MARK 11:25-26: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: Do I have faith to forgive? Am I holding onto offenses from my past that are limiting the potential of my future? As I poured over these familiar verses from the Gospel of Mark I prayed for wisdom and faith!
I find it interesting that we tend to separate the teaching of faith and the fig tree in verses 20-24 from Jesus’ exhortation to forgive in verses 25-26. Yet, in the Greek text, there is no separation in the heading of these verses or the flow of thought. These thoughts are not separated by different events. They flow from the very same teaching about prayer and faith.
Jesus’ confrontation in the Temple, as he overturned the money changers, and chased out the merchants, reminds us of a very important fact. When we miss God’s intent it is very easy to continue the broken patterns of our life. God’s intent for His house was that it would be a house of prayer. God’s intent for His people is the same. Without prayer, we will never understand the Kingdom of God or our need for forgiveness and cleansing. We will simply go on – business as usual – in our old patterns and sin.
The cursing of the fig tree was a visual lesson that reflected the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. Jesus had entered Jerusalem as the Messiah, to shouts of Hosanna, and He was completely misunderstood and rejected by the religious people of His day. Busy with the external observances of religion they were neglecting the weightier matters of mercy, truth, and faith. Instead of prayers being offered up to God all one could hear was the clanging of the money changers and the sound of animals being sold for sacrifices.
The disciples naturally were shocked when they saw the fig tree withered to its roots. Jesus simply replied – “Have faith in God!” This was exactly what was missing in all those who were clamoring at the Temple. Jesus came looking for fruit and found none. Now, Jesus brings a laser focus to this discussion on faith and forgiveness.
- “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” Mark 11:23-24 NKJV
So many have isolated these verses from the context and have endeavored to make a doctrine of faith for their own personal use. Jesus never taught a doctrine of personal gain. In context, Jesus takes this broad statement of mountain-moving faith, and He turns it to the most difficult challenge we face in life – forgiveness! While some of the disciples may have begun asking themselves, “What can I ask for?”, Jesus turns them to the matter at hand!
- “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
So, how do I know when I have truly forgiven someone? I think the answer is found in Jesus’ teaching on speaking to the mountain. Faith is willing to confront. Faith acts. Faith speaks. Faith is believing in the promises of God and acting on them. When we have truly released someone from the offenses we hold against them we will be comfortable to be in their presence. We will no longer avoid them. When we see them approaching the hurt will no longer control our emotions or actions.
As a pastor, I have made a lot of mistakes throughout my life. I know that I have failed and disappointed people during my ministry. This was never my intent. However, I am a sinner saved by grace. I hold these treasures in an imperfect human vessel. Whenever I became aware of an offense that someone had against me I would try to be reconciled to that person. It was never a matter of keeping them in the church that I pastored. It was to fulfill the call of Jesus Christ to forgive.
Then there were the times when I was wounded in ministry intentionally. The attacks were planned and the words were vicious and hurtful. I have come to understand that it was not me they were attacking, it was the truth. My intention was always to speak the truth in love. Yet, not everyone will respond to the truth. When confronted, however compassionately, they reject the truth and lash out in anger against the messenger. This is one of the most difficult experiences in ministry.
So, how was I able to ascertain that I had truly forgiven someone, or that someone had truly forgiven me? I call it the Walmart test. How do I react to the other person when I see them coming down the aisle in Walmart? Do I quickly turn and head down a different aisle? Do I pretend that I don’t see them and hurriedly pass by? Or, do I acknowledge them, greet them, and truly offer them God’s love and blessings? Do I run to the mountain in faith or do I turn and hide?
I have been guilty of the duck and hide maneuver. However, I have found out that when you are a pastor, experiencing the duck and hide maneuver becomes a regular experience with those who have left your church. There is something within us that wants to avoid anything uncomfortable. I never knew why people felt I was going to grill them on why they no longer attended the church. I simply was glad to see them and wanted to say hello.
When we are walking in forgiveness and love we will come to the mountain of forgiveness with faith and love.
This morning I am praying over all of my relationships. Is there anyone in my life that I would duck and hide from if I saw them in Walmart today? Or, am I free to walk in the forgiveness of God and extend His love and blessings. Is His forgiveness something that I am hiding for myself or am I willing to freely give it away?
Jesus ends this thought with a sobering reality. If we do not extend God’s forgiveness to others we will not experience the continual flow of forgiveness from the Father.
- “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
Unforgiveness keeps someone in debt to us. We are always expecting something from them but never receiving it. Every time the other person does something that reminds us of our hurt, we internalize it and convince ourselves that they are attacking us personally again. We never experience the freedom of forgiveness because we have become a reservoir of God’s grace when He has called us to be a river.
Walking in unforgiveness is a very serious thing!
Lord, create in me a clean heart this morning. Cleanse me of my sins. Release me from the chains of unforgiveness. Help me to be reconciled with anyone who holds something against me. Grant me the grace to walk in Your mercy, truth, and faith – as I forgive others as You have forgiven me.
In Jesus Name!