Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FUTILITY OF PRAYING WITHOUT FORGIVING”

Mark 11.25-26

 

Last Sunday night I brought a message from God’s Word on the subject of bitterness. Obviously, bitterness involves hard feelings toward someone else for a real or perceived offense. Sometimes a person is bitter toward God, while at other times bitterness can be directed toward another individual. Regardless of the cause or object of one’s bitterness, recognize that bitterness is vastly more damaging to the person who is embittered than the one who is the object of your bitterness. Please avoid the mistake of thinking that because bitterness does not rise to the level of hatred, or because bitterness is absent the emotion of anger, it is therefore benign. Bitterness is not benign. It is spiritual cancer. This evening’s message addresses only one of the many ways in which bitterness poses a dangerous threat.

Consider this matter of prayer. Rightly understood, prayer is asking God for that which you want and cannot or should not obtain yourself by other means, seeking help from God in matters that are beyond your control. Prayer is also a specialized form of appealing to someone, which is why I will bring a message about making a Biblical appeal two weeks from tonight. Prayer is profoundly important to the child of God, realizing to some degree that life is vastly bigger than we are, requiring wisdom, strength, and foresight that no individual possesses. For that reason, we “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” Hebrews 4.16. So important is this matter of prayer in the life of a Christian that we realize we can have no hope of a happy marriage without answers to prayer, no hope of successfully raising our children without answers to prayer, and no hope in anything resembling a successful career or ministry of service to God without answers to prayer.

Friends, life is simply too short, while at the same time far too complex, to risk going it on your own without God’s help sought in response to fervent prayer. I know many people do not pray, but such people do not really care about their marriage, about their children, or really very much about their own life. If they did care, and I mean really care, they would pray to God to help them get things right, since you only have one life to live, and you do not want to leave wreckage behind you as you move through life selfishly. It is because praying is a specialized form of making an appeal to God, and because prayers are requests God is free to answer or not answer as He sees fit, that He has graciously chosen to inform us of those impediments that interfere with our prayers being answered.

Let me cite some examples for you: In Deuteronomy 1.45, Moses recounts to the Israelites an occasion when they “returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.” Why did God not respond to their prayers? Rebellion. Disobedience. A willful refusal to respond to His direction.

Here is another example: Psalm 66.18 reads, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Thus, harboring known secret sins is one reason God refuses to even hear one’s prayerful plea.

Proverbs 1.28 is another such passage: “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” What brings this response by God on? Listen to Proverbs 1.29-30:

 

29     For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

30     They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

 

Thus, we see that, contrary to the assertions of the TBN crowd whose concept of God resembles a glorified bellhop, Who can only answer in the affirmative the prayers of demanding word of faith advocates when they employ certain phrases they are convinced God is bound to respond to, God is sovereign. He decides whose prayers to answer and how, and He has mercifully chosen to provide guidelines in scripture that reveal to us His unwillingness to reward wrongdoing and misbehavior, while at the same time showing mercy and tenderness as a Father to His beloved children.

This evening we gain insight from the Lord Jesus Christ, who first taught His disciples to pray, and Who now instructs them concerning the connection that exists between their own forgiveness and the forgiveness of others when they pray. Turn to Mark 11.25-26. When you find that passage, stand, and read along with me:

 

25     And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

26     But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

 

Four observations related to your prayer life.

 

First, THE POSTURES OF PRAYER

 

Notice, the Lord Jesus Christ assumes two things about His disciples:

First, He assumes they will find themselves praying. How can anyone presume to be a disciple of Jesus Christ who does not pray? If you are a follower of the Master, and you take note that the Master constantly removed Himself from public company to pray to His heavenly Father, how can you rightly conceive of a brand of Christianity that does not include frequent and fervent prayer? Keeping in mind that the virgin born Son of the God, the Second Person of the triune godhead, was a man who prayed and who prayed frequently, who are we not to need prayer? We need prayer far more than the Lord Jesus needed prayer. For Him, prayer was a time of cherished communion. For us it is not only supposed to be a time of communion with the Father, but also a time when flawed, fallible, and needy creatures plead with the All-Sufficient One for wisdom to raise our children, for our daily bread, for blessings upon our puny efforts to serve Him, and for so many other things. We need to pray.

