Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 37: Forgive as we forgive

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We come now to the section of the Model Prayer that may be the most difficult for many of us to pray. "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." This business of having our own sins forgiven is one we can all embrace. The task of forgiving others is one we are not quite so eager to accomplish, and I am not immune to this difficulty. 

When someone wrongs me in some way or, even worse, wrongs someone I love, my natural tendency is to respond with anger that easily translates to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness, however, leads to bitterness that does far more damage to me than to the one who wounded me. Not only does bitterness tend to seep out into every relationship and every situation in my life, but it taints my relationship with God, as well. If I want God to forgive me, I must be willing to forgive others. 

Jesus knew this was a difficult area for us, which is probably why He spoke so much about dealing with our enemies. "Be reconciled with your brother first." (Matt. 5:24) "Make friends quickly with your opponent." (Matt. 5:25) "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Nothing of loving our enemy comes easily to us, but it is not optional.
Jesus said for us to love our enemies and He meant it. It wasn't just a helpful suggestion.

I've learned a little about forgiveness over the years. Having seen the results of unforgiveness and bitterness, I do not want what those easily-embraced decisions offer. When hard times come my way, I have learned to take those burdens to our Lord first. Praying for the one who has injured me in some way does not mean that I like what has happened or that I feel "warm and fuzzy" toward the one who has hurt me. It simply means that I begin in obedience and, in doing that, I usually act my way into feeling like Jesus intended. 

Even when I haven't yet acted my way into feeling like Jesus intended, I still have to obey. That's the task that is definitely difficult. Obedience is a choice and, when I choose obedience in praying for the one who is (at least temporarily) my enemy, it helps me to move toward loving them. Unforgiveness is much easier, but it is in no way better. 

Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi prison camp, knew quite a bit about forgiving her enemies. She said, "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." Do you "feel" like forgiving? Do it anyway.

What about loving our enemies is optional? Nothing at all. If we want to be in right relationship with God, we must be in right relationship with our fellow man. The burden of unforgiveness is one we were never meant to carry. Why not join with me in taking those burdens of hurt and those difficulties of forgiving to our Lord? Offer a sacrifice of forgiveness, of blessing toward our enemies, and allow the Father to cleanse and heal the wound that unforgiveness has caused.