The Discipline of Presence: Forgiveness

Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)
“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.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It is interesting that the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus clarifies is the section on forgiveness.  Not God’s will, not daily bread, not temptation – just forgiveness.  It is the only prayer that is answered based on our success in doing the same for others.  Jesus is clearly speaking to the human propensity for holding a grudge that keeps us in our little kingdom-of-me instead of the Kingdom of God.

We have been doing some gardening behind the house the last few years and one thing is abundantly clear: you must tend the garden every day.  We learned this by watching horn worms devastate our tomato plants.  We took this to heart when weeds became so entangled with cucumber plants it was hard to tell them apart.  If we wanted our garden to bear fruit in season, we had to be disciplined everyday in its care and maintenance.

Condemnation, anger, arrogance and even hate can take root in our hearts if we do not tend the soil each day.  God wants fertile ground for the seeds of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and) self-control.”  If we allow offenses to go unforgiven, our hearts are full of weeds that will not allow the fruitfulness God desires.  The ill-will we hold toward those we think have hurt us is like a worm eating at the vine that keeps us abiding in God.

Forgiveness is a daily discipline like weeding the garden. With God’s help, we can pull out the bitter roots and free up our hearts for the work of the Spirit. Forgiveness breaks the chains of judgment, pride and hate that can choke our growth in the Lord.  Forgiveness gives us eyes to see the wormy thoughts that eat away at the work of the Holy Spirit.  This is one of the ways we remain present in our walk with God.  It allows us to have an attitude toward others that reflects the attitude our heavenly Father has toward us:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Is your compassion renewed each morning?  Do you begin each day by wiping the slate clean for others?  Maybe it is time to weed the soil of a heart that is broken and weary from the fruitless toil of anger and pain.  Maybe it is the season to prepare for new seeds to be planted, nurtured and watered with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Maybe today you can pull up one of those especially deep-rooted weeds that is keeping you from moving forward.  Maybe today is the day to move from being forgiven to being forgiving.

6 responses to “The Discipline of Presence: Forgiveness”

  1. The garden metaphor is very apt for Arbor Day, which Redding is observing by distributing free seedlings for native and non-native shrubs and trees at the Teen Center in Caldwell Park today and Friday. I read my directions for planting my redbud seedling with surprise at learning how important it is to protect the roots of the seedling from voids in the soil that can dry the roots out and even destroy the young plant. Unforgiveness, a root of bitterness, can likewise destroy our joy in Christ.

    • Thanks for the information on the seedlings. I really like the picture of the voids in the soil. Those empty spaces that we have in our souls from missed opportunities or broken relationships. An unforgiving heart does not a garden make.


  2. Well said, Chris! My thoughts go to the verse where it basically says, “If you’re standing in church praying and remember that someone has something against you, first go take care of it and then come back and finish your praying.” I can’t help but wonder what church–and the world–would be like if all of us “standing in church praying” had no unfinished forgiveness issues! Can you imagine!? Keep up the good writing; you do have a heart for the deeper things.

    • Thanks Deb. I was also thinking of the passage regarding communion. It is clear that if we want to have true fellowship, we have to stay current with forgiveness. Thanks again for the encouragement.


  3. Chris, I love this word picture. It seems the Bible so often uses caring for the land and how plants grow to teach us – like a tree planted near the water or pruning the branches from the vine. Thank you for this lovely lesson. It corresponds with things we are talking about in Bible study. Isn’t that the way He works, too? 🙂


    • Thanks Cathy. His creation speaks the truth of His character and the relationship He wants with those He created. It is amazing how He confirms things through different avenues.


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