“The Heart of Forgiveness,” with Andy Ekblad

Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert. And today we sat down with Andy Ekblad ’84. He’s the founder and director of Beautiful Gate Ministries. Andy provides training to pastors and leaders in developing nations, principally in Africa. He received much of his training in the school of life, raising a profoundly disabled daughter until her death in 2013 and serving as a pastor for 30 years, Andy holds a master of divinity, a master of theology, and was further trained in spiritual direction at SoulFormation’s Academy of Spiritual Formation and School of Spiritual Direction. Andy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andy Ekblad: You’re welcome, Amanda. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Amanda: So as many of us, you’ve had multiple phases to your life, but I understand the primary focus of your ministry today is this message of forgiveness. Can you start by just telling us why forgiveness is so important? I know that’s a big question.

Andy: Yeah. And it is not the focus of my ministry, but it is a focus of our work, and forgiveness is so vital. You know, as a Christian, first of all, Jesus requires it. He commands it. We see this through the Gospels and in Matthew 6, Matthew 18, Luke 6, our act of forgiving is evidence of us having God’s love flowing through us. And God’s forgiveness setting us free. Forgiveness is also vital for our own freedom. The fact is when we get wounded, we get kind of bound up. And so when we forgive, it sets us free from bitterness and holding judgments. When we don’t forgive, we remain tied to our offenders.

Andy: It’s almost like if you could just picture a rope tied from you to your offender, everywhere you go, you feel the tug of that person against you in a way if something sparks a memory, boom, they’re there. And so forgiveness is very transformational. In my work as a pastor and in Africa and as a spiritual director, when I’m training pastors, every time I teach unforgiveness and then lead the people, the pastors, in a process of giving forgiveness or forgiving offenders, I am just amazed at how profoundly transformational it is for these people. I mean, they’re always visibly moved. God really sets captives free through forgiveness.

Amanda: Yeah. I think that’s one of those things that we, obviously it’s prevalent all throughout Scripture, but even with modern-day scientific studies, both psychological, mental, medical, I think we see over and over again that there are these lifelong terrible effects of holding onto bitterness, holding onto stress, holding onto unforgiveness. And like you’re saying, you are the one that’s carrying it around, not the person who offended you. You are the one that’s bearing the results of that bitterness.

Andy: Exactly.

Amanda: And so do you think that we all have forgiveness work to do every day? Is this a daily thing, or is it like our milestones in life? I mean, some of us who are raised Catholic have this idea of the confessional, and you’re confessing and you’re forgiving on a regular basis. Those of us who are raised in a more Protestant denominations maybe didn’t have that daily practice. How do you feel, how do you teach that we should walk this out?

Andy: Well, yeah, you asked do you think each of us have forgiveness work to do daily? Well, I don’t know about daily, but we all probably have forgiveness work to do because in just living life we get hurt and we need to learn to keep short accounts. But I believe the forgiveness process is a journey that we all have to keep walking. We need to examine our lives. We all get hurt. We get hurt over and over again in life. And so we’d all be wise to learn to walk quickly in forgiveness as an ongoing practice. It’s important I think to take regular inventory to find where we need to apply forgiveness into our lives.

Andy: And so one of the things, one of the spiritual practices of the church is called the review of life. At the end of the day, in the review life, you examine your life, you examine the day, and you ask God, “Where were you present and active noticeably in my life? And where was I not maybe walking with you?” And those are times where we can kind of do some self-assessment and bring things before God and get cleaned up. I think that’s important work to do.

Amanda: And have you found as you do this yourself and you walk other folks through it, I’m wondering have you come more conscious and more daily in this practice? Do you find yourself asking others for forgiveness more often, as well?

Andy: I certainly do. And part of that is because I have discovered how valuable and precious it is when somebody who has hurt you comes to you and says, “Would you forgive me?” And in my work as a pastor that has happened several times, but most often it doesn’t happen. And I think that we as believers, and as all people, need to learn to be quick to go and ask forgiveness when we have wronged somebody, if we’re aware that we’ve done that.

