Our Father, which is in Heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread,and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others their trespasses against us.
For me, this has always been the hardest part of the Lord's Prayer, and I suspect it is for most others, as well. It is simply natural to Self to feel entitled to whatever it wants and be outraged by the least little thing that it considers an insult or a loss.
Many years ago, I struggled to forgive my doctor for not giving me the care that I thought he should have given me, and then realized that his sin of omission really wasn't such a big deal, in spite of how it affected me, particularly considering how busy he was trying to handle all of his patients.
Why was I having so much trouble forgiving him? Distressingly, it made it no easier to forgive, even knowing that it wasn't a big deal. Finally, I just gave up and told the Lord that, without His help, I was not capable of forgiving the least little thing. That was what He was waiting for me to realize.
Strangely, when really big stuff has happened, forgiveness did not seem nearly as hard. This is probably because from past experience with trying to forgive small stuff, I knew there was no hope of forgiving the bigger stuff without God's help, and yielded it more quickly to Him to handle.
My observation on the availability of huge grace, when huge grace is needed, was confirmed when I talked with a woman whose daughter was stabbed about twenty times by someone she had tried to help, who came to her apartment one day with her boyfriend to rob her. The daughter miraculously survived. The parents and the daughter had no problem forgiving the people who tried to murder her. They knew right from the start that they could never forgive such a thing in their own strength, so they yielded right away when God's empowering Spirit overshadowed them.
Conversely, I met another parent whose daughter was stabbed about seventeen times by a man who raped her. Neither the father nor his daughter were Christians. According to him, his daughter was a complete emotional wreck, still many years later, because of what had happened to her. He was frustrated because he never saw her making any headway in life and he didn't know how to help her.
What does it mean to forgive? Are we supposed to forgive and forget? We are supposed to forgive, but it can be dangerous to forget. The Bible would not warn us to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing, if we are supposed to forget what we have seen of their behaviour. We would not be able to judge a tree by its fruits, if we forgot about the thistles that various people produce. We would not know who to appoint as deacons, elders, pastors, etc., if we forgot about so and so's long line of indiscretions, or their tendency to embezzle, or that up to only recently, they sometimes beat their wife and were too harsh with their children.
And we sure better not forget a person's past if they have been a pedophile, and then profess to be a Christian. Love them and pray for them? Yes. Be kind to them? Yes. Ask them to babysit our kids? No!!!!! We should never use our kids as guinea pigs to test how far the grace of God has made inroads into a person's character. We have a responsibility to God to protect our children against all possible threats, if it is within our power to do so. Also, it would not be kind of us to place temptation before another in areas where they have demonstrated that they have a weakness.
Forgive, yes. Forget? Not even if they thoroughly demonstrate that they have changed. If we were to forget what they used to be like, then how would we be able to rejoice over how God has changed their character?
A consistent display of changed behaviour can reduce the past behaviour to a hazy memory, and then it is referred to only in general terms, rather than by specifics, but that is in the control of the offender who decides to change, rather than a reasonable expectation of the one who was offended or other potential victims. They need to be cautious until the offender has demonstrated that they are no longer a threat.
A lot of people have the misconception that we are to forgive and forget, particularly if they don't know the Bible very well. When I was in my teens, shortly after I met my father, he said to me on the phone, "You're supposed to forgive and forget, right?" I wasn't even a Christian then, so I don't know where he got the expectation that I should forgive him at the drop of a hat and forget everything my mother had told me about what an irrational, selfish, and violent man he was.
Without any apology or making any attempt at restitution, he expected his kids to forget all about how he had always put his needs and desires ahead of ours, and give him respect that he had never earned. My respect for my father took another plunge when he made that demand and I became more cautious than before. He did not repent of his sins until right before he died, but thank God, he did repent, or so I have reason to believe.
God gave us the record of how the Apostle Paul used to be a self–righteous, religious fanatic who put people to death because they claimed to be Jews, but dared to differ from him in their beliefs and practices, even though their beliefs and practices aimed them towards a greater degree of benevolence towards their fellow men. The record also tells of how God got hold of Paul and changed him into a genuinely kind, loving, compassionate, and rational man who hazarded his life again and again for Yehoshua's sake.
Did Joseph ever forget what his brothers had done to him? No. He remembered it every day of his exile, and he continuously worked on forgiving them. When they showed up, he put them through some tests to find out if they had repented of their sins against him and could now be trusted. They passed the tests.
Joseph never forgot what they did to him, but he developed a mature outlook about it. He saw how God used his brothers' crime against him to turn it around and make good come out of it. He eventually even came to consider it a favour that his brothers sold him into slavery. If they hadn't, he would not have become the Grand Vizier of Egypt, which put him in a position to save the lives of his family and of many others, nor would he have met his darling wife and had his two, beloved sons. It all worked out in the end.
