We Prove Daily That Forgiveness Is Not Natural
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
I was nine or ten years old and it was 10 minutes to midnight on New Years Eve. At midnight sharp the fireworks would go off on the top of Pikes Peak. Unfortunately, I was sitting in a position that did not give me a view of the top of the peak, despite the large window in the front of the church; depending on where you were sitting you would have a very good view of the top. But I was not sitting in such a spot! I just had to get outside in time I thought to myself. I was in a New Years Eve prayer service in my church where my father was the pastor. It was the conclusion of an evening of games, food, and family activities and now we were “praying in the New Year.” The program called for the prayer meeting to end at 12 midnight so all could go outside and view the fireworks. They usually lasted only 10 minutes or so because the top of the peak this time of year was bitterly cold and snow bound. A group of men climbed it annually to set them off and it was not conducive to a long show. Unfortunately for me, that is, for my immediate desire, an older man in the church began praying about 5 minutes to 12 and continued through the midnight hour until, you guessed it, 10 after 12. I was sitting next to my Mom, the preacher’s wife, with absolutely no chance of a quiet escape. I have never forgotten it, as you can see.
If he had just prayed the Lord’s Prayer, I would have gotten to see the show! But I was so intent on him finishing his prayer that I remember absolutely nothing of what he prayed that night. He could very well have prayed a prayer that followed the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, for the Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer unto itself and a pattern of how we ought to pray. I am not sure when I forgave him, I just know I have. The old saint died a few years later and I know His prayer was far more important in the grand scheme of God’s plan than my seeing fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I have seen them many times since. Still it strikes at the heart of this petition, “Forgive us our debts, our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive our debtors, those who trespass against us, those who sin against us.” Yes, this illustration is a trivial matter. But we all should know from our own experience that trivial matters escalate into firestorms and grievous, sometimes permanent actions on our part or of another in retaliation. Forgiveness is not our first instinct. It is not even our strong suit. Forgiveness is not so ingrained into our hearts that it is our “natural” response. But it ought to be.
The major reason it isn’t is we do not hold dear our own gracious forgiveness by God. We quickly and conveniently forget that we are by nature wretched sinners and hypocrites, unable even to keep our own standards, much less God’s. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is so important to Jesus that immediately upon instructing His hearers with this prayer of how we should pray, he goes back to this specific petition in further explanation: “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.” Pretty strong language! But I think we let those words go right in one ear and out the other. We still let trivial matters and offenses send us through the roof. It is not our nature to forgive, but it needs to be. If we want the cleansing freedom and peace of forgiveness for ourselves, we must learn to be quick to forgive: forgive in the moment of offense. This absolutely requires personal humility, which arises from treasuring God’s forgiveness above all offenses against you in word or action. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And again, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Both are principles of genuine humility. It is the proud and selfish who choose not to forgive and live miserably because of it.
“Heavenly Father, I need to relearn forgiveness. Refresh it in my mind and spirit today and every day.”
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