Amanda: And I think so often it’s the thing itself that we pick apart. I’ll just speak for myself. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I feel like sometimes we pick apart the situation and say, but I didn’t do anything wrong. And isn’t there a difference between I didn’t do something wrong and I can still feel bad that they were affected in a negative way? I can still want them to forgive me, even if I don’t feel like I had actually broken a rule or done something wrong. Does that make sense?

Andy: Yes. I think that we’ve all seen this in people who we’ve learned to really appreciate and respect when we see humility in an individual who’s willing to just kind of make sure that there’s no static between us in relationships. If we have a sense that maybe we hurt somebody, we offended them, what is the harm in going to them and saying, “I don’t know if I hurt you, but I just have kind of have a check in my spirit that maybe I offended you, and if I did in this situation, I just want to ask your forgiveness for that. I want to apologize.” And that’s a great thing to do.

Amanda: You know, and it’s interesting. I think that’s hard to do even within our families, within our church communities, but I feel like it can be even harder to do out in the world, at our work, in our business community. It’s just as important to ask our co-workers forgiveness as our family members and our church family. I think we need to normalize that.

Andy: I agree.

Amanda: So when we talk about this lifestyle of forgiveness, is it a moment, is it a journey, or is it both?

Andy: I think of forgiveness like a three-step dance, in a way. Forgiveness is, first of all, a gift. It’s a gift that’s given to us by a loving God. We can love because God first loved us and so goes with forgiveness. The power of forgiveness comes from our having received it through the love of God, revealed to us in Christ. So Jesus and his love is the foundation, we receive the Father’s love and forgiveness and out of that, we can truly forgive from the depth. Secondly, forgiveness is a choice we’re given to make. Jesus command us to forgive, yes, but Jesus doesn’t force us to forgive ever. It’s a choice we have to make. We can choose our own freedom. We can choose to walk in obedience. So we choose because God enables that and really it’s a supernatural response of obedience to having been loved and forgiven by God when we don’t deserve it. We choose forgiveness because forgiveness is the only path to freedom.

“We choose forgiveness because forgiveness is the only path to freedom.”

Andy: Thirdly, forgiveness is a process or journey. It’s not natural to forgive. I think of it as more supernatural, and we often need to forgive again and again and again, we forgive essentially until the pain is gone. And so for some who have experienced profound trauma in their life from offenses, they may need to forgive and then forgive and forgive day after day, week after week, until the pain is gone. We forgive until we stop obsessing with the pain of the story of hurt. We forgive as long as it takes us to stop demanding payment for the wrongs done to us. And this is where we might add the steps of releasing our offenders from our judgments and going the next step to even blessing them as Jesus called us to do.

Andy: Jesus says it straight in Luke 6:27, and he says this crazy thing: Love your enemies. What? Do good to those who hate you? Come on. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Be merciful as your father is merciful. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and it will be forgiven you. And those are powerful and you could say impossible words apart from the move of God in our lives. He brings grace to us and calls us to walk in this grace.

Amanda: And I think the hard part for us as human beings, the hard part of doing all the things you just said, is that we don’t want to bless the person that has done wrong to us. And yet I think it’s really all about that mindset of understanding you’re not releasing them, you’re releasing yourself.

Andy: Absolutely.

Amanda: It’s self-care that you’re doing by blessing them.

Andy: Absolutely.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah.

Andy: That’s right. That’s right. And so many people say, “Well, I’ll forgive them when they come and apologize.” As if my holding unforgiveness toward this person is hurting them. Right?

Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: It’s not hurting them, it’s hurting me. And so that’s one of the barriers to forgiveness is wanting the person to acknowledge their sin.

Amanda: Plus, I think it’s like so many other things in life, like we say, “I’ll start my diet on Monday.” I’ll forgive them when they apologize. Well, the truth is, if we’re holding onto the bitterness, most of the time we won’t forgive them even if they did come and apologize, because we’re holding onto that security blanket of an offense, don’t you think?