Who hasn't ever been fired from a job? Most people have been fired at least once. Sometimes, it isn't deserved, and that can get a person really worked up. Maybe it isn't so much about the loss of income as it is the mark against one's reputation that hurts. But there are a lot of people who can say that getting fired from their job worked out just fine. Frequently it led to finding a situation that was much better.
It helps a lot towards doing one's job well and getting along with co–workers if one forgives the former employer for their injustice. Carrying a chip on the shoulder makes it hard to communicate respectfully and rationally to other people in the workplace in the new job. Does one forget what happened, though? No, you remember and try to avoid getting caught in that dilemmna again. A little more research into a company before applying for a job can be the lesson that was learned.
Many of us have had our hearts broken in romantic relationships. Forgive, yes, but it is best to not forget. If we have opted to stay in a relationship with the person after they have blown it really big time, hopefully it is because they showed that they have changed, and not because we are a masochist. But if the relationship is over, we can use what we learned in that relationship to avoid other people who do not have the character strengths that make for healthy relationships, and also to avoid pitfalls in a new relationship.
The hurts in our lives help us build a store of wisdom, if we take the right attitude towards offenses, forgiving, and learning from our mistakes in judgement, so that we can recognize trouble on the horizon and steer clear of it. By pondering the past, we can avoid perpetrating others' errors through our own lives in the future.
The Bible tells us that we need to forgive others, or else God will not forgive us. The Lord knows, we sure do have a lot of sins and need them to be forgiven. We hide behind denial about all the terrible stuff we have kicking around inside us; if we were to face it all at once, unless God's hand was on us to hold us together, we would go insane with the horror of it.
The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9 & 10, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings."
Most certainly, we don't want God to hold our sins against us, so we had better not hold the sins of others against them. But is self–interest supposed to be at the centre of what we do? It is definitely a work of the grace of God when we stop destroying ourselves and do things that are good for us. God wants us to exercise wisdom and do the things for ourselves that produce life, but there are higher motivations than doing things for our own good. What is the highest motivation that God wants us to aim for?
What is the ultimate reason why we should forgive others? What is the gold that God is looking for when He dips His pan in our hearts and sifts through the silt of self–interest, looking for a glimmer that shows that we really understand what He wants from us when He tells us to forgive?
I have heard it said a lot that we need to forgive others for our own sakes, so that we can be free of the past, because as long as we hold other people's sins against them, they hold us as their prisoners, and we will be tormented by our bitterness. Well! We sure don't want to give those dirty rotters any more satisfaction than what they've already gotten from hurting us, do we?
There certainly is some truth in this often repeated exhortation that we need to forgive for our own sake. Indeed there are personal repercussions when we hold bitterness in our hearts. This can take the form of sicknesses in our bodies. Quite often, it's also that old chip on the shoulder that proves to be a hindrance, getting in the way of having healthy relationships with others.
The teaching that we are to forgive for our own sake, though, is perverted. The motive is wrong, and if we forgive for that reason, then we really have not truly forgiven others from the heart. We have forgiven them only from our mind, because it is a sensible thing to do. The Lord showed me this through a dream.
I dreamed of a rich merchant who lived in Bible times, and he had many wives. He was somewhat plump, even fat, probably fifty pounds overweight. He would not have been particularly good–looking even if he had not been fat, but he had many, young, beautiful wives, about twenty of them.
He had only one wife who truly loved him. She knew he was a decent man, and she enjoyed his companionship. The rest had married him for what he could give them materially. They did not take him very seriously.
Oh sure, they acted respectful because the law required it, and they did not fool around on him with other men, again because they would have been punished by law otherwise. But they would have gladly been married to another man, as long as they were free do so, and he could give them what they wanted.
All of those girls liked each other, and had a great time in the harem and on outings, laughing and talking with each other, getting along in one big, happy family. They were frivolous and pleasure–loving, and enjoyed their lives as the pampered darlings of a wealthy man.
Actually, everyone in the family was not happy. Those girls did not fool around with other men, but they did fool around among themselves. All except for the wife who truly loved the husband. The wives did not consider what they were doing as adultery or as perverted. They reasoned that since all of them were one flesh with their husband, it was the same as if they were having sexual relations with him directly.
The husband sure didn't see it that way. There was nothing in this dream that suggested a sick, male fantasy of deriving enjoyment from watching women get it on with each other. The wives did not cavort with each other in front of their husband; they knew he would not approve of that. The rich merchant was a good and honourable man who loved each of his wives dearly, and did not subject them to degradation, but he knew what they were doing behind his back.
When Jasmine was kissing another wife, he did not feel Jasmine's kisses and caresses. As far as he was concerned, all those wives frolicking around among themselves in his harem were being unfaithful to him. The wife who loved him saw it that way, too. She was grieved that they did not truly honour their husband the way they should have.
