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The Prayer of Forgiveness

“When you teach others about forgiveness, tell them that when you prayed with the person who volunteered tonight, two hearts were being healed.”

Susan shared these comments with me after I was demonstrating the power of a quiet, Christ-centered, Cross-centered, Word-centered prayer process. She and her husband had been deeply hurt by the false accusations of the person who volunteered to be prayed for. She was being honest about the pain they experienced and the price they had paid because of the false accusations. Susan knew the behavior was wrong and that a lot of damage had been done to them.

And yet, as she listened to the person receiving prayer, she discovered all kinds of pain in the woman’s history that she had not known about before. Hearing about the lady’s story helped her to understand the negative, hurtful behavior without excusing it. Allowing the Lord to minister to her as she watched the prayer process enabled her to receive healing for her heart as well as receive compassion for the woman who had done so much damage to her family. This is supernatural love and a deeper level of forgiveness, overflowing from a heart receiving healing from Jesus (Col. 2:67-; 1 Cor. 13).[1]

Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”(Luke 23:34), are some of the most profound and misunderstood words ever spoken. In the midst of his discussion on forgiveness in 2 Corinthians 2, the apostle Paul cautioned believers not be deceived,[2] so we should not be surprised that there is much confusion and misunderstanding connected with the subject. The same Jesus who told us to ‘turn the other cheek,’ also cleansed the temple not once, but twice, telling the temple leaders that there was no excuse for their sins.

Which Jesus do we follow? The one who seems to have volunteered himself to become a passive victim, suffering through his cruel trial and crucifixion (reinforcing one of our greatest fears about forgiveness: that it will turn us into eternal doormats)? Or should we follow the Jesus who took action against deception and injustice? How do we gain clarity in the midst of all this confusion?

Knowing And Not Knowing

What did Jesus mean when He said, “Forgive, for they know not what they do?” Looking at Bernie Madoff’s story will help us understand Jesus’ profound words. What did Bernie Madoff know and not know about the consequences of his $20 billion ponzi scheme?

Bernie knew he was stealing money, risking prison time, his reputation and freedom. Bernie knew he was doing something illegal that was hurting others and yet he didn’t stop. From a Christian perspective, we can say with certainty that Bernie was sinning against God, betraying his family and all those who trusted him. Did Bernie Madoff know that his son would commit suicide on the second anniversary of Bernie’s arrest, leaving Bernie’s grandson without a father? Or did he “not know” that this would be an unintended consequence of his greed and selfishness?

Did he know that he would live with the loss of his son every day for the rest of his life? Did he know that he would lose God’s peace unless he made the choice to acknowledge his sin and the damage done to God and others? (Psalm 32:3; 51:4.) Even worse, does Bernie know he will face eternal consequences for his sin and guilt unless he receives God’s gift of repentance?[3] Probably not.

But if Jesus himself relied on his Father’s power to forgive us for the sins we know about and the domino effect of those sins, can we forgive in our own strength? Or do we need Jesus’ help to heal and embrace all the pain in our hearts from the sins committed against us, and all our inability and powerlessness to forgive in our own strength?[4]

Forgiving By Faith Or By Fear?

Many pastors and Christians counselors have quoted Matthew 6:12, telling people that if they don’t forgive those who have hurt them, God won’t forgive them and they will lose salvation, separated from God for eternity.

This perspective is the result of a failure to study Jesus’ words in the whole context and meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus begins his prayer with a request for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. John 6 tells us three times that God’s will for all who believe in Jesus to be saved. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist wonders in prison whether Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus’ response to John is that the blind are gaining their sight, the lepers are being cleansed, etc. In other words, God’s will has to do with healing, saving and restoring men and women (Matthew 6:10).

Matthew 6:11 of the Lord’s Prayer asks that we may receive our daily bread, and in John 6 Jesus claims that we need to receive his body as bread over twenty times! So then, the reception of Jesus’ broken body by human beings is part of what it means for God’s will to be done on earth. As we receive Jesus’ power to heal us, through his brokenness, his suffering, his identification with us, we will also receive his Spirit of forgiveness. We do not earn “brownie points” with God if we forgive others. Forgiveness is not something we “do” in order to earn God’s forgiveness and salvation, and it is not a fear-based guilt trip. Rather, forgiveness begins when we receive the healing of Christ into our hearts and minds. Until we receive this gift from Jesus, we will have nothing to offer others (John 6:63).

As we allow Jesus, the “Suffering Messiah”[5] to identify with us as he was sinned against, betrayed and abused, being “made like us in every way,”[6] we can receive healing in our hearts. Then and only then can his supernatural forgiveness begin to flow through us, leading us to experience the same truths discovered by Corrie Ten Boom: “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”[7]

Never forgive again… in your own strength. Choose to receive Jesus’ healing for the losses you have experienced so that you can receive his supernatural Spirit of forgiveness for those who have hurt you.[8]

Paul Coneff, a pastor and marriage and family therapist, is the founder and director of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries. Read Spectrum’s interview with Paul here:

[1] (Straight 2 the Heart’s “Pure Power – Pure Passion” discipleship process offers deep healing and freedom overflowing into forgiveness).

[2] “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (vss. 10, 11).

[3] Rom. 2:4; Acts 5:31; 10:43, 35, 47; John 14:47-48; Rev. 21:8; ;  2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1-2

[4] Luke 4:18; Mat.. 18:35

[5] Luke 9:22; 22:14-20; Isaiah 53

[6] Heb. 2:10, 17-18; 4:15

[7] Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, London: Hodder & Stoughten, 1971).

[8] Col. 1:27; 2:7; John 15:5; 1 Cor. 13

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