The Healing Power of Forgiveness
In his sovereignty, God has a unique way of highlighting areas in one’s life that require attention. Often as a child comes to a parent and asks for something, the parent will readily comply if it is for the child’s overall good. Other times, when the child asks, the parent may make it conditional: “Yes, you may, when you tidy your room.” It seems there is a parallel here in how God sometimes answers our prayers. He sometimes has a “tidy your room” response to our requests for healing, deliverance, or provision. God uses various disciplines in applying His correction to our lives.
During my 60 years as a global minister, I have witnessed some spectacular and inspiring events that showcase the supernatural power of God. One tour of eight weeks at a venue on the edge of one of the largest and most productive palm oil plantations in Asia was no exception.
God Inhabits the Praise of His People
As we entered the wooden structure that had a corrugated iron roof and long parallel strings of electric light bulbs, a large group of men, standing with raised hands, lost in praise to God, came into focus. The preseminar volume of sound coming from the worship service sounded more like seven thousand than seven hundred voices. Their worship had a richness and depth that seemed to transform a jungle shed into a veritable holy place—so in contrast to much of the Western style of worship to which many have become accustomed.
For the past week, these pastors had been traveling considerable distances by bus, train, bicycle, motorbike, and walking—some for days—to arrive on time for the meetings. The atmosphere of expectancy was obvious and filled the building. These beautiful Christian believers gave leadership to their small churches throughout their vast country. Although not all educated by Western standards, or even possessing a seminary degree, they had learned a great lesson. They had experienced the difference between searching to receive the Holy Spirit’s anointing for their lives and releasing that anointing in their praise and worship from their lives.
Although it was just past 8 a.m., it was as though everyone had been there for hours. The first teaching session lasted until noon, at which time an army of local ladies provided lunch (The aroma of exotic Asian food is beyond my ability to describe!), and the afternoon session occupied another four hours.
The Free Flow of Forgiveness
Before I went to the platform to teach, I was introduced to several rows of senior pastors. One pastor was seated with his wife directly in front of the lectern, and on either side of him were two well-worn aluminum crutches. This dear saint of God, who was probably in his late sixties, was in fact a pastor to the pastors—his ministry family. In addition to his church-planting activities, he had established a number of sizable orphanages and children’s homes. Though still very active in ministry, this pastor, in the past few years, had become a paraplegic and was not able to move from the waist down.
After a warm and extended time of greeting—made possible by my everpresent interpreter—the welcoming was over, and the teaching began. I developed the seminar’s final point, the significant issue of forgiveness: our willingness for forgiveness to flow from us to others, without resistance. Many Scriptures reinforced the necessity of forgiving, such as Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is not only something we receive but also something we give.
God forgave us totally, completely, and forever. He gave us 100 percent forgiveness for our every sin when we were washed in the blood of Christ. Our sin was not covered, as in the old covenant with the sacrifice of bulls and goats. Instead, our sin was removed; it was taken away. In the new covenant under Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.” In His divine love and mercy, God forgave us. Paul instructed the Ephesians to forgive even as God in Christ forgave us. That is divine forgiveness.
Our human nature seems inadequate to accomplish this. But as new creatures in Christ Jesus, we “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1b). We walk in the power of His resurrection, and we are empowered to forgive others in the strength of our divine nature, which is adequate and will succeed.
As the final moments of the seminar began to draw to a close, there were still a few more verses I wanted to leave with this great group. Jesus taught His disciples to resolve differences quickly with their brothers so that their offering would be acceptable to God (Matthew 5:21-26). In his relationship with God, David learned a life lesson well when he said: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). David makes a significant statement. Whatever “iniquity” lurks un-confessed in a believer’s spirit, will inhibit, or more strongly, stop the free flow of communication with God.
