In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to come to God regularly asking Him to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Intellectually, this makes good sense. We are sinners, and without God pardoning us and freely justifying us we have nothing. We need to pray this petition. But it’s easier said than done.
“To admit wrong is to wound ego,” says one pastor. Everything in us fights against the notion of confession. We look for any excuse not to drudge up the day’s sins before God. Frankly, confession can feel wrong. But that’s not true. We’re wrong—that’s the whole problem, after all! We would be helped greatly in our prayer life not simply be knowing that we need to pray for forgiveness, but in actually wanting to do. We need to recalibrate our affections and recognize that there is something truly good and desirable about honest and open confession before God. Let me offer three reasons why earnestly and honestly praying this petition is good for you.
This Petition Restores Our View of God
A. W. Tozer once wrote that, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Why? Because, he argues, “we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.” What do you think of when you think of God? What is your mental image of Him? Does He have a frown, are His arms crossed? Or are His arms open wide toward you? Jesus tells us to pray this prayer because God is a God who forgives. In other words, we do not pray this petition in vein. It is one that God always, always, always answers. Why? Because grace and mercy and pardon are most natural to Him! Psalm 130:4, “With you there is forgiveness.” Forgiveness belongs to God. Nehemiah 9:17, “But you are a God ready to forgive [literally , gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
The more you ask God to forgive, and receive the same, the more you will believe it’s what He is all about. And the better you know God the better your life will be. If you are inordinately angry, anxious, depressed, or fearful, it’s because you are losing sight of the God who has opened Himself up to you. There is nothing more important than knowing who God really is. J. I. Packer has said that if you don’t know who God is, “you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life.” Nothing screws your life up more than have a warped view of who God is. Here we learn that forgiveness is most natural to God, and to know this is the most freeing thing of all! (Psalm 32:3–5)
This Petition Releases Us From the Prison of Bitterness
A lifestyle of frequent confession before God that rejoices in His forgiving character will cause us to be ready to more eagerly forgive others. The other option is to live a life of destructive bitterness. In the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness is pictured as releasing someone from debtors prison. But if I refuse to forgive someone I not only keep them imprisoned, but I lock myself up with them, too. The word for “forgiveness” in Greek (aphiemi) comes from the word “to let go.” It is the letting go of the corrosive feelings like resentment, bitterness, and self-entitlement.
During the rise of the #MeToo movement, journalist Danielle Berrin wrote an article titled, “Should We Forgive the Men Who Assaulted Us?” in The New York Times. One of the comments captured the reaction most people had to the very notion: “Forgiveness is overrated. It heals [neither] the body or mind. . . . Let the criminal ask his gods, if there be any, for forgiveness. . . instead of talking about [how] victims must forgive.”
“Forgiveness is overrated. It heals [neither] the body of mind.” Is that true? Ask yourself: when you think of someone, or perhaps see them, run into them at the store, whom you have not forgiven, how do you feel? The blood pressure starts to rise, maybe the heart begins to race, memories of the hurt they caused come flooding in, and you probably are in a bad mood for a while. Friend: you are in the prison of bitterness, and the key that opens up that cell is forgiveness. Unlock it with these words, “Forgive me my debts, as I forgive even my debtors.”
Would it be too much to say that this prayer is the secret to your mental and emotional wellbeing? I don’t thinks so.
This Petition Realizes a Better World Than the One We’re In.
In recent decades, one expression that the abandonment of morality has taken on is this thing we call cancel culture. Ours is an inquisitorial age, one that seems to almost relish in the condemnation of others. Students look to oust professors, activist groups work to silence differing opinions, and the social media mob stands at the ready to descend upon latest societal offenders. What kind of world has this created? One of fear, endless anxiety, with people constantly fretting, “What if I’m next?” It’s a world that works perfectly for the perfect, but not for sinners.
Is there a refuge for people who make mistakes? For people like you and me? Blessedly, there is, and it’s called the church. Constituted by our free pardon received in the gospel, the church is nothing if not a community of forgiveness (Eph. 4:32). If we as a church do not forgive, than we are no different from the world. But what we need in the church is a society that operates on different principles, because the ones of this world are exhausting and terrifying. When we pray this petition, and live out its meaning and message, we create a community that looks a lot more like heaven than earth. Don’t you want that?