“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
“The man who knows he has been forgiven, only in and through the shed blood of Christ, is a man who must forgive others. He cannot help himself.”
D.M. Lloyd – Jones Preacher & Medical Doctor
On October 2, 2006, in the morning hours of what seemed to be a regular day of school – Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into an Amish schoolhouse and opened fire on everyone inside. Five schoolgirls died and five others were seriously wounded before Roberts turned the gun on himself.
More stunning than the shooting itself was the response of the Amish community. Many members of the victims’ families sought out the shooter’s widow and offered forgiveness within days of the tragedy. One of the families even invited the widow to the funeral of their daughter as a visual sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.
There’s something inherently powerful in forgiveness. As one commentator notes, “Forgiveness is almost a single-word summary of both the Christian Gospel and of the Christian ethic, of God’s gift to us and our responsibility to others.”1
Today we’ll look at how the failure to forgive can extinguish your prayers. I don’t want you to think that there is a list of hundreds of things that can kill your prayers – as if God is waiting to zap your prayers because He doesn’t like some things you did. That is not the case. But failure to forgive is something that will zap your prayers. The Bible says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
A Change of Heart
Forgiveness is one of the truest indications of our understanding of the Gospel. You are supposed to forgive people just like God forgave you. When God forgave you, it was just like the prodigal son coming home. He was walking down a long road home, wondering what it would be like when his dad saw him. Dad would probably call him names and let him know what an embarrassing disappointment he had been. These were probably the son’s thoughts on that long journey home. When he got home, though, his dad saw him from a long distance away. He ran to his son and embraced him. He put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. The son got a new robe and a party thrown in his honor. All was forgiven. That is how God forgave me, and that’s how He forgave you. How willing are we to forgive like that? That’s how willing we ought to be to forgive others.
Peter asked, “How often should I forgive my brother? Should I forgive him seven times?” When he asked Jesus this question, he thought he was shooting for the stars! The average Jew was told to forgive three times and after that – justice! The boot! No more forgiveness from me! So when Peter said seven, he thought he was being gracious. But Jesus said, “Oh, no, not seven; seventy times seven,” a number far beyond the standard. Forgive every time your brother asks you for forgiveness.
And how do we know when we’ve forgiven them? Thomas Watson, the great Puritan, answered the question this way, “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.”2 Forgiveness is, therefore, a heart change. Jesus is not concerned with the number of times we forgive, but rather with the condition of our hearts when we forgive.
Now, if you say, “I refuse to forgive,” what happens then? Jesus tells us in the Lord’s Prayer that if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If you do not forgive others, you are going to have a blockage between you and God. You will hinder your relationship with God. He is still your Father. When you accept Jesus into your life, judicially your sins have been forgiven once and for all. In other words, you will receive eternal life in Heaven and never answer for those sins on judgment day. But when you don’t forgive, the relationship between you and God is damaged and your prayers will not be answered.
Even if you’ve been maligned or molested, it doesn’t make it right to not forgive. In fact, you are the one who bears that burden. There might be someone you just hate. Your hatred for them may have no effect on that person, but it might affect other people in your life, probably people you love. The Bible says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
If you have bitterness in your life, it defiles your family. You may have heard this saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” You hurt your family, your spouse, your loved ones, your co-workers – anyone close to you.
Grace is defined as giving someone something good they don’t deserve. Everybody wants grace from God. But we are all reluctant to give it out.
Forgiveness is never an easy task – regardless of what someone might think. It forces us to put aside our pride and humble ourselves, sometimes in the midst of enormous pain and hurt. However, we must look to the cross where Christ endured a horrible death as an innocent man so that we could be forgiven. Our ability to look to the cross and grasp the love of God for us will translate into our ability to forgive others even of the most horrendous acts. Today, don’t let a lack of forgiveness get in the way of your prayer life. Go and forgive just as you have been forgiven.