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Jesus taught a lot on forgiveness, and on how important that is to seeing our prayers get answered. One example is Mark 11:22b-26, where Jesus discussed faith, prayer and forgiveness. He said,
"Have faith in God. 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.Jesus tied faith to answered prayers. But at the same time, He tied forgiveness into the equation. He said that our trespasses keep our prayers from being heard and answered. And if we don't forgive others, then God will not give us the "clean slate" that we need to approach Him in prayer. In other words, unforgiveness will keep your prayers from being answered.
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).
We need to keep that principle in mind when we try to develop an atmosphere or culture conducive to seeing our prayers get answered. Clearly, this culture must emphasize and value forgiveness. It must teach people to forgive and bless each other instead of harboring bitterness, resentment, hostility, unforgiveness, etc. It must also teach people how to apologize when they wrong someone and to make any appropriate restitution. There are always two sides to any situation that requires forgiveness. There is the person who "did the wrong" and there is the person who "was wronged." And both sides should be active in the forgiveness process. In other words, it doesn't matter if you are the offender or the one who was offended, God expects you to take an active role in the forgiveness process.
Let's start with the offender. God expects us to go to those who feel we have wronged them and seek reconciliation -- e.g., ask for forgiveness and make any necessary (reasonable) restitution. If someone is angry with me because I accidentally damaged their property I should do more than just say I am sorry. I should do my best to "make it right" -- to repair or replace the damaged item as much as it is within my means to do so.
Jesus said (Matt 5:23-24), "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." He was saying that we need to be in right relationship with each other in order to approach God. In other words, if we try to approach God (prayer, offerings, etc) when we are in wrong relationship with others, God will not receive us until we sincerely attempt to reconcile with them.
So any culture that values forgiveness must teach and expect it's members to apologize when they wrong someone and try to make it right. They must be sensitive if they hurt another's feelings and need to ask for forgiveness. This culture must put a high value on people saying "I was wrong, please forgive me." We should applaud those who recognize and admit their mistakes and repent from them and move on. We should not applaud those who cover up their faults and weaknesses and act as though everything is perfect. Our highest value should be on honoring and loving one another, not on being right. We need to encourage repentance and the ability to admit when we are wrong. The ability to give a gracious and heartfelt apology must become a skill that people in the congregation desire and respect. It is something that we should all value and work towards.
Now, let's look at the other side. There will be times when someone wrongs us and it is a struggle to forgive them because our emotions are engaged. In most cases it makes it easier to forgive if the person comes to you and repents. But they may not do that -- a lot of people don't do that. And God expects you to forgive whether or not the person apologizes. Your forgiveness does not condone what they did. Your forgiveness does not say that it is ok for them to have treated you in that manner. It simply says, I will not hold this "on their account" or hold it against them. It says, "Lord, I put this into Your hands. I give up my right to demand justice or to demand that they be punished. Instead I trust You to decide whether or not to forgive them without punishing them."
We extend this forgiveness because we know it is important to God, because we want to please Him. It is not really about the other person... it is about your relationship with God. God forgave you freely when you received Jesus. Because of this, He expects you to freely forgive others. "...Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8).
Extending forgiveness is so important to God the Father that He has built in some hefty penalties for those who harbor unforgiveness and bitterness. (I think He did this to motivate us to forgive because of how important that is to Him.) Jesus explains this penalty in the parable of the unforgiving debtor. I am sure you know the story. A man was called into account before the king for a huge debt. All of his property was to be confiscated and he and his family sold into slavery to pay back a portion of this huge bill. The man begged the king for mercy. The king had compassion on him and excused his entire debt. He walked out of court as a free man. Then he ran into someone who owed him money and demanded payment. That person also begged for mercy. But instead of extending mercy to him, the man had this person thrown into debtor's jail. Report got back to the king, who was very angry about this incident. The king reversed his decision and called in the man's debt in full.
Jesus makes a significant commentary on this story in Matthew 18:34-35: "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (NKJV). The KJV says "tormentors" instead of "torturers." I think that translation paints a more understandable picture. Jesus is not saying that God is going to send us to Hell if we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts -- at least I don't think that is what He is saying. I believe He is saying that if we hold unforgiveness or harbor bitterness in our heart, then God will give Satan and his demonic realm permission to torment us. That torment can take many different forms: financial problems, health problems, troubled relationships, fears and anxieties, etc. And He won't hear and answer our prayers for deliverance from these torments until we begin to extend forgiveness and release bitterness.
God wants us to forgive. It is very important to Him. If we won't extend this forgiveness to please Him, then He will allow the enemy to make us so miserable that we will be motivated to extend forgiveness just to get out of the misery it causes. Unforgiveness interferes with our relationship and intimacy with God. It interferes with our prayer life, making it so that God won't hear and answer our prayers. So we need to make forgiveness a very high priority if we are interested in creating an atmosphere conducive to seeing God answer our prayers.