Reading: Luke 11
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11:4a)
I find this to be one of the most difficult prayers to pray. I will explain, but first let's get some background. Think of the following statements Jesus made:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
Again, in the parable of the unmerciful servant:
Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:34-35)
But now we are actually told to pray, “Lord forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke, in a way, assumes Gospel fruit. By that I mean, Luke is effectively saying, “In light of the mountain of sin we have been forgiven through Christ, surely we now forgive everyone who sins against us, therefore Lord forgive us our sins, for we also...” To not forgive others reveals a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Yet, when I pray this, I am making a commitment that I have forgiven all who sin against me. Matthew's record says it slightly differently, with the same end result:
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)
Every time I begin to pray this, I stutter. I stop and think, “Wait a minute, God, hold on. I am not sure I want you to answer this prayer! Let me pause and consider if there are any I have not forgiven.” And then I begin to go through my thought life and ask myself if there are any I have not forgiven... that I am still holding their sins against them. Is there anyone which I am secretly, or not so secretly, hoping God will teach them a lesson by punishing them for their sin against me or others, rather than praying God will forgive them and restore them to His wonderful presence. And usually, I don't have to think long because that person will come to my mind almost immediately as I am praying this prayer—it is that person who brought pause to my prayer.
And then, at that moment I can apply another prayer teaching from Jesus:
...bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)
Right then I can begin to pray for that person; pray for God to release them from their sin, and forgive them; pray for my soul to rejoice in their well-being; pray for blessing in their life. And as I do this, I begin to forgive them; I begin to actually bear up under the pain of their sin, rather than throwing it back in their face. It cost Christ to bear my sin in order to forgive me. And it will cost you and me to bear the sins of others in order to forgive them. We would often rather (from the standpoint of how we feel) throw it back in their face and make them pay. But we are called to forgive them as we have been forgiven... as God in Christ forgave us.
Then, I am ready to go back to my original prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And I do so with a proper fear and trembling, a proper fear of God.
It is important to note the corporate nature of this prayer. We are not only to pray, “Lord forgive me and make me a forgiving person (so to speak),” but, “Lord, forgive us (this local church you have joined me to), and make us a forgiving people...” This is a prayer for unity and peace in the church. This might be voiced as a prayer that we, as a church, would,
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)
Lord, teach us to pray!