Prayer is about releasing. Why is this important? It is important because our prayer lives, the reality of God’s presence in our lives, and the closeness and power in our fellowship rest on how well we deal with our sin problem, both vertically and horizontally.
I. THIS PRAYER INVOLVES A CONFESION
A. When we pray this prayer, we are confessing before the Lord that we have a problem. This is a truth that many believers have trouble with, but the fact is, we may be saved but we can and do still sin. This sad fact is made plain in 1 John 1:8, 10. It is also clear from the testimony of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25. His experience is one we all share.
We need a clear consciousness of our sins! Many believers act as though they think sin is something that happens to others but not to them. As a result, they never go to the altar to pray. They never confess their wrongdoings and shortcomings. They never go to another believer and say, “I’m sorry. I hurt you, and I was wrong.”
B. We all have a problem with sin in our lives, and we all need help dealing with that problem. It is also true that if we are ever to get the help we need to deal with our sin problem, we need to admit our guilt before God.
C. Matthew 6:12 uses the word “debts” to refer to our sins. This is one of the words used in the New Testament when speaking of sin. Let’s look at these words and where each can be found.
1. Romans 3:23 and Luke 15:21. This particular word is used several times in the New Testament and means “miss the mark.” It is an archery term and is used to refer to an archer shooting an arrow that falls short of its target. It refers to the fact that in our sins, we all miss the standard of God’s perfect righteousness.
2. Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 3:13. This word is often translated as “offense” or “trespass” in the New Testament. It carries the idea of slipping or falling. It refers to sins that result from carelessness instead of intentional disobedience.
3. James 2:9. This word is usually translated as “transgression.” It refers to “an intentional crossing of the boundaries established by God in His Word.” This is a far more conscious sin than the preceding two.
4. 1 John 3:4 and Matthew 7:23. This word is usually translated either as “iniquity” or “transgression.” It literally means “without the Law” or “lawlessness.” It is direct and open rebellion against God, His ways, and His Word.
5. Matthew 6:12. This word is translated as “debt, debtor or ought.” It refers to something that is “owed to another party.” Here, Jesus says that our sin is like a debt owed to God and to our fellow man.
So, when I pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” I am confessing to the Lord that I have a problem with sin in my life and that I recognize that I owe God a debt I cannot pay on my own.
II. THIS PRAYER INVOLVES A CRY
If our greatest problem is sin, our greatest need is forgiveness. But, practically speaking, we sin on a daily basis. We may be in a permanent relationship with God that can never be affected by sin, but our walk with Him and our daily fellowship with Him can certainly be damaged by the sins that come into our lives (Is. 59:2; 1 Cor. 9:27).
A. When sin rears its ugly head in our lives, we do not need to hide it. We should never attempt to sweep sin under the rug and pretend it does not exist. Instead of hiding our sins, we should drag them out into the light and confess them as far as they are known. When it comes time to deal with them before the Lord, we should “confess” them to Him. The word “confess” simply means “to agree with, or to say the same thing as.” God wants us to reach the same place He is concerning our sins. He wants us to see sin’s horror, its pain, and its perversion as He does. He wants us to deal with sin as He does. He wants us to judge it in our own lives (1 Cor. 11:31, 32). This is the only way our sins can be forgiven and our fellowship restored with our Father.
B. This simple prayer is about confessing our problem before the Lord and voicing our plea to Him for forgiveness. If we could ever learn to do it His way, we could walk in constant victory before Him.
III. THIS PRAYER INVOLVES A CONDITION
The most difficult part of this prayer is the last part. When this prayer is understood correctly, it is a prayer for God to extend forgiveness to us to the same degree that we extend forgiveness to others.
A. When we refuse to maintain fellowship with other believers in the family of God, our relationship with God the Father is affected. Regardless of what anyone does to us in this life, it could never possibly rise to the same level as our guilt before the Lord. Jesus illustrated this truth in Matthew 18:15-35.
The lesson is clear: If we expect the Lord to forgive us when we cry out to Him, then we must be quick to forgive those who have wronged us. We are to forgive them to the same level that we have been forgiven (Eph. 4:32). If we refuse to forgive our brethren, then we should not expect the Lord to forgive us. After all, He is clear that our forgiveness before Him hinges on our willingness to forgive others (Matt. 6:14, 15).
B. When we have been wronged, offended, and hurt by others, we are to carry that need before the Lord, leave it with Him, and forgive the offender (Rom. 12:19). The Bible is clear about this matter: We are to forgive those who offend us and let their offenses go (Luke 17:1-5; Col. 3:12, 13; 1 Cor. 13:4-7).
We are never more like Jesus than when we forgive those who have offended us! So, when we pray this simple prayer, we are saying, “Lord, help us to be more like you!”
Forgiving and being forgiven are more important than we can ever imagine. Praying is about releasing. It is about us releasing our sins into God’s hands of grace, so that we can experience His forgiveness. It is about us releasing the debts others incur in our lives, so that our fellowship with God and with man is not hindered.
General Conference Ministerial Association