A PATTERN FOR PRAYER
DON’T GO TO JAIL!
"… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us … If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:12,14-15, NLT)
Do you recall the cartoon character Andy Capp? In one of the comic strips, Andy is up to his old tricks, dodging the minister because he is in the pub and not in church. Andy’s wife Flo has decided to take him back after one of his periodic expulsions from home. The minster marvels at this and says “Flo, I’m so glad you took him back again.” Flo answers, “There’s something about me; I just have to forgive and forget.” Andy replies, “There’s something about her, all right. She never forgets that she forgives.”
“Forgive and forget” says the old adage. But is this realistic, is it practical? No matter how hard I try, there are just some hurt I can’t forget. The hurt is too deep. The pain is too real. What is more, even when I do forget, something happens and those old painful memories of the wrong done are dredged up. Forgive, maybe; but forget … that’s almost impossible.
A further problem is … what if I forgive the other person but the person carries on regardless and does nothing at all to change or correct the behaviour that is causing the hurt. What then? Or what if the person’s behaviour toward me or someone I hold dear is so awful that I feel that they don’t deserve my forgiveness? What then?
These are very real problems that we encounter when we are confronted with the second half of the fifth petition of our LORD’S PATTERN FOR PRAYER “… as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” We do not seem to have too much of a problem with the first half of the petition. It is easy to come before God and seek His forgiveness but it is the second part that seems to hang us up …
In reviewing the fifth petition, we have been considering
THREE ASPECTS OF THE PETITION
Last week, we commenced by looking at
• THE PROBLEM – SIN
The question was posed “If I am a Christian and God has already forgiven me, why should I have to pray for His forgiveness daily?”
We answered the question by first making it clear that the Lord’s Prayer as we know it, is a prayer for those who are in an intimate personal relationship with Almighty God and not a prayer for ‘unredeemed sinners’ it is a prayer for ‘born-again’ Christians, who at the moment of accepting Christ as Saviour are …
• SAVED FROM SIN’S PENALTY
We no longer stand condemned by God, we no longer will be judged for sins past, present and future. However, sin does remain a problem in the believer’s life and therefore God is in the process of transforming us to be like Jesus and part of that process is to give us victory over sin that is spurred on by our old nature and so we are being…
• SAVED FROM SIN’S POWER
The good news is that one day, when we pass from this life, the process will be complete as we are changed to be like Christ and sin will no longer be part of the equation for us in Heaven and then we will be …
• SAVED FROM SIN’S PRESENCE
In the meantime … sin needs to be dealt with and therefore we looked at God’s way of dealing with sin and it’s consequences in our daily lives … We saw …
• THE PROVISION - FORGIVENESS
John says “… if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness."
We suggested that this involves,
CONTEMPLATION as we allow the Holy Spirit to place the mark on our transgression through our reflecting on our thoughts, words & deeds
CONFESSION as we look at our sin through God’s eyes and enter into the pain our sin causes, acknowledging that we have broken God’s laws and He is justified in punishing us.
CONVICTION as declare our intention to turn from our sin and turn back to God’s way.
CLEANSING as we experience the freedom and joy of God’s grace
That brings us to the third aspect of the petition that we consider today …
• THE PREREQUISITE – FORGIVING OTHERS
“… as we have forgiven those who sin against us."
It is interesting that it is only on this aspect of the petition seeking GOD’S PARDON that our Lord adds an appended commentary to the entire prayer… "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15, NLT)
This is crucial, what God is saying that it is not only our seeking God’s forgiveness that is necessary; but also that in order to fully receive God’s grace of forgiveness we need to extend the grace we have received to any who may have hurt or harmed us! Therefore in order to understand the vital importance of this PREREQUISITE TO GOD’S PARDON, we need to consider THREE FACETS or aspects…
• THE EVIDENCES OF AN UNFORGIVING SPIRIT
• THE ESSENTIALS OF A FORGIVING SPIRIT
• THE EXPERIENCE OF A FORGIVING SPIRIT
THE EVIDENCES OF AN UNFORGIVING SPIRIT
It is revealing to recognize that at the heart of many of the emotional and spiritual problems that people experience is an unforgiving spirit. The sad thing is that we are often so slow to recognize it; we are so devious within our human nature that we cover it up, try to bury it, pretend it’s not there. However we need to realise that when we fail to forgive those who sin against us, those who cause us hurt and pain, or those who offend us, consequences do follow; consequences that have a direct bearing upon our spiritual and emotional well-being.
Paul suggests some these consequences or evidences of an unforgiving spirit when writing to the Ephesians … “Don’t say anything that would hurt ⌊another person⌋. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. Don’t give God’s Holy Spirit any reason to be upset with you. He has put his seal on you for the day you will be set free ⌊from the world of sin⌋. Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ. ” (Ephesians 4:29–32, GW)
How therefore can I identify if I am harboring a spirit of unforgiveness towards someone? I would suggest FOUR EVIDENCES EMERGE from the passage we read …
• CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS
When we cultivate an unforgiving spirit towards someone we begin to say things about them that we shouldn’t say; things to break them down, to cause them harm, to cast them in a negative and bad light. If we can’t find anything good to say about someone, chances are that we are harboring unforgiveness towards them in our hearts.
