I don’t know about you, but I sure want my prayer life to be powerful. For me, learning to pray like Jesus did is one of the most important goals in my life. Such prayer will undergird and support everything else that I do. My communication with God must involve listening in addition to talking, so that I can hear His voice and be led by His Spirit. As I continue to learn to pray His will for myself and others, I am certain to see Him answer “yes” more than ever before.
As we discovered last week, there are things that we must do even as Christians in order to prevent our prayers from going unheard. Scripture is clear that when we regard iniquity in our hearts the LORD will not hear. This means that if we hold onto sin, refusing to repent of it and ask God for forgiveness, God is not inclined to answer our prayers. Unconfessed sin is a detriment to effective prayer.
A second hindrance to prayer is an unwillingness on our part to forgive others who have sinned against us. This is related to the necessity of confession we discussed previously. You see, when we come to God seeking forgiveness for our own sin we expect Him to grant it. But is such an expectation reasonable when we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us? Why should we be excused from the same standard that God upholds?
When we refuse to forgive others who have wronged us, our prayers are frustrated and become fruitless. We must be quick to forgive others when they’ve harmed us, and quick to seek the forgiveness of others when we’ve harmed them. Anything less will weaken our line of communication with God.
DVD TEACHING SEGMENT (Not available online)
I. THE PRIORITY OF FORGIVENSS (Matthew 5:23-24)
Before we bring any offering to the Lord, whether through prayer or by other means, Scripture is clear that we must first be reconciled with one another. This means that we must go to them and seek forgiveness if we have sinned against them. It further means that we must forgive those who have sinned against us.
Forgiveness is a priority when it comes to unbroken communication with God. To practice unforgiveness toward others is to harbor sin in our hearts, because an unwillingness to forgive is a clear violation of God’s commands. When we refuse to forgive one another, we are acting in direct contrast to the character and nature of Christ. How can we expect to be conformed into His image if we don’t forgive others?
II. THE LIMIT OF FORGIVENESS (Matthew 18:21-22)
Forgiving a person who has sinned against you is difficult, even if they only did it once. But imagine a person who mistreated and abused you again and again. While we might be willing to forgive someone the first time, it becomes increasingly difficult to forgive them on subsequent occasions. To feel this way is simply human nature. Even the apostle Peter wondered if there might be a reasonable limit placed upon number of times we are to offer forgiveness…
Jesus taught that we are to forgive the offender “seventy times seven” times. The numbers used in the Bible have specific meanings, and in this case the numbers mean perfection (7) and completeness (70). When coupled together, we can understand the phrase to mean “an infinite number of times”. In other words, there is no maximum number after which we are free to hold a grudge.
The only other place in Scripture where we see the “seventy times seven” reference is in Daniel’s 70-week prophecy. Following the 70 weeks of 7 years, Jesus returns to set up His earthly kingdom. Even in this instance, the use of 70 x 7 does not refer to a literal 490 years, but rather to an unknown number (including the "Church Age") that ceases only when Jesus returns. In like manner, we are to forgive without limit until Jesus comes again (when there will be nothing left for us to forgive).
III. THE MEASURE OF FORGIVENESS (Luke 6:38, Matthew 6:12, Ephesians 4:32)
God’s Word teaches that He will give to us in accordance with the measure by which we give to others. While giving is usually understood as the bestowing of some material gift, perhaps it also includes the granting of forgiveness. I believe such an idea is consistent with the principles of God’s Word.
When Jesus delivers the Model Prayer to his audience, He makes an interesting correlation regarding forgiveness. He directly states that God will forgive us of our sins “as” we have forgiven those who’ve trespassed against us. The word “as” in the original Greek can be used to mean “in the same manner or to the same degree”. Following this line of thinking, we could interpret Jesus’ statement to mean that God will forgive us to the same extent that we forgive others.
Based upon this teaching are we to conclude that there are varying degrees of forgiveness? Maybe in our eyes, but not according to Scripture. We are to forgive just as Jesus forgave us and His forgiveness is complete and with reservation. Therefore, we also are to offer absolute forgiveness. Partial forgiveness remains partial unforgiveness, and is unacceptable in God’s eyes.
Jesus Christ is our supreme example of forgiveness. As He hung dying on the cross, He prayed asking the Father to forgive those who had placed Him there. The forgiveness we find in Him is perfect, full, and without limit. This is the type of forgiveness we are commanded to give to each other.
If you are a true Christian, God has already forgiven you of the eternal condemnation that was associated with your sin. You have been set free from death and the grave. However, if you continue to be hard-hearted and unforgiving toward others, your walk with God will be affected. Having an unforgiving attitude will severely hamper your prayers and prevent you from living in the fullness that God desires for your life.