I once heard of a student at Aberdeen who spent an entire a term at university eating nothing but porridge and flapjack. By the end of the term he was so ill, he was dragged to hospital by his student friends, only to find out he had scurvy. I have since looked this up on the internet and found it is a legend of a story that almost every university across the western world has an example of. Man eats nothing but pot noodles: gets scurvy… Man eats nothing but pasta: gets scurvy... etc.
(on a tangent I know but my internet search also told me that the average humble potato contains about 42mg of vitamin c - which is more than enough to combat scurvy… who knew!!)
The reason I mention all this now is because… I find the Lord’s prayer challenging. As I’ve been reading it over and over in the past week it has reminded me that I need a well balanced prayer life and yet so often I am living on the equivalent of porridge and flapjack.
Because when Jesus said “this is how you should pray” (matt 6:9) he meant it. He meant that our regular daily prayers to God should be more like this. He didn’t mean we should recite it daily word for word (although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt) but he meant that our daily prayers should reflect the same level of depth and honesty and reverence and reflection that you see in this prayer. So often, my communication with God amounts to not a lot more than “sorry and please” and even then it’s probably more ‘please’ than sorry.
But that kind of prayer is too shallow. We need to go deeper. It’s what our heavenly father deserves and it’s what helps us the most too. Regular prayer that involves a wholesome mix of adoration, submission, thanksgiving, forgiveness, putting requests towards God, as well as searching, and reflecting and resting within the presence of God. You see all this in this prayer. For what it's worth you see all this mixed up together in the Psalms as well. And it is this balanced diet that will help us grow strong and effective.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
But enough of broad strokes... I have been asked to look at this part of the Lord's prayer. And even there I would like to focus more on the second half "as we forgive our debtors" How do we pray that in our daily lives?
First of all, we acknowledge that forgiveness is needed. As we say: “as we forgive our debtors” we recognise that we cant say it until we've first said: “forgive us our debts”. In doing that we realise that we share the same problem as those that have wronged us. We are all broken people trying to live with broken relationships. “Forgive us OUR debts as we forgive our debtors…”
We are all broken and need forgiveness from God. We have all sinned against God, and have all wronged each other. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1john 1:8) and If we approach “forgiving others” like this, then it hopefully introduces humility into the equation. You realise that the person that jumped the queue or snapped at us in a conversation, or the person in church who seems to act so selfishly sometimes… they are all as broken as you. Forgiveness is not ignoring sin or tolerating wrong-doing - but it is admitting that it is there in all of us. It is naming the universal problem but also simultaneously naming the solution.
And secondly, when we say “As we forgive our debtors” we acknowledge that there is actually a solution to our debt. We acknowledge that there is a problem, and we acknowledge that forgiveness is the answer! Thats what forgiveness is and it works! The church is living proof of the power of forgiveness. We are a Church of forgiven and restored people: saved by His death, redeemed by his sacrifice. “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him” (eph2:13) We can boldly embark upon the controversial mission of forgiving the world around us because WE KNOW IT WORKS!! That distance that comes between people can be mended just like the distance between God and us was mended through His gift of forgiveness at the Cross
Forgiveness works. And the more we encourage the sense of forgiven-ness within us, then the more we will want to forgive others... the more we will seek to restore relationships rather than break them. Our heavenly father is in the business of forgiving people, and the more invested we are in his business, the more we will want to do our father’s work. The theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, said: “the fundamental orientation of christian life is that we are forgiven. Before our learning to forgive must come our learning to be forgiven”. And while we’re on Hauerwas, he also said: “forgiveness begins as a response to our being forgiven. It is not so much an act of generosity toward our fellow offending human beings as an act of gratitude toward our forgiving God.”
Forgiveness restores relationships. It really does work. Our relationship with our heavenly father is proof of that - and our desire to forgive others can flow from that confidence.
But now we come to the murkier parts. For when we pray “as we forgive our debtors” we acknowledge that we have to say it, if our own forgiveness is to have any meaning. We cannot say “forgive us our debts” without going on to say “as we forgive our debtors”. This is stressed time and time again in the gospels. In one way or another you see it said: If you don’t forgive, your heavenly father will not forgive you. (matt 6:15, 18:35, luke 6:37)
This is a hard reality to digest, and it appears to go against the very heart of the gospel message. Are we really saying that God will monitor our behaviour and if we don’t forgive people then he will withhold forgiveness from us?
Well… we can stop right there and say that cannot be true. However we read these passages, we cannot take from them that our salvation is conditional upon our obedience in some way. THAT IS NOT THE GOSPEL. We need to be very clear of this because we can all be tempted into thinking our obedience has either qualified us or disqualified us from the forgiveness offered to us by God through Jesus.
But our status before our heavenly father is not based on how good our relationships are with others. It is not based on how quick we are to forgive. Our hope is built on nothing less, then Jesus' blood and righteousness. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God!(rom8) It is by faith you have been saved, not by works (eph2) When you were dead in your sins God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. (col 2) We can have confidence that when we say “forgive us our debts” he truly has. How then, do we deal with these severe warnings of Jesus?
Well I believe it highlights to us just how central forgiveness is to Jesus’ mission and to the Kingdom of God. Forgiveness is not an optional extra. It is the basis for the existence of the Kingdom. The only people who enter the kingdom (i’m not talking about heaven here) the only people who can live with Jesus as King… are those who have come to Jesus pleading, and have received forgiveness. Forgiveness is THE basis for all who would follow Jesus. So when we pray “may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” we are essentially asking God to extend his forgiveness to more areas of the world. That more relationships and communities might be transformed by their debt of sin being removed.
So to turn around and say that you are not willing to forgive… is like saying you don’t think forgiveness works. That you think Justice and retribution is the best way. Trying to be in the Kingdom of God and also say that Forgiveness isn’t the best way, is (as Author Tom Wright says) like climbing a tree and then sawing off the very branch that you’re sitting on. How can you deny the power of forgiveness and at the same time depend on forgiveness for your clean status before God?
People who are forgiven, want to see forgiveness work elsewhere. Might I suggest this morning, that if you’re struggling with forgiveness, that yo