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How Forgiveness Can Turn Into A Battle of the Wills...and what to do about it!

I imagine you have heard the saying “forgive and forget.” It sounds easy, doesn’t it? If we are truthful with ourselves and with others, we have to admit that it’s not easy at all. There is often a battle to forgive that happens between obedience to God and our will.

Joseph – Sold to Save

Have you ever sat and pondered the life of Joseph?

Joseph was a typical teenager

A bit full of himself

Believes he is invincible

Dreaming about a future

Prone to braggin

As with many children Joseph had siblings. And as with many families there was massive sibling squabbles and favoritism. In fact, Joseph’s brothers have no doubt that he is the favored son.

In the mist of the squabbles and favoritism Joseph’s brothers come up with a plan to teach the dreamer, Joseph, a lesson in humility. In the midst of this plan lurks a plot that takes sibling rivalry to a whole new level. The brothers throw Joseph into a pit and then sell him into slavery. If you think that your kids do not get along, take a good look at this family!

Joseph was:

Rejected by his brothers

Sold into captivity

Letting go of his dreams with every step


I think that we can safely say that fear and anger burned within Joseph as he traveled toward Egypt and an unknown future. I have little doubt that Joseph made vows and judgments against his brothers, and maybe even his father, as he moved further and further from his homeland and into bondage.

Here is this young boy, rejected, sold and hauled into slavery. We have to remember that he didn’t know the end of the story. Joseph had to live the story. I’d say it is safe to assume that fear and anger burned against his brothers. And, many would say that he had every right to plot and plan revenge.

Although Scripture does not state specifically that Joseph struggled with unforgiveness, we know he was human, just like us. When unforgiveness is given opportunity to grab hold of our lives there is impact.

9 Possible Side-effects of Unforgiveness



Loss of Relationship(s)


Increased Stress

Physical Issues/Sickness



Trouble Sleeping

And more…

But God…

When we allow God to enter the scene, everything changes. Somewhere in Joseph’s journey, he allowed God to heal his heart. The way Joseph worked through his challenges becomes evident years later when he sees his brothers and he tells them that what they meant for evil God intended for good.

It’s so difficult to understand why God would allow Joseph to walk through everything that he walked through. We have to assume that in the formative years before Joseph was sold into slavery, a strong foundation had been laid. It was on this foundation that Joseph landed. And on this foundation, he left the blame and pain.

By the time Joseph’s brothers appeared in Egypt, Joseph was in a position of authority where he could have had them executed. Yet, Joseph poured out mercy instead of judgment, which is something that God does for you and me over and over.

A concise and simplified definition of forgiveness is to let go of past grudges or anger against a person. That person is often someone else; however, there are times when we need to forgive ourselves.

Forgiving Ourselves

Paul, who penned a good portion of the New Testament, had persecuted the church. At the time, he thought it was the right things to do. However, after a radical encounter with Jesus Christ, his whole life was turned around. He could not undo his past, but he could let go of it to move into his future. Often, we don’t realize that we are harder on ourselves than God is. If you have repented and confessed to God, you are forgiven by Him. If the God of the Universe has declared that you are forgiven, then it is time to forgive yourself. God removes our sins as far as the east from the west and remembers them no more.

4 Keys to Forgiving Yourself:

Repent and confess to God, ask for His forgiveness

KNOW that He is faithful and will forgive you

Ask Him to help you forgive yourself

Do not go by your feelings – stand on the promises of God

God is for us and not against us! Therefore, we can walk in the knowledge that because He has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves. It is impossible to walk into all God has called us to do if we are harboring unforgiveness toward ourselves.

Also, we are reminded that because God had mercy on us and extended His forgiveness to us, we need to forgive the person who wounded us. Had Joseph had the New Testament in front of him, I do not doubt that Colossians 3:13 would have spoken into his struggle to forgive his brothers and others who forgot him or falsely accused him.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

A huge challenge with forgiveness is that we don’t understand what it is, and what it is not, from God’s perspective.

Forgiveness is not approving of what they did; the wrong was committed.

I doubt that God approved of Joseph’s brothers throwing him into the pit, much less selling him into slavery. Joseph never had to say that he approved of their actions. However, he did have to release the situation to God and trust God to turn the bitter into sweet.

Forgiveness does not mean that we excuse away the wrong.

Joseph should not be expected to excuse what they did. Wrong is wrong, and he clearly states that their evil plot was just that, evil. I imagine that even as he confronted his brothers, the pain and the bitterness were gone because he had decided to trust God and see from Heaven’s perspective. That decision opened the door for many to be saved rather than to die from hunger.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting

If you read through the story of Joseph, you will find that he never forgot what they did. Forgiveness and forgetting are not the same things. While we are likely to overlook small offenses, the huge ones are with us to stay. We are not called to go into denial or to repress what happened. However, as we ask for God’s help to forgive, God removes the pain and bitterness from the memory of the event, and it loses its punch.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation

In Joseph’s case, he was reconciled to his brothers. God wove a horrible family story into a blessing that saved both the Israelite and Egyptian people. Next time you read the account of Joseph, read it from Joseph’s standpoint. Read it from a place of not knowing the ending. Allow yourself to ask the questions and wrestle through the feelings. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself and the power of our God.

