Can I Pray the Lord’s Prayer If I Haven’t Forgiven Others?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

Referring to the Lord’s prayer, when I say a prayer of thanks at meal time, and I don’t ask for forgiveness for my sins, does God still hear the prayer, or will He turn His back because of sin not be acknowledged? Thank you.

Dear Brenda,

Thanks for asking such a penetrating question. We pray the Lord’s Prayer so often that we many times run right through the words without pausing to contemplate their significance.

All of the phrases in the Prayer are self contained and complete—except the one about forgiveness. This part of the prayer assumes that we have previously and actually forgiven those who have hurt us.

God states that sin in our hearts impairs, if not prohibits God’s ability to hear our prayers: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:18-20).

Therefore, I think it is proper for us to pause and be certain that we have forgiven others as we approach the Throne of God. We pray—not recite—the Lord’s Prayer. Then, we may eat!

Let me give you a little more perspective.

First, you asked me if God will hear our prayers while we harbor unconfessed sin. Of course, He hears our prayers. He is, after all, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Nothing gets past His attention. However, praying with unconfessed sin limits their power. Fortunately, since we will never have perfectly clean hearts, He recognizes that if our hearts long for purity—trying to be right—He answers as if they really are.

Remember when God refused David’s offer to build the His Temple in Jerusalem because his hands had shed so much blood in battle? Preparing to erect the Temple, Solomon declared, “My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel. But the LORD said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart,” (1 Kings 8:17-18). I love this passage because I turn to it often in my own spiritual life. Unconfessed sin can only hurt our prayers. However, if we are trying hard to put our hearts in the right place, God treats us and our prayers as if they already are!

Second, let’s remember that freedom comes when we select a particular sin, admit that what we did was wrong, make no excuses and then ask God for forgiveness. He promises instantaneous forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Third, we may feel embarrassed to bring up our sins in front of those sitting with us at the table. If all in attendance are Christians then I would hope that our relationships will allow us the freedom to confess our sins before them. James reminds us of the power behind open confession: “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

On the other hand, if not all are Christians, then I would select another time to confess my sins with others.

Finally, fully forgiving those who hurt us is most often a time-consuming process. We forgive them as a choice of our will: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Nevertheless, the emotional forgiveness may be a long time in coming. God knows and understands our struggles and answers our prayers accordingly.

Well, Brenda, I hope I’ve given you some good thoughts to consider as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. May God grant you the grace to greatly enjoy eating with your friends and family.

Love, Roger

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