Jesus had just explained how NOT to pray: to impress other people or mindlessly fill the air with words in hopes of impressing God (Matt 6:5-8). Then the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray like He did. We’ve discussed His first three lines of the prayer already: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:9-11)
Jesus used this prayer as a model on how to pray. For our prayers to be effective, we must learn to enter into the presence of God with a grateful heart, no matter what we are going through in life. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courtyards with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” (Ps 100:4) Every prayer should start with thanksgiving and praise.
We are to address our Father in heaven in prayer, while honoring His name. We must always honor His name; not use it nonchalantly or profanely. If we don’t hallow His name, we are profaning Him. Christ then models the importance of submission to God’s will, and speaking to Him in a way which acknowledges it so that our will lines up with His will. The next line in the prayer is to request our needs for today: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:11) When we ask the Lord to meet our needs for today, we’re acknowledging that God is our sustainer, source and provider.
And today, we get to a very difficult line for most (certainly for me): “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:12) If we look at this literally in the English NASB version, we may believe that if someone owes us $100, we are to forgive the debt. But that’s not the debt Jesus is teaching us about.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus puts it this way: “And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4a) Sinning against others creates a debt. The Greek literally says “sin” in the first half of the verse, and “to the one who owes us” (opheilonti – a sister of the “debt” forms discussed above) in the second half of the verse. Opheilonti most literally means a person’s “dues” or “obligations”, which can be translated as “transgressions”. Luke is making explicit what is implicit in Matthew. When Jesus talks about forgiving “debts” he means forgiving “sins”; the debts He’s talking about are sin debts. We need to be forgiven for our sins by God and we need to forgive others their sins against us.
This statement is meant both as both a request and a declaration. It asks God to forgive the one praying, and states the one praying has forgiven those who wronged them. Jesus is instructing believers to pray for forgiveness (1 Jn 1:6-10). He is also declaring the necessity of extending forgiveness to other people. Both are critical needs for every person: to be forgiven of sin by God and to follow God’s example by forgiving others.
Jesus came to earth to make it possible for those who trust in Him to be fully forgiven by God for their sins once and for all (John 3:16-17). He did this by paying the price for sin, giving His life as the final blood sacrifice and then defeating death through His resurrection (Phil 2:8). Confronted with such a sacrifice, God expects born-again believers—who have received the unfathomable gift of forgiveness—will turn and forgive all who sin against them. This idea is important enough for Jesus to re-emphasize after this model prayer is complete (Matt 6:14-15).
Now there are those in my life who choose from their own misery to strike out at me over and over again, many times mocking my Lord and my trust in Him. They are purposely hateful behind my back (very few times to my face) and then pretend to want to put away any animosity. I know they are lying when they say that because at the first chance, they degrade me again with their words. These are like the Pharisees in that how they behave is fine, but I’m to not have the audacity to have a problem with it, except that they don’t truly believe by faith in Jesus; in fact they mock Him. That in itself isn’t my problem, because vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom 12:19).
What is difficult is to put aside my hurt and anger, and forgive over and over again as Jesus instructed (Matt 18:21-35). This morning, I came across Psalm 69 which gives me a picture of someone wallowing in the mire of sin because they are eaten up with hurt and anger. “Save me, God, for the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mud, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; My eyes fail while I wait for my God.” (vv 1-3) When I am stuck (by my choice) in a spirit of unforgiveness, I am drowning in the muck of the hate-filled who strike out against me.
My prayer is further in this psalm: “God, You know my foolishness, and my guilt is not hidden from You. May those who wait for You not be ashamed because of me, Lord God of armies; May those who seek You not be dishonored because of me, God of Israel, Because for Your sake I have endured disgrace; Dishonor has covered my face.” (Ps 69:5-7) And I continue: “But as for me, my prayer is to You, Lord, at an acceptable time; God, in the greatness of Your mercy, Answer me with Your saving truth. Rescue me from the mud and do not let me sink; May I be rescued from those who hate me, and from the depths of water. May the flood of water not overflow me, nor the deep swallow me up, nor the pit close its mouth on me.” (Ps 69:13-15) And in asking Him to rescue me, I ask that He put me higher where I can stand firm on Him, the solid rock: “But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, God, set me safely on high. I will praise the name of God with song, and exalt Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord better than an ox or bull with horns and hoofs. The humble have seen it and are glad; you who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise those of His who are prisoners.” (Ps 69:29-33)
I can’t wallow in pain, hurt and anger. The Lord instructs me to forgive so that I am not wallowing in the mud with the unclean. I am not to judge those who are hurtful but instead look at my own faults, repent from them and ask the Lord for forgiveness (Matt 7:1-5), but I am also to be discerning about the company I choose to keep.
I can forgive someone, and let them go from my life while continuing to pray for them. We are instructed to not give others the opportunity to tear us apart: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt 7:6) Forgiveness is necessary, subjecting yourself to someone who has proven that they relish in tearing you apart is quite another thing. There are times when we should choose to love someone from afar. Today, I choose to forgive because the Lord has told me it is best for me. I also choose to love from afar while praying for their hearts.