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I had one of those "life-changing" encounters with God. It happened about a year ago. Jesus physically appeared to me in when I was in the midst of a horrible and difficult trial. He encouraged me and gave me strength to get through it, and He also showed me many areas of unforgiveness in my life, making me deal with them while He was with Me. It was easy to forgive because His presence was so powerful and so real. That was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.
I suspect that type of thing (where Jesus physically comes and visits you) is a once-in-your-life experience. Because of it, I assumed that I'd never struggle with unforgiveness again after that.
But I find myself struggling with it again--I am not talking about struggling with some new offense or wrong--but some of the same old stuff. I find myself remembering something that was particularly hurtful in my past, and when I think about it, I once again find myself struggling to truly forgive. This is confusing for me, because I thought I'd fully forgiven when I was in Jesus' presence. But if that was true, how could I be struggling with this again?
How can I have a life-changing encounter with God and come out of it unchanged? Is something wrong with me?-- Unchanged
Maybe you are not really as unchanged as you think you are. It sounds like you have made huge headway in the area of forgiveness, even though you haven't 100% mastered it yet.
We live in an instant society and we tend to look for instant fixes, but many times God does not work that way. There is a popular vernacular for that: "God usually works in our lives through a process, not through a single event." That is why a single "life-changing experience" with God does not usually fix all of our problems.
At times God breaks into our lives in a powerful and dramatic way; He changes the direction that we are moving in, but He doesn't usually perfect us in a single encounter. It is wonderful to have a special encounter with God. It is inspiring and exhilarating and it helps establish a strong sense of destiny in our lives.
But no one encounter is going to perfect us, because the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus. That is why 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." Look at the tense of the verb in this passage. It is a continuous verb ("are being transformed"), meaning that we are in a process that has already started, but hasn't completed yet. The "good news" is that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, changing us to be more like Jesus. The "bad news" is that we "are still being transformed," meaning that God is not finished with that process yet. That means we are not perfected yet, and no matter what type of powerful encounter we have with God in this life, this process is still not completed yet and we still have areas that we will struggle with.
I believe the most life-changing encounter with God that the bible records is the Apostle Paul's conversion, described in Acts 9. Before this encounter, Paul was convinced that Christianity was a heresy that needed to be stamped out, so he began a "one man crusade" against the church. He actively persecuted believers and sought them out to be imprisoned and martyred. Acts 9:1-2 tells us: "Then Saul [a.k.a. Paul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."
Verses 3 to 6 describe an amazing personal encounter that Paul had with the Lord, where Jesus personally appeared to him. This happened while he was traveling to Damascus. The experience had all sorts of supernatural effects: a blinding light, voices speaking out of thin air, etc. I believe the Lord also allowed Paul to feel the intensity of His holiness, because he was trembling and he fell to the ground (verses 3 and 6).
That is a pretty dramatic encounter; it was definitely life-changing for Paul; it completely turned his life around. He went from persecuting the church to preaching the gospel. But that dramatic change did not come instantly or all at once; it came step by step. It began in the encounter, when Paul opened himself to God's will. Look at verse 6, where Paul said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Jesus did not give him the whole plan up front. All He told Paul was, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
A few days later, Jesus sent Ananias to both baptize Paul and disciple him a bit. Paul spent some time with the disciples in Damascus (verse 19). He immediately tried to step into his new destiny of preaching the gospel, but he wasn't transformed enough yet, so he failed at it. Instead of making converts, he only made enemies. Look at verses 23-25: "Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket."
So Paul left Damascus for Jerusalem. He had been changed by his powerful encounter with Jesus, and he had a whole new set of values and goals. But when he took another stab at walking in his God-given destiny, but he still wasn't ready for it, and he failed again. Look at verses 29-30: "And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus."
In short, Saul failed miserably and was sent home to "lick his wounds." He had a life-changing encounter with God, where he was given a new destiny. But that single encounter did not instantly transform him to the level of maturity he needed to fulfill that destiny. In short, the encounter started a change in his life, but he still needed to "grow into it." His encounter with God changed his life's direction, but it did not completely change him. He still needed to grow and mature in the Lord so that he could fulfill the destiny God had called him to.
Paul's life-changing encounter with God happened in Acts chapter 9. We don't hear about him again until the end of chapter 11. Some significant amount of time had passed, and Paul had begun to mature in his relationship with the Lord. God had kept Paul "on the shelf" while He transformed him. Finally, in Acts 11:25, Barnabus went to Tarsus looking for Paul, so he could personally mentor him in Christian leadership. Acts 11:26 tells us, "And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."
Paul's mentoring under Barnabus continued for at least a whole year before God called Paul into his destiny. Acts 13:203 describes that call: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."
When did the change in Paul's life start? It started in the midst of his amazing encounter with God--but it took some number of years for the transformation to work itself out in his life.
The same is true for you. The encounter you had with God sounds very powerful and very amazing. I believe that you are forever changed because of it. Your whole attitude towards forgiveness changed right away, but it is taking you some time to learn to walk it out completely. That is normal. I don't think there is anything wrong with you struggling to walk out the full expression of forgiveness from a very deep hurt. Just keep working on it with the Lord, choosing to forgive because of what Jesus did to you. I believe that your emotions are at conflict with your spirit on this issue, but you are ruled by your spirit and you are doing your best to keep submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Keep growing in Him and at some point, I believe that your emotions will catch up to your spirit in that area, and you won't struggle with it any more.