As well, He assumes they will be standing when they pray. It was common in Jesus’ day for Jewish men to pray while standing. After all, there is nothing at all wrong with standing before God if you have standing before God. As well, we find other postures of prayer in the Bible, with some privately kneeling (as was Daniel’s practice)[1], and with the Lord Jesus Christ sometimes on His face before God.[2] The thing to keep in mind is propriety, and being mindful that you do not degenerate into the Pharisaical practice to drawing attention to yourself when you pray. I hardly think the man who walks into the restaurant and commandeers everyone’s attention to lead the entire room in prayer pleases God. Though I am convinced God is pleased when Christians show spiritual boldness by respectfully bowing their heads in an eating establishment to offer thanks to God without being boorish and obnoxious

 

Next, THE POSSIBILITIES OF PRAYER

 

Our text begins, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any . . . .”

Though the obstacles to prayer that I rehearsed with you earlier do exist, and are real obstacles, the Lord Jesus Christ’s words take it for granted that His disciples may very well approach the throne of grace in prayer only to find themselves holding a grudge against someone. Excuse me, but the Christian life is a life of spiritual combat, and in the course of combat, we not only suffer injury from the enemy, but we also take hits from our own side. We suffer what is called friendly fire, when for one reason or another we take a hit from someone that is so hard and so painful that we cannot just shrug it off as if it never happened. It hurts, it is painful, and depending upon the circumstances and the frequency with which the hits come, we hold it against that person.

The Lord Jesus Christ well understood this possibility. It is one of the many possibilities connected to the Christian and his prayer life, and we need to be mindful that you do not need to be squeaky clean to be qualified to pray. Therefore, if you think only people who are extraordinarily spiritual should pray, and could pray, you are mistaken.

Under the Law of Moses there existed provision for the priesthood to continually wash themselves as they fulfilled their priestly duties. That is a type of the Christian in need of ongoing cleansing throughout the course of our lives and in the conduct of our ministries. Therefore, you do not wait until you are spiritually spotless before you approach God in prayer. Those obstacles to prayers being answered that I mentioned before have to do with obstinate refusal to deal with those things God brings to your mind.

Are you a thief who clings to the things you have stolen and cultivates in your bosom a secret conspiracy to steal again? That is quite different from going to the Lord in prayer and being reminded by God, while you are praying, that you took something that did not belong to you. You stop your praying, make a note to yourself to return what does not belong to you and to make it right with the owner, and then you resume your praying.

The specific matter our Lord raises in our text has to do with a disciple going to God in prayer, and while praying being reminded that you have an issue with someone who wronged you. You hold something against that brother in Christ, he galls you, and you have not forgiven his sin against you. For whatever reason, be it something he has done time and time again, be it some public embarrassment, be it the animosity you hold against him because of the ease with which he asks for forgiveness when it is so hard for you to ask for forgiveness.

What we need to be mindful of at this point is the spiritual condition of those who pray. We are flawed individuals. We have issues and problems. We have both sinned and have been sinned against. Thus, we see here that prayer is not for the perfect, but for the imperfect. Prayer is the option for people in need, for people with issues, for people crying out in our pain and suffering. Prayer is not reserved for those you imagine to be super-saints, but is the privilege of every child of God, and of all who would be disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

However, Keep In Mind THE PREDICATE OF PRAYER

 

“. . . forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

When I use the word predicate, I am referring to the requirement that God demands of all who would pray to Him. Prayers that are answered are predicated on something, with that something being your willingness to forgive those you have ought against. Do you want something from God? That is what prayer is, is it not? Keep in mind that while you are asking something of God, He is insisting on something from you. He insists that you forgive the person you have ought against.

Are we to understand by this that God deals with us tit for tat, that whenever we want something from Him we must first give something to Him? Not at all. Ephesians 3.20 makes this very clear: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” It is just that the Christian life is not a life of take, take, and only take. It is also a life of obedience (however imperfect), and obedience is not what God expects only; it is what He demands.

As well, the new life the child of God has in Christ is a life that is based upon the forgiveness of our sins by God, through the precious blood of Christ. Therefore, when someone has even the slightest comprehension of the benefit of forgiveness, of the liberty of forgiveness, of the pure joy to the soul of not only being forgiven but also forgiving, he will in turn forgive. Ephesians 4.32 speaks to this with these words: “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Therefore, you see, the Christian life is just as much a forgiving life as it is a praying life. The Christian forgives because he has been forgiven, because he knows the importance of forgiveness, because he knows the joy of forgiving, because he knows the hindrance to his own prayer life of not forgiving, and because it is just as much a part of his new nature to forgive sins committed against him as it was to hold grudges and to be embittered toward those who wronged him when he was still lost. Therefore, consider the ought you hold against a person who has willfully, repeatedly, maliciously, habitually, painfully, and gleefully wronged you, offended you, hurt you, aggrieved you, maligned you, or done anything else to you. You know from last week that if you are bitter toward that person, for whatever reason, you end up defiling many people. You defile your own children, your spouse, your brothers and sisters, your friends, and the lost around you. Now you know having ought against him interferes with your own spiritual well-being by shutting down your prayer life.

