  Read a chapter, and then pray, and then read another chapter, and then pray, and ask God to not only speak to you about what you need to do but to give you the courage and the strength to do what He's called you to.

 We've got copies of the book, "Choosing Forgiveness," in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If you go to our website, FamilyLife.com, there's a red button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen, and if you click that button, it will take you to an area of the website where you can get more information about this book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, other books that we have by Nancy, including your book on surrender, and I've been thinking about the connection, really, between surrendering to what God wants and then choosing to forgive.  These are parallel messages from your ministry and from your life, and any of our listeners who would like to get copies of both of these books, we'll be happy to send along at no additional cost, the CD audio of our conversation on the subject of forgiveness.  You can listen to it again or pass it along to someone who might benefit from hearing this conversation.

 Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen, and you can order these resources from us online, if you'd like, or call 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make sure we get these resources sent out to you as quickly as possible.

 You know, sometimes I think it would be fun at this point in our program to get a list of names of folks who have either gone online or called us and made a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today and say, "We'd like to thank our sponsors today," and then read a few of those names, although most of those folks might be embarrassed because they didn't give with the expectation that their name would be read publicly.  But we really do appreciate the partnership that we have with folks who live on the East Coast and on the West Coast and in the middle of the country, in the North and in the South and all of you who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but are donors to this ministry.

 Our program really is a partnership between this radio station, FamilyLife, and you.  Those of you who help support us with prayer and with your financial resources as well, and we appreciate both of those, and I just want to take a minute and say thanks to those of you pray for us from time to time as God prompts you to do that, and those of you who donate from time to time, again, as the Lord prompts you to make a donation to FamilyLife Today.

 And we want to make sure you know that we don't want you to take away from any giving that you're doing to your local church.  We believe that needs to be your first giving priority.  But, beyond that, as you are able to help with a donation to our ministry, we appreciate your financial support and your partnership with us.

 Now, tomorrow we are going to spend some time wrestling with the question of forgiving someone over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and whether that's really a wise thing to do for you or for them.  We'll talk about this idea of ongoing forgiveness tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us forth.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Kenny Farris, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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