5 Steps to Forgiving Others

Forgiving those who’ve hurt us is hard work. Use these 5 steps to extend grace and mercy to those who’ve done you wrong.

5 Steps to Forgiving, even when you don't feel like it

5  Steps to Forgiving Others

You can’t give something you don’t have. The first step to forgiving others is experiencing God’s forgiveness yourself.

1. RECEIVE forgiveness from God.

If you skipped 4 A’s of Repentance, you need to go back and do that first. If you are following your prayer guide, this order is built into the process. We are using the Lord’s Prayer as our example. In it, Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts” before He says, “as we forgive our debtors”. 

Receiving and extending forgiveness are so intricately entwined they cannot be separated. Check out the very next words of Jesus after He finishes teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.

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.
~ Matthew 6:14-15

So, forgiving and being forgiven are two sides of the same coin. We can’t do one without the other. God’s grace is meant to flow through us so completely that we can’t help but overflow and splash His grace all over everyone around us. Every person we interact with should be sitting in the “Splash Zone” of mercy and grace pouring from us. If that’s not true of us, then maybe we aren’t fully appreciating the debts Jesus has paid for us.

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’
~ John 7:38

PRAYER: Lord, I need to receive your forgiveness first and then share your grace with others.  I can’t give what I don’t possess.  Make me a conduit of your grace as you fill me with mercy from you, through me, to everyone around me. Don’t let me clog your river of forgiveness, receiving without passing it on thus bringing the torture of my own lack of mercy upon myself (Mt 18:21-35)

2. Own your RESPONSIBILITY to forgive others.

You may find this surprising or distasteful, but the responsibility to initiate reconciliation is on you whether you are the offender or the one offended. Read this verse carefully.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
~ Mark 11:25

Notice this verse doesn’t say anything about waiting for the person who wronged you to admit their mistake, correct their wrong, or even say they’re sorry. It just says that when you remember you’re holding a grudge against someone, let it go.

Like when you realize you’ve been holding your breath without meaning to, just exhale the toxins building inside of you and breathe in the fresh air of God’s grace.

PRAYER: Father God, I own my responsibility to forgive others. I’m tired of making excuses for hanging on to my resentment. The only one I’m hurting is myself. I’m not going to wait for the other person to get her act together before I extend forgiveness. I choose to forgive today because I choose freedom now.

3.  Embrace freedom when you RELEASE your resentment and forgive the offender.

Let go of your “right” to be angry. Relaxed your fists that are clenched around your own bitterness so you can be free.

Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you.
~ Hebrews 12:15b

Many are familiar with Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Some people take this literally and will not sleep until they work through an argument with their spouse. There is a time when that is appropriate. If only all issues could be worked out in a single day!  

Sometimes, we are able to think more clearly and with less drama if we sleep on it and start again fresh the next day. The point of the verse is that it’s not healthy (relationally, physically, or spiritually) to hold on to anger any longer than is necessary. The exact timing of the sunset is irrelevant.

Anger itself is an important emotion that tells us something is wrong, but if we let it get out of hand or control us, then we are moving into the danger zone. The first half of Ephesians 4:26 tells us not to allow anger to push us over the line into sin.

Forgiveness is the door to freedom. God’s Truth will set you free.  Get God’s perspective on your pain, the situation, and the other person.  Our assessments are skewed by our own biases.  

Only God’s assessment is the Truth that can free you. He sees the hurt the other person is carrying. We are often only aware of our own. Let Him share His compassion with you for the person you are struggling to forgive.

Relinquish negative thoughts and emotions that are destructive and eat you up from the inside out.  Drop your desire for revenge.  God sees everything and He will set all things right in the end. Allow him to do that for you.  Remember David and King Saul? David refused to kill the guy who was trying to kill him, even when the opportunity was thrown in his lap. He bravely left his situation for God to sort out and judge. (If you’re not familiar with this story, read 1 Samuel 24. It’s a short read and an entertaining and insightful narrative.)

PRAYER: Lord, show me what areas of my life need to be cleansed through forgiveness. Reveal the secret places of my heart where  I am harboring resentment, holding a grudge, or nursing bitterness. Help me let it go and give it over to you.  I’m tired of carrying my burden of unforgiveness. It weighs me down more than I realize, sucking joy from my life and draining my energy.  

My fists have been clenched so tightly around my pain for so long, I’ve forgotten how to let go. Help me set it down, Jesus. Take it from me. Release me from the grip of my past. Don’t let it hold me back or choke my spirit anymore. I want to feel light and free again as I did before this elephant sat on my chest. I want to cling to you more than I want to keep holding my hurt. Sometimes, I don’t know where to begin. Please help me.

Pause with an openness to whatever God lays on your heart or brings to your mind.  

See also: Finding Freedom in Forgiveness

Forgiving those who hurt us is hard. Use these five steps to help you through the process.

4. REMEMBER to PRAY for those who hurt or offended you.

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. . . “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! . . . Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”
~ Luke 6:27-28, 32, 35-36

As Will Bowen says, “Hurt people hurt people.”  Often the people who cause others pain in life have unhealed hurts and unresolved pain in their own life. Jesus knows their pain as intimately as He knows ours. Allow Him to soften your heart with His compassion.

Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:10-11

Inciting bitterness against each other is a tactic of the devil. Let’s not play along with his schemes by holding on to bitterness. Don’t be fooled. He’s trying to outwit us and keep us fighting against each other so we don’t fight back against him.

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
~ Ephesians 6:11-12, NLT

People are never our real enemies; the devil and his demons are who we should be resisting. WeI have an enemy, but it’s not any person.

PRAYER:  Lord, I intercede on behalf of the person who hurt me. It’s hard to stay angry at someone I am praying for.  Show me how you see them. Give me an increased sensitivity and compassion for the person. I pray that you would bless them and enable them to turn their hurts over to you and find healing.

See Also: You Want Me to Love Who?

5. FORGIVE AGAIN as often as the memory returns and continues to be painful.

Sometimes forgiveness must be accomplished in layers.  There have been plenty of times where I thought I had forgiven a person and moved on, but then something triggers the pain to resurface and I need to forgive again.   Sometimes new information about an old event is learned and I realize there is more to forgive.  I need to forgive at a deeper level.

Sometimes new information about an old event is learned and I realize there is more to forgive.  I need to forgive at a deeper level.

Other times, the same person repeatedly hurts me in the same way. In times like these, it helps to remember how often we fail when we are trying to overcome our own faults. We don’t have the same snares, so what’s easy for one of us to get right can be very difficult for someone else, and vice versa.

Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.
~ Luke 17:3-4 (MSG)

PRAYER: Lord, here I am again, stuck in this same place of pain. The memories attack. New information stings. Other unrelated happenings trigger the hurt. The person does it AGAIN! Really? It feels like sandpaper scraping my wounds.

You are the Only Source of forgiveness and healing, so I run to You; again and again and again and as many times as I need to. You will never turn me away, You will always wrap me in your arms and whisper your relentless love over me. Help me let go of all that is not You so that I may embrace more of You.

When I mention forgiving others, who pops into your mind first? Have you forgiven him or her? Or are you still chained by what he did or what she said or what they didn’t do? Maybe you did forgive, but you sense the need to keep on forgiving. So what’s stopping you?

Unforgiveness is a heavy burden. You don’t have to carry it another step. Pray these prayers with me and let’s lay it down.

Give others the gift of a blank page. Love keeps no record of wrongs. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:5

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