True conversation is a give and take. It is an act of hospitality. We suspend our own agenda and invite someone else’s in. Conversation also changes us. It re-forms us as we honestly engage with the ideas and feelings of others. We may not agree with everything we hear, but it helps us think through our own preconceptions and biases. Prayer is conversation. Unlike our human conversations, we don’t have much room to disagree with God. We can choose to, but that is usually a dangerous game. Like other conversation, prayer also forms us. As we spend time with God, wrestling through what is important to him, the Holy Spirit re-forms us into the people he desires us to be.
I spent a few minutes this morning googling “forgiveness”. I wanted to step outside of my viewpoint to see a different understanding of the concept. According to Google (or at least the first several websites listed), forgiveness seems to be about an individual’s well-being. Forgiveness, for the most part, is defined as an intentional and voluntary process where by an individual undergoes a change in attitude and feelings toward someone who has caused offense. Almost immediately after defining it, most websites highlighted the release of tension, bitterness, and the personal peace and well-being this would bring.
All of the above is certainly true. Yet, is this Jesus’ point about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer? The phrase is, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This has always sounded a little strange to me. Is there a conditional element to the forgiveness here? Would that clash with what we read elsewhere in our Bibles? Does it really mean if we don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven? I certainly don’t have all the answers to those questions. I do wonder though, if these kinds of questions stem from an individualistic interpretation of the prayer as opposed to a more communal interpretation. Which leads me to ask, “What was Jesus’ purpose in asking us to pray these words”?
As I think of this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, I wonder if this isn’t a re-forming conversation. Is Jesus giving us another way in which he can mold us into His image? As we pray these words, do they help to form us into healthy community? I think so. Here is how I could see that working:
– we intentionally pray for forgiveness, in doing so we hold up a mirror to our lives,
– we begin to see our sin and failures more clearly thereby humbling ourselves,
– in this humble posture we realize the offenses against us are not greater than our own,
– this makes extending forgiveness to others easier (not easy),
– which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, brings healing into our relationships,
– helping us grasp a greater appreciation, and appropriation of the forgiveness we have in Jesus.
It’s a big circle. Yet, the benefits of forgiveness are not mine alone. An entire culture of forgiving develops and a fellowship of the forgiven forms. James encourages us to “confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” The context of that verse is in the middle of a passage on the power of prayer and healing, and the verse just prior to it speaks of forgiveness. So why do we not see this as a common practice in our churches?
This last week, as I have watched the news, and listened to the events in the Christian world, I am deeply disturbed. More than ever, it feels like our communities and churches are fragmenting. Unity seems next to impossible. I might be crazy, but I’m thinking praying through the implications of, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” as formational conversation would be a huge step in the right direction.