By Aaron Baker
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father 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, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Jesus spoke those words in verses 7-13 of Matthew, chapter 6. It’s one of my favorite passages. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned it, but it seems I’ve known it all my life. When my girls were young, we would say it together as I tucked them in to bed. I’ve recited it countless times since then, seen it on numerous wall hangings and had ongoing arguments about “debts” vs. “trespasses.”
As powerful as the passage is, the one that Jesus delivers next in verses 14-15 has caused me to lose more sleep than almost any other.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”.
What is Jesus saying here?
Forgiveness is a powerful thing. It’s one of the most important things we are called to do, yet often one of the hardest.
We seek it from the Father, but many of us are slow to extend it to others. Withholding forgiveness can provide a temporary bandage for the hurt we experienced, may let us ignore a painful situation, offers the appearance of justice, or seems to grant power over another.
Here’s the problem. Unforgiveness eats away at you and steals your joy. It’s a quiet killer. After enough time passes, you may not even know you’re still carrying it around. It’s there though, killing relationships with friends, family, coworkers, friends and others you encounter. Hardening your heart and building a wall between you and the freedom God wants us to have in Christ. You may not even notice the bitterness welling up in you. Unfortunately, those around you will and so will God.
You may have even gone through the motions of forgiveness, going so far as to say the words, or write them in a card or letter. Just saying the words is not enough. You’ve got to mean them. Your heart has to let go of the issue. As someone once told me at a Men’s retreat, “you’ve got to kick the transgression off your land and revoke its right to be there.” Otherwise, it will take root. It will grow and nourish, often quietly, until it’s invaded everything else.
Are there areas of unforgiveness in your life? Ask yourself that question and be honest about the answer. Ask the Holy Spirit to examine your life and point them out for resolution.
God wants you to be free of the burden of unforgiveness. He wants us to follow His words from Mark 11:25, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses”.
The freedom you will gain is well worth the humbling experience of truly letting go of the unforgiveness. Let Christ lead you through the process and give you the courage to trust Him.