In his passionate and life-changing book Forgiveness: Finding Peace Though Letting Go, bestselling author Adam Hamilton shows the same insight that he brought to his popular books Why? Making Sense of God’s Will and Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.
In this new book, Hamilton explores forgiveness in our relationship with God, with our spouses or romantic interests, with our parents and siblings, and with others in our lives.
This comprehensive Leader Guide, when used with the DVD, provides everything you’ll need to hold a four-session study of Forgiveness with your group. Inside you’ll find session plans, discussion questions, and activities, as well as suggestions of ways to make the study a meaningful experience for any group.
About the Author
Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country. The Church Report named Hamilton’s congregation the most influential mainline church in America, and he preached at the National Prayer Service as part of the presidential inauguration festivities in 2013.Hamilton is the best-selling and award-winning author of Creed, Half Truths, The Call, The Journey, The Way, 24 Hours That Changed the World, John, Revival, Not a Silent Night, Enough, When Christians Get It Wrong, and Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, all published by Abingdon Press. Learn more about Adam Hamilton at AdamHamilton.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Divine Answer
This session is intended to help participants
reflect on God's forgiveness and what it means for us;
discuss the meaning and application of forgiveness, sin, and repentance;
focus on the burden involved in carrying unforgiven sin and on the process of letting that burden go;
address and discuss issues related to understanding forgiveness with "head" comprehension — as contrasted with experiencing forgiveness in the heart and soul.
Begin this session, and all sessions, with a prayer for illumination. Recognize that the Holy Spirit is already present in your group, so your prayer is for group members — and you — to open hearts, minds, and souls to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Here is one such prayer that you might use:
Almighty God, by and through your love you have surrounded us with your Holy Spirit. But we confess that often we do not open ourselves to the presence of your Spirit. Help us in this time of study to be open to and aware of your Spirit with us that our thoughts, words, and actions might enlighten, enable, and illuminate. We pray in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Distribute paper and pencils or pens. Ask each person in the group, working individually, to write on one side of the paper — for the writer's eyes only — the name of a person she or he needs to forgive and to describe briefly the reasons why this person needs to be forgiven. Also jot down at least one reason why forgiving this person is difficult.
Turn the paper over and write the name of a person whose forgiveness the writer wants and needs. Include a brief description of the reasons why the writer needs this person's forgiveness. Jot down why seeking this person's forgiveness is difficult.
Acknowledge that some group members may have to write the names of persons who may no longer be living or who may be unreachable for various reasons. Make it clear that these papers will not be distributed, discussed, or made known within the group in any way at any time.
When all have completed this assignment, suggest that group members fold their papers carefully and carry them in pocket, purse, or Bible for the duration of this study.
Video Study and Discussion
Play the video for Session 1.
Running time: 11:19
Ask group members to form teams of three persons each and share quick definitions of forgiveness. Then ask the teams to think about and discuss this question: How is God's forgiveness of us like — and unlike — our forgiveness of one another?
Afterward, reconvene the large group and ask for brief reports from a few of the teams. Then discuss this question: Does forgiveness deal more with the past or the future? What is the immediate effect of forgiveness? What is the long-term result of forgiveness? Why do you answer as you do?
Can we understand forgiveness without a clear understanding of sin? Ask group members to define sin. Note that sin as described in the Bible is not so much individual acts or specific things we do or don't do, but missing the mark or straying from the path.
Pose this question for discussion by the whole group: What happens in life when we miss a mark or stray from a path and become lost? (Think in terms of shooting an arrow or trying to score in basketball.) Help group members recognize that when we miss a mark, we try to aim more accurately but sometimes overcompensate and miss the mark on the other side. Or, if we stray from a path and fear that we've become lost, our tendency might be to look for a shortcut and become even more lost. What do these life examples suggest about our response to sin?
Pose this question for brief discussion by the whole group: How does this definition of sin compare with your understanding of sin? Is this definition what we learned in Sunday school as children? Give examples and illustrations for your answers.
Divide the group into pairs and discuss the meaning of repentance. Ask them to consider this question: What is the difference between contrition and repentance?
Afterward, ask for brief reports from several of the pairs. Help the group understand the difference between feeling sorry for our sinfulness (contrition) and turning around and getting back on the right path (repentance). What does this discussion say about experiencing God's forgiveness and experiencing forgiveness in our human relationships?
