“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins (Matthew 6:7-15, Common English Bible).
C. S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” Wow!!! Those are powerful words that vividly describe the human condition.
Most all of us know what it is like to have wronged someone and finding we need to go and ask for forgiveness. For those of us who are believers, it is also known to us, that we wrong God and we need forgiveness. Most of us are all too ready to ask for forgiveness from others and from God.
We generally seem to have little trouble asking others to forgive us. We can ask for forgiveness from our family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, even God. What is more, we expect that people, and even more importantly, God will grant our petition.
What is a great deal harder to do is to forgive when someone has wronged us. Imagine someone owes you a sum of money and for whatever the reason, they refuse to pay. You are a victim of a violent act. You are cheated. The list could go on and on. Can you forgive?
This isn’t a simple exercise that we can do or not do based on how we feel at them moment of the wrong. It is a divine command. It is a command that many of us pray weekly or even more often. “…Forgive us the ways we have wronged you, just as we forgive those who wronged us…” God, forgive me in the same way I forgive people around me. In other words, if we want to receive divine forgiveness, we have to forgive our neighbor.
A good while back I encountered a story that wonderfully demonstrates forgiveness. I thought I would share it with you today.
In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.
A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. On October 2, 2006 he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some other terrible memories. He stormed into an Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.
This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish. How would they react? What would they do? What would YOU do? They forgave.
Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, “We will forgive you.” Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.
One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, “We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.”
The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public: “To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:
“Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you. Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.”
The power of forgiveness can heal many wounds. It can heal the wounds in us and in those around us. It starts with our willingness to forgive.
How can you live and demonstrate forgiveness to a hurting world?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved