I grew up in a small Baptist church, where learning to recite “The Lord’s Prayer” was an expected and celebrated rite of passage in and of itself. I’d whisper Jesus’ words alongside Mom and Dad, and when it was Communion Sunday and the hallowed prayer was set to song, I’d quietly hum along, eyebrows raised triumphantly with the exultant “…Ever!” high note at the chorus’ end.
So, truth be told, when I first looked at this passage, my mind automatically went to the natural conclusion of the repetitious prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). But in the text, instead of proclaiming the powerful and strong, glory-induced Kingdom of God as I expected to read, in Matthew 6, Jesus launches into further dialogue – to us and on behalf of the Father – about forgiveness and confession.
Where’s my forever and ever, Amen?
Instead, Jesus states this: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Could there be a connection between the heart’s temptations and the evil one’s influence on my soul because of my own forgiveness – or lack there of?
It’s a bone-chilling thought.
In Theology for the Community of God, author Stanley J. Grenz states that our experience of prayer as God’s people is intimately tied to “…the intercession of our advocate,” and it is in and through this direct imitation of Jesus that “…our prayer becomes the extension of his presence as our advocate with his Father” (355). Because of Christ’s work on the cross, and through our Intercessory Advocate, we have access to our perfect, holy, awesome Abba. Who then are we to deny, by conceitedly maintaining an unforgiving heart, God’s own forgiveness and spiritual provision?
I appreciate how Eugene Petersen paraphrases it in The Message: “In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
Perhaps that is the root of it all: I want this connective, cyclical relationship with God, joining in with what He does, as I do what I do, back and forth, back and forth. And then, as I continue to grow in Him and with Him, whether I’m repeating the prayer I’ve breathed since childhood, or getting to know the Father through scripture, might my heart continually desire deep reconciliation and absolute forgiveness because of what Christ first did for me.
For that, I think, is my forever and ever, Amen.
Today’s post originally appeared on the DPC Prayer Connections blog; click here for further prayer suggestions that go along with the original text.
Otherwise, what are your thoughts? What is forgiveness to you?