I know, we've discussed this passage a couple years ago when we walked thru the Gospel of Matthew. But I think this is so important in our prayer life.
I’m a big fan of murder mysteries and police detective shows like CSI, and I think it’s a great illustration to help our prayer life. Let’s say a body’s discovered, and no one knows who committed the murder. First, we have to get a list of suspects, and start narrowing them down. We start with the most obvious ones, and then either eliminate each one as a suspect or investigate them further if we've reason to.
It’s the same principle in your prayer life. You’re praying, either in your alone time or in a group setting, and you sense that something’s wrong. It feels like you might as well be talking to a brick wall. You have no sense of God’s presence. You have no peace, no sense of his smile on your words as you pour out your heart to him. Just like the detectives on CSI, you pull up a list of suspects, start with and eliminate the most likely ones, and work your way down. When this happens, your first candidate should be unconfessed sin, like we talked about a couple of days ago. Related to that is how you treat your spouse or other family members (but especially spouse).
Also related to this on your suspect list is a broken relationship between you and a sibling in Christ. If we’re forgiven, just on principle we have no right to hold onto unforgiveness regarding another believer. You'll never be called upon to forgive even a tiny percentage of what God has forgiven you. But on a purely selfish level, even if that wasn’t so, you should forgive for your own sake. The unmerciful servant was locked away by the “jailers” to be “tortured” until he paid back everything he owed.
Again, based on what the rest of Scripture teaches, I don’t believe this is talking about losing your salvation. But if you harbor resentment and unforgiveness towards another, your fellowship with the Savior is hindered and blocked. Of course, part of this is because he’s commanded us to forgive, and failure to do so is disobedience, and any sin will block our sweet communion with him. But I think a fissure in our relationship with other believers especially wounds him. Just think—what hurts a parent’s heart more than children who can’t get along with each other?
This applies if someone has hurt us, and of course we should be on the lookout for how we’ve hurt others as well. Jesus put it this way: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” There’s no point in trying to worship the Lord and make any offerings, including an offering of praise, as long as you know that you have reconciling to do.
This raises a question that I’ve heard before, and John MacArthur changed my mind on the answer. What if the person doesn’t ask for forgiveness? What if he’s hurt me and doesn’t even acknowledge it? Well, if you can just let it go (which I'd venture to say would cover a lot of situations), then do so. But if it still hurts you, then you need to deal with it. Now, I used to think that if the offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness, then you’re not obligated to forgive them.
There’s at least one good reason to think so: That’s how God treats us, right? He doesn’t forgive until we ask for it. He doesn’t forgive unrepentant sinners. But here’s the passage MacArthur pointed out, again straight from the Savior’s mouth: “[When] you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Don’t wait for them to come to you and ask for it. Just go ahead and forgive them.
Again, I know quite well that there are some reading this who have some pretty serious offenses to forgive. Not “He dented my car,” but “He took away my childhood” or “He murdered my family.” Of course, most of the offenses in life are waaaaay down the scale, close to “He called me a bad name.” But for those who've had something precious taken from them, I can’t soften what Jesus said. He calls on us to forgive. In his strength and power, given time, you can. But the question is “Do you want to forgive? Are you holding onto your anger because you want to?” If you want to forgive, then ask for his help to do it. And he will. Don’t wait.
Father God, I’ve never been severely hurt by anyone on that level, but you have. You had to watch as your own Son was betrayed, arrested, tortured, slandered, and murdered. And you forgave. For anyone reading this who’s holding onto their anger and hatred, please draw them into your love and mercy and power.
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