THE SCARIEST REQUEST IN THE LORD’S PRAYER

Four Ways To Guard Against the Threat of Unforgiveness

Relationship difficulties

It’s no contest. Of the six petitions in Jesus’ model prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), the most frightening is the fifth: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Why? The appendix in v. 14-15: “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.”

Martyn-Lloyd Jones explains:

The proof that you and I are forgiven is that we forgive others. If we think that our sins are forgiven by God and we refuse to forgive somebody else, we are making a mistake; we have never been forgiven. The man who knows he has been forgiven, only in and through the blood of Christ, is a man who must forgive others. He cannot help himself. If we really know Christ as our Saviour our hearts are broken and cannot be hard, and we cannot refuse forgiveness. If you are refusing forgiveness to anybody I suggest that you have never been forgiven.

John Piper adds:

God’s forgiveness is underneath ours and creates it and supports it. So that if we don’t give it to others—if we go on in an unforgiving spirit—what we show is that God is not there in our lives. We are not trusting him. And not trusting him will keep us out of heaven. And cause us to be handed over to the tormentors.

According to Jesus, the right way to pray takes into account the eternity-hangs-in-the-balance importance of a forgiving nature toward others.

Helps for Guarding Against Unforgiveness

One, remember God’s forgiveness. Focus often on just how much God has forgiven you. Beware of taking for granted God’s mercy to you while withholding it from others. Others’ sins against us are not more serious than our sins against God (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13).

Two, practice the virtue of overlooking. Prov. 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” The more we practice #1 above the more likely we are to forgive unilaterally. Of course, that is not always possible. In that case . . .

Three, distinguish between the two stages of forgiveness. Ideally forgiveness is granted to a confession and repentance for an offense (Luke 17:3-4). But that doesn’t always happen right away and sometimes never happens in this lifetime. While you wait, rely on God’s strength to practice a disposition of forgiveness. This is an attitude that stands ready to transact forgiveness upon repentance with a Jesus’ like on the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” kind of grace and mercy (Luke 23:34).

Four, claim Romans 8:28—God working for your good. Even the wrongs others do to us have a plan in God’s sovereignty. Ken Sande, from whom I’ve largely drawn these helps in his book The Peacemaker, writes:

When you perceive that the person who has wronged you is being used as an instrument in God’s hand to help you mature, serve others, and glorify him, it may be easier for you to move ahead with forgiveness.

We followers of Jesus are the most forgiven people in the world. We should therefore be the most forgiving people in the world through Christ and the hope of His glorious gospel.

There is no right praying without that.

Question: What has helped you cultivate a forgiving spirit?

Overcoming Resentment and the Urge to Get Even

geteven

Everyone deals with this. No one avoids hurt which results from bad treatment. The human condition inevitably struggles with lingering resentment over wrongs done. Who hasn’t relished the prospect of payback which matches the harm inflicted by someone’s evil?

Joseph certainly must have. He had every reason to after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37). Fearing the worst after their father died, those brothers definitely worried so:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” (Genesis 50:15-18 ESV)

They pitched Pharaoh’s number two, their little brother, on accepting an offer of servitude in exchange for their lives and the lives of their families. Joseph’s response stands forever as a marvel of grace and a model for peacemaking reconciliation  even in the face of the worst kind of treatment:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV)

My, talk about letting your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:6) and love covering a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12)!

How did Joseph do it? What did he know that caused him to release arguably reasonable and deserved resentment for his brothers and bless them with fear-easing comfort?

Three things.

  1. He knew his place – not being God. Am I in the place of God? His was not to judge. That job’s taken. He heard Paul’s words before he ever wrote them:

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

  2. He knew his God – working for good.  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Once again we read foreshadowing of the apostle finding grace to heal hurts anchored in God’s sovereignty.   And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
  3. He knew his role – caring for others.  I will provide for you and your little ones. Paul, Paul everywhere.

    Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Of course Joseph ultimately points to his greater Son, Jesus, who not only modeled such love and grace (Luke 23:34) but also empowers us to do the same through the power of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).

Are you shackled by the chains of unforgiveness that harbor resentment and plot revenge? Seek your freedom in the love-covering-a-multitude of your sins and the sins of others by virtue of the cross and resurrection.

ABLE for the Journey from Bitter to Blessed

On Sunday toward the close of my Mother’s Day message, I inserted an acrostic using the word ABLE to help crystallize four practical application principles for making the journey from a place of resentment in our spiritual lives to one of true blessed contentment. Naomi (means pleasant or sweet) suffered so greatly from a battle with bitterness over all the hard providences of  Ruth chapter one that she requested a name change to Mara (means bitter) in keeping with her frame of mind. A root of bitterness springing up does cause trouble (Heb. 12:15).

I went over it fairly fast due to the time. Also, it wasn’t in the notes as I only came up with the idea early that morning. I thought I would review it here in the blog in case someone might have missed some or all of it.

A – admit your struggle. There is something of Mara/Naomi in all of us. This was a godly woman. She struggled as we all do. I personally find this encouraging. The Lord loved her enough to bring her through it graciously over time. It doesn’t do any good to deny feelings of resentment. Rather than run from the Lord, take those feelings to the Lord for His help.

B – believe the truth. Begin with the truth of the gospel. I love J. D. Greear’s gospel prayer that he unpacks in his book on the gospel. The first point goes like this: In Christ, there is nothing I could do to make You love me more; nothing I have done that makes You love me less. That last phrase is particularly applicable. Satan loves to accuse us when ingratitude and other sins take hold. When he does we must cling to the gospel and remember that our standing with God in Christ is not about our performance; it’s about His provision. We have become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Beyond that, believe the truth of exceedingly great and precious promises of God’s word that reveal His continual plotting for His glory and our good in every circumstance, even the difficult ones. Romans 8:31 stands out among them. If God is for us, who can be against us? Psalm 118:6 is a good one to wage the fight for joy against unbelief and resentment as well: The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.

L – look for the sweet providences a midst the hard. I spent a good bit of the message demonstrating how Naomi’s bitterness blinded her to all the good things God was doing even in the midst of her struggles. Calling herself empty when she had such a treasure in the partnership of Ruth was only one but perhaps the most obvious. Ask the Lord to help your eyes to be open to signs of His goodness that you might not be noticing, like perhaps a good friend sticking with you through your trial. I failed to mention this on Sunday but one way to help cultivate that discipline is to write your thoughts down in a journal. That can tend to focus concentration on things in a marvelous way.

E – engage in thanksgiving. There is no room for bitterness in a thankful heart. If you practice the art of giving thanks for the many providence of your life, it tends to keep resentment at bay. And when you can’t find even one, as a believer you can always give thanks for the gospel and the fact that God has made you part of His greater story of redemption and that, in the words of John Piper, your life and mine in Him is not given over to trifles.

His words were on this matter were so good, I will quote them once more here:

The book of Ruth wants to teach us that God’s purpose for the life of his people is to connect us to something far greater than ourselves. God wants us to know that when we follow him, our lives always mean more than we think they do. For the Christian there is always a connection between the ordinary events of life and the stupendous work of God in history. Everything we do in obedience to God, no matter how small, is significant. It is part of a cosmic mosaic which God is painting to display the greatness of his power and wisdom to the world and to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10). The deep satisfaction of the Christian life is that it is not given over to trifles. Serving a widowed mother-in-law, gleaning in a field, falling in love, having a baby—for the Christian these things are all connected to eternity. They are part of something so much bigger than they seem.

Are you able to make the journey from bitter to blessed? Neither am I. But He is.