In my dream, I saw the giddy wives laughing, chattering away with each other in a hovercraft in the bay of a harbour, and the merchant with his faithful, sensible, caring wife sitting in a separate boat of smaller size, both of them looking glumly at the other wives who seemed quite capable of having a good time without having anything to do with them. When they remembered to show interest and friendliness towards the husband, it was because they wanted to keep on getting presents and having good times.
When I awoke and pondered the dream, God showed me that I am all of wives, and the husband represented Him. In no way was He condoning polygamy. What He showed me in that dream is that the wives represented parts of my personality, and one part of me truly loved Him, but other parts of my personality needed to be converted and brought into submission to Him.
They needed to come together as one wife who loves her husband passionately with all her being and is committed solely to Him, instead of still holding on to idols that deliver a measure of self–gratification. An idol of self–gratification can be taking pride in one's intelligence, or in their looks, or coveting material things, or fulfilling a desire to travel, or competing for admiration.
A person might justify their idolatry by saying to themselves, "God is so lucky that a smart person like me chooses to be a Christian. And one that is good–looking, too! I need to have nice clothes so that I can look my best for the Lord. I want to be successful so that other people will see that it pays off to serve God. I want a big house so that I can have Bible studies at my place. And since I will need more furniture, I would like it to be nice furniture. Ooooh, like that peach floral couch and loveseat I saw online the other day. Wouldn't they look great with the rug I saw at Sears a few months ago? I want to travel for the Lorrrd. I wonder if I can fit a quiet week in the Cotswolds into my itinery when I go to England? It would be so lovely to wander about the countryside and take high tea in some cute restaurants. I want to be a success in life and have influence so that people will take me seriously when I witness to them, instead of considering me to be a headcase because I believe the Bible." Oh, yeah. It all relates to God, so it can't be spiritual adultery, can it?
Would we still love God and serve Him if we found themselves stuck in a country that militantly promotes atheism and hinders Christians at every turn from getting a higher education and good jobs and being taken seriously? Would we still love Him if, even in this country where there is relative freedom to serve God, we suffered loss after loss after loss? The kind of losses that can't be recovered, such as the death of loved ones, and no miracles of raising the dead occurred when we prayed for it?
We need to examine our hearts and consider our motives and gauge our level of maturity. Are we stuck in baby Christian mode, still wanting to get, get, get from God, instead of wanting to get to know God better? Are we working on growing up so that, if we ever are subjected to heavy duty trials, we will be test passers instead of trespassers?
The dream was a visual aid to understanding Psalm 86:11 better, which says, "Teach me your way, O LORD; I will walk in your truth: unite my heart to fear your name."
The husband's appearance of being a fat guy who was not particularly good–looking represented how a lot of people say the sinner's prayer, not because they love God, or even like Him, but because they know He is real and He makes the rules, and He has to the power to mete out punishment to those who break the rules. They decide to become Christians so that they won't go to Hell. Well, that is how a lot of genuine Christians got their start; their true conversion came later after they learned more about what the Bible teaches and started to develop a hunger for righteousness.
A lot of people embrace Christianity because of the respectability it gives them when they change their ways, after having behaved badly. Or some never did all that much that was bad, and they like living a wholesome life, but it is the lifestyle they love, rather God Himself. They don't do much in the way of seeking to have intimacy with Him.
Another popular motive is that we can get stuff from God, if we play by His rules. You know how it goes; if we tithe and/or give offerings (whichever teaching on this we embrace), then He is obligated to prosper us. If we witness to others, then we are seeking first His Kingdom, so He is obligated to prosper us. If we share what we have with the poor, then He is obligated to prosper us, or at least keep us alive in famine. If we show mercy to others, then He is obliged to show mercy to us. If we meditate on the Scriptures day and night, He is obligated to prosper us. If we thank Him for what He has given us and done for us, and add some praises to that, God will prosper us.
There are many, many promises of God that we can claim, all to prosper us. But it should not be all about us. Yes, God will keep His promises, but He would like us to love Him just for Himself, because He is worthy to be loved, and admired because His character is so beautiful.
A lot of people don't see God as beautiful, though. They just see Him as a fat cat who has everything they want, and hogs the wealth of Heaven too much to Himself. Like self–centred harem girls cuddling up to their husband, they think that if they flatter Him up with some thanksgiving and praise and do some stuff that turns His crank, such as live in a respectable way, perform good deeds from time to time, and put some money in the offering, He will give them what they want.
Through my dream, God was highlighting the impurity of my motives. I had spent years under Word Faith teaching, trying to learn the formulas that would release more of God's blessings on me. A lot of the teaching is good, but what are one's motives for wanting God's blessings? To help others to be saved from Hell and fulfill their best destiny, or to help ourselves to luxury and prestige and the opportunity to control other people's lives?
