As we continue in our 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting, we’re also looking at the Lord’s Prayer, a model of how to pray that Jesus shared with His disciples and is still incredibly relevant to our lives today.

Read Matthew 6.9–13.

This week, we’re looking at verse 12 and the concept of forgiveness. We’ll not only look at what it means to feel God’s forgiveness, but we’ll also see how it gives us the freedom to forgive others. Experiencing God’s forgiveness starts with acknowledging three realities.

1. Admit that we’re all sinners.

From reading Romans 3.23, we know that every single one of us has sinned and that we’re all in need of forgiveness. It doesn’t say some have fallen short, it says all have fallen short. Whenever we put ourselves or something else ahead of God in our lives, we’re actually sinning against Him. If we can recognize our own sin, then we’re one step closer to being able to experience and receive God’s forgiveness.

2. Recognize God’s judgment.

Read John 3.36.

It’s not a fun thing to think about the judgment and anger that God has toward our sin. Recognizing that judgment, though, is an important step we have to take in receiving forgiveness for our sin. As our Heavenly Father, it makes sense that God would be angry at sin: He’s angry at something that is, in the long run, incredibly hurtful to His children.

3. Put our trust in Jesus.

God doesn’t let the story end with His wrath. By sending Jesus, His Son, to die on the cross for the sins of humanity, God made sure that we’re no longer in debt because of our sin. John 3.16 says that anyone who believes in Jesus is no longer condemned by their sin but is saved by His love.

When Jesus died on the cross, He was taking the punishment for all of our sins. And He wasn’t doing this because He had to or needed to. He died for us because of how much He loves us. The perfect and blameless God of the universe took the punishment for our sins so that we can have a relationship with Him.

Question: Which of these three steps is the biggest roadblock to you receiving forgiveness? How can you pray to begin moving past that roadblock and begin receiving forgiveness?

If we make a practice of these three steps—admitting we’re sinners, recognizing God’s judgment, and putting our trust in Jesus—then we can receive and experience God’s forgiveness.

Question: Think back to a time when you received forgiveness, either from God or from someone close to you. How did that affect you as you went about your everyday life? How did it affect your relationships?

Sometimes, it can be hard for us to actually feel forgiven. We struggle with nagging guilt and shame and let those feelings outweigh the feeling of freedom that comes with God’s forgiveness.

Read 1 John 3.19–20.

When those feelings of guilt and shame attempt to steal the security we have in forgiveness, we simply need to acknowledge and hold onto our belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection is far more powerful than our feelings will ever be.

Matthew 6.12 starts out with asking for God’s forgiveness, but it doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes on to say that we should pray for our own hearts and that we would be open to forgiving those who have wronged us. Jesus is very intentional in linking the forgiveness we receive from God to our willingness to forgive others. He’s not saying that we need to earn forgiveness from God by forgiving others. Instead, He’s saying that someone who’s experienced the freedom of God’s forgiveness is going to be much more inclined to extend that forgiveness to others. And it’s not always because they want to, it’s because they’ve seen the sacrifice God made to forgive them for so much more.

Forgiving others isn’t just something that happens out of the blue. It’s a process that we need to go through and there are four steps that we can take on a journey toward forgiving.

1. Remember how much we’ve been forgiven.

When someone hurts us, it’s tempting to look at them only through the lens of what they did to us. We can be tempted to depersonalize them and think of ourselves as above them. In order to forgive, though, we need to recognize that we are just as much a sinner as they are. It goes back to Romans 3.23: all have sinned. When we remember that we’ve been forgiven for our sins, it will be easier to forgive someone for their offenses against us.

2. Release the right to get even.

Romans 12.19 tells us that revenge isn’t ours to take. When we decide to forgive someone, we give up the right to retaliate against them. And a lot of times, this isn’t just a one-time decision. Sometimes, we’re hurt so badly that we need to give up the right to revenge and retaliation over and over again. It’s a difficult process, but it’s a key part of learning to forgive others.

3. Respond to evil with good.

When we forgive someone, we can’t respond to our hurt by hurting them. Instead, we should respond to hurt with blessing.

Read Luke 6.27–28.

This can be incredibly difficult for us. The only way that we can truly pray for someone to be blessed when they’ve hurt us deeply is to call out to God and rely on His strength. But in these moments of relying on God, He frees us from bitterness and makes forgiveness possible.

4. Refocus on God’s plan for our lives.

The final step in forgiving someone is to stop focusing on them and the pain they’ve caused in our lives and refocus our attention on God and what He wants to do in and through us. As long as we’re focusing on the person who hurt us, we’re actually letting them control us. God wants to do great things in our lives, but if we’re controlled by anger and by those who’ve hurt us, we’ll stand in our own way. When we refocus on God and His plans, we open ourselves up to the awesome work He wants to do in our hearts and lives.

Question: Who in your life have you been avoiding extending forgiveness to? Which of these four steps is the most difficult for you right now? Through the week, pray that God would give you a spirit of forgiveness instead of bitterness.