In 2001, I was arrested on serious charges and was held without bail in the county jail.
A few days after my arrest, I was transferred to a permanent housing unit within the jail. I was a believer in Jesus at the time, but while I had received Him as my Savior, I had not yet made Him Lord of my life.
Soon after my arrival, a man came up to me. He was a Christian and invited me to a Bible study. I knew I needed help in my life, so I gladly went. I still wasn’t willing to fully surrender my will to Jesus—I just wanted His help in getting me out of my circumstances. Despite my selfish motivation, however, God was at work.
Not long after, that man helped me get a job in the kitchen. Life seemed to be going better. We enjoyed working together, and we talked a lot until he was granted bail. I was happy for him, but it was tough seeing someone I knew walk out that door to freedom while I remained in jail.
Much went on over the next year, both with my case and in my spiritual life. I was a young believer facing a potential life sentence. Things were far from easy. The Lord was teaching me to trust Him instead of my attorneys, family, money, and myself.
I decided to go to trial. The anticipation was taxing on my nerves, but the Lord gave me the grace to face each day. I often failed to trust Him, but I was still growing spiritually.
Finally, the day came for my trial. I was escorted into the courtroom that first morning and taken straight to the defense table. My attorney opened up the folder that contained the witness list and with a puzzled look, pointed to a name and asked, “Who is this?”
“That’s a guy I met in jail when I first got locked up.” Surprisingly, it was the man who had invited me to the Bible study. His testimony was not helpful to my case. During a break, my lawyer told me that the man would receive two years off of his three-year sentence for his testimony. It was a bit unnerving.
After trial that day, I was taken to a holding cell where forty men waited to be taken back to their respective jails. Eventually, everyone was escorted away, and I was left alone. I assumed that the adjacent cell was empty as well, but then I heard someone say in a low voice, “Russell, are you over there?”
It was the man who had testified against me that morning. With a cold distance in my voice, I responded, “What’s up?” He said they’d forced him to testify against me, but I knew better. I was about to tell him a few choice things, when the Lord spoke to me.
“You can forgive this man and trust Me,” He said, “and you won’t have to carry the bitterness and anger that comes with unforgiveness. Or you can let your flesh have its way, just as you’ve done all your life. But later on, you will still have to forgive this man and ask him for forgiveness as well. What’s it going to be?”
I decided to do what was right and forgive the man despite his betrayal. I needed God’s help, and I was not willing to disobey Him at such a crucial time. Giving in to my flesh wasn’t worth the consequences.
So I told the man I forgave him. I was not unkind in the way I spoke to him, but neither was I overly friendly. I assured him that my forgiveness was sincere. As he thanked me, his voice changed. I could tell he was overcome by emotion. And then the door opened, and the marshals took him away. I never saw him again.
Looking back, I have no doubt that God arranged that meeting so His purposes could be fulfilled. I was a pretty serious grudge-holder. I could easily have harbored bitterness toward this man that would have brought trouble upon myself and others. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (NIV).
Are you a grudge-holder? Surrender the offense and the offender to God today. When you do, you’ll find freedom to enjoy the blessings forgiveness brings (1 Peter 3:9).