“Teach Us to Pray: Forgive and Release”
By Rev. Greg Smith
When I was a kid, my brother and I used to trespass all over the neighborhood. It was a rural area, and there was always somebody’s woods to explore, or a neighbor’s pond to skip rocks into, or an old abandoned house to investigate. We thought of it more as archaeology when we discovered what was inside those collapsing homes. Trespassing would have been a harsh word in our minds, but that’s exactly what it was. If our mother had only known!
In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Since my childhood, I now realize just how many trespasses I need to have forgiven! And if God has forgiven me, then I’m under obligation to forgive those who have trespassed against me.
Jesus’ disciples knew that if their prayers were to be effective, they had to be forgiven for their sins. Psalm 24:3-4a says, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Confession and repentance are integral to effectual prayers. We need God’s forgiveness before we can truly relate to Him in His holiness.
Sometimes it’s hard to forgive someone for repeated trespasses against you. Peter, who thought he only had to forgive an erring brother seven times, was astounded when Jesus told him that he had to forgive an offender 490 times, and even beyond (Matthew 18:21-22). How many times have you forgiven those who have sinned against you? Jesus wants you to keep on forgiving. When you do so, you not only release them from the demands of your unforgiveness, but you also release yourself from the captivity that your bitterness has wrought in your own life.
Kirk Russel writes:
In his book Why Prayers are Unanswered, John Lavender retells a story about Norman Vincent Peale.
When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit up. It didn't taste good, but it made him feel very grown up. . . until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and tried to be casual. Desperate to divert his father's attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus.
"Can I go, Dad? Please, let's go when it comes to town."
His father's reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. "Son, he answered quietly but firmly, "never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smoldering disobedience."
Forgiveness from God empowers your prayers. Yet far too often we try to ask God for His blessings while our own disobedience smolders in front of Him. We must confess our sins.