Text: Matthew 6:14-15

The late Bishop Lance Webb used to tell a story about a 5-year-old boy who misbehaved. His mother decided to give him some quiet time. She had a large closet. So she pushed back the hangers in the closet so there would be room for his chair. She turned on the light and told him he would have to stay in the closet for 30 minutes.

She heard strange sounds inside the closet, then everything got quiet. The mother was curious, so she opened the door. “Jimmy,” she asked, “what on earth are you doing?” The little boy replied defiantly, “I just pulled all your clothes down and spit on them. I spit on your shoes, too. Now I’m just sitting here waiting on more spit.”

I know some grownups who get angry and react the same way. You can look at them and tell they are just sitting around waiting on more spit. Indeed, all of us have a tendency to harbor grievances against other people.

My plea today is for our Lord’s sake—and for our own sakes—that we stop fuming and start forgiving. In our heads, we know forgiveness is healthy. Medical science has linked a failure to forgive with all kinds of ailments, including stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, backaches, stomach distress, diabetes, hypertension and heart problems.

Real forgiveness is always a minor miracle. Real forgiveness or “forgiveness from the heart” as Jesus called it, requires more than will power. It is contrary to human nature and therefore requires the assistance of the Holy Spirit. A willingness to forgive is a choice for non-believers; for Christians it is an essential.

In Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner, he says, “I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid overcast day.” On that day Khaled witnessed something terrible being done to his best friend; but Khaled was afraid to intervene, so he ran away. For the rest of his life he bore the guilt of having deserted his friend. Finally he confessed his guilt to a religious leader in Afghanistan. The leader told Khaled that he could shed his guilt by doing lots of good things to make up for his sin, but it didn’t work. Khaled discovered that guilt is not something you can work off like demerits. Only Christianity offers a real way to wipe away guilt. The Christian way involves a cross, where Jesus Christ paid for our sin and offers forgiveness to every person who will confess sin and trust in Him.

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught His disciples about forgiveness as He gave them His model prayer, The Lord’s Prayer. New Testament scholar William Barclay called Matthew 6:12 the most dangerous petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

You see, if we pray this prayer, yet we and God know we have an unsettled quarrel or a grudge against someone, we are asking God not to forgive us! If we really think about what we are praying, there would be some days when we might say to ourselves, “I dare not pray The Lord’s Prayer right now, because there is a grudge in my heart that first must be resolved.”

By Dr. Bill Bouknight