By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
One of the most profound ways to experience God’s love is through the power of forgiveness. Yet the process of how to forgive can be challenging. While you know you should forgive people who hurt you because God has forgiven you for your own mistakes, the pain of being wronged can be a significant barrier to overcome. Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness no matter what, and he encourages everyone in relationships with God to pray a “forgive us our debts” prayer. Those words hold deep meaning and offer valuable insights into the transformative nature of forgiveness.
Where Does “Forgive Us Our Debts” Come From?
The phrase “forgive us our debts” is derived from the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples as a model of prayer. It serves as a reminder of our need for God’s forgiveness and our reliance on his grace and mercy. In some versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase is rendered as “forgive us our trespasses” instead of “debts.” The meaning remains the same – our plea for God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
The Bible mentions the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel reports of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Jesus teaches his disciples various aspects of holy living, including prayer, during his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus says: “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.’”
The phrase “forgive us our debts” is part of the plea for forgiveness within this prayer. It emphasizes our need for God’s forgiveness and mercy, acknowledging that we have incurred spiritual debts through our sins. By praying for forgiveness for what we have done wrong and committing to forgive others who have done wrong to us, we seek reconciliation in our relationships with God and others.
Why We Pray for Our Debts to Be Forgiven
Praying for the forgiveness of debts is an essential aspect of our walk with God. Since God forgives us once and for all because of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for our sins on the cross, we don’t need to keep praying for forgiveness in order to be saved. But God wants us to keep growing spiritually in our relationships with him – and saying “yes” to his call to forgive day by day is an important part of doing so.
Forgiveness is a vital way to welcome and express God’s love. There is nothing more important than letting God’s love flow freely through our lives. God’s essence is love. 1 John 4:8 points out: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” When a teacher asked Jesus which of God’s commandments is the most important, Jesus mentioned loving God and loving others (Mark 12:28-34). Praying for forgiveness, as Jesus calls us to do, removes whatever is blocking the free flow of love from God to us and through our lives to other people. Day by day, we should get rid of grudges and bitterness that block the flow of God’s love in our lives. Forgiveness allows us to release those blockages in order to enjoy healthy relationships with God and other people. Regularly praying for forgiveness to happen in all our relationships becomes a powerful testimony of our faith and a reflection of God’s love and forgiveness to the world.
When we pray for the forgiveness of debts, we also acknowledge the reality of sin in our lives, and how we need God’s help to keep learning and growing. It humbles us before God and motivates us to stay in regular communication with God, which helps us build closer relationships with him. Unresolved guilt and the weight of unforgiven sins can be burdensome and hinder our spiritual growth. Praying for forgiveness brings freedom and release from the guilt and shame that accompany our sins. It allows us to experience the joy of being forgiven, knowing that our sins are washed away. Psalm 103:12 tells us: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” It also gives us a fresh occasion to celebrate that Jesus makes us new spiritually. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” God’s forgiveness is an expression of his abundant grace. When we pray for forgiveness, we position ourselves to receive this amazing grace in fresh ways.
Finally, praying for the forgiveness of debts is a catalyst for personal growth and transformation. It prompts us to reflect on how our actions and attitudes align with Jesus’ example and teachings. That leads us to self-examination and repentance. Through this process, we become aware of our areas of weakness and are empowered to make positive changes in our lives, aligning ourselves more closely with God’s will so we can pursue our purpose well. We can’t control whether or not other people we have wronged choose to forgive us. But we can free ourselves spiritually and improve the health of our relationships by choosing to forgive them. Roman 12:18 exhorts us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Colossians 3:13 urges: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Jesus wants us to be willing to forgive as he does – without limits. Matthew 18:21-22 reveals: “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.’” No matter what others choose to do, we will be blessed if we answer Jesus’ call to pursue forgiveness with God and others. 1 Peter 4:8 encourages us: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
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How to Say a “Forgive Us Our Debts” Prayer
Here are some practical steps to guide you in praying this powerful prayer:
Approach God with humility. Begin by quieting your heart and mind, recognizing your own limitations, and acknowledging that you are in need of forgiveness. Approach God with a humble and contrite spirit, knowing that he is merciful and loving.
Pray honestly from your heart. Feel free to express your thoughts and feelings in whatever ways work best for you. As my book Wake Up to Wonder shares, we can connect with God best when we simply pray whatever ways come naturally to us – from our hearts to God’s heart. Don’t worry about following any particular prayer method; just do what works best for you.
Reflect on your sins and repent of them. Consider the ways in which you may have fallen short of God’s best. This introspection allows you to identify areas where you need God's forgiveness and healing. Confess your sins to God, mentioning each one specifically. Then repent of each sin with sincerity. Remember that God already knows your heart, but repentance deepens your connection with God and opens the door for his forgiveness to flow into your life. Express your genuine desire to be cleansed and renewed. Believe in the power of God’s forgiveness and receive it with gratitude.
Forgive others. As you pray for God's forgiveness, also reflect on the forgiveness you extend to others. Examine your heart and choose to forgive those who have wronged you. Release your bitterness and resentment. By choosing forgiveness, you break the chains of negativity and allow healing to happen. Reconciliation may also happen if others choose that along with you, but regardless of whether or not you reconcile with those who have hurt you, you must forgive them. Remember that as a follower of Jesus, you are called to forgive unconditionally. Just as God forgives you, you must forgive others so you don’t block the flow of God’s love in your life. The Holy Spirit will help you forgive, despite your pain, if you ask for help.
Live a life of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a one-time act, but an ongoing process. As you incorporate the “forgive us our debts” prayer into your life, let it shape your interactions and relationships day by day. Cultivate a lifestyle of forgiveness, demonstrating God’s love to others as often as you can. By living out forgiveness in your daily life, you can become a living testimony of God’s transformative power.
The phrase “forgive us our debts” within the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our need to pursue forgiveness on a regular basis. As Christians, we are called to embrace forgiveness wholeheartedly by applying it to our lives every day. Saying a “forgive us our debts” prayer is a powerful spiritual practice. It’s a vital way to make sure that God’s love flows through our lives unhindered by any obstacles. Through this prayer, we can both experience God’s love and show others God’s love in action.
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Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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