Pastor Pat Duffin,
High Prairie Christian Centre
Truth be told, we tend to judge ourselves by a different and gentler standard than the way we judge others. We are extremely good at making excuses for ourselves and minimizing the harm we have done. We also like to assume the injured parties have exaggerated the hurt we have caused.
Therefore, a ruthless, deep moral and spiritual examination of our hearts and history is crucial. The governing word here is a ‘moral’, as opposed to a ‘psychological’ inventory. The root issue is right and wrong, not feelings or personal opinions.
Remember, a half-hearted effort has zero chance of success.
The reconciliation you desire must be based in truth. If you cannot be honest with yourself, then neither can you be honest with anyone else. To get real results your self-assessment must be rooted, not wishful thinking. Without truth, all your ‘godly sorrow’ and apparent change of heart are only self-delusion.
Take your time, and prayerfully do it right. [Proverbs 28:13]
Talk to others who have done this exercise, or with a pastor who understands what you are trying to do. [Proverbs 27:9; James 5:16]
Having done a thorough job of preparing yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you may be ready to take two other necessary and extremely difficult steps before attempting to reach out to those with whom you desire to make amends.
Let’s be clear. Making amends is something we do whether a reconciliation is possible or not. It is the fulfillment of our moral obligation to do what we can to right our wrongs.
None of the first and second parts of this article depends on the other party. It’s all up to you. If you are unwilling to take these next two steps, then you are not ready to take the rest of the steps, either. These next steps will be the greatest evidence that you truly have had a heart change and that you are sincere about bringing about healing to both sides of the issue.
First, you must forgive the other party and anyone else associated with the situation. Wholeheartedly, unreservedly, you forgive and then ask God to forgive them for all offences against you whether great or small, real or imagined.
Your extension of forgiveness must be unconditional. That means, whether the other parties forgive you or not, you choose to forgive them with no strings attached. Because God so graciously and generously forgives us of all our offences, we must be willing to do the same for others.
Caution! If you have ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer [the ‘Our Father’], you already know that we pray God would forgive us the same way we forgive others. We pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” [Matthew 6:14,15]
If we pray that prayer while refusing to absolutely forgive others, we pray down a curse on our own heads!
Next, we must make a serious effort at restitution or reparation. God requires, whether the harm was willful or not, that as much as possible we are to repair the damage and restore the harm we have caused.
If we have stolen money or property, or caused damages, it must be restored with interest of 20 per cent on top of what we owe.
“When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong.” [Numbers 5:6-7]
Restitution is the most neglected teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation. Any process that does not include a good-faith effort to make amends for the hurt we have caused is incomplete and unbiblical. An attempt to shrug off the ‘Principle of Reparation’ as being ‘Old Testament Legalism’ is a selfish, feckless effort to disown our responsibility and dodge the duty of restoring to the injured party what can be restored.
It is evidence that the change of heart isn’t as deep as one thinks. Self-interest still dominates our compassion and sense of moral responsibility. The ‘Law’ is God’s three minimum standard. Under ‘grace’ we should be more than willing to do abundantly more.
The heart-warming Bible story of Zachias, the hated tax collector, brilliantly illustrates this issue. Having experienced a heart-changing encounter with Jesus, Zachias pledged to restore four times the money he had stolen from others. Jesus’ emphatic approval tells us all we need to know about what He thinks on this topic.
Making amends and righting wrongs is very much “New Testament.” Keeping your integrity and making restitution can be costly, painful and feel like an eternity.
Restitution is not intended to create hardship, nor is it intended to earn ‘goodie points’ with God. It is simply a recognition that we hurt someone, and we now want to bless them and help restore them to wholeness in a practical way.
God does not require us to do what we cannot reasonably do. It is intended to be a blessing to both the offended and the offender. Making amends is a credible witness to our sincerity and to the reality of God working in us and through us.
If you must force yourself to do this resentfully and grudgingly, it is better for you to back off and deal with your heart so that you can do this with pure motives and joyful freedom.
In the third and final installment in this series, I will describe the specific steps involved and exactly how to approach the people with whom we hope to make amends.