Over the past 4 weeks we have been looking at different aspects of prayer and I hope that these posts have been helping to enhance your prayers to God and your relationship with Him.
We have looked at:
Keep on working on these things. It helps to have lists. Some people worry that if they have a list that their prayer will not be from the heart. On the contrary, taking time to write things down will make it easier to remember the important things that you want to share with God. We can pray effectively without lists, but if you feel your prayers are disjointed or you are having difficulty focusing, it can be an excellent tool.
Let’s move on to the next aspect of prayer: Forgiveness
Forgiveness is one of those words that we use so often in Christianity that the meaning gets lost in the repetition. We need to take time to think about what it truly means because it is a crucial part of our relationship with God and our fellow man.
When Jesus lived on the earth as a man, one of the teachers of the law approached Him and asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” to which Jesus replied, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.”
God’s forgiveness is an expression of love and mercy.
Our forgiveness towards others is our expression of love and mercy.
What does all this have to do with prayer?
Asking God’s forgiveness in our prayers is imperative. When we sin, we may be wronging others, but we are always wronging God. If we love God, then we need to ask His forgiveness when we sin. And, when do we talk to God? In prayer.
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned Jesus’ example prayer and I want to look at it again here. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus says, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Some translations say, “sins.” In verses 14-15, Jesus addresses the forgiveness aspect of prayer and does not talk about any other part of His prayer. This indicates that forgiveness is of paramount importance.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
There are lots of discussions about whether we have to confess every sin in our prayer to God. I don’t want to get deep into that discussion in this post, so I’ll just share what a wise Christian man once told me. He said that when he prayed for forgiveness, he would ask God to forgive his sins of commission (things he did on purpose) and sins of omission (sins he committed without realization). I imagine that the ones that weighed heavily on his heart he went into detail about. I do that when I ask for forgiveness. I don’t make excuses for my behavior; it is simply a request for forgiveness. It is then incumbent upon me to go out and not do it again.
You might be thinking, “I haven’t sinned today. I don’t have anything to be forgiven of.” I can’t speak for you as I don’t know what’s in your heart or mind or what your daily actions involve. I can speak where God has spoken, and I can speak for myself. In 1 John 1, John the apostle wrote, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1.9-10)
Ask yourself honestly, “have I sinned at all today?” Most, when thinking of sin, think of “big” sins (I use the term loosely; all sin is alike to God, but some sins have greater shame and greater consequences). Consider, however, that you may be sinning by acting in bitterness towards others. You may be harboring resentment toward another. You might be neglecting doing good for others in favor of doing good for yourself. I am not suggesting that we micro-analyze ourselves, but we need to honestly evaluate our hearts daily and purify our hearts so we can draw near to God. We wash our hands daily so we don’t contaminate ourselves; we need to cleanse our hearts so we don’t contaminate our soul.
There is a second part of Jesus’ statement about forgiveness that I quoted above in Matthew 6.14-15. We must forgive others when they wrong us. It isn’t a suggestion. It is a command. The consequence for not forgiving others is that we will not receive forgiveness from God. We need God’s forgiveness. We want God’s forgiveness. Not everything in scripture is as black and white as those two verses. Take it to heart and practice it.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. You may “say” you’ve forgiven someone and yet you have a list in the back of your mind of all the times that they’ve wronged you, and when that person finally lays down the last straw against you, that pile is going to come crashing down on you both. C.S. Lewis explained this concept best in his essay “On Forgiveness.” He wrote:
“When it comes to the question of our forgiving other people… forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them, you are trying to make out there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, ‘But I tell you, the man broke a most solemn promise.’ Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart–every wish to humiliate him or to pay him out.)” [emphasis mine]
We don’t have to be witless wonders. If someone repeatedly lies to you, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you trust their words, it means that you do not harbor resentment. You still treat them with love, but you are wise enough to see that they are not trustworthy. You still pray for them, you still treat them with kindness.
Jesus also told a parable in Matthew 18.21-35. A man forgave his servant a huge debt of 10,000 talents, yet when the servant found another man who owed him money (far less than he himself owed the master), he had him thrown in prison until he could repay it. The master heard about it and rescinded the forgiveness of debt and the man was thrown in prison until he could pay every last cent. The significant point is that the sins people commit against us are small in comparison to what we do and have done to God. Jesus paid the debt for our sins, but if we don’t extend the same compassion, if we don’t love our fellow man (remember, love requires forgiveness!) then we lose our gift: “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness until now.” 1 John 1.9. Read the whole first chapter of John, what I am saying goes hand in hand with the context of the chapter.
If you are harboring resentment, hatred, or anger you need to work on extending forgiveness. I have been pondering this all week and trying to set right my mind and heart. As I discovered, you can be withholding forgiveness without realizing it. Cleanse your heart; withholding forgiveness is like cancer of the soul. It is a wasting disease.
Lastly, I leave you with two more passages from God’s Word:
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, loud quarreling and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children.”
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Do not grow weary in doing good my dear friends. May God bless you this week and always.