Since Jesus taught that a heart that has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47), our thinking will be affected by how often we meditate on God’s forgiveness of us in Jesus Christ. If we regularly ponder the depth of our own sinfulness, like the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears, and consider the greater depth of God’s forgiveness, we will grow in our love for Him. It is when we forget God’s benefits that our hearts become proud. If we are not careful, we who have been forgiven much can act like those who think they have been forgiven little and, consequently, become slow to forgive others who sin against us. When this happens the soil of our hearts is in danger of being loosened and fertilized for the root of bitterness to grow. We must therefore consciously practice forgiveness. If we do not, a spirit of unforgiveness will most certainly destroy the effectiveness of our prayer lives.
Jesus taught the importance of forgiveness and how it relates to prayer in what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.” Let’s think on the portions of this model prayer that relate to the principle of forgiveness.
[Pray in this way] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matt. 6:12, 14–15).
Here we learn three characteristics of a forgiving heart and its effects upon prayer. By application, we also learn how the enemy of pride fights against the obedient practice of forgiveness.
Characteristic #1 – A forgiving heart is energized by a healthy awareness of personal sin (v. 12a) - In His model prayer, Jesus includes confession of sin as a necessary element of God-dependent prayer. We ought to pray,“forgive us our debts.” A daily awareness of our own sinfulness will lead us to regularly ask God for His forgiveness, which is a healthy part of the process of spiritual growth. It is when we remember that we ourselves are wretched that we will in turn praise God for the victory found only in Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:24–25).
Pride is the enemy of a forgiving heart. Unforgiving people (those with bitter hearts) think themselves superior to others. Their shallow recognition of their own depravity makes it difficult for them to imagine that they themselves are quite capable of committing the very sins for which they stubbornly refuse to forgive their brothers and sisters. Unforgiving people have not lately thought about the profundity of their own sin. In contrast, those with forgiving hearts humbly acknowledge their own need for a daily supply of God’s grace and mercy. As a result, they are trained to be ready to forgive others.
Let us guard our own hearts from the deadly sin of unforgiveness that leads to bitterness, which then defiles many (Heb. 12:14-15).
(Adapted from my book Teach Them to Pray)