"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 debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:9-13).
This passage is so very familiar to us. Some of us could even quote it in our sleep! Sometimes the danger with familiarity though is that we miss the big picture. I have found that with this passage in particular. I recently heard a message by Alistair Begg (truthforlife.org) on the part which says, "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (vs. 12). What does this mean, exactly? As Christians, aren't we already forgiven for our sins? And if so, why do we need to keep asking for forgiveness? And is our forgiveness conditional- meaning if we do not forgive others will God then not forgive us? Do we have to forgive others? Why? And to what extent?
After hearing his message, I was thinking about all this a lot with regard to the violence and corruption going on in our world today. Sweet children being killed, trafficked, abused, and more. People being assaulted, their businesses burned and looted, their homes being attacked and vandalized. People (trying to serve our country and do their duties) being criticized, mocked, and abused for crimes they have not committed. Political corruption and confusion. So much anger. So much fear. So much bitterness.
And, then, there's our own lives. Anger at our spouse, family members, or friends for words said. Bitter thoughts toward others for actions done (maybe even years ago). Judgmental attitudes and thoughts toward fellow church members or friends or family who maybe "do life" differently than you do.
How can forgiveness apply to all these things? And, how can this passage help us truly live to the glory of God's kingdom?
When Jesus taught his disciples this prayer, he wanted to teach the disciples (and us) the focus of prayer. The focus of this prayer is to bring glory to God. When we pray to him alone, we are recognizing him as our final authority ("Our Father"). When we pray for his name to be hallowed, we are acknowledging his name as above all other names. We are reverencing him as Father, Ruler, Creator, God alone. Then, when we pray for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done, we are praying for a three-fold kingdom: salvation (being brought into the kingdom of his beloved Son), for the work of the kingdom here on earth, and for anticipation of the kingdom that is to come. As we pray for those things, we recognize his control in all that happens. We also recognize his provision for all our needs (physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally) as we pray for our daily bread.
But what about forgiveness? When we recognize God as our Father, we therefore acknowledge that we are his children. This relationship is not to be regarded lightly. Becoming a child of God only comes when we repent of our sin, accept Christ as our Savior (the first part of kingdom come), and then live to please him (the second part of the kingdom come). As a child of God, we must repent. Seek forgiveness- for what? For our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, he bore in his body the weight of all our sins- past, present, and future. So, why do we need to continue to ask for forgiveness?
When we are his child, we still have the sinful nature. We are no longer condemned to sin and death, but the desire for sin is still there. Temptations abound, and our souls are often weak. When this happens, sin causes a breach in our fellowship with God. We have not lost our salvation by any means; instead, our relationship with him is strained. Kind of like when you disobeyed your parents, you were still their child, but the relationship was strained because of whatever you did (Alistair Begg used this illustration beautifully in his sermon). This breach in fellowship hinders our ability to bring about the kingdom work of God. This breach also hinders our ability to forgive others. And, it hinders our ability and desire to ask God to not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.
When we have sinned, we must ask forgiveness (knowing God will forgive: See I John 1:9) in order to restore the relationship to rightful communication and trust. When we do not seek forgiveness on a regular, daily basis, the communication with God becomes strained, the trust is broken, and our love is compromised. In that, we lose our desire to recognize God as Father. We disregard his name. We do not seek his kingdom, and we certainly are not aware of his daily provisions. Therefore, we have spurned his forgiveness, and thus are unable to truly forgive others. We have given into temptation. We have not recognized evil and have given into the temptation Satan has put before us.
What is holding you back from praying this? Have you accepted God as your Father? Do you really seek to reverence his name in all you do? Do you really desire his kingdom to be brought about through your life? Have you confessed sin? Are you aware of evil and temptations?
In answer to these questions, we recognize that in order to really forgive others their debts, we must consciously acknowledge how great a debt we have been forgiven. And, in recognition of that debt, our response to others must be, should be, can only be forgiveness.
This is hard. Especially when the wounds run really deep. This is hard when sinful thoughts and attitudes bombard us every day, deceiving us into thinking we deserve to not forgive for whatever evil was done to us. This is particularly difficult when we see pure evil acted out or said before our very eyes.
But, with regard to this, we must remember that it is God's kingdom, not ours. It is his will to be done, not ours. It is his hand that provides, not ours. And, it is his forgiveness that has been granted to us. It is his love that has rescued us- and will rescue any who come to him for forgiveness: this means the pedophile, the abuser, the thief, the cheater, the violent, the destroyer, the sexually perverse, the murderer, the addict, the liar, the greedy, the proud, the gossip, the manipulator, the angry. Me. And You.
How well do you recognize that great debt of yours which has been forgiven? I find myself becoming easily complacent with regard to this. I, for too long, thought myself fine enough to please God, and that surely I was bringing about his kingdom. But, what I so drastically failed to understand was that none of this was about me. Here I thought I was doing all the stuff I was supposed to, when in reality, I was living in a strained relationship with God, living to please myself because I would not recognize his will to be better than my own. I did not recognize my life to be part of his kingdom work. And, in that, I had allowed sin to create a breach in our relationship, thus resulting in a grave inability to truly forgive others. This resulted in a judgmental, jealous, angry spirit. (Certainly not one that would honor God!)
Therefore, I could not pray this prayer. Instead, I lived only to please myself. How about you? Are there areas where you have found yourself unable or unwilling to forgive others? Is this, perhaps, a result of your inability to recognize the great forgiveness you yourself have been granted? Perhaps you are clinging to your ideas of what is "God's kingdom" instead of confessing sin, forgiving others, and acknowledging the work of God in your life.
How are you living out the kingdom of God? Do you acknowledge him every day as your Father? Do you reverence his name? Do you pray for his will (not yours) to be done? And, in that, do you work to bring about that kingdom by forgiving others as you have been forgiven? Do you live to please him- not yourself? Are you confessing sin? Are you asking for God's help to recognize temptations and to avoid evil?
Read this prayer today (Matthew 6:11-13). Ask God to reveal ways you have been praying this prayer hypocritically. Repent of those sins which are causing a breach in your relationship with your Father. And, as you seek his kingdom to be done, may you constantly be reminded of his love and forgiveness, and in response to that, may you willingly, graciously forgive those who sin against you (and ultimately God). Seek restoration with God and others, as needed. And, in that restoration, may God's glory be seen through all of us as we anticipate the glories of the kingdom that is to come!
Additional song for meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsq3aDNhZIQ