Imagine what happens when you forgive that person. You liberate your soul from bondage to bitterness. You conduct yourself in a manner that is at one and the same time Christ-like and godly, for who can forgive sins but God only? Yet the Savior has authorized you to forgive! Imagine that. Jews under the old dispensation were burdened with the need to avenge themselves. However, you are told to avenge not yourselves, but to give place unto wrath. You see, this life we have in Christ is all wrapped up in a complete package. You cannot enjoy the benefits of forgiveness yourself while denying those same benefits to someone else. You cannot be forgiven without being forgiving. It simply does not make sense. As well, you cannot pray without also forgiving. To think you can pray without also forgiving simply does not make sense.

 

Finally, THE PRONOUNCEMENT

 

Mark 11.26: “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

Some people erroneously misunderstand Mark 11.26 as meaning that there is something you have to do in order to be forgiven by your heavenly Father. However, when scripture is compared with scripture the truth can be clearly seen. Throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, the clarity of the principle of salvation by grace through faith, apart from works, is undeniable. Whether it is Abraham’s salvation in Genesis 15.6, or the salvation of the Philippian jailor in Acts chapter 16, it is abundantly clear that salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” Titus 3.5. Additionally, the very familiar Ephesians 2.8-9 is our trustworthy standby that comforts our soul:

 

8      For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9      Not of works, lest any man should boast.

 

Therefore, no question should arise challenging the certain truth that salvation is God’s precious gift, and that salvation is not something that anyone can merit or earn by the performance of any righteous deeds or works of any law.

 

Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left its crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow.

 

What, then, do these words mean? “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” They mean that the Father’s willingness to forgive your sins against Him is accompanied by your willingness to forgive other’s sins against you. It is all a package deal. To be sure, we Christians are an inconsistent lot, prone to backsliding. However, forgiving is part of God’s nature, so when a sinner is saved, and becomes a partaker of the divine nature, he becomes a forgiving person. Sinful and inconsistent? Yes, we are. Prone to holding grudges? Sad, but true. That is why we must be instructed and reminded to forgive as we have been forgiven.

 

Do you see, now, why I titled this sermon “The Futility Of Praying Without Forgiving”? No real Christian would so tenaciously cling to a personal grudge that he would forfeit the privilege of praying and receiving answers to prayer. To embrace Christ is to embrace a forgiving spirit in your own life; because embracing Christ is embracing the One Who forgives.

If you are a Christian, you are what you are because God has forgiven your sins. Your privilege to approach the throne of grace with boldness to pray to God is a direct result of your sins being forgiven. How incredibly inconsistent, then, for someone who can pray because his sins have been forgiven, to turn right around from praying and then refuse to forgive the sins of someone God reminds him he has ought against? The idea of being forgiven and praying, while at the same time refusing to forgive someone else for sinning against you, is ridiculous.

Why do you refuse to forgive? Is it because you are offended, or feel particularly aggrieved, or because you are outraged by the severity of the offense, or embittered by the callousness of the wrongdoer? Could not these same charges have been leveled at you by God? Yet you presume to claim He has forgiven you, while clinging to your refusal to forgive the one you have ought against? Please.

If you would pray to God, and refuse to forgive the person God brings to your attention as being a person you have not forgiven, then you seek to convince yourself that you are one forgiven who does not forgive in turn. I submit that is impossible and that God does not forgive you. Therefore, it is pointless for you to pray to Him.

My suggestion? Before you go home this evening, someone in church tonight who has a problem with you, or who is convinced you have a problem with him may approach you. Perhaps you need to approach someone. Whatever the matter happens to be, spend a few minutes effecting a real reconciliation with that person. Arrange to get together for coffee.

Frankly, I grow weary of husbands being defiled by the bitterness of their wives, and the defiling of wives by the grudges held by their husbands. If you just cannot find it in your heart to remove the bitterness and lack of forgiveness, just stay home instead of coming to church.

“But she always . . . .”

“But he always . . . .”

Folks, we are flawed and troubled with glaring imperfections. Let us accept those blemishes in others as others accept them in you, while at the same time forgiving actual sins . . . so we can pray. Amen? So we can pray.



[1] Daniel 6.10

[2] Matthew 26.39



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org