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Words don't make a prayer.
"When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. "
Matthew 6:7-8, 14-15 NKJV
Few words; Much Forgiveness
If ten words are good, then a hundred words must be even better! Jesus said no, not necessarily. Don't use vain repetitions--a lot of mumbling and saying the same thing the same thing the same thing over and over and over again. Well now, what does that say about the prayers we know by heart? Even the Lord's Prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray?
The key word in that last question is the word "pray." It's not recite, repeat, nor rush through; but pray. So we too, like the disciples by the sea, ask Jesus to teach us. What does it mean to pray, instead of merely repeating words?
If we are not to use a lot of words and God already knows what we need before we ask, then what is prayer for? Jesus saw it so clearly. God is our loving heavenly Parent. Think of God as Father, Mother, Grandparent, Foster Parent, Substitute Mother, Favorite Caregiver--or whatever word says is best for you. Regardless of the image you use for God, Jesus had this message for each one of us: Be assured, God is your compassionate Father. God loves you dearly. And says to you, "Come talk to me."
That's why prayer is more than repetitious words and empty babbling. When we pray we are talking to our wonderful heavenly Father who knows us so well, he sees what we need before we do. God knows all about us, still loves us and will never, never, never give up on us!
What do you say to someone like that? Sometimes the words gush out. Other times we say very little, just a simple expression of deepest gratitude or a cry of bitter pain. Or we say nothing at all and just abide in the comfort and miracle of love. We pray with our heart, maybe more than with our mouth, believing in God's goodwill. We concentrate on the giver, not on the gifts. Prayer is hope, and openness to God and all of life. No bargains, no guarantees, no demands.
That's one side of the coin. Flip it over now and see what is on the other side. Matthew remembered another essential aspect of prayer. Prayer is a viable force not only because of our relationship to our heavenly Father. The other working part of the equation is that we cannot love God unless we love one another, too! And that means we must forgive. We go nowhere in the spiritual life unless we first forgive those who have done us wrong.
It's a sentence in the Lord's prayer, too--Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. If we use the word trespasses, or debts, it is the same message. There's no way around this. The command to forgive is so clear, so stark, so non-negotiable. It's carved in stone; it's etched across the canopy of the universe and inside the tiniest cells of our bodies. Knowing God and forgiving others is a natural fit, and necessary for good health and happiness.
Forgiveness means we give it up and let go of resentment, anger, and the desire to punish the person who hurt us. I watched an episode on TV about a misfit in a rescue shelter for sheep-herding dogs. Henry was not trainable. His aggressive habit of biting and tearing everything to shreds landed him in the confines of a cage. A woman rescued Henry and did, with much patience, make a working sheepdog out of him. The story evolved from the compelling love that blossomed between trainer and dog. But what I remember most are the two commands. Over and over again I heard these words: "Leave it!" and "Down!"
Since seeing the show I have used that first one on my husband a few times! When he gets off focus and distracted by something, "Leave it!" gets us back on track and moving forward again. Forgiveness is like that.
The love of God compels me to become a forgiver. I must let it go. Only when I forgive, will I begin to understand and appreciate the forgiveness of my Father in heaven. Prayer 101 is about recognizing and believing we have a heavenly Father who loves us. And because we have a heavenly Father we must live in peace with all our brothers and sisters. Prayer does not start with our lips, it begins in the heart that has been made new by the grace and love of God.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Share one of your favorite prayers.
Do you make up your own prayers? Or are you more comfortable with prayers written by someone else? If it's not words that make a prayer, what does make a prayer?
Would God's assessment of your needs be the same as what you think you need? How would they be the same? Or different?
In what ways are you able to recognize and believe that God loves you? And/or that you love God?Jesus told us many times that God is our heavenly Father. Are you comfortable with that depiction of God? Is there another image of God which you prefer?
Respond to this: "We can decide to forgive even though we don't feel like it." Is forgiveness a matter of the will rather than the emotions? If so, how do you get it from your head into your heart?
"Don't wait for the other person to ask for forgiveness. Take the initiative. Accept yourself the way you are and the other person the way they are." Why is this an important step toward reconciliation?
"When we don't forgive ourselves we experience guilt; when we don't forgive others, we feel anger." How would you help someone get rid of guilt and anger?Guilt, anger and lack of forgiveness bind us up; forgiveness sets us free. Share some examples of this from your own life.
Is this true: You don't have to forget in order to forgive? What does it mean to heal the memories? How do you remove the pain from your mind and emotions?
Demonstrate your forgiveness by doing something nice for the personyou just forgave! Ask God to bless them whenever you think about them.
One way to deal with painful memories is, whenever you think of that situation, immediately visualize yourself putting the whole thing into the hands of Jesus to bless and transform. God knows how hard it is to forgive, and will understand.