Andy: I do think. And that’s why I think that we need to let the teaching of Christ shape us and form us. Yeah.

Amanda: If you don’t mind, let’s talk about your own journey of forgiveness and walking with your own family through some pretty hard times.

Andy: Yeah. Our firstborn daughter suffered profound brain damage as a result of negligence during birth. And it should have been prevented, but mistakes are sometimes made. And in this case, my wife and I had to walk the path of forgiveness so as not to become embittered, and that was a process, God gave us the grace to do that. And so we’re profoundly grateful for that. And it’s much more challenging when someone intentionally hurts us though. And I’ve had to practice forgiveness again and again for various offenses in my life. Offenses come to all of us in life. And as a pastor, there have been many, many times that offenses come, and usually, there’s no apology, but sometimes there is. And like I said earlier, that’s a grace. I’m grateful for the power God gives us to be free through forgiveness.

Amanda: And I’m sure we all have our own Achilles heel of what’s the thing that is the most difficult to forgive. And with your circumstance, I think most parents can understand … it’s actually easier to forgive someone for hurting me than it is to forgive someone for hurting my child. It’s a whole different level, and we all have our own most difficult moments. But on the other hand, usually when we walk out those most difficult things is when we find a whole new level of relationship with God, a whole new level of freedom on the other side.

Andy: I think that’s absolutely true, Amanda. And in this situation with our daughter, I mean, she lived to almost the age of 22 and in the end, we had to make the choice to just let her go because she was not getting better, and the doctor said she was not going to make it. And so we had a DNR on her and that was a very difficult choice to make. But in so many ways, forgiveness had to do with grief. Certainly, when we think of grief, we often think of situations like the birth of my disabled daughter or death, but grief is a reality when anything is taken from us, there’s a loss and we’re grieving that loss, and so we may feel anger or depression over that loss and that’s part of grief. And so we could say that forgiveness in one part is moving through grief. It’s adjusting to the new reality. It’s releasing it. It’s bringing the grace of God into it. And that’s been my experience.

Amanda: You have shared with me some amazing moments of forgiveness where instant physical healing has manifested due to that release, due to that forgiveness. Do you want to share one of those experiences with us?

Andy: Sure. I have a friend in Kenya, his name’s Patrick, and he’s given me permission to share the story. And he’s a pastor and bishop who came to our training starting back in 2019, and in 2019 he came to me asking for prayer for his chronic back pain. I asked him how long he had suffered from this and he said 12 years. And as I spoke with him, I just sensed that perhaps there was something behind the pain. And I asked him if he would ask God, be willing to just kind of go before God silently in prayer and ask God to reveal any hurts that came to him from someone or someone’s surrounding the onset of the back pain. He said, sure he would do that. And so as he prayed, he opened his eyes and said to me, “God just brought back a memory associated directly with my back pain.”

Andy: He said that he had been deeply betrayed. And ever since that betrayal came, he has suffered from this profound back pain. I asked him if he’d be willing to forgive his offenders? If he’d be willing to just bring the grace of God into the situation and he said, “Yes, I’d be willing.” And so I led him in a prayer of forgiveness. And after doing that, I prayed over his back and Jesus just miraculously healed his back. Patrick just finished our training this last fall, after a hiatus from the pandemic. And he said, my back is still pain-free and now I’m walking in the ministry of healing, brother. I thought that was awesome. I think of another young man named Mark, whom I was praying for in February 2020, who suffered from an infected tooth for a year.

Andy: And as I prayed, we didn’t see any breakthrough, and I felt led to ask him if there was any offense that came to him surrounding the infected tooth? He said, yes, there was. So I asked him if he’d be willing to forgive. And he said he would. And he did, and I ministered again and the pain in his tooth left. And I just spoke with him this last fall. And he said I’m pain-free it has never come back ever since that day that I forgave my offender and you prayed for me. So, praise God for that. I could go on and on and tell stories of the connection that often exists between sickness and pain and unforgiveness.

