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Lebanon, Missouri
I am Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Lebanon, MO for 12 years. I'm married to Cheryl and have been blessed with 5 children.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Lord’s Prayer:
Learning the Heart and Mind of the Father, Part VI of VII
By David Oberdieck, pastor

In the book of Revelation Jesus is described as the One who “searches the hearts and minds of His people” (Revelation 2:23). We see this played out in the Old Testament with a devote woman named Hannah.

You will recall that Hannah was crushed in her spirit because she so wanted to have a child.
She went to the Temple in Shiloh. First Samuel reads this way, “Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard (I Samuel 1:12-15 NASB).

Because she was not praying audibly, Eli assumed she as drunk, so he said to her, "How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you." But Hannah replied, "No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD.” The God who knows the heart could hear Hannah though her mouth did not speak.

It was Cyprian who said, “God is a hearer not of the voice but of the heart” (John Behr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen on the Lord’s Prayer, p. 67). God who is the hearer of the heart also knows our thoughts when we pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

God can see past our words to the core of who we are. As God knows the inner man, so also Jesus reveals to us the heart and mind of the Heavenly Father in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Since Jesus has revealed this to us it is crucial that we do not misconstrue this petition. Note how the Lord’s Prayer is recorded by St. Matthew. A literal reading goes this way, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgave our debtors.”

It is really easy to misinterpret this passage so that a person understands it to mean something like this, “Lord you will forgive me because I have first forgiven others and thereby merited your mercy toward me.” Do you catch the misunderstanding? It is this thinking that our forgiveness comes first and it then earns God’s forgiveness.

God forgave us long before we ever forgave anyone else. Keep in mind that we only pray this prayer aright because God brought us into the church through His grace in Christ. Even more, God forgave the entire world on the cross objectively speaking.

We have received pardon personally when we first believed in Christ. For many of us that happened when we were baptized as mere infants. God did indeed forgive us long before we ever forgave anyone ourselves.

The Lord’s Prayer does not teach us that we merit God’s forgiveness or even that our forgiveness comes prior to His forgiving us. Rather, it teaches us the logical and spiritual connection between God’s forgiveness and ours. We pour out to others because God has first poured out to us. We are merciful to others because God has first been merciful to us.

Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21 – 35). You remember it was the King who forgave the huge debt of one of his servants. That servant turned around and refused to forgive his fellow servant a paltry amount of money in comparison.

Note Luther’s insightful comments on the phrase, “as we forgive others.” He writes, “This is a remarkable addition, but a very precious one. Someone may well wonder why [Jesus] should append this addition to this particular petition: ‘Forgive us our debts.’

He could just as well have appended some such item to one of the others, and He could have said: “Give us our daily bread, as we give it to our children”; or, “Lead us not into temptation, as we do not tempt anyone”;
or, “Deliver us from evil, as we save and deliver our neighbors.” (Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works, The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, 21:148).

Jesus is certainly putting special emphasis when he attaches the words, “as we forgave others” to our request for God’s forgiveness. Again, there is a logical and spiritual connection between God’s forgiveness and ours.
Jesus sets up forgiveness as a “chief obligation” among Christians (Ibid, p.149).

The chief of the chief doctrines of the Gospel is justification. Thus, among the chief doctrines of the Law must be that we also forgive our debtors.

There is another element of this prayer of which we need to be aware. When we pray this petition in true faith, we cannot be “self-satisfied” (John Behr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen On the Lord’s Prayer, p.81). Every time we pray we are reminded of our sins. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that our sin really is significant. This really isn’t so bad. As a matter of fact, it is essential we hear this word from God.

Yet, when we are reminded of our sin it is not like an unforgiving spouse who will never let the other partner forget what he/she did wrong. This petition keeps us from pride, but it also shows us the heart and mind of the heavenly Father who would bestow on us abundant grace not an abundance of wrath.

Luther put it this way, “if God does not forgive without stopping, we are lost” (Paul McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Large Catechism p.445.90). The church has never stopped sinning, but neither has the church ceased praying “forgive us our debts” precisely because the Father Himself has not stopped forgiving.

We dare not toss out the fifth petition as if this was all too spiritual for the average Christian. It isn’t for the super saint, but it is at the heart of the Christian faith and life. Jesus reveals to us the heart and mind of the heavenly Father in this petition.

When we forgive we have the opportunity to appreciate the Father’s heart all the more. Think of it. When we forgive, even though we are so imperfect in our forgiveness, we know that there is One who forgives perfectly. If we who are sinful know to forgive, then we should realize that there is the Father in heaven whose forgiveness is even greater than ours (adaptation of Matthew 7:11).

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