SETTING A PRISONER FREE
If you’ve experienced the bitter sting of unforgiveness at some point in your life, you are not alone. Betrayal, harsh words and failed promises leave painful cavernous aches and indelible footprints on our soul. Even at our best attempts to forgive, past emotions trigger, causing us to squirm all over again, leaving us beaten, losing all hope. Admittedly, it is an art easier spoken than done and one that takes the longest to master.
In my own life, there have been several moments where I have been summoned by the Lord to do the hard work of reconciliation. I recall one time when I was deeply offended by a member in ministry. He accused me of things I had not said and he carelessly gossiped about it in our community. Being a young person in ministry, that wound ran deep, altering my confidence to serve God in a community where love was withdrawn.
Each day, my lament consisted of long confessions as I surrendered in prayer the person with whom my soul rivalled. Verbal exchanges began to surface, stinging at my soul, resisting my decision to forgive. The more I uttered the word ‘forgive’, the less it seemed to become a reality.
I had forgiven in my head but had difficulty loving with my heart.
The Prison of Unforgiveness
Over the weeks, as I wrestled with hurt and the underlying undercurrent of unforgiveness I bumped into a very familiar passage in the book of Matthew. This time, it shone with different light. The words were loud: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24)
There is an old adage that says “Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free only to know that the prisoner is you”. That afternoon, the key to my freedom lay in that one line in Matthew’s Gospel. If your brother or sister – not you (Matthew 5:23).
My heart sank. The journey to the freedom I longed for began with me? As I gathered my thoughts, soaking in Matthew’s words I opened my heart painfully and accepted my responsibility as a ‘prisoner’ who had withheld Grace from the one who had withheld love. The Lord was waiting to set me free. All He needed was my ‘yes’.
Over the weekend as I prepared myself to approach my offender, songs of deliverance began to well up within me. I was nervous and excited. The meeting finally arrived and concluded with confession, forgiveness and a warm embrace and I walked out of that room – a free person. The prison cell was flung open as I embraced the Peace of God and made peace with my neighbour. That day, I learnt a valuable truth: the unforgiving spirit had enslaved not just my offender, it had also enslaved me.
I had a choice: the choice to be enslaved or free.
The Choice to Forgive
It is no secret that forgiveness is at the very heart of Christianity. When we choose to forgive, we imitate the One who has forgiven us for debts we can never repay. In our vicious desire for vindication, we only resemble the servant in Matthew’s Gospel who though forgiven a large debt, handed over his debtor of a very small amount to prison, to be punished.
In Mathew 18:21, Peter had asked Jesus, ‘how many times shall we forgive’ and Jesus had poignantly pointed him inward, the place of our victory: the human heart. How many times does the human heart fall short of God’s glory? How many times is it forgiven? When we lift our eyes from our offender to the hills where our Deliverer resides, we recognise the price that was paid to restore the human heart from all the chains that bind it in sin.
When we choose to withhold blessing our offender deserves, we only strip ourselves of the blessings that can rightfully be ours when we release the “prisoner” from his chains.
Friend, we can never repay God for our sins, but we can choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It is first and foremost the choice of our own freedom. If we are driven by how we feel, we will never truly be free but if we are driven by new mercies each morning (Lamentations 3:22), we will discover the goodness of God as He lets His sun shine on both the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).
This Lent, perhaps one of the most crucial questions you will ever ask yourself is – don’t I want to be free? Don’t I want to live the abundant life Christ died to give me? Don’t I want to carry my Cross?
In following the trail of Calvary, we are offered just that – the divine opportunity to be freed by Grace and the opportunity to become channels of this Grace to a world festering in unforgiveness. There is a voice that echoes from the lonely hill of betrayal “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” – This is the Voice that calls you today, the voice that teaches us that it is the only surest way for a prisoner to return home.