Although Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, reconciliation is not the litmus test for forgiveness. There are horrific situations where there cannot and should not be reconciliation. Forgiveness is a gift that we give. It is totally up to us. However, it also doesn’t mean that we walk back into a dangerous or unhealthy situation. Reconciliation is based on trust. While forgiveness is a gift, trust is earned.

“Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. In other cases, reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, forgiveness is possible – even if reconciliation isn’t.”

Forgiveness is a gift.

Forgiveness takes the one who was wounded, joining hands with God to forgive another individual, whether or not they deserve it. In fact, we can forgive them even if they don’t acknowledge the wrong or ask for forgiveness. It is all up to the individual who was wounded. However, trust is another issue. Trust is earned and built over time.

As we journey through this thing called life, there are times when I think we grab a luggage cart, keep piling on the offenses, and drag them around with us. However, God calls us to travel light. When we do things His way, the burden is light. Even the psychological community has recognized the power of forgiveness.

“Whether you’ve suffered a minor slight or a major grievance, learning to forgive those who hurt you can significantly improve both psychological well-being and physical health.”

Forgiveness is a process

As we walk through the process of forgiveness, it is vital to remember that it is a process. There are no shortcuts, and there cannot be any excuses. It is a journey through which we will not only find freedom, but we will grow tremendously in the Lord because we are obedient to Him.

Forgiveness is not based on feelings.

There is a common misperception that we have to feel like forgiving to be able to forgive. Feelings are a wonderful gift from God; however, there are times when we put our feelings over obedience to God. We can be assured that when we are obedient to God, He will come alongside us and help our feelings catch up. Obedience to God and His Word must always come first.

I’ve had people share horror stories with me. People have been through things that no one should have to experience or endure. And, some people are physically marked for life (apart from a miracle) from these events. However, that cannot become an excuse or reason not to forgive. For some, the pain is so deep that they cannot go directly into forgiveness. For others, the anger and bitterness have become perceived as a form of protection. As I listen to their hearts, God showed me how willing He is to help them. I often find myself asking them if they would be willing to permit God to help them get to the point where they can forgive. I have seen God’s faithfulness in the process. In essence, He grabs hold of them and assures them that He will walk with them. Hand in hand they move toward forgiveness. And, they ultimately reach a moment when the chains of unforgiveness go crashing to the ground.

Forgiveness set’s us free

As much as we want to get free from the one that has deeply hurt us and as justified as we feel in the offense, we run into a problem. Choosing to live in unforgiveness is the same as remaining chained to the other person. Unforgiveness holds us in bondage and has the potential to become an entry point for the demonic.

It is also difficult with repeat offenders. Do you have one of those in your life? In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus a significant question. He asks Him how many times he has to forgive and throws out a number of seven times.

I imagine that Peter believed that he was generous. If that were us today, I can hear us saying that seven is the number of perfection and completeness. However, Jesus was not allowing Peter, nor any of us, to stop at 7. Jesus responded that we were to forgive someone up to 490 times. Before you start keeping a tally of how many times you have forgiven, remember there is more behind Jesus’ response than a math problem. WE have to be obedient to the fullness of the Word of God.

And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey His decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.

6 Things that Forgiveness Does

Deals with the depth and reality of the wound

Does not deny the pain but will deny the pain the right to control our lives

Allows us to grow in grace and mercy

Sets us free from bondage

Closes the doors to the demonic

Paves the way to grow closer to God

So, how do I know if I have forgiven? Our litmus test is the absence of bitterness. All that to say, if you still have bitterness, you are still in the process of forgiving.

Speaking of the process, forgiveness often does not happen in an instant. I have found it to be more of a journey. I join hands with God and begin to walk down the pathway of forgiveness. As we walk along, I get looking around and step in a pothole. The anger and pain of the offense come up again. However, I desire to be obedient to God, so I choose to forgive again. As I forgive, God and I continue our journey. Notice that we didn’t turn back, we kept moving. Eventually, the pathway smooths out; the potholes become less frequent. Sometimes I even see them ahead of time, and God shows me how to avoid them altogether. As we journey along, I am growing, I am learning to reflect the heart of God. The chains are lying along the path behind me as they cannot move without my help. In time I find myself able to run with the Lord unhindered, because I am truly free.

Are you ready to venture into the realm of forgiveness God’s way? If so, pray the prayer below and begin the journey. And remember, it’s a journey, so your feelings may take time to catch up with your decision to extend forgiveness. And yes, it is okay to pray the prayer over and over. Join hands with our amazing God, who has extended us much grace and mercy. He’s ready to walk right beside you.

5 Steps towards freedom

Recognize that you are struggling to forgive

Ask God to help you come to a point where you are willing to forgive

Make a conscious decision to begin the process of forgiving

Stop the “conversations” in your head

Release the “demand” for an apology

Pray – Tell God that out of obedience to Him, you are forgiving

Ask God to help your feelings catch up

Repeat as often as necessary


Heavenly Father, You have made it clear that You desire healing and freedom for me. And, that healing and freedom only come through forgiveness. Therefore, today I choose to begin the process of forgiving (name). I ask You to take me on a journey to freedom. Teach me through the ups and downs along the way to depend on You. Help me to forgive them just as You have forgiven me. I release the pain, bitterness, and anger to You. And I receive Your grace, mercy, and love.


Pro Tip: When struggling to forgive, pray blessing over the individual (including yourself if you are struggling to forgive yourself) every time you think of them.

Pro Tip: Sign-up for the e-course to dive deeper

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