Following on from the last post and the role of our relationship with our brothers and sisters, we look at another disclaimer to effective prayer life – a condition or circumstance which renders our prayer life ineffective causing our prayer not to be answered.
Prayer is the key medium through which we maintain and grow our personal relationship with God. But for it to be effective, to yield its desired results, for our vertical relationship with God to flourish and be productive, our horizontal relationship with our brothers and sisters cannot be ignored or left unresolved.
The vertical connection is not, as some like to think, independent of the horizontal. The Lord clearly identified a direct correlation between the two upon concluding His teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:14 —15
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.
In fact, the direct correlation between the vertical and horizontal, and the need to address the horizontal for the success of the vertical was a repeat of what had already been said by Him in Matthew 5:23 — 24
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
The Lord made it clear that the resolution of any existing conflict with your brother that you were aware of had to come before your worship of God. The worship of God was not and could not be viewed in isolation and independent of our relationship with one another. In Mark 11:25 the Lord reiterates this principle in a different setting (but same context of prayer) underlining its universal application regarding prayer:
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
The importance of forgiving others was not lost in the first century church nor did it escape the apostles’ attention who, in their writings, not only reflected but strongly exhorted and reminded their readers of the criticality of forgiving one another. Here are a couple of examples:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 …bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
An unforgiving heart, grudge-bearing and bitterness are clear and intractable reasons for unanswered prayer.
Such was/is the importance of this matter of forgiving our brethren so that we can receive forgiveness from God that the Lord not only repeatedly taught his disciples about it but went as far as illustrating it through a parable. What is popularly known as the “Parable of the unforgiving servant” is found in Matthew 18:21 – 35 and was told in response to Peter’s query as to how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him.
In it the Lord compares the kingdom of God to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants indicating to us, right at the start, that there is or will be a reckoning, a settling of accounts otherwise known as the day of judgement in Matthew 12:36 – I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Continuing the parable the Lord intentionally exaggerates the amount of debt this servant owed His master the King for a reason – which we will find out later. How he racked up a debt of 10,000 talents we will never know. A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a labourer – he would have had to work 20,000 years to repay his debt. An impossible feat of course of which the King was very well aware of. The only available remedy on hand was to sell him, his wife, his kids and all his possession to recoup as much of the debt as possible.
But when the servant begged for time, the King graciously cancelled his entire debt knowing fully well that it could not be repaid ever. The servant was totally absolved of his debt.
But when his turn came, he could not forgive his fellow servant the 100 denarii he owed him even when the servant begged for time like he had just done a few moments ago. A denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wages for a labourer and given time this servant could have easily repaid the debt he owed.
Matthew 18:28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’
He was literally choking the life out of his fellow servant, making life difficult for him on account of what he owed him when he could and should have so easily extended the grace and forgiveness he had received from the King to his fellow servant. It did not even cross his mind to do so. He pleaded with him in the same way he had pleaded with their master requesting for more time but he would have none of that, none at all.
Matthew 18:29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
If only he had waited he would have had the money owed returned to him – unlike his debt which he could have never been able to return. There was no issue of him not being owed the money. He was legitimately owed the money and was presented with the opportunity to reciprocate the forgiveness he had received, the cancellation of debt he had been given. But he chose not to forgive. It was a choice he made and that a well informed one.
It was not as if he did not experience forgiveness firsthand and could not empathise with the other servant’s predicament – he was there a few moments ago. He chose rather to incarcerate him, keep him bound until he paid the last penny. The matter was so grave that the other servants could not but bring it to the attention of their master, the one to whom all of them ultimately answered to. Naturally, he was incensed and revoked his decision to cancel the debt, withdrew the grace he had extended on account of his actions toward his fellow servant. He was now the one in incarceration.
The only gripe the master had with the unforgiving servant was not how he had failed to forgive but failed to do so after having received forgiveness and grace himself on such a mammoth scale. This he found unforgivable.
Matthew 18:33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
The fellow servant’s debt was minimal to the point of negligible when compared to the debt the first servant owed. The Lord intentionally exaggerated the amount owed by the first servant creating a huge disparity in the amounts owed to accentuate the monstrosity of his unforgiving nature – that he could not find it in himself to forgive so little when he had been forgiven so much. The conclusion of the matter?
Matthew 18:34 – 35 “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Some of us may have some forgiving to do if the same fate is not to befall us.