On the four Mondays in April,[NOTE] we are focusing on shared prayer as a way for "Living My MUSD!" No amount of "social distancing" can keep the power of the Holy Spirit away from those we bless with our prayers!
(See links to the other articles.)
Forgiveness Is Important to God!
Forgiveness matters to Jesus. After all, he came to earth, lived as one of us, and went to the cross to ensure we could be forgiven and made righteous in God's eyes (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:19-23). The Holy Spirit reminds us of the importance God places on forgiveness each time we read the Lord's model prayer:
[Jesus taught his disciples:]"This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.' "
(Matthew 6:9-13 — Bold added for emphasis.)
In case we didn't pick up on Jesus' seriousness about forgiving people, he added this postscript to his guidelines on prayer:
"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).
Jesus re-emphasized the importance of forgiveness several times in his direct teaching for his closest disciples, driving home his message to the apostle Peter. Jesus emphasized the importance of graciously forgiving others by telling a chilling parable about what happens to those who are unforgiving (Matthew 18:15-35).
In addition to Jesus' repeated emphasis on forgiveness, Paul's instructions hold us to the highest standard of forgiving others:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
We can safely say that forgiveness, and being forgiving people, are essential as far as God is concerned!
An Underemphasized Facet of Forgiveness:
In nearly all of the discussions I have found on forgiveness, one point is distressingly underemphasized. Jesus has given us the power to forgive, proactively and reactively, those who desperately need it. The Lord empowered us to forgive others. When two or three of us get together and pray for another's forgiveness, God forgives them! Let these words that Jesus taught to his disciples settle into your heart:
"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
"If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:12-15, 19-22).
Now, see what the Holy Spirit awakens in you as you hear the echo of Jesus' voice in the words of his half-brother, James:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins (James 5:13-20).
Jesus has called and empowered us to bring forgiveness to our world! Where two or three of us come together to unbind someone from their sin by praying and pronouncing forgiveness, God honors our requests.
Partners with God in the Work of Forgiveness:
Jesus gave us the power of gathering together and speaking forgiveness over others, and God promises to honor our requests! Astounding! Yet, why should we be surprised? Jesus came to save the world from sin so that people would not be condemned for their evil deeds (John 3:16-17). Jesus came and gave up his life when we were sinful and unworthy (Romans 5:6-11) so that we could be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The real question is this: Will we, as Jesus' disciples, join him in bringing God's forgiveness to our broken world?
Jesus spoke the truth about our Father clearly: "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14). Paul proclaimed this truth to gathered philosophers and theologians in Athens: God wants all people to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins (Acts 17:27-31). Later in his ministry, the apostle Peter emphasized God's desire to forgive (2 Peter 3:9). Going back to the Old Testament prophets, we remember that Jonah didn't want to preach to Nineveh because he knew God would forgive them if they repented (Jonah 4:1-3). God is definitely about forgiveness!
Then, Jesus came to earth and empowered us to bring forgiveness to our world through:
- Leading people to repent and turn to God.
- Forgiving those who have sinned against us.
- Forgiving those who have sinned against God.
- Forgiving others who come to us and ask for forgiveness.
- Forgiving and helping others find reconciliation when their relationships needs repair and forgiveness.
This week in "Living My MUSD," we are emphasizing shared prayer — gathering (either actually or virtually) with one or more other believers (Matthew 18:18-20; Ecclesiastes 3:9-12) to pray for the forgiveness of others. When people need forgiveness, we can pray for them whether they request it or not. We can pray for them with another person when they share with us their struggles with sin. We can join with another believer when people want us to pray for them. Along with a trustworthy confidant, we can pray together for the forgiveness of others who have wronged us even before they ask for our forgiveness. With a brother or sister in Christ, we can pray for those we know have fallen or stumbled in high profile ways as leaders in ministry.
Overcoming the Problem of Social Distancing:
But how can "two or three" join together and "agree" in asking for forgiveness for others when we are physically apart because of social distancing?
We have phones, cell phones, video conferencing tools, and secure chat apps. These tools enable us to pray together for others and with others. With all the "Zooming" to get people together for meetings, let's remember that we can use the same technology to liberate people from their sin through prayer! We can utilize all of these resources to pray with one or more other prayer warriors and agree in that prayer, asking God to forgive people caught in brokenness, division, and strife!
Let's also remember the power to use letters, texts, and emails to ask people to join us in prayer. Because we each share the Holy Spirit, we do not have to be physically proximate to each other or even speaking or chatting virtually through some device. Paul emphasized the power of virtual presence through our spirit with others because of the Holy Spirit and people gathering in the name of the Lord (Colossians 2:5).
Let's not take lightly the promise of the Lord to be present when two or three (or more) of us come together spiritually, whether it is physically or virtually, and his promise to grant us the power to forgive — to unbind people from their sin (Matthew 18:18-20).
At this point in our journey through social distancing, many of us are tired of repeating the same ol' routines at the same ol' place, day after day — sometimes now referred to as "groundhogging" based on the movie, " Groundhog Day"! We get so locked into our routines and suffer from "Zoom fatigue." In the process of repeating the same-ol' after same-ol' grind, we can easily forget the incredible grace the Lord has given us in prayer to bring forgiveness into the lives of others. Let's find ways to get two or three together in prayer and bring forgiveness to those who so desperately need God's grace!
[NOTE] What do we mean by using the words "shared prayer" and how do we effectively engage in it? We are looking at shared prayer from four different vantage points:
- Praying for others and sharing that we have prayed for them and what we have prayed for them — Communicating Purposely, April 6.
- Praying with people in other locations, focusing on certain missions and people we are asking God to bless, empower, protect, and grow — Empowering Missionally, April 13.
- Praying for others asking for God's intervention in their lives and for God to bless them physically and spiritually — Interceding Personally, April 20.
- Praying with others — online, by telephone, or in-person — interceding for the forgiveness of those who are lost, who have strayed, or who have trapped themselves in their rebellion against God — Forgiving Redemptively, April 27.