Andy: Now, it’s important to note that it’s not always connected. It’s not like a magical thing. You forgive somebody and then you are healed. But many times there is a root of unforgiveness that leads to the onset of such things as cancer, ulcers, spiritual and physical pain. And so Jesus, when we choose to walk in obedience and walk into his blessings, I think that he pours out blessings, and he has many blessings to pour out to the church and to individuals if we’re willing to just bless others.

Amanda: Yeah. I like to think of it this way because again, we’ve all been raised in different faith traditions and have different experiences. And as you said, not everyone who chooses to walk in forgiveness is going to have an immediate physical manifestation of healing. And yet we do know that bitterness and unforgiveness and stress and all of that, we do know that causes physical symptoms. So it certainly can’t hurt. You’re not going to be worse by forgiving those who have hurt you and offended you and wronged you. And that’s what I like to tell myself on a regular basis. Doing the right thing may get you what you want right away and it may not, but it’s not going to hurt you, it’s going to make things better. Every time we obey, it’s going to make things better even if it isn’t exactly what we picture or what we were hoping for. Right?

Andy: Exactly. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 18:21 about a servant who owes a king like 20 million bucks in the equivalent of that. And the king forgives him this debt when he pleads for mercy. And then he goes out and throttles his neighbor who owes him like 200 bucks or so and has his neighbor thrown into prison because he can’t pay. And the king hears this and is infuriated and reinstates the debt to the guy with the $20 million debt and then has him tortured, thrown into the prison to be tortured. And so one wonders what that looked like in the parable. Metaphorically speaking, when we choose not to forgive, are we turned over to dark spirits to torture? That is one possible interpretation. It might be a good interpretation of that parable, actually. And so we choose to walk in bondage. We choose to walk in bondage. We’re choosing darkness, we choose darkness. We choose to go the opposite direction of the love of God.

Amanda: So like my mom used to say, you can go to church and hear “love your neighbor” but the true question is, how? So even if you’re listening to us today and you’re saying, yes, you’re right, I need to walk in forgiveness. I need to make forgiveness more of a daily practice for me. I know you lead workshops and classes helping people to release this bitterness to walk in forgiveness in a new way. In a shortened version, could you walk us through that now?

Andy: Absolutely, Amanda. I mean the Bible doesn’t give us like a one-, two-, three-, four-, five-, six-, seven-step approach, right? And so many times we wish the Bible would spell things out a little bit more. And so this is simply a way to appropriate what Jesus is telling us to do. So what I encourage people to do is to sit down in a quiet place before God, to ask God to reveal every person in their life that they need to forgive. And I’ve done this with so many people in my office as I walked them through inner healing. So, you write down every person in your life that you need to forgive. This is like a thorough inventory, right? And then you write their names down and beside their names you write down the specific reason or reasons that you need to forgive them. So a person may be saying, “Well, my father abused me, and I need to forgive him for abusing me.”

Andy: Well, what else do you need to forgive your father for? Well, he was absent. He was never there. OK, anything else? Well, yeah, he abused my mom. Oh, OK. And the list kind of starts growing and so you write down a specific reason you need to forgive them defining what was lost, what was taken, what was denied? It may be dignity that was denied you, or choice or honor or love. Maybe you were betrayed. Maybe your innocence was taken. What is it? And then ask, what did I lose? What is the root of the hurt? And then a fourth step would be grieve the loss, allowing yourself to feel the loss of that as you have named it and process that before God. Fifthly, ask was there some full participation you had in this? Like speaking negatively about the person and slandering them, seeking revenge, trying to hurt them in some way, and hoping for their harm.

Andy: So whatever it is, confess it to God, and then receive forgiveness from God and turn from that behavior. The next step would be in prayer, speak forgiveness in the name of Jesus. Now, I say in the name of Jesus because I believe there’s power in the name of Jesus. I don’t believe there’s power in just praying anything in the name of my dog or something. We pray in the name of Jesus because there’s power in the name of Jesus. He is God in human flesh. And so we pray over each person on the list, specifically for what they did. And in the name of Jesus, we forgive them. We release them from our judgements. And then we begin to pray for God to bless the person in specific ways, recognizing ourselves as a potential vehicle of blessing.