Listen to yourself, if you find yourself constantly, consistently breaking someone down, in all likelihood you have something against that person, an injury that you have failed to forgive. If you can’t find something good to say about someone else, it could indicate that you are bearing a grudge against that person. As the old adage says there is always good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us. There is always something positive that one can find to say about someone. So if you find that you can’t, then chances are that you have failed to forgive that person for something they have done! More dangerous is …
• POISONED EMOTIONS
A second evidence of an unforgiving spirit is poisoned emotions within us. We may be able to control our tongues, but deep within us our emotions become poisoned with bitterness, rage and anger whenever we think of the person. Most likely that is often! We boil and churn within often secretly plotting revenge and delighting if something bad happens to the person.
Like the woman who was bitten by a rabid dog, and it looked like she was going to die from rabies. The doctor told her to put her final affairs in order. So the woman took pen and paper, and began writing furiously. The doctor said, "That sure is a long will you’re making." She snorted, "Will, it is not my will! I’m making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!"
Sadly, this affects us more than the person concerned, who most probably seldom, if ever, thinks about it. Remember you cannot control what others do to you but you can control your reaction to it! You cannot prevent someone hurting you, you cannot control someone offending you but you can control how you react to it.
A young victim of abuse who was confronted with the need to forgive the perpetrator said “Why should I forgive him for ruining fifteen years of my life” To which the wise counselor replied, “If you don’t, you will be allowing him to ruin the next fifteen years of your life”
The most dangerous aspect of this is that you put yourself into a prison, a prison that will slowly drain the joy out of your life. The root of bitterness will destroy you! Unforgiveness will put you into an emotional and spiritual prison. Unforgiveness will also lead to …
• BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS
This is a further evidence of unforgiveness in your heart. You have nothing to do with the person, avoiding them at all costs. Have you ever noticed that God has a way that when you have a disagreement with someone, He always lets your paths cross. What is your reaction if you see the person in the supermarket? Where once there was love and friendship with shared experiences there is now only hostility and separation. Finally unforgiveness manifests itself in …
• BLOCKED BLESSINGS
This is particularly tragic in the life of a Christian. Beloved unforgiveness ‘grieves’ or ‘saddens’ the Holy Spirit. Where sin exists, God cannot bless… the channel is blocked, clogged up. It is not that God does not want to bless me; It is me that sticks the blockage in the way! Just as a blocked drain prevents the free flow of water so to failure to forgive blocks the free flow of the Holy Spirit in and through your life.
So these are some of the main characteristics of an unforgiving spirit, there are others but these are the main ones. Moving on let’s examine why we should forgive others or …
THE ESSENTIALS OF A FORGIVING SPIRIT
• ACTIVATES GOD’S FORGIVENESS
The principle is straightforward albeit sobering. There is no difficulty to it. How does it work? Unforgiveness blocks God’s forgiveness in our lives. Eugene Peterson captures this principle in his paraphrase of Jesus’ postscript to the Pattern for Prayer …
"“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part." (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)
God can forgive anyone; nothing is greater than God’s forgiveness. But God has said when you fail to forgive others …“You cut yourself off” from God’s forgiveness. Why? Because grace and mercy and forgiveness are a fundamental part of whom God is. To fail to forgive when we have been forgiven is to spurn and offend who God is! The very nature of God is to forgive, is to have mercy and when you and I fail to forgive others it is almost as if we throw God’s forgiveness back at Him! Imagine that you have gone to a lot of trouble to get a gift for someone and they spurn the gift. How do you feel? How does God feel, who purchased that Gift on the Cross?
John Wesley once heard a man declare “I will never forgive”. To which Wesley replied “Then dear Sir, I hope you never sin”.
Our forgiveness from God is inseparably entwined with our willingness to forgive.
• ADHERES TO CHRIST’S EXAMPLE
Paul says …
"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
The life and teaching of Jesus epitomized forgiveness, supremely evidenced when having been falsely accused, tried and condemned, spat upon, mocked and reviled, as the nails were being driven through His hands he cried “Father Forgive them”. Jesus Himself is our pattern for forgiveness. We would never have to face the severity of his suffering, can we therefore withhold forgiveness. No matter how badly you have been treated you will ne
Someone said “We are never more Christ like than when we choose to forgive!”
• ALLOWS FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
"If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." (Psalm 66:18, NLT)
As we have already seen in considering the EVIDENCES OF AN UNFORGIVING SPIRIT, our failure to forgive forms a barrier to our spiritual growth. Are your prayers not being answered, Are you troubled because you are not growing in your walk with the Lord? Do you sometimes feel there is a barrier between you and God? If you can answer yes to any of those questions then may I suggest you examine your heart to see if there is any unforgiveness being harbored there!
