This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our sins (debts), as we also have forgiven those who sin against us (our debtors). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 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 6:9-15
The most familiar prayer in the entire world has statements that are inextricably linked: it is of course the model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples when they asked His advice on how to pray. Jesus gave the prayer, which we now familiarly call “the Lord’s prayer,” as a model or guide not only for how we should pray but who God is and how we should communicate with Him.
Two lines that are heavily loaded are “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The “as…” links the two statements together. Jesus was absolutely clear on this—we are to forgive and forgive and forgive! WHY? Because we have been forgiven and we go on being forgiven for the most appalling sins of pride, selfishness, self-promotion, greed, criticism of others, gossip—the list is endless.
Forgiveness is not so easy though, is it? Had forgiveness been easy, Jesus need not have died. Forgiveness means letting go. It means taking NO offence and harbouring no resentment or residue. It means allowing the offender to go free or, at the very least, takes the power out of the wrongdoing to affect one further.
However, there is always a cost to be borne. Inevitably, it will mean letting go of hurt pride, damage, emotional wounds, or even physical harm—and this is painful. There may have been many times when we have been unjustifiably hurt or devastatingly let down and have just cause to state our case in righteous anger. Abused children, cheating spouses, victims of injustice: all seemingly have the right to hit back, but Jesus makes it clear that this is not God’s way and it cannot be our way if we want Him to continue to forgive us. What a cost though... to forgive an abusing parent or tyrannical employer!
Yet, there is another cost that is much greater: the cost of not forgiving—of remaining offended, hurt, damaged, and harbouring resentment. The cost does not seem great at first. “I mean why should I forgive? Especially when what the other person did was so horrid or unjust!”
But the longer this goes on, the more it grows and goes deep. It begins to sour our relationships and niggles at us. Unforgivingness can sap away our strength, blind us spiritually, and even affect our overall health. We push the resentment down and try to forget. We can even kid ourselves that we have forgotten all about it but forgetting is not forgiving.
The stuff of resentment is still there and God will remind us again and again because He knows the damage it will do and the gap that being unforgiving will create between us and Him. It is true that, to forgive someone truly, seems to mean that one loses everything but to God, when we forgive, we lose nothing and gain everything.
So let us practice forgiveness by:
- Thanking God for offering us forgiveness endlessly; and,
- Asking God to help us recall who we should forgive and act on it.