The Key to Happiness
Saturday - June 27th Scripture to Read for Today's Devotional: Ephesians 4:31-32
Today's Selection from our Sermon on the Mount Reading Plan: Matthew 5:38-48
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Forgiveness determines a person's happiness more than any other factor. This conclusion reached by Stanford University researcher and professor, Fred Luskin, echoes much of what Scripture would tell us on the topic of happiness. Research project after research project suggests that forgiveness in one form or another brings the highest sense of satisfaction and meaning in life. Paul understood that research summary when in Ephesians 4:31, he said that we need to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice." When we get rid of this kind of toxic stuff in our hearts, we are set free.
Lewis Smedes catches the heart of what forgiveness does when he says, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner is you." Paul said that the way to be free of bitterness, rage, anger, etc., is to "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). When we forgive others, remembering how God forgave us in Christ, we then find a freedom that we often overlook. We don't understand how our bitterness and unforgiving spirit imprisons us. When it does imprison us, we suffer from a lack of happiness.
So that means we need to proactively look for anything we are harboring in our hearts toward others and seek to release that bitterness through forgiveness we give to them. Many get tripped up on the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. They will not forgive until the other person accepts responsibility for the offense, expresses regret, and then welcomes our forgiveness with a promise to change their behavior moving forward. Forgiveness is a decision we make in our hearts totally separate from what the person we forgive does in any way. You can forgive without a restoration of relationship. After forgiveness, reconciliation can be pursued but is not required for you to forgive.
Research shows that forgiveness, even without reconciliation, brings satisfaction, peace, and happiness. Due to this reality, it is no wonder that Jesus included both being forgiven and forgiving others in His example of prayer for us, The Lord's Prayer. He says that we should pray for God's forgiveness of our sins. When we understand that THE God of all the universe has forgiven us in the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is an incredible release. What grace has been extended to us by our Creator!
Because of that grace shown to us, we should then extend the same grace to those who have wronged us. How could I, as a human being forgiven by The Creator, not forgive another human being? Paul clearly established that the basis of our forgiving others is not how I feel or how wronged I was, but how much God has forgiven me. Again, reconciliation involves much more than forgiveness. Of course, great joy comes when the relationship that was broken is reconciled. But our happiness depends on what we control - how we forgive others.
As you pray each day through the next week, don't rush through the phrase in the Lord's Prayer about being forgiven by God and forgiving others. Stop and thank God for His grace extended to you in the cleansing work of Christ. Take in the whole weight of what that means. The God Who made you has forgiven you! Once you have expressed that gratitude, then think about those toward whom you hold a grudge. Think about those who have wronged or hurt you. Then look at whether or not you have forgiven them in your heart. If you haven't, what you harbor in unforgiveness will become bitterness. Bitterness leads to a decline in your own life happiness.
Confess the pockets of unforgiveness the Spirit of God reveals in your heart. Before the Lord, name the person who offended you. Name what that person did. And then, express to God your forgiveness of him or her.
One of the critical factors determining our happiness is whether we hold grudges and unforgiveness toward others.