• ADVANCES THE KINGDOM
Unforgiveness also hinders the advance of the Kingdom not only because it fails to give witness to God’s love, grace and forgiveness but also in causing disunity among believers. Broken fellowship in the Church is a shocking testimony to unbelievers. Sadly sometimes the church is not a place where the “Saints come marching in” rather it becomes a place where the “Saints come storming in!” Unforgiveness only advances Satan’s schemes. Satan wants to sow discord. Why? Because he knows it retards the advance of God’s Kingdom! Paul recognizes this when he writes to the Corinthians … "Now to whom you forgive anything, I do too. For what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, it is for you in the presence of Christ, so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his intentions." (2 Corinthians 2:10-11, HCSB)
That leaves only the question of how … how can I practice forgiveness especially when it is so hard to forgive?
THE EXPERIENCE OF A FORGIVING SPIRIT
FOUR REMEMBERS …
• REMEMBER TO RELY ON THE HOLY SPIRIT
You and I can never manufacture forgiveness; it is contrary to our human nature. Philip Yancey calls it ‘an unnatural act’, saying that “You don’t find dolphins forgiving sharks for eating their playmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, not dog-forgive-dog.” To harbor a grudge, to hold onto a spirit of unforgiveness, to bear hatred towards someone who has harmed or hurt you is easy. To forgive is not natural … it is supernatural and can only come about as you ask God, the Holy Spirit to pour His grace and forgiveness into your life. Forgiveness is something God must do within us as we yield to Him. Only God can create in us the love for those who persecute, offend, and hurt us. That is why John tells us …
"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7, NLT)
• REMEMBER GOD’S MERCY TOWARDS YOU
Jesus issues a stern warning at the conclusion of the sobering parable on forgiveness told in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness.
"“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”" (Matthew 18:35, NLT)
The problem of the unforgiving servant was to balance the magnitude of the debt He owed and was forgiven with the debt of his fellow servant whom he refused to have mercy on. His failure was to recognize the extent of God’s mercy!
• REMEMBER THE OFFENCE NO MORE
You say,”I can forgive but I just can’t forget.” If I forget I can remember!” Nowhere in Scripture does God say He forgets our sins rather He chooses to remember them no more. He treats us just as if we had not sinned. "And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”" (Hebrews 8:12, NLT) The word Jesus uses ‘to forgive’ means literally ‘to cast or hurl away’. God does that for us and requires that we do it for one another.
William Sangster was addressing Christmas Cards when a friend commented on one name of a person who had slighted Sangster. “Don’t you remember what He did to you?” “Oh yes I do but I have remembered to forget!”
• REMEMBER TO INITIATE RESTORATION
It is required of you to take the initiative to restore the relationship even if the other person is difficult or unwilling. That is why Paul says … "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18, NLT) How?
Approach God first
Attack the problem not the person
Attempt reconciliation not resolution
Corrie ten Boom understood the difficulty of forgiveness and also the incredible spiritual blessing that comes to those who do truly forgive. In her book ‘Tramp for the Lord’ she wrote “Forgiveness is not an emotion…Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie ten Boom – “Tramp for the Lord”)
This is vividly demonstrated by a story told by Corrie ten Boom, in her book. Corrie was interred during the 2nd World War in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. During this time she was subjected to inhumane, humiliating and degrading treatment by her Nazi captors as well as the cruel execution of her sister Betsie. By God’s grace she made it through the hell of the concentration camp. In time she felt she had eventually, by God’s grace, forgiven all those who had so cruelly treated her.
She preached God’s love and forgiveness, throughout Europe and the United States. On one occasion she was greeting the people after her talk when she saw him. One moment she saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush—the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. She could see her sister’s frail form ahead of her, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. The man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards. He stood in front of her, hand thrust out: "A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!" She fumbled in her pocketbook rather than take that hand. She thought “He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?” But she remembered him. She was face-to-face with one of her captors and her blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there. But since that time, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,"—again his hand came out—"will you forgive me?" Corrie stood there—she whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and now she could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to Corrie it seemed hours as she wrestled with the most difficult thing she had ever had to do. She knew she had to do it. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. And still she stood there with the coldness clutching her heart. "Jesus, help me!" she prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling." And so woodenly, mechanically, she thrust out her hand into the one stretched out to her. And as she did, an incredible thing took place. She writes “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. "I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!" For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.”
[Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor - Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp. 53-55]
Beloved, forgiveness is never easy. To harbor a grudge, to hold onto a spirit of unforgiveness, to bear hatred towards someone who has harmed or hurt you is easy. To forgive as has been said is not natural … it is supernatural and can only come about as you ask God to pour His grace and forgiveness into your life. He will give you the grace to forgive others and to break down the door of the prison.
WHEN YOU PRAY … “ … and forgive us our sins,”
REMEMBER DON’T GO TO JAIL
BY FAILING ALSO TO PRAY…
LORD HELP US “ … as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”