The Lord’s Prayer, A Missional Reading: Forgive us

What does ministry have to do with kite-flying? (Hold that question for now.)

Seminary training is meant to prepare Christian leaders for success. But who prepares leaders for failure? Who teaches pastors how to forgive and seek forgiveness?

Jesus does.

Leaders Need to Pray for Forgiveness, Too

The Lord’ Prayer, the special prayer Jesus gave his disciples, makes it clear that they will make mistakes. So we prayer – forgive us for our sins, as we forgive. The pastor, elders, and deacons who do not make confession of personal sins a regular habit are not fully committed to this prayer. Jesus didn’t go around looking for the best of the best would-be disciples, sinless saints. He went in search of those sick people who were desperate for a cure.

Whenever I think about the forgiveness petition of the Lord’s Prayer, my mind turns to the footwashing scene (John 13). Jesus tells his disciples that they have been “washed” so they don’t need a bath (i.e., God’s forgiveness is once-for-all). In that sense, we don’t need to ask for (capital “F”) Forgiveness everyday. Nevertheless, the “feet” need daily washing. That is, we muck up our souls with sins of commission and omission each day. Daily prayer for forgiveness ensures we are “flushing” our ministry conduits, or washing off our missional feet for daily service. Daily prayer for forgiveness ensures we are 'flushing' our ministry conduits. Click To Tweet

My hunch is that many Christian leaders skim over this line of the Lord’s Prayer. Why? Some don’t want to face the fact that they are imperfect. Others are afraid of crossing over a line that will disqualify them from ministry. More still believe their business know-how is good enough to grow their ministry. Soul-matters can take a backseat (“for now”).

Jesus’ message to all of these is, pray for forgiveness, pay attention to your soul. Look at your life. Examine your relationships. Don’t compartmentalize assuming you can rely on charisma and natural skills.

Forgiveness Sunday

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: sometimes thinking “missionally” (even with all its philosophical advantages) can put undue pressure on leaders to “be productive.” Focusing on forgiveness (or prayer for that matter) can seem like a waste of time.

Perhaps, though, evangelicals can take a page out of the Orthodox playbook. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware explains that Orthodox believers have a particular “Sunday of Forgiveness” right before Lent.* On that Sunday morning Matthew 6:14 is read aloud (“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…”). In the evening there comes a time for “mutual pardon.” The priest kneels before the gathering and prays, “Forgive me, a sinner.” Then the people kneel and say “May God forgive you. Forgive us.” The next day of the calendar, the first day of Lent, is called “Clean Monday” (Kathara Devtera).

Ware notes that many Orthodox churches continue to celebrate an ancient tradition of going out on hills for a picnic and to fly kites. Ware writes:

“To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope and joy.”

Doesn’t that sound beautifully “unproductive”? Unmeasurable? Unquantifiable?

What if forgiveness and forgiving were kite-flying?

What if prayer brought souls to bloom?

How would that free and empower the church to embody God’s mission in fresh and deeper ways? To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. Click To Tweet

*See K. Ware, “‘Forgive Us…as We Forgive’: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer,” in Meditations of the Heart (Brepols, 2011), 53-76.