The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer so many of us have known since childhood. Because it is so familiar to us, do we see what a big, exciting prayer it actually is? A prayer for the honour of God’s name and the triumph of his cause; looking to the great day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.
But the prayer also acknowledges that God’s kingdom has not fully come. We await the day of the return of the king. And while we wait, are to pray for our present situation: ‘Give us today our daily bread’ or, ‘Give us today the bread of tomorrow,’ we pray. Daily bread means food for our physical bodies but also food for our souls.
But notice, there is something else we need to pray for – forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins or, trespasses, as we forgive those who sin against us,” Jesus taught (Matthew 6:12).
AM I STILL WITHHOLDING FORGIVENESS?
Have you ever paused at these words and reflected: ‘Who haven’t I forgiven?’ And then someone comes to mind. What do you do with thought?
There is a sting here, for Jesus is saying that if we expect God to forgive us, we need to know deep down that we have forgiven those who have wronged us.
And in case we miss the point in the prayer, we can’t easily overlook Jesus comment in Matthew 6:14: ‘For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.’
Chilling words! If we are not willing to hold out forgiveness to others, God will not forgive us. In Colossians 3:13 Paul the Apostle puts it this way: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgives you (Colossians 3:14).
God has every reason to be hostile towards us. In our natural state we are his enemies. We flout his law, and we ignore him. But what has God done? When Christ died on the cross he took into himself the pain that we caused. If God has been willing to make that kind of sacrifice for us, shouldn’t we also be prepared to find it in our hearts to forgive those who have wronged us?
It is said a friend once reminded Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, of a particularly cruel thing someone had done to her. Clara Barton didn’t seem to remember it. ‘But you must,’ her friend said. ‘No’, was the reply, ‘I distinctly remember forgetting it.’
To hold out forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation. For in the same way we need to turn to Jesus Christ with an honest, repentant spirit, so anyone who has wronged us also needs to repent. It’s true in church, in a marriage, in a family, and the community.
But the starting point needs to be a change of heart within us – a willingness to forgive. Forgive as the Lord forgave you, says Paul. Put on love which binds you all together. Paul knew how easy it is for us to be divided. He knows the corrosive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knows of one force that can heal and enable us to grow into maturity – Love.
Love is patient and kind, he writes in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful. Love bears all things, endures all things, and hopes all things. Love is optimistic. The idea of division and resentment is too painful where love operates. ‘Put on love,’ he says. ‘It is like a supernatural glue.’
This is where God’s people, as individuals and in our churches, should be so different from the culture. The New Testament insists that the church is the one place where the ethics of heaven ought to prevail — the ethics of love and mercy, of loving our enemies, of being reconciled with one another rather than taking revenge or personal retribution. God expects us to go the way of grace rather than demanding strict justice. As God’s people we should be able to function on the principle of turning the other cheek.
Consider those who have wronged you – those you resent and feel angry towards. ‘Pray about your attitude,’ says Paul. Can you forgive them? Do you care for them? Above all will you love them?