Occasionally our pastor will randomly call on someone from the congregation at the beginning of church to come to the pulpit and share what the Lord has been speaking to them or laid on their heart recently. The first time he called on me was the very first time he had called on anyone, and it caught me by surprise. But it was a very pleasant surprise. You see, I love sharing the word of God with anyone who will listen and will seize any opportunity to do so. If you are truly hungry for the things of God I will walk to the ends of the earth to share milk, bread, and meat with you. But if you’re not hungry, I won’t waste my time or yours. I’ll watch for someone else who is.
It just so happened that I was ready to share, as the bible instructs us to be, “in and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) And, it just so happened that what I shared set a beautiful platform for the word the Pastor had to share. (Just a coincidence, I’m sure.) (Not!)
Since that time our pastor has randomly called on others also. Yesterday, as I entered church, I had a fleeting thought that perhaps he might call on me again today, and if he did, what would I share. And I knew immediately. It wasn’t something the Lord has been speaking to me recently, but rather something he revealed to me quite a long while ago, concerning the Lord’s prayer. Or maybe should I say, a “one-liner” from the Lord’s prayer.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Matthew 6:9-13
I have recited the Lord’s prayer many, many times, but rarely had I ever stopped to consider a couple of things.
First, Jesus told us in verse seven, “don’t pray in vain repetitions.” It is not meant just to be a collection of words that we recite together at funerals and weddings.
Second, Jesus gave us that prayer, not to mindlessly recite, but to use as a format or template, showing us how to pray. He was talking with his disciples about the Pharisees and the fact that they pray openly in the streets so people would see them and think them very holy. Jesus went on to say that that is wrong, we should pray “secretly”, another words privately, to the Father. Then he said, “When you pray, pray like this…”
I won’t take the time to expound on it now, but each line of the Lord’s prayer is instruction on how to pray. The line I want to focus on now is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.
I had always understood that line in this way: forgive me of my trespasses “as” or “while I am forgiving others.” WRONG. The Lord showed me the intended meaning of that sentence. Forgive me of my trespasses “as”, or in other words, “just like” I forgive others.
That shed a whole new light on things for me. I had to completely stop and take a look at how I had been forgiving others. Had I been forgiving all the way? Had I been forgiving just in part? Had I been forgiving at all with certain people? Had I been forgiving and forgetting? Or had I determined in some areas (like I’ve often heard others say) that, “I might forgive, but I’ll never forget!”
The fact is, if we are not merciful (mercy-full) we can not forgive the way God intends for us to forgive. He is full of mercy, so when he forgives you and me he forgives us completely, with full mercy. And he forgets! This does not mean that God is there in heaven scratching his head, trying to recall what you did. No, but it does mean that he forgets it to the degree that he no longer holds it to our charge. Furthermore, it also does not mean that it gives us a license to sin again.
Consider this: you are on trial for a crime and you are awaiting your verdict. The jury enters the courtroom and they declare that they have found you guilty. The judge tells you to stand because you are about to be sentenced. Everyone present is on the edge of their seat. Suddenly, a man from the crowd quickly approaches the front of the courtroom. He announces that he is there to take the sentence that the judge is about to give to you. You can hardly believe your ears. But, he does take the sentence for you and the judge tells you that you are free to go. He then sentences the man who took your place. The man who is going to pay your price.
Although you’re free to go, you find yourself still standing there, frozen in time, staring at this man. This mercy-full man. This man who took not just a part of your guilt, but the full measure. A man who agreed not to serve just part of your sentence, but all of it!
Furthermore, this mercy-full man looks at you and motions with his head for you to leave. There are no words you can say. “Thank you” would fall lame and limp from your lips in light of this extraordinary situation. You drop your chin, close your eyes tightly, and take the first steps away. Your eyes open to see where you’re going, but you look at your feet. Now that the reality of what just happened has hit you, the amount of mercy this man has given you keeps you from being able to look at him. You walk out of the courtroom, a free man.
“Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Am I “mercy-full”? What manner of forgiveness am I using? Because God will forgive me in the same manner, and to the same degree, that I forgive others. That thought alone should bring me to my knees, asking God to create a clean heart in me and to fill me with his mercy for others.