They didn’t tell us in seminary that the most useful gift in the ministry would be forgiveness. If they had, I doubt we would have believed it. Like so many others, we entered the world of church ministry with the illusion that there would be little time for hurt and disappointment or offense. We were excited at the prospect of working with Christian people who were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, and we harbored the illusion that the rest of our lives would be filled with positive answers to prayer and people who would appreciate their pastor.
I know now why on the evening after Jesus’ resurrection, He passed through the locked doors of the upper room to give his disciples a gift that would determine their future. After he “blew them out of the saddle” by appearing to them in person putting an end to the rumors and vindicating Mary Magdalene’s sanity, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven and if you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)
Having been their pastor for three years, Jesus probably knew that there would be no group of disciples let alone a church to come back to unless He quickly imparted to them the most powerful gift in God’s arsenal of spiritual weapons, the authority and power to forgive. Without this power, in fact, they probably wouldn’t even be around for Pentecost. With this power also came the responsibility to use it as they had seen Him use it.
They had watched Jesus forgive the sins of common people and rulers. His forgiveness also carried with it so much life that the sick and crippled were healed and the dead were raised. They saw Him forgive the heinous sins of prostitutes and tax collectors dishing out big helpings of forgiveness to people who clearly did not deserve a second look from God. John had just seen Jesus dispense this gift in the very worst situation imaginable. He watched Jesus forgive the Roman soldiers and the angry mob of Pharisees standing at the foot of the cross as He gasped for His last few breaths of life.
The breath that Jesus imparted to them in the upper room was the key that unlocks all the power and graces of the Kingdom of Heaven to men. I believe that all of us have probably underestimated the importance and power of forgiveness. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard anyone pray to be endued with this gift, not like tongues or healing or prophecy or the ability to preach powerfully or grow a ministry or evangelize the world. And yet the ability to forgive was the first impartation Jesus gave His disciples. I believe it is the mark of a true Christian, and He wants to give it to everyone for it is the secret of true happiness and contentment.
I don’t ever want my “forgiver” to be worn out again as it was before ’94. Eighteen years of ministering to Christians had left me breathless under a heavy load of sins against me that I needed to forgive, but I didn’t know it until the load was gone. As I soaked in breath after breath of Jesus’ presence, I found it easier and easier to forgive. It wasn’t long before I found myself expecting to see the goodness of God in my life. I became more fully endued with my Heavenly Father’s DNA which included the power to forgive.
As you read the articles in this issue of Spread the Fire, may the Lord breathe into you the power to let go of the past.
In this issue Dr. R.T. Kendall shares seven tests that let you know when you’ve truly forgiven, John Arnott explains why forgiveness is the center of the gospel, Heather Jackson openly shares her greatest challenge to forgiveness and how she broke through. Nancy Magiera also shares how forgiveness brought her family their greatest victory. So if your “forgiver” is worn out, breathe deeply and read on.