The Obstacle of Unforgiveness in Our Spiritual Lives

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Read Matthew 6:14–15; Luke 6:37

Throughout my many years as a spiritual formation pastor and spiritual guide, I have found the most frequent obstacle preventing forward movement in a person’s spiritual journey is unforgiveness. (By the way, I just learned “unforgiveness” is not a word; that the negative noun form of forgive is “unforgivingness.” I think I’ll stick to “unforgiveness.”) It may not be the most difficult obstacle to overcome, but it is one of the most common. This is true for a combination of three reasons:

the frequency with which broken people mistreat us and require our forgiveness; the common misunderstandings people have about what forgiveness is and is not; and the reality that people rarely forgive completely; usually finding a way to forgive the other person for their actions but not for the resulting pain and consequences that their actions have brought to their lives.

Yet the Bible consistently calls for us to forgive one another. Our Scripture readings for today are just an example; there are others that appear even more emphatic. Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness to Peter in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew which contains an unsettling ending to the story about a person forgiven who refused to forgive another for a smaller offense.

“Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matt. 18:32–35 NLT)

It’s not that God is lurking over us, waiting to hammer us if we get this forgiveness thing wrong. It’s that he knows rather than our receiving the abundant life and transformation into Christlikeness that he so desires for us, we will experience the imprisonment and torture of bitterness if we fail to forgive as he has forgiven us.

Closing Exercise

Pray the “show-me” prayer: “Lord, show me if there is any unforgiveness in me. Show me who I need to forgive so that I might be free to experience your transforming grace and mercy in my life. Help me to trust that you can empower me to forgive beyond what I’ve been able to do so far. Amen.”

Do you hunger for more—more from life, more from yourself, more from God? So many people in our churches have not regularly experienced good news, comfort, wholeness, freedom, joyous energy, or beauty. So many have stalled in becoming who God intends them to be. Perhaps you, those you love, or those you lead feel this way. The Experience: Breaking Through the Barriers That Block Spiritual Growth is a short tool that provides a clear map of the abundant living journey, the obstacles that prevent progress, and offers fresh fuel for moving forward once again. Get it from our store here.

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After more than a decade in engineering and business—and running from a call to ministry he received in high school—Rob Mehner was hired as an associate by a local church to help with their exponential growth. While working in that church, he received his master of divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and was ordained in the United Methodist Church. But it was the work of God through the Holy Spirit, after years of spiritual stagnation, that changed his life, empowered his call, and inspired the class that God has used to change many lives and from which this study is born. Rob and his wife, Kristy, have two adult children, Stefan and Casey. After twenty years of pastoral ministry in local churches, he is serving as a missionary in Guatemala.

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