Summary: An essential aspect of prayer is to seek God’s forgiveness and to offer forgiveness to others.
Over the last four weeks, we have been in a series on prayer called “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” We have been focusing on the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus’ primary teaching for us on how to model our prayers, not to be legalistic saying this is how you must pray, but to enhance our prayer life. So far we have looked at four areas of prayer: relationship, honoring, yielding, and petition. In fact repeat these after me [say them again]. Prayer is about a relationship with God, “our Father who art in heaven.” Prayer is talking with God our Father. We begin our prayers by honoring God, “hallowed be thy name.” We honor God by praising him, telling God how great he is, we appreciate God for what he has done in our life. When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking God to bring his kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven. One of the primary ways God brings his kingdom is by using us, his people. So we are asking God to use us to accomplish his purposes on earth. Therefore as we submit or yield ourselves to God so that he will works through us until our life, our family, our community begin to reflect God’s kingdom in heaven. Last week we recognized that Jesus invites us to petition or ask God for our own personal needs, “give us this day our daily bread.” We are also recognizing God is the provider for all of our needs both physical and spiritual.
This week we are moving on to the fifth area: Forgiveness, “forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us).”
Most versions of the Bible read, “forgive us our debts.” In our church we pray forgive us our trespasses. Essentially these are the same thing. Our debts, are what we owe God because we have violated his command or disobeyed him in some way. Many churches have gone away from the word debts because in our modern culture we tend to relate this to owing money, instead of relating it to sin. Several years ago, we began using the word trespass instead, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To trespass means we have traveled where God doesn’t want us to be or we have done something which God doesn’t want us to do. We have trespassed on God’s perfect will. I think in our contemporary culture it would replaced trespass with the word sin we would understand what Jesus was saying, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.
Whatever word we use; debts, trespasses, or sins, it means we have done something we shouldn’t, we have violated God’s command, perhaps we have coveted our neighbors stuff, or acted in anger, or committed sexual sin, maybe we have not demonstrated love to others as we should, perhaps we said something hurtful to our spouse or parents or children, we have gossiped about someone. It can also mean we have avoided doing something God wants us to do. Perhaps we have not loved someone in the way God has instructed us.
NLT 1 John 3:17 But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help-- how can God’s love be in that person?
I. The Need for Forgiveness in Prayer
Why is forgiveness such a necessary part of prayer? Why can’t we just ask God for what we need and call it good? Remember prayer is based on our relationship with God. If there is unforgiven or unrepentant sin in our life, our sin distances us from God, it becomes an obstacle between us, and God may choose not to respond to our prayer.
NIV Isaiah 59:1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities (that is your sins) have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
Our sin harms our prayer life because it harms our relationship with God. Fortunately, God in his grace and mercy does occasionally answer the prayers of those who continue in sin. But generally speaking God is more responsive to those who confess their sin and seek God’s forgiveness.
Jesus’ brother James reminds us that God pays special attention to those who are right with God:
NRS James 5:16b "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."
The righteous have powerful and effective prayers because they are right with God. To be righteous has nothing to do with all the good things you do. If you think you are righteous because of all the good things you do we have another word for that. We call that self-righteous. In Scripture righteousness is a status which God gives to those who have humbled themselves, confessed and repented of their sin and received God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.