Book Study and Discussion
The Divine Answer
Theologian Paul Tillich describes forgiveness as the divine answer to the question implied in our existence. Tillich's statement suggests a single, basic question. Ask group members to suggest what that single question might be. Jot down responses for the group to consider, but do not evaluate these questions in detail yet. Keep the list of single questions for use in later sessions of this study.
"Healthy autonomy turns to unhealthy ego." Ask the group to consider the meaning of this sentence from Chapter 1. What is its biblical context? How does it apply to us? How can healthy autonomy coupled with an unhealthy ego create a widening gap between people, or between people and God? Must healthy autonomy always turn to unhealthy ego? How can we prevent that from happening in our own lives?
When we ask for or offer forgiveness, we are seeking restoration of a relationship that was severed through our sinfulness and failure to follow God's path. Discuss whether this is always the case. Does experiencing forgiveness — the forgiveness of God and of those we have wronged — always bring us back to the right path? Give reasons and illustrations for your answers.
Forgiveness as a Process
The process of forgiveness begins with our awareness of sin. A key word in this sentence is process. What does the use of this word say about forgiveness?
As a group, discuss some examples of Jesus forgiving sinners. How do these examples illustrate forgiveness as a process rather than as an instantaneous event? How might we experience that process, and how do we know when it is complete? How does failure to recognize that process impede the reestablishment of broken relationships with God and others?
Head or Heart?
Adam Hamilton writes that God's forgiveness "is something we know in our heads, and yet we often struggle to accept it in our hearts." In teams of three, discuss the differences between understanding the concept of forgiveness and experiencing actual forgiveness.
How can we move from understanding to experiencing? What factors might impede that movement? Encourage the teams to share personal examples of moving from "head" knowledge of forgiveness to "heart" experience of forgiveness. Do not ask for full reports from each team of three, but if a team is eager to share an insight, encourage that team to do so.
Bible Study and Discussion
Adam and Eve
Hamilton uses the story of Adam and Eve to illustrate sin as straying from the path or missing the mark. As a group, review the story and discuss: What caused Adam and Eve to stray from the path God had given them? Why were they not content with the limitations God had placed upon them? How could they have avoided this danger, and what can we learn from their experience?
In teams of four, discuss: What are the limitations God places upon us in our own lives, and why are we not content with those limitations? Hear very brief reports from a couple of the teams.
To conclude the session, invite group members to look at the papers they wrote at the beginning of the session and to reflect on these questions silently: What have I learned today about the situation in which I need to forgive someone? What have I learned about the situation in which I need to seek forgiveness from another?
Close the session by inviting group members to recite the Lord's Prayer, pausing and meditating in silence when they reach this phrase: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Then repeat the Lord's Prayer as a group again.
For Better, for Worse
This session is intended to help participants
Consider forgiveness in marriage and other intimate relationships;
Gain new insights into the mutuality of relationships;
Begin to recognize in their own relationships their propensity to "keep score" and seek justice rather than offering forgiveness;
Identify and practice the building blocks of solid and lasting human relationships;
Acknowledge and put into practice the role of grace and forgiveness in healthy and positive relationships.
Invite group members to join with you in the following prayer for others, based on words from John Calvin, a sixteenth-century Protestant reformer in Switzerland and a contemporary of Martin Luther. You may want to write out this prayer on the board or duplicate it on handouts for group members.
Strong Covenant God, save us from being self-centered in our prayers, and teach us to remember to pray for others. May we be so bound up in love with those for whom we pray that we may feel their needs as acutely as our own, and intercede for them with sensitivity, understanding, and imagination. This we pray in Christ's name. Amen.
Divide your group into teams of four. Ask the teams to read 2 Samuel 11:1–12:9 and then discuss these questions:
What was David's sin in this story? About whose happiness was David most concerned? What happened as a result of David's eagerness to get his own way? Who among those in the story was most hurt by David's actions? As you respond to this last question, recall that David had several wives and a number of children prior to his relationship with Bathsheba.
Ask the teams to reflect on this statement: David's determination to meet his own desires escalated into sinfulness far beyond his original lust. In what ways does our lack of faithfulness in relationships escalate into our wandering farther and farther off the path that God has given us?
Reconvene and ask for brief reports from a few of the teams. Do most agree on responses to these questions? Why or why not?
Video Study and Discussion
Play the video for Session 2.
Running time: 12:35
The author focuses on "accounting" in relationships. As a group, discuss: What is meant by this term? This same tendency is also called "keeping score." In this context, what does the phrase mean? Do we do this intentionally, or is it a subconscious habit? Where do you think this tendency comes from? Is it endemic in the human spirit, or is it something we have learned and developed through experience? Give reasons and illustrations for your responses.
