Jesus wisely establishes God’s goodness, holiness, and our need to reach out to him for provision before he gets to this difficult point in the prayer. Reliance on the Father to give us the courage and humility to forgive others is essential since only the Holy Spirit can keep us aware of the immense and infinite height, width, and breadth of God’s forgiveness.
Many, myself included, have tried to maneuver around the second part of this plea to make the first part unconditional. Charles Spurgeon noted that some have even tried to change the caveat to “as we desire to forgive our debtors.” But this simply won’t do. Christ is quite clear in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Just ask the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18! Jesus ends his Parable of the Unforgiving Servant with, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
In recent months, I have considered our fireplace when seeking to capture an unsavory thought or when I am tempted to hold forgiveness for an offense against me. In the back of our hearth, there is a grate in which we can sweep the excess ashes, sending them to a deep pit below our basement. Whenever I am inclined toward a lack of forgiveness or grace, I envision my sinful thought or attitude being swept away while thinking (or sometimes verbalizing aloud) the words, “sweep it into the grate!” Visualizing the literal disposal of my sinful attitudes has greatly impacted my ability to extend grace.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life— to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son— How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.
Our fallen nature has rendered us too myopic to see past our own indignity. When I put my personal offenses up against the offenses for which God, in Christ, has forgiven me, I cower in shame and get to sweeping those ashes of unforgiveness into the grate of God’s forgiveness, where they will be remembered no more.
Leslie Schmucker retired from public school teaching to create a special education program at Dayspring Christian Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the upcoming book, Broken Children, Sovereign God: Rejoicing in God’s Goodness in the Midst of Childhood Mental Illness (Christian Focus, 2023). She belongs to Grace Baptist Church. She and her husband, Steve, have three grown children and eight grandchildren. She blogs at leslieschmucker.com, and you can follow her on Twitter.