I recall a time when I taught the 2nd/3rd grade classes in our Children’s Ministry. We had a good time (well, at least I did!) learning about forgiveness.
We counted out 77 stones, one at a time, to really see how serious Jesus was about forgiving (Matthew 18:22); we loaded a backpack with bricks to experience what life is like when we hold onto our hurts; we played musical beanbags to illustrate how quickly the Lord wants us to forgive and release our anger; and we blew up a balloon to show how no one wants to be around someone who just keeps getting fuller and fuller of anger until they unexpectedly explode.
While the lesson was primarily rooted in Matthew 18, in which Jesus tells a great parable about forgiveness (Jesus used many stories to illustrate His principles because, let’s face it, Jesus was basically teaching a bunch of adult kids), I also reminded the children that Jesus talked about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, a more familiar passage to most.
Do you realize how the words of the Lord’s Prayer are at least challenging, perhaps even dangerous? The more I understand all that is involved in those beloved and oft said words, the less quick I may be to speak them to God.
For example, do you know that the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” is literally translated, “forgive us in proportion to how we forgive others”? I understand that there are many levels of theological discussion to be had here; but I would like us to simply focus on the practical, pragmatic words Jesus spoke to a crowd of interested adults.
“Forgive me in proportion to how I forgive others” is a contractual agreement with God, initiated by me that determine the amount of forgiveness I experience from Him on a daily basis. If I say, “I will never forgive so-and-so for what he or she has done to me,” if I say, “I will never forget what so-and-so did to me,” and then go pray the Lord’s Prayer, I am quite deliberately asking God not to forgive me.
Yes, you read that correctly. Probably not what you thought you were praying.
“Dear God, I suppose it is obvious from my words and behaviors that I have no intention of forgiving my husband (wife, brother, sister, mom, dad, etc). So please, Sir, do not forgive me for my anger (lustful actions, lying, gossip, etc). Instead, please hold all of those things against me just like I am holding on to the things others have done to me. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Amen.”
If we remembered what we are doing when we take this petition to the Lord, there would be times we would dare not pray it. And in those moments, we might finally be willing to forgive.