(5 Ws of Forgiveness)

Forgiveness is a key part of following Jesus - what it is and how might we go about practicing it?


In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says ‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’ (Matthew 6: 14-15).

Jesus clearly considers forgiveness a very important thing for us to practice. Read the following teaching story (parable) that Jesus told.

Matthew 18:21-35 (Parable of the unmerciful servant)


What strikes you about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness?

What character in this story do you most relate to and why?

Why do you think we can sometimes find forgiveness so difficult?



In February 1993, Mary's son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot to death during an argument at a party. He was 20, and Mary’s only child. ‘My son was gone,’ she says. The killer was a 16-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary wanted justice. ‘He was an animal. He deserved to be caged.’ And he was. Tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years – Oshea served 17 before being recently released. He now lives back in the old neighbourhood - next door to Mary. How a convicted murder ended-up living a door away from his victim’s mother is a story, not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect - but of remarkable mercy. A few years ago, Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison. As a devout Christian, she felt compelled to see if there was some way, if somehow, she could forgive her son’s killer. ‘I believe the first thing she said to me was, “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now,”’ Oshea says. ‘And I was befuddled myself.’

Oshea says they met regularly after that. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord - who with Mary’s blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don’t just live close - they are close.

Mary was able to forgive. She credits God, of course - but also concedes a more selfish motive. ‘Unforgiveness is like cancer,’ Mary says. ‘It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.’

For Oshea, it hasn’t been that easy. ‘I haven’t totally forgiven myself yet, I’m learning to forgive myself. And I’m still growing toward trying to forgive myself.’

[Taken from the story at]


What stands out to you about Mary’s understanding and practice of forgiveness?

Who do you think most benefits from forgiveness and why?



The 5 Ws of Forgiveness are a useful tool for forgiving from the heart – moving from a place of resentment and bitterness, to one of peace and joy.

Who – Forgiveness is extended to specific people (or people groups) for wrongs they have done against us. So the first step in the process of forgiveness is to name these people. The Holy Spirit can help us by bringing to mind those we are currently holding grudges, bitterness and resentment against. As well as writing down the names of these people, it is worth adding ‘self’ to the list as we are often holding things against ourselves too.

What – Forgiveness is for specific wrongs that people have done against us (or we have done against ourselves).  Recalling the specific ways that people have wronged us will likely be a painful experience, however this is a necessary step in the process of forgiveness.

Wound – In order to forgive from the heart, we need to engage our hearts. When the bible uses the word ‘heart’, it means the very centre of our being, which includes the place where our emotions live. This step involves engaging with and naming the impact of these wrongful actions against us. It includes our emotional wounds (e.g. it made me feel angry, worthless, frightened, etc), as well as any physical impact (e.g. I lost my job, I lost friends, I struggled to trust, etc).

Will – Forgiveness, according to the dictionary, is ‘the conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who has harmed you’. It is a choice, a decision, an act of the will. A correct understanding of forgiveness can help us make this choice when there is a battle within us. Forgiveness is not justifying people’s actions – it is not saying that what people did to us is OK. Forgiveness is needed because what they did to us was not OK. If it was OK then forgiveness wouldn’t be needed. Forgiveness is not letting people off the hook, it is taking them off our hook and putting them onto God’s hook, for him to administer justice as he sees fit. Forgiveness is not about letting people get off free, however, it is about us getting free from the hurt, bitterness and anger that have been consuming us. Ultimately though, forgiveness is a choice, whether we feel like it or not. Don’t wait until you feel like it, make the conscious choice to do it and you will find freedom from bitterness and resentment.

Walk – Once we have made the conscious step to forgive people, we are to walk the rest of our lives in that state of forgiveness and guard against falling back into bitterness and resentment. The Holy Spirit is our great help in this and can empower us to do it. RT Kendal helpfully unpacks what walking in this state of forgiveness looks like: ‘us not defaming people by telling about what they said or did to us; us not causing people to feel afraid or intimidated by us; us wanting them to forgive themselves and not feel guilty; us letting them save face; us protecting them from their greatest fear - that we might tell on them; us praying for them to be blessed generously by God; and us making a lifelong commitment to live this way (even 17 or 50 years later).’ (Dr R. T. Kendal, Total Forgiveness, Charisma House, 2002, 2007.)

[The 5 Ws of Forgiveness - © Michael Lyden]


A prayer outline you may find helpful as you walk through the 5Ws process of forgiveness is:

Lord, I forgive [NAME]

for [ACTION]

which resulted in [PHYSICAL IMPACT] and made me feel [EMOTION].

I choose to forgive them and I release them, and all these feelings of bitterness and anger, into your hands.

Help me to live for the rest of my days in this forgiven state. Thank you Lord, Amen


Do you agree with the description in this chapter of what it looks like to walk out forgiveness?


So What?

Get into groups with 1 or 2 of your most trusted friends in the community. Spend some time praying and walking through the 5Ws of forgiving from the heart together.

Who: Start by asking the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone you are holding bitterness and resentment against.

What: Let the Holy Spirit bring to mind the wrongful actions that this person has done to you and name them out loud.

Wounds: Spend time engaging with and naming the ways that this person’s actions impacted you physically and emotionally.

Will: With the Holy Spirit’s help, make the choice to forgive this person and release them to God (you may find the wording at the end of the Shape section helpful).

Walk: Pray together, asking God to help you to live with peace and joy towards this person for the rest of your days and to guard against falling back into bitterness.


Spend time thanking God for giving you the strength to forgive and for freeing you from bitterness and resentment.


Grow Further

Memory Verse:

Luke 6:37-38

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.’

Other Bible passages:

 Other resources:

Video: Forgive like Jesus

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