And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
You are out and about on an overcast day running errands—in a rush because your laundry list of things to do is endless, and time is a commodity you lack. As you hurry into the local supermarket, you take a moment to stop at the door and open it for the person behind you. They mosey towards the door at a snail’s pace, taking up all of your time and apparently all of God’s time too.
You are seriously contemplating leaving them to fend for themselves, but you quiet that impulse and patiently remain in place until they walk through the door. When they finally approach you, they walk past without a “thank you” or even an acknowledging nod. Now you are fighting an internal struggle: how rude of them to be so dismissive after you took time out of your busy schedule to accommodate them. You are offended.
Being offended is a natural part of life. If you haven’t experienced an offense or incurred a transgression against you, keep living—it is bound to happen at least once in your lifetime. Whether it is something as small as this example or as devastating as losing a loved one to senseless violence, offense ushers us into the vicious cycle of unforgiveness. If left unchecked this bitterness can stunt your spiritual growth and render your prayer life powerless.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul discusses the importance of forgiving an offender. In making his case, Paul initially cautions that forgiveness is necessary to prevent the offender from experiencing “excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7 NIV). However, he has a more potent argument. For Paul, while holding a debt over the head of one’s transgressor could be satisfying, it also left the bearer of unforgiveness vulnerable to Satan and his “schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11 NIV). When the thoughts of bitterness and vengeance are festering within us, we often don’t see that power is ceded to the devil. Likewise, the author of Psalm 66 (most likely King David) notes that cherishing sin inwardly can serve as a barrier in communication between God and man (Psalm 66:18 NIV).
This is what Jesus was trying to help his disciples avoid when he taught them how to pray. In this new pattern of prayer Jesus had already shown them how to acknowledge God; how to adopt the proper posture; and how make the proper requests. Now he was helping them avoid the pitfall of a divine deaf ear:“ And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NIV). Jesus ties the relief of their debts to their willingness to relinquish the debts of those who transgressed against them. Forgiving others unlocked God’s forgiveness for them. Instead of a cycle of offenses, they would enter on a cycle of forgiveness.
As you are adopting this new pattern of prayer, make sure that you resolve any outstanding debts of unforgiveness that you may be harboring against others. Don’t let any grievances hinder your fellowship and communication with God. Remember, your ability to receive God’s forgiveness is tied to your willingness to forgive others.
God, sometimes I allow the spirit of offense to rule my life and ruin my ability to move forward. Today I choose to relinquish the bitterness and unforgiveness that has held me captive. Thank you for opening the lines of communication to me so that I can experience your fellowship. I receive your forgiveness even as I forgive. In Jesus’ name, Amen.