And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25
Of the four Gospels, none is more to the point and straightforward than the account of Jesus’ life as rendered by Mark. Because of his close relationship with Peter who, himself, was a pretty blunt, leave-nothing-unsaid sort of a person, many scholars believe that Mark simply reflected Peter’s thoughts.
With that in mind, may I remind you that some of the most uplifting, positive words of Jesus are also recorded by Mark? For example, Mark tells about the time Jesus was talking with the disciples and said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). Then Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (v. 25).
Ponder those words, “When you stand praying…forgive…” “Just a minute.” you may be thinking, “What does God have to do with my relationship with other people?” In one word, everything! Prayer reflects a vertical relationship between you and God, but forgiveness is a picture of the horizontal relationship between you and someone else.
Jesus is saying that personal, answered prayer is conditioned upon your relationships with others as well as with God. But that’s not the way we like it. We prefer to get what we want from God at the same time we snub people or are angry and bitter with them. But it doesn’t work. Immediately after Jesus gave the disciples the prayer we know as The Lord’s Prayer, He made this statement: “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).
You can’t have it both ways. If you want God’s forgiveness, you must learn to forgive others. If you want God to answer your prayers, you have to turn loose of the bitterness and let Him deal with some situations.
Question: Why is it so difficult to do this? The answer is that you feel more in control, more in charge, when you are filled with anger. But the very opposite is true. We also feel that forgiving someone is a matter of weakness, a giving in to the other, capitulating. But it is none of these. It is turning loose; it is letting go.
The Bible teaches that to forgive someone is to give up your right to hurt that individual because he hurt you first. It isn’t letting the person off the hook, but turning him over to God. And believe me, when you do this, the burden lifts and the anger and hatred in your heart is replaced with God’s love.
A rabbi who had lost his family in the Holocaust said that he forgave Hitler for the horrible loss he had sustained because he chose not to bring Hitler to America with him. That’s wisdom. In their book How to Forgive When You Don’t Know How,” authors Mary Grunte and Jacqui Bishop write, “When you forgive, you reclaim your power to choose. It doesn’t matter whether someone deserves forgiveness; you deserve to be free.”
Should you take time to do a study of how the word forgive is used in the Bible, you will discover that in the vast number of occurrences, it relates to an individual’s response to wrongs that others have done to him or her, rather than to seeking God’s forgiveness for what the individual has personally done. It includes wrongs done by husbands and wives, by brothers and sisters, by business associates, by neighbors and by friends. Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” He was right.
Resource reading: Matthew 11.