Release The Prisoner

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis B. Smedes

When I was fifteen I spent $180 of my hard-earned money (in 1974 that was serious bucks for a teenager) on a beautiful top-of-the-line Schwinn 10-speed bicycle. I loved that bike. I gave it the kind of the care and protection a mother would lavish on her newborn.

One day, when generosity and kindness loomed large in my teenage soul, I allowed my thirteen-year-old sister to ride my pride and joy to Howell L. Watkins Jr. High School.  I was magnanimous, but I was not a moron: “Make sure you lock up my bike,” I barked. Then I dashed off to my day at high school.

I now know that my words fell on deaf ears.

On that particular day I was in driver’s education class. Back in the 70’s we did real road time! I was sitting in the driver’s seat, cruising down Military Trail, when I glanced out my side window. There was a rider on a beautiful orange ten-speed bicycle that looked strikingly similar to mine—but my sister was not in the saddle!

I thought to myself, “I’ll bet that’s my bike!”

When I arrived home that afternoon my younger sibling was sitting on our couch curled up and forlorn like a puppy that knew it was in the doghouse. “Guess what?” she asked.  I didn’t have to say, “What?” because I knew what had happened.  “My bike got ripped off!” I shot back. 

Instantly I was faced with a decision: Would I forgive my sister?

I would like to report that I put my arm around her, gave her a little squeeze, and said, “Don’t worry about it, sis! You mean more to me than a bike.”  I did not do that. I wanted her to feel my pain. So for the next few days I walked around the house with a black cloud over my head and I made her fork over $80 toward my next purchase.

Forgiveness was hard back then and it still is today! It seems I am forever adding up what the mistakes of others have cost me.

  • Don’t they realize how much they hurt me?
  • Don’t they understand the price I had to pay?
  • Don’t they care?
  • What were they thinking!

When it comes to forgiveness, I am a miser who does not want to part with his money . . . until I open up the pages of Scripture. There I see forgiveness from a different perspective.

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.  Colossians 3:12-14 NLT

Paul's argument in simple: How can I harbor my grudge and refuse to forgive when Christ has forgiven me of so much? Paul wants me to understand that when I refuse to forgive my perspective is off. I look at my sin as rather inconsequential while considering the one who offended me as guilty of a capital offense -- at least I act that way at times.

Paul takes this matter of forgiveness one more step. He says, "you must forgive others." This is exactly what Jesus tells me:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15 ESV

I need to sit with Jesus words and let the seriousness of unforgiveness sink in. It is easy to think I am justified in harboring my grudge and hanging on to my hurt. I am not.

Have you suffered a costly loss? Are you having a hard time doling out a little forgiveness? You can’t ignore the hurt, but you can look at your loss from the perspective of the one who paid it all to cover the cost of your sin.

Go ahead, set that prisoner free!