The concept of forgiveness is tricky. In theory it sounds great--living debt free to God and others, and holding no grudges sounds like a life of freedom. But at the same time, when given more thought, the idea of giving and receiving forgiveness is intimidating, difficult, and sometimes painful. These negative associations have made me realize that forgiveness apart from God is impossible.

I think there are two aspects to forgiveness. The first aspect is God’s forgiveness towards us. The second aspect, enabled by the first, is our forgiveness towards others, and both are essential to our prayer lives. Part of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 speaks directly into this concept. Verse 12 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A big purpose for the Lord’s Prayer is to teach us how to pray, and to serve as a launching point for our prayer lives. First I want to look closer at the beginning of verse 12--”And forgive us our debts.” Asking God for forgiveness is essential to a healthy prayer life. However, when we ask God for forgiveness it’s important that we remember that He’s already given it to us. We aren’t begging Him to forgive us--His forgiveness isn’t something we have to earn.

Though God’s forgiveness isn’t something we have to strive for, and is something we’re freely given, it’s still important to ask Him for it when we pray for a few reasons. The first being that asking for forgiveness helps us to remain in humility. For me, it’s vital to remember that just because I am forgiven, doesn’t mean that I can disregard that I did something that required forgiveness in the first place. Asking for forgiveness also helps us to remain humble, because it reminds us of God’s goodness that He would readily forgive us to begin with.

Another reason I think it’s important to ask God to forgive us when we pray is so that we honor the thing that He so graciously gives us. He doesn’t have to forgive us, but He does so unconditionally because He loves us unconditionally. It’s who He is. So it’s important to ask Him for it in order to honor who He is.

Understanding the depth of God’s forgiveness also helps to enrich our prayer lives, because it frees us from the need to strive to make up for what we’ve done. We have to receive His full forgiveness so when we come to Him in prayer we don’t constantly feel the need to earn His love back, but come into His presence knowing we are forgiven, loved, and free to be where we are with Him.

The second part, our forgiveness towards others, then comes into play. The second half of verse 12 says, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” But here’s the thing, can’t forgive others until we receive the full weight of God’s forgiveness. So once we’ve done that, we can move on to forgiving others.

It’s important to know that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for us. It doesn’t mean that what happened is okay, and it doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation of the relationship. However, it’s letting go of our offense and releasing the other person from what we think they owe us, despite the fact that what happened maybe wasn’t okay. Forgiving others is absolutely essential to our prayer lives, because unforgiveness hardens our hearts. When our hearts are hardened, prayer becomes incredibly difficult, because doors are opened in our souls for footholds of darkness and bitterness to sneak in.

Overall, forgiveness is a very messy and difficult process to navigate, but it’s a process that God wants to walk through with us. Only He can heal and change our hearts, and He will. He cares deeply about our forgiveness, because it’s attached to our freedom. So it’s essential to have forgiveness in our prayer lives so we can walk in the fullness of freedom He has waiting for us.

My prayer is that we would know the full weight of God’s forgiveness for us. That we would be able to come into His presence with the knowledge and thankfulness of His forgiveness. That through His forgiveness, we would be able to forgive those in our own lives with softened hearts and love towards them, and that all of these things would draw us deeper into freedom with God.

He has so much to reveal to us in prayer, He’s just waiting for us to meet Him in that place.

Author | Stephanie Stewart