It is okay to enjoy God's blessings. It would be a shame if we felt guilty about being blessed and did not enjoy His blessings, but getting His blessings should not be our focus in life. Knowing Him more deeply, falling in love with Him more, this is what should be our focus, and this is what will truly fulfill us. In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. The pleasures are off to the right; they are fringe benefits, not the most precious and most important thing.
The One who is sitting on the Throne is what matters most. If we get really connected to God and just stay there at His Throne, enjoying His presence, we would feel that those pleasures at His right hand could wait forever. I realized this through a dream when I was between jobs and worried about my financial situation.
In my dream, I was looking into outer space. Then out of the darkness, I heard Yehoshua's voice. It came to me in sound waves that made ripples. It was the most wonderful voice in the whole Universe. It was deep and sounded manly, but not so deep as to be baritone. His voice said, "Peace be to you."
An eternity of silence is what is needed to fully savour the glory of His voice speaking just those few words. I stumble around looking for words and fall into silence when I try to describe it. No words in Earth or Heaven can capture and fully describe the beauty of His voice, because His voice holds His character.
As I lay a long time afterwards on my bed with my face buried in my pillow, I marvelled with awe over what I had heard. I thought, "If all Heaven turned out to be just an eternity of listening to that voice, it would be enough. It is worth any amount of suffering, if the reward is to listen to that voice forever."
Mind you, the depravity of human flesh being what it is, the effect of even such an epiphany as this can still be crowded out by the allure of the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the mind, and the pride of life, as I discovered. We have to stay alert against the intrusion of other things that want first place in our heart, and continually work on developing our relationship with the Lord.
God was also showed me through the harem dream that many times Christians do the right things, but for the wrong reasons. What sometimes passes for godly wisdom and spiritual maturity is just common sense and self–interest. Even people who aren't Christians can see the sense of exercising self–control, and they reap the benefits of making good choices.
It is by the grace of God that people, whether they are Christians or not, behave in sensible ways, but there are higher places that He wants us to scale. We are to go from glory to glory, from strength to strength. The next glory is always higher than the one before. They are not like stepping stones across a stream, but like footholds on a mountain, the mountain of God, which is the revelation of His character and His truths.
In particular in the harem dream, God was highlighting to me the issue of forgiveness. As I said, it does not come natural to me to forgive, and I have had some mighty struggles with minor offenses. One of the things I kept telling myself to try to get myself to forgive was that I was only hurting myself by holding onto bitterness, so the sooner I forgave, the sooner I would be free of the nasty, uncomfortable feelings boiling around inside of me, cutting into my heart like razor blades.
I really wasn't all that concerned about the well–being of the person who had offended me. In a lot of cases, I hoped to never see them again. At least, not in this life. In Heaven okay, because they will have stopped hurting people by then. Even at the present time, there are still quite a number of people who, though I think I could be civil to them, I would still feel somewhat tense if I were to run into them.
God showed me through the dream how self–centred my motives were in trying to forgive people. God wants us to forgive others because it is a lot easier to win them to the Lord when people they have offended truly forgive them. If they have any further contact with their victims, it catches their attention that their victim bears them no rancour, which gives evidence of God's existence, and how He can inhabit human beings, and His love pouring through them in forgiveness highlights the nobility and beauty of His character.
Also, when a person forgives an enemy and prays for them, those prayers are really, really, really, really powerful. That does not guarantee that the offender will get saved, because we all have a free will, but those power–packed prayers make it much easier for the person to get saved, if deep down in their heart they want to be saved. By being saved, I don't mean saved from Hell. I mean being washed from the filth of their sins and saved from their depravity. Being saved from Hell is just a fringe benefit.
When we have been forgiven, we should be so grateful and happy about being washed clean and not getting what we deserve, that we should want everybody to experience God's forgiveness, and be set free from their debts and the penalties of sin.
That is what Yehoshua was getting at when He rebuked the servant who had been forgiven of a huge debt, and then threw into jail a fellow servant who owed him a little bit of money. He was not making a point that we should forgive others so that we can remain forgiven and not be delivered to the tormentors. He just named that as a consequence. The main point was that we should be grateful for His forgiveness, and show that same kind of love to others.
Forgiving others is not about us being free. Being free from bitterness is a fringe benefit, but it is not the core issue. The core issue is being transformed into the image of God, having the character of God developed in us through the renewing of our minds. When this happens, then our motivation for what we do in life is not to look good to others, or to feel good about ourselves, or to gain benefits from doing the right thing.
God wants our motivation for doing good to simply be that we want to love others in the same way that God loves us. The higher place in God is when we want to do it for the person's benefit and for God's pleasure; sure we get rewards, but that's not the main thing.
Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
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Lead not into Temptation
Deliver us from Evil
Yours is the Kingdom
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Copyright © 2010, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on June 17, 2010
Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.