I clearly made the point to the pastors that, as mature believers, we have a command and responsibility to forgive. Period! As we have been forgiven, we must forgive others! Someone has rightly said that unforgiveness is like holding a loaded gun at your own head, pulling the trigger, and expecting the other person to drop dead, or drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die. As believers, our improper response to someone who wrongs us means we also ask for his or her forgiveness. Often when people sense the Spirit of Christ in our actions toward them, they will apologize.
Taking a Stand
Shortly before the end of the session, something unusual began to happen. The senior pastor who had the two aluminum crutches began to move his hands forward and backward slowly on his thighs. When his wife tried to hold his arm steady so he would not disturb the closing moments, he vigorously declined her gesture. I was about to close in prayer when he began to reach for the back of the bench with one hand and push on the seat with the other. Within a few seconds, he was struggling to stand on his feet. Timidly, and with great effort, this spiritual giant hauled his feeble frame to full stature. His body was weaving to and fro over legs that looked like they were inadequate for the assignment. Slowly, he raised one foot for just a second only inches from the floor and then the other. Every eye in the room was on their spiritual father.
Five minutes later, his feeble legs were lifting his feet higher and faster and he began taking baby steps while his family of pastors began to stand and praise God. His baby-like steps lengthened and quickened as he rounded the first corner of a bench and headed down the side of the auditorium. The eight-hour seminar was momentarily forgotten as the audience erupted in praise and worship. They applauded, cried, and hugged each other as they crowded around a man who had been a paraplegic for many years.
What was the catalyst to produce such a spontaneous miracle without even a prayer? Later at dinner this pastor related the process that had triggered such a notable miracle.
The story began several years earlier. Considering the sizable work that God had allowed him to develop—churches, orphanages, and children’s homes––, the pastor had wanted to train a younger man who would ultimately release him from his heavy load of ministry. The plan called for several years of training with the senior pastor before the reins would be passed to him. The young man was said to be a model trainee and very spiritual. He was thought to operate with integrity, was liked by everyone, and eventually was on the verge of appointment.
Providentially, a document came into the pastor’s hands that indicated some impropriety by the younger man. Upon investigation, the senior pastor found that during the lengthy training period, the young man had embezzled all of the ministry’s properties by making a false conveyance of them into his own name and forging the senior pastor’s signature. Many altercations resulted from these actions, and the pastor was greatly disturbed. A few months later, he became ill, and the infirmities resulted in his paraplegic condition.
At the seminar when the pastor heard the message of forgiveness, he sensed the Holy Spirit moving on him. He felt he was being led to ask the young man for his forgiveness. By this he meant that he would go to the young man and ask him to forgive him for how he had behaved as a believer and senior pastor in the past turmoil, regardless of the young man’s actions.
Moments after committing to this plan of reconciliation, he began to sense slight vibrations and tingling deep in the center of his legs and hips. It was as though he felt new warmth, and it seemed to him that his blood was flowing quickly in a new way through his arteries. He was then confident to try and support himself in an effort to stand. And stand he did!
A Final Chapter of Health
For a number of years, my ministry schedule brought us back to this pastor’s district. He would always recall the miracle moment that changed his life. He spoke of realizing the consequence of the words of his mouth at the time of the conflict and how the attitude of unforgiveness in his heart had injured his spirit. This behavior had hindered his walk in fellowship with God, which left him open and vulnerable to becoming paralyzed. He recognized that reversing those issues and reconciling with the brother brought his deliverance.
Several years later, while I was traveling between airports in the former paraplegic pastor’s country, I heard my name called. As I stopped with surprise and looked around the busy airport, a man was running toward me. He introduced himself as the airport administrator and the son of the former paraplegic pastor. He completed the final chapter in the pastor’s story for me.
At an old age, his father had recently passed away but without any debilitating sickness. His paraplegic condition never reoccurred, and until his death, he never again used even a walking cane.
The lesson of this prince of pastors is one I trust I will always remember. Two references from the Old Testament express it well:
“But the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Prov. 12:18).
“...good news gives health to the bones” (Prov. 15:30b).