What are some ways to counter this tendency? How can we do so in our marriages, friendships, work relationships, and extended families? How can we be sure we are not just offering one another verbal platitudes?
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
As a group, discuss: Is Christian forgiveness always possible? Is it always appropriate? And does Christian forgiveness always mean reconciliation? Give reasons and illustrations for your answers.
Six words are crucial to making any relationship last and grow: "I am sorry" and "I forgive you." Write these words on the board, and consider them with reference to the following questions: Is saying these words enough to repair a torn relationship? Give reasons and illustrations for your answer. What else might be needed besides the words? Help the group members to recognize that what is being sought here is not the exchange of gifts or promises to be better in the future, but a genuineness in the offering of these words.
Book Study and Discussion
Ask group members to recall from the first chapter the metaphor of stones in a backpack. In a marriage or intimate relationship, what might constitute "medium-sized stones?" In other human relationships — with friends, family, and co-workers — what might constitute medium-sized stones? Discuss this metaphor. How is it useful? What are some of the things we can learn from it?
Divide the group into teams of four and discuss: Can seeking justice ever work in a relationship that has been harmed by medium-sized stones? Why or why not? Ask teams to define escalation and discuss how it relates to seeking justice in a relationship.
If time permits, ask the teams to try a simple role-play in which one person criticizes another team member through name-calling. Encourage the one who was called a name to respond with justice. Is the response equal to or harsher than the first? How might the person have responded differently?
Four Steps to Forgiveness
Review the four steps to forgiveness: awareness, regret, confession, and change. Then, divide the group into new teams of four and ask the teams to discuss: Which of these steps is the easiest to take? Which is the most difficult? Why do you think this is so? Which of the steps, if any, can be internal; and which can be shared with the one offended? Must these steps always be taken in the same order? Why or why not? Give illustrations, if possible.
Forgiveness in the Church
Suppose two leaders in your congregation disagree violently over some issue within the church, and suppose they have let the disagreement escalate until the congregation takes sides in the conflict. Discuss as a group: What can the rest of the congregation do to move the two leaders toward forgiveness? Who in the congregation should do this? How do you think the congregation's intervention would be received?
Bible Study and Discussion
In Colossians 3:12, Paul writes, "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." Divide the group into teams of two to describe each of these qualities. Then, discuss which of the qualities is easiest to demonstrate and which is the most difficult. Why is this so? To what extent, if any, does demonstrating these qualities depend on the situation or circumstances of an experience?
Do not ask for reports from the teams, but if one or two of them wish to share a question or insight, invite them to do so.
Invite group members to take out the papers they wrote at the last session (in which they named people to forgive and asked forgiveness of) and evaluate carefully both situations described. Ask group members to reflect in silence on the nature of the situations they have described. Are the situations pebbles, medium stones, or boulders? What insights into dealing with these situations have group members gained from this session? Do not ask for comments; encourage group members to reflect silently on these questions.
Invite group members to join you in the following sentence prayer. With the group repeat it aloud five times.
Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to forgive, and show me how to forgive as you forgive me.
Seventy Times Seven
As a result of participation in this session, group members should
consider forgiveness in relationships with those outside their families;
identify and develop skills for dealing with everyday, petty annoyances;
explore in some depth what forgiveness is — and what it is not;
recognize the effects of forgiveness on the forgiver and the forgiven;
begin to comprehend that merciful forgiveness may not always be the best course of action, and to develop skills in discerning those times when it is and is not appropriate;
recognize and put into practice the teachings of Jesus dealing with forgiveness and reconciliation.
Invite group members to reflect on what they had written on their papers at the first session, then to pray in silence for insight and courage to do what needs to be done, in terms of both granting and seeking forgiveness. Next, invite the group to pray together the Lord's Prayer, pausing for silent reflection following each phrase in the prayer.
Invite the whole group to participate in this activity; try if possible to make it light and fun.
Ask group members to call out petty annoyances while you jot these on the board. You might start with a question such as, "What just drives you up the wall?" If group members are slow to name things, suggest they focus on annoyances encountered while driving, dining out, standing in a checkout line, or watching TV. Try to develop a list at least twice as long as the number of members in your group. Keep this list in front of the group throughout this session.
Excerpted from "Forgiveness Leader Guide"
Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
To the Group Leader,
1. The Divine Answer,
2. For Better, for Worse,
3. Seventy Times Seven,
4. The Dreamcoat,