Posted on July 30, 2014
#65: Forgiveness and Answered Prayer
I remember the first time I saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I sat in a dark theater watching one scene after another roll by in a story I’d heard since childhood. The film was graphic and moving—a powerful depiction of what Jesus had endured to take away our sin. But for me, one moment was spiritually stunning: when Jesus, beaten, bloody and exhausted, hanging suspended and suffocating on the cross, forced from His swollen lips the words, “Father, forgive them.” Through sudden tears I prayed, “Lord, what hurt could I ever refuse to forgive if You could forgive this?”
And yet I struggle to forgive. We all do. I once heard forgiveness defined as “the death of revenge.” The process of forgiveness takes us through stages of grief over letting go, just like any other death would. I completely get the analogy. I’ve grieved over letting hurts go. Just when I think I’ve accomplished it, I turn a corner in the grocery store and see the one I’ve “forgiven”—and feel a painful rush of emotion that tells me the battle is not yet won.
So when I read Jesus’ words about forgiveness in connection to prayer and faith, I feel a special need to pay attention.
Take a moment to pray for God’s guidance, then open your Bible. Read Mark 11:22-26, then read it again. Do you notice important elements to prayer that God can freely answer? Conversely, what might keep our prayers from being answered?
Roadblocks to answered prayer
The Bible gives at least twelve roadblocks to answered prayer. In other words, when we’re not seeing answers to our prayers, these potential problems are worth examining to see if one or more may be the reason. (Get ready to take a quick look at a lot of scriptures!)
1) Timing—as in the long delay to aged Zechariah’s prayer for a son (Luke 1:13)
2) Wrong motives (James 4:3)
3) Request contrary to the will of God (Matthew 6:10; John 15:7; 1 John 5:14-15)
4) Issues between husband and wife (1 Peter 3:7)
5) Unresolved sin (Isaiah 59:2; Psalm 66:18)
6) Indifference to needs around us (Proverbs 21:13)
7) Ignorance about the full ramifications of a “yes” (Mark 10:38)
8) Lack of persistence (Luke 18:1-8)
9) Pride/a need for humility (Luke 18:14)
10) Prayer presented without the authority/name of Jesus (John 16:23-24)
11) Doubt/unbelief (James 1:6-8; Mark 9:23-29; and today’s scripture of Mark 11:23-24)
12) Unforgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15; and today’s scripture of Mark 11:25-26)
In today’s passage, Jesus addresses the last two roadblocks—doubt, which we’ll save for another post, and unwillingness to forgive. Jesus said, “. . .when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.’ ” (Mk. 11:22-26)
Three problems with unforgiveness
Why is forgiveness so important that Jesus would link it to answered prayer? I believe there are at least three reasons.
• Unforgiveness chains me to pain. When I keep re-living the harm done to me, in effect, I empower my adversary to continue hurting me long after the initial incident is over. Beyond that, the bitterness in me tends to fester and grow, becoming a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on. This is not the abundant life Jesus intends for me!
• Unforgiveness leads to other sins. For example, in reviewing my heartache with those around me, I almost unavoidably spread malicious gossip about the person who hurt me, taking pleasure in harming his/her reputation. I may envy and resent good things that come to my adversary. Or I may feel smugly happy to hear about my adversary’s troubles. None of these actions look much like how Jesus would handle things.
• Which leads me to the fact that unforgiveness keeps me from reflecting the image of Christ. If I want to please the Lord, I need to do as He did. If He could look down from the cross on His enemies and breathe forgiveness—if He could look down through the ages and breathe grace on me, whose sins helped nail Him there—I can do no less than forgive and breathe grace on those who hurt me.
The big question
I must ask myself what I want more: to hold on to my anger and bitterness, or to have a clear path between me and my Father? Unforgiveness will shade my motives and color my prayers. So Jesus commanded me to let it go. No rancor, no animosity, no ill will, no hostility, no grudge, no malice, no resentment, no retaliation, no spite, no venom. He wants me to release the pain to Him. If vengeance is needed, it’s to be from His hands—not mine (Romans 12:17-21, especially verse 19). I am to do everything in my power to live in peace (Romans 12:18).
One more thing: I’m not to forgive just so God will answer my prayers. That’s a different path of insincerity! I’m to forgive simply because I love Him and He’s asked me to. I choose to please Him, to love Him more than I love nursing resentment. Every time a bitter thought arises, I replace it with, “I love You more.”
Are you struggling with bitterness and unforgiveness, wondering if those feelings are blocking your prayers? Ask God’s help this week to breathe grace and to forgive. It’s the first of many prayers He’ll answer.
© Diane McLoud 2014