Let's say you've mustered the courage to approach someone you've offended. You've confessed what you did with sincerity. You've asked for forgiveness. But he or she refuses to forgive you. Now what?
The important thing for each of us to remember is that you are responsible for you, and I am responsible for me (Romans 12:18). With the right motive, in the right spirit, at the right time, out of obedience to God, we are to humble ourselves and attempt to make things right. God will honor our efforts.
The one offended may need time first to get over the shock and next to have God bring about a change in his or her heart. Healing sometimes takes time. Occasionally, a lot of time.
"What if the situation only gets worse?" Another good question frequently asked. This can happen. You see, all the time the one offended has been blaming you . . . thinking all kinds of bad things about you. When you go to make things right, you suddenly cause his or her internal scales to go out of balance. You take away the blame, and all that's left is the person's guilt, which does a number on him or her, resulting in even worse feelings. But now, it's no longer your fault.
"What if I decide simply to deal with it before God and not go through the hassle and embarrassment of talking with the other person?" We'll do anything to make things easier, won't we? Well, first off—that is a willful contradiction of the command. To paraphrase Jesus, "Stop, go, reconcile, and return!" (Matthew 5:24). Not to go is direct disobedience. It also can result in things getting worse.
Let's say I am driving away from your church parking lot next Sunday morning. I back my car into the side of your beautiful new Mercedes. CRUNCH! Your stomach churns as you see me get out of the car, look at the damage . . . and then bow in prayer:
Dear Lord, please forgive me for being so preoccupied and clumsy. And please give this dear brother grace as he sees the extensive damage I have caused out of sheer negligence. And provide what's needed as he takes this car in to have it fixed. Thanks, Lord. Amen.
As I drive away, I wave and smile real big as I yell out the window, "It's all cleared up, my friend. I claimed the damage before God. Isn't grace wonderful!"
Tell me, how does that grab you? I have rather strong doubts that it would suddenly make things okay with you, no matter how sincere my prayer might have been. You and I know that would do no good.
The Savior does not say, "Simply pray and I'll forgive you." In fact, He says, "Stop praying until you have made things right!"
One final question: "What if it is impossible for me to reconcile because the offended person has died?" Obviously, you cannot contact the dead. In such unique cases, I recommend that you share your burden of guilt with someone whom you can trust. A close friend, your mate, a counselor, or your pastor. Be specific and completely candid. Pray with that individual, and confess openly the wrong and the guilt of your soul. In such cases—and only in such cases—prayer and the presence of an understanding, affirming individual can provide the relief you need so desperately.
When you have been the cause of an offense, that is, when you are the offender, have the heart of a servant. Stop, go, reconcile, and then return.