Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Verse that Changed My Life -- Mark 11.25

This evening in small group we're looking at forgiveness.

Preparing the study put me in mind of one of the happiest days of my life. It was some years back now, and it was the day when I came across Mk 11.25 (or at least the day Jesus' teaching in this verse hit home).

In instructing his disciples about prayer, Jesus added this:

"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions."

There's lots of interesting stuff to consider in the second part of the verse (and, of course, the bit about standing while you pray is pretty interesting as well), but I want to focus on the first half of the verse, and how emphatic Jesus is.

Jesus uses compelling words: "Whenever," "anything," "anyone."

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything againstanyone ."

To be sure, we pray regularly in the "Our Father" to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." But that line usually comes and goes too quickly, at least for me, to implement it fully. So I slowed down, and in my prayer began to recall anyone whom I might have something against. Then I forgave them.

I know. It sounds stupidly simple. But while I had forgiven some people some sins before God, it wasn't an regular feature of my prayers. ("Whenever.")

Now the thing is, it's not as though I was standing around brooding about all the wrongs that people had done me during my life. I had a relatively normal middle-class life with a relatively normal childhood (enlivened a bit by a parent's manic depression, but not at all ruined by it). In fact, I was surprised by what surfaced as I began to think about what "anythings" I had against "anyones." Things I hadn't thought about for years came to mind as I prayed. Matters in which I had been wronged, or had thought myself wronged. Stuff from big things, to absurdly trivial (and largely unintended) slights. I was sort of surprised at myself, that I had been carrying all of this stuff with me, a lot of it being really trivial childhood stuff. But there it was.

So as all this stuff came up, I forgave. And I was happy to forgive because Jesus had forgiven me. (I also repented to God for having not forgiven all these folk a lot earlier.)

The weird thing was, though, that as I began (and continued) to forgive, I felt my own heart changing, growing lighter and unburdened. This, again, struck me as a bit odd, because I hadn’t really felt particularly burdened by most of the sins of others against me, and so hadn't felt particularly burdened by my not forgiving these folks. Not that the feeling is the point, nonetheless, when I finished my prayers and got up, I felt remarkably free and light. The irony is that, in unburdening others of the debt they owed me, by God's grace I unburdened myself.

That struck me as pretty wild. And it still does. It is something for which I am profoundly thankful to God for allowing me to experience.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always am, that God always gives a lot more back to me than I give to him.

In any event, it took several weeks before the stream of recollected hurts, snubs, and insults tapered off. I felt like a changed person. I felt a lot less angrier. (Not that I thought of myself as a particularly angry person before doing what Jesus said to do. This, too, surprised me; that I was angrier than I recognized beforehand.)

Ever since then, for years now, forgiveness has been a regular part of my prayers. It’s been a great source of blessing in my life.

That being said, I still sometimes catch myself preferring to nurse a grudge against someone rather than to forgive them. I still shock myself at how I’m able to deceive myself. Days, sometimes weeks might go by. I’m not consciously aware of being unforgiving, and then I’ll catch myself. After I forgive them in prayer, I realize how I was clinging to my unforgiveness, nursing it by telling myself that the person didn’t deserve my forgiveness. I never directly told myself, of course, that would be too overt. But that was my attitude nonetheless. (My capacity for self-deception rarely fails to shock me.)

Then I repent to God: What right do I have to begrudge the trivial sins of others against me, when God does not begrudge the great sins which I sinned (and sin) against him? This disappoints me, and still shocks me a bit as well. That even after all this time there remains a part of me that prefers to nurse grudges and prefers the comfort of a squalid self-pity, rather than to forgive those who sin against me and enjoy the light and life that God gives me. But, thanks be to God, I usually catch my self-deception sooner or later, and forgive.

The bigger point, however, is, as I mentioned above, that for years now, forgiving others has been a regular part of my prayers. Doing so has been one of the greatest sources of on-going blessing that I recognize. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. But I am profoundly thankful to my Lord for teaching me the lesson.

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything againstanyone ."


Blogger Gem said...

It is so great to hear someone else talk about the importance of having forgiveness in one's heart. I've just recently learned to forgive. It wasn't easy for me at first, but I had to realize that I am not perfect and that I needed to learn to forgive in order to recieve the grace of God's forgiveness. I would love to here your perspective on my posts. Visit my blog one day when you have the time. Thanks!

December 18, 2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger Gem said...

Excuse the mispelling of hear in my last comment. I have the tendency to type extremely fast without checking for spelling errors.

December 18, 2007 4:07 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks for dropping by. I misspell words in the comment section all the time, and I don't type particularly fast.

December 19, 2007 6:03 AM  
Blogger CPA said...

Thank you

December 26, 2007 3:30 PM  

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