I heard this with new ears recently: . . . forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us . . . (Luke 11: 3-4a). Really?! Do I really forgive everyone in debt to me? The friend who borrowed and didn’t return my favorite book three years ago? The neighbor who broke our lawn mower when he borrowed it? That coworker who made nasty remarks when I became pregnant again? There is a very long list. The immediacy with which these came to mind showed me that I most certainly have not forgiven everyone. Yet the Lord is assuming that, of course, I forgive others. I feel a bit ashamed that I don’t always forgive that quickly, or even always. This is hard enough for me to realize, but then I looked at Matthew 6:12, where Jesus says, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. So every time I pray the Our Father, I am asking God to use the same standard to forgive me that I use to forgive others. This, too, brings me up short. If I want to be forgiven for my offenses (and you can bet I do), then I need to be about forgiving others.
Not that long ago, I was wrestling to forgive someone close to me. I felt angry and more than justified in my anger. I took it to the Lord in prayer and was finally able to say that I forgave this person. However, I still felt justified in holding onto some of the anger. I figured that I could forgive him as an act of my will, ask God to forgive him, and yet be justified if I held onto just a little bit of the hurt because he really did hurt me after all. Then I heard this question go through my mind: Which part of that do you want me to hold against him when he comes before the throne of my Father? It was like a gut punch. Oh no, Lord! That would be awful! I realized that I did not want that person to be condemned because of me, not even for a moment. By God’s grace I was able to repent of holding onto some of my anger. I repented of feeling justified and self-righteous. I repented of wanting that man to be hurt. Take it all, Jesus―forgive him all of this, even as you forgave it all when you were hanging on your cross―even as you forgive me now. Hold nothing of this against him or me when we go before your Father’s throne.
Such generosity in Christ Jesus! If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:13). So not only does God forgive, but he wants us to ask him for more―more of his Holy Spirit. For it is only by the Holy Spirit that we are able to forgive; that we are able to let go of the pain; that we are willing to give up wanting revenge. In this world, unspeakable evils have, at times, been done to us―evils that still come back to inflict pain. And when that happens, like peeling an onion, we must go down another layer to forgive at a deeper level. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to do this. Only the Holy Spirit can give the gift of compassion, the gift of peace, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of forgetting. We are in need. Come, Holy Spirit!