Desiring God: The Power of Prayer
The other day I went to the movies with my family. We like to get their early so that we can see all the previews. The just before the movie and right after the previews, the theater plays a short clip. The clip basically says “sit back, get your drink and popcorn, and enjoy the feature presentation”. You see the theater knows that we did not come for previews. They are fun. They are good. The theater knows that we are there for the movie. We want to see the stars and listen to the story. Could you imagine paying full price for a movie only to leave after the previews? You would miss the feature presentation. You would miss why you came. You are there for the show and everything else is just fluff and fun.
So, think about the Christian life. What is the point? What is the feature presentation about our faith? Is it love? Is it peace? Is it salvation? The answer is of course “yes”. However, if you view our faith through the lens of Jesus’ life, you might see the feature presentation. From the very beginning, God was on a mission of forgiveness. His mission was to forgive all humanity through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Jesus died so that we could be forgiven, restored, and renewed.
Forgiveness Should Be Our Feature Presentation
Matthew 6:14-15 ESV
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Former Beatle, George Harrison died in December 2001. During his final days his wife and child, and his sister, Louise were at his bedside. It was Louise’s presence that was especially poignant. You see, she and George had been feuding with each other for almost forty years. Their feud began when Louise opened a bed and breakfast named “A Hard Day’s Night”.
The rift was healed only when George realized he would probably die from his cancer. Louise reports that their reconciliation was difficult but satisfying. “We sort of held hands like we used to do” she said. “We used to talk for hours about life and God and the universe. We were able to look into each other’s eyes again with love. It was a very, very positive and loving meeting,”
This episode tells us exactly what reconciliation is – two people who have been at odds with one another, coming together in a renewed and restored relationship, one where they are able to “look into each other’s eyes again with love.” This is what it means to reconcile with God, and with our fellow human beings.
The tragedy of course, is that George and Louise took so long to reconcile, that they missed out on so much. Similarly, it is a tragedy when we wait so long to be reconciled to those we love and/or to God.
I. Why Can’t We Forgive
Forgiving someone makes me look wee. I want to be strong and superior. I am right and I do not have to give in.
Pride is what keeps me in bondage and hinders growth.
Proverbs 16:18 ESV
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
If I forgive, I may get hurt again.
The truth is that we are going to be hurt again. Over and over again, we will hurt and be hurt by others. It will just happen. No matter what I do, that pain is going to come and knock at our door. So the issue is what is the best response to these upcoming hurts so that I am not living in fear and being controlled by others.
Psalm 17:8 ESV
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…
They need to pay for their wrong. They need to be punished and taught a lesson. I want to be their judge. I want to be their condemner. If I forgive, I take myself out of the judgement seat.
With this mentality, the only person being punished is ourselves. While we hold the grudge, the other person moves on with their lives. We drink the poison of our payback and it is our spirit that eventually dies.
Romans 12:18-20 ESV
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
II. The Results of a Forgiving Heart
Psalm 32:1-2 ESV
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
B. A Judgement Free Life
Another result of forgiveness is that God doesn't keep a record of our sins, He does not hold them against us. Because the blood of Christ covered our sins, God chooses to put them out of His mind.
Isaiah 43:25 ESV
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
C. A Journey To Freedom
When we are forgiven, we can forgive ourselves and go on with our lives.
In April 1995 Bud Welch’s 23-year-old daughter, Julie Marie, was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City along with 167 others. In the months after her death, Bud changed from supporting the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to taking a public stand against it. In 2001 Timothy McVeigh was executed for his part in the bombing.
Three days after the bombing, as I watched Tim McVeigh being led out of the courthouse, I hoped someone in a high building with a rifle would shoot him dead. I wanted him to fry. In fact, I’d have killed him myself if I’d had the chance.
Unable to deal with the pain of Julie’s death, I started self- medicating with alcohol until eventually the hangovers were lasting all day. Then, on a cold day in January 1996, I came to the bomb site – as I did every day – and I looked across the wasteland where the Murrah Building once stood. My head was splitting from drinking the night before and I thought, ‘I have to do something different, because what I’m doing isn’t working.’
For the next few weeks I started to reconcile things in my mind, and finally concluded that it was revenge and hate that had killed Julie and the 167 others. Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols had been against the US government for what happened in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and seeing what they’d done with their vengeance, I knew I had to send mine in a different direction. Shortly afterwards I started speaking out against the death penalty.
I also remembered that shortly after the bombing I’d seen a news report on Tim McVeigh’s father, Bill. He was shown stooping over a flowerbed, and when he stood up I could see that he’d been physically bent over in pain. I recognized it because I was feeling that pain, too.
In December 1998, after Tim McVeigh had been sentenced to death, I had a chance to meet Bill McVeigh at his home near Buffalo. I wanted to show him that I did not blame him. His youngest daughter, Jennifer, also wanted to meet me, and after Bill had showed me his garden, the three of us sat around the kitchen table. Up on the wall were family snapshots, including Tim’s graduation picture. They noticed that I kept looking up at it, so I felt compelled to say something. ‘God, what a good-looking kid,’ I said.
Earlier, when we’d been in the garden, Bill had asked me, ‘Bud, are you able to cry?’ I’d told him, ‘I don’t usually have a problem crying.’ His reply was, ‘I can’t cry, even though I’ve got a lot to cry about.’ But now, sitting at the kitchen table, looking at Tim’s photo, a big tear rolled down his face. It was the love of a father for a son.
When I got ready to leave, I shook Bill’s hand, then extended it to Jennifer, but she just grabbed me and threw her arms around me. She was the same sort of age as Julie but felt so much taller. I don’t know which one of us started crying first. Then I held her face in my hands and said, ‘Look, honey, the three of us are in this for the rest of our lives. I don’t want your brother to die and I’ll do everything I can to prevent it.’ As I walked away from the house, I realized that until that moment I had walked alone, but now a tremendous weight had lifted from my shoulders. I had found someone who was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma bombing than I was, because while I can speak in front of thousands of people and say wonderful things about Julie, if Bill McVeigh meets a stranger he probably doesn’t even say he had a son.
About a year before the execution I found it in my heart to forgive Tim McVeigh. It was a release for me rather than for him.
Six months after the bombing a poll taken in Oklahoma City of victims’ families and survivors showed that 85 per cent wanted the death penalty for Tim McVeigh. Six years later that figure had dropped to nearly half, and now most of those who supported his execution have come to believe it was a mistake. In other words, they didn’t feel any better after Tim McVeigh was taken from his cell and killed.
Philippians 3:13-14 ESV
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Don’t Delay, PRAY!