Andy: So it might be a prayer like this: I thank you, Lord Jesus, for freely forgiving me for all of my sins. I now choose to give the gift of forgiveness to all who have hurt me, in the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive Joe for stealing from me. In the name of Jesus, I choose now to release Joe from my judgments and to entrust him to the merciful judgment of Jesus. He owes me nothing, not even an apology. In the name of Jesus, I choose to bless Joe. Lord, would you bring such blessing on Joe’s life? Would you help him to come to know you? Would you set him free from the hurts that are in his life? Would you give him success? And then you might pray Lord, I ask you to forgive me for my sinful responses toward Joe. I confess these to you. I ask you to give me strength to repent of these sinful responses to Joe and then conclude the prayer. It’s a very, very powerful thing. And I have walked so many people through this prayer. I have had many people who have been through serious, serious trauma. The trauma of just terrible atrocities in war where they can barely say the person’s name. It’s like a spiritual battle that’s going on that they’re contending. And finally, as they persevere in that, they’re able to walk through this prayer and the release is amazing. It is miraculous. It truly is.

Amanda: Wow. Thank you for doing that. I feel like that’s something that many of us can pause and rewind and go through that with more than one person and more than one situation as we dig in, like you said, because you start on the surface and then as you start to peel back the layers, you realize there’s more in there than we thought originally.

Andy Ekblad: Exactly. And I would type out like a half sheet of the steps of forgiveness when I’d preach on forgiveness as a pastor in my church. And I would put these as bulletin inserts and I’d say, hey, laminate this and put it in your Bible or wherever you need to put it where you’re going to access it and learn to use it. It’ll be a powerful tool in your life.

Amanda: Well, let me ask you as you take this work through multiple countries in Africa, as you tour around the United States, what is the dream for you? Where do you see this work taking you?

Andy: Well, thank you Amanda for that question. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus, my vision is to bring the good news that sets free. And the fact of the matter is that oftentimes we are imprisoned by hurt and bitterness, and so if I can be used by God to help facilitate people getting free and experiencing a deeper encounter with the Father’s love, that’s my dream. As a servant of God, as a pastor, as a spiritual director, as one who trains pastors, I just love helping others to encounter the love of God, the Father through Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. So I just want to make myself available to walk alongside individuals, congregations, teams of people, work teams, others just walking with them, listening to their stories, assisting them, and getting free through forgiveness. And, along with training pastors in developing nations like Africa, if I can help people here, well, that would be my dream. And so I love to be about the work of God.

Amanda: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. All this talk these days of wellness and mindfulness, and I just feel like forgiveness needs to be the third piece of that puzzle: mindfulness, wellness, and forgiveness. Because whatever our spiritual beliefs, we all, as human beings, need to let go of the things we’re hanging onto. That’s just a part of being well and a part of being mindful and a part of moving through our world. So thank you so much for bringing the Word to us today, Andy, and let me end with our famous last question: From your unique perspective, if you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us all do?

Andy: Oh, pursue the heart of God, the Father, who loves you. Get to know Jesus more. Read a Gospel like the Gospel of Luke and get to know Jesus. Receive God’s blessing of love and forgiveness, and then give it away. I want to encourage listeners to believe the Good News and cooperate with God’s plan of receiving and giving grace away. God’s blessing is available to every person who will receive and walk with forgiveness. Our nation and world are so divided, and it’s so troubling to see it and I believe this message of grace is more important now than ever, maybe. And it’s available. We just need to courageously walk into our freedom, Amanda.

Amanda: Absolutely. Well, thank you for blessing us today, and let me pray our prayer of blessing over you in return.

Andy: Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda: May the Lord bless you and all you put your hand to. May the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May God bring unity to our community and peace to us all, and I’ll add, and may we forgive those as God forgives us. Amen.

Andy: Amen. Amen. Amen. Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda: Thank you so much.

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