Ministries Today recently sat down with respected church leader and author R.T. Kendall to talk about forgiveness and the important message he shares in his book Total Forgiveness.
Ministries Today: What prompted you to write a book such as Total Forgiveness?
R.T. Kendall: My book was born in the darkest hour of my life. The story can never be told. But I did in fact share it with an old friend from Romania, Josif Tson. I did it thinking he would say to me, "You have a right to be angry; get it off your chest."
But instead he looked at me and said: "R.T., you must totally forgive them. Until you totally forgive them, you will be in chains. Release them and you will be released." Nobody had ever talked to me like that in my life. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," Proverbs 27:6 says.
I once wrote a book called God Meant It for Good. One chapter in that book was titled "Total Forgiveness." The book Total Forgiveness is a detailed elaboration of that chapter and deals with every question I could think of.Ministries Today: The book's message has really struck a chord. Jim Bakker even said that it not only changed his life, but also saved his life. Why has this message hit home with so many people, including church leaders?
Kendall: I think the answer is, we all have a story to tell--whether we are church leaders or have no profile whatsoever. We have all been hurt by someone.
In the case of Jim Bakker, he read God Meant It for Good, and the chapter called "Total Forgiveness" was partly what moved him. When you have spent time in prison over an injustice, you have a lot to be angry about. Jim instead chose to forgive--totally.
But apart from Jim, there is not a church leader under the sun who has not had his or her share of strained relationships in the church, marital tensions, people falling out with you, deacons not speaking to each other, being lied about--the list is endless. Church leaders have feelings too! And they, too, need to forgive.
God will not bend the rules for any of us. The funny thing is, most of our problems tend to be with those closest to us or even fellow Christians. As the saying goes, "Living with the saints above, O that will be glory; living with the saints below, well, that's another story."Ministries Today: You use the term "total" forgiveness. What is that?
Kendall: First, it is the way God forgives us. The blood of Jesus Christ washes away all sin. God will not hold our sins against us. He will never bring them up. He will not allow us to feel guilty once we have confessed them and turned from them.
He will not let anyone know what He knows about us. He will not let us be afraid of Him. He will not allow us to feel guilty. He will let us save face; He protects us from our deepest secrets and fears and--best of all--He keeps on doing it!
Second, total forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. I deal with that in the book, too. It is not total forgiveness just to know we have been forgiven, but it is to forgive ourselves--the hardest thing of all for many of us.
Third, it means to forgive another person in such a manner that you absolutely do not hold it against him or her any longer; you will keep no record of wrongs; you let them off the hook and even ask God to let them off the hook! That is total forgiveness, it seems to me.Ministries Today: How do you know if you have totally forgiven?
Kendall: You know you have totally forgiven when you stop reminding people about "what they did." Telling people what they did is our effort to punish those who hurt us. First John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear--and fear has to do with punishment. When we tell what they did, it is our way of punishing those people--so we look better, they look worse and will be discredited and not admired.
God doesn't like that. He won't tell what we did. He does not want us to tell what they did either. We therefore know we have totally forgiven when we stop talking about our hurt, refuse to let people be intimidated by us, and we will not let them feel guilty.
This means we do not wait for them to repent (nobody was repenting at the cross, and yet Jesus prayed that they be forgiven--Jesus, not the old covenant, should be our model). We let them save face. We know we have totally forgiven when the people who hurt us don't even find out it was a problem.
And, yet, perhaps, the most neglected thing of all is, we keep doing it. It is not enough to say, "I did it yesterday." I have to do it tomorrow. Day after tomorrow. Next week. Next year. Forever. Like God does.Ministries Today: What can a pastor or church leader glean from this book on a personal level?
Kendall: That God does not bend the rules for us church leaders. We have to forgive just as those to whom we preach. Sometimes our hurts are very great indeed. But God won't let a single one of us off the hook. If anything, He is tougher on us, according to James 3:1-3.Ministries Today: In what ways would this book's message be helpful to a pastor's congregation?
Kendall: It will increase his own anointing. It will set the Holy Spirit free to work ungrieved in the congregation.
It is my opinion that totally forgiving one another will bring us closer to true revival than 1,000 people engaging in a 40-day fast. Why? Because if there is bitterness in our hearts at the beginning of the 40-day fast, there will be bitterness afterward--if God does not somehow break through to us. I can almost guarantee this.
God is sovereign and can bring revival anytime and anywhere He may choose; but, generally speaking, a lot of praying and fasting will not compensate for bitterness in us.Ministries Today: Give us an example of an instance in which you had to practice this message in your own life.
Kendall: I will never reveal names or details. All I can say is, it is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I totally forgave those people. And guess what? I never told them! We never talked about it.
It has to happen in the heart. Don't ever go to people and say, "I forgive you for what you did." They will say, "What did I do?" And then you will say, "You surely know." They'll reply, "Well, I don't," and now you've got a fight on your hands. Most people you would have to forgive (even if you were to hook them up to a lie detector) sincerely do not think they have done anything wrong.Ministries Today: What happens when a person chooses not to forgive?
Kendall: The consequences are horrible. The person grieves the Holy Spirit, loses anointing, risks becoming yesterday's man or woman, often develops health problems and stays moody and hard to live with.
Even many non-Christians are discovering the value of forgiving. It puts Christians to shame. The bitterness some choose to live with is always counter-productive, and the people who do not forgive will one day be very sorry.Ministries Today: Is forgiveness a one-time thing or a process?
Kendall: It is both. You have to do it at a point in time, but you also do it in stages. You think you have done it and realize later you hadn't, and then you renew your forgiving spirit. The main thing: You have to keep on doing it.Ministries Today: What would you say to encourage the pastor out there who is struggling and facing a tough time in ministry or has been wronged?
Kendall: You just described 99 percent of all church leaders. We have all struggled. We have all been hurt. Most of us have had our eras of bitterness. I did. And I still keep reading Luke 6:37 every day because I am tempted to point the finger. But, God won't allow it! So I read Luke 6:37 every day to remind me of the best way forward for a greater anointing.
Speaking personally, I would rather have a greater anointing than anything else in the world. Luke 6:37 promises this--by totally forgiving all who have hurt me, no matter what they did. And remember, God will not bend the rules for any of us.
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is well-known internationally as a speaker and teacher and has written more than 30 books including Total Forgiveness (Charisma House). Log on to www.charismahouse.com.