The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 6 – Confession and Forgiveness
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. [Matthew 6:12]
Depending on your translation this verse could read either, debts, sins or trespasses. I originally learned it as trespasses and still say it that way today, but the sentiment is the same no matter how you say it.
The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin separates us from God’s glory. It’s been that way since the very beginning. Ever since the original sin God and mankind have been separated. At times God has broken down the barriers and come to his people but mankind has had to create elaborate rituals designed to cleanse sinfulness from himself before he can approach God. The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was designed to provide this cleansing and remind mankind of his sin and unworthiness to approach God.
Jesus, as the final sacrifice blows that whole system up but not before giving us a hint of how we can maintain our intimacy with God long after he is gone here in his prayer. Forgiveness of our sins is available to all of us, all we have to do is be willing to give forgiveness as freely as we have receive it.
But you can’t receive forgiveness if you don’t first confess. And you can’t offer forgiveness if you don’t first examine the motives behind the wrong act.
This is very hard.
As we go through the list of wrongs that we have both committed and endured we must think about the people we have hurt and those who have hurt us. While we don’t have to forgive their actions, we must be willing to look beyond the act itself and see the person behind it. In the case of our own forgiveness we must examine our motives and resolve to find better ways to express our needs and desires without causing harm to anyone else. And in the case of the wrongs committed against us we need to look deeper at the motivations of the perpetrator before we can forgive the person.
We can still hold people accountable for their choices, as we will likely be held accountable for our own. We can expect to be asked to pay some form of restitution before we can fully restore a relationship so asking for restitution in return is generally acceptable but that cannot prevent us from freely forgiving the person who committed the act.
Forgiveness is not tied to restitution. Even between us and God, when we ask for forgiveness God may still require us to do something before we are fully welcomed back into community and that’s okay. We are still freely forgiven simply by confessing our sin and offering the same kind of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
At this point in the prayer we break it down into it’s two component phrases and pause while we list off both our sins for which we need forgiveness and the wrongs which have been perpetrated against us. If you find it too difficult to forgive the act that was done to you, focus instead on the person who committed it. We may never be able to excuse some of the wrongs we have endured but we also can’t carry a grudge against a fellow image bearer of the divine. God’s loving nature demands that we see the humanity in everyone, even those who commit unspeakable crimes.
It’s been said “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” When we start by examining the person forgiveness gets a little easier. It’s also been said “There but for the grace of God, go I.” When we start by examining the person, we sometimes start to see ourselves in a different light.
This is perhaps the hardest part of the entire prayer. Confession and forgiveness requires a level of self-examination beyond anything we’ve done so far. Don’t skimp on this aspect of prayer. We are all sinners in need of a relationship with the savior. The more honest we are with ourselves at this stage, the deeper that relationship will be.