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4 Powerful Prayers for Forgiveness in the Bible

In The Soul Bible, Everett L. Worthington Jr. provides a descriptive word picture of forgiveness, “The concept of forgiveness is as slippery as a greased watermelon in a swimming pool. The harder you squeeze it, the more slippery it becomes.”

While we know in our Christian hearts that we are to forgive because Christ forgave us, realistically it’s not always easy. We have to eliminate thoughts like, It’s not fair. Or They were wrong. They don’t deserve forgiveness. God doesn’t take into consideration our offense when he forgives us, but don’t we often want to put a spin on the situation to feel justified in not forgiving others. 

Forgiveness is an act of the will; it cannot be a feeling. We can’t wait for that “forgiving feeling” or "the right time" to forgive. Letting ill emotions brew and stew in our hearts is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Remaining angry or bitter is detrimental to us emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

In our own power, unconditional forgiveness probably won’t happen. We forgive because God told us to for our own good and then we lean on him for the will and courage to follow through.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Col. 3:13 NLT

As we pray for God to forgive us, we need to remember the qualifying stipulation he puts on our own forgiveness when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matt. 6:12, 14-15

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What Does God Tell Us about Prayer and Forgiveness?

So what do you do with your emotions of hurt or betrayal? You replace them with God’s truths. Replace anger with mercy and grace—resentment with restoration—bitterness with brotherly/sisterly love. 

Even pray for your offender. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re praying for someone. Maybe they need the Lord in their life or they have an addiction or loss. The Holy Spirit will direct your prayers.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25

God doesn’t forgive others because we forgive them, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we choose not to forgive. That’s a relief! But we can be instrumental in someone receiving God’s forgiveness of his or her sins by sparking curiosity about how we can be so forgiving; or our unforgiving spirit could do the complete opposite. 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37

Unconditional forgiveness is possible through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit when we accept the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ into our hearts and souls. Once you have received Christ’s forgiveness, you’ll be capable of extending that same forgiveness to others. If God forgives undeserving sinners like us, how can we do any less to those who wrong us? 

All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Acts 10:43

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

Alexander Pope wrote in the 18th century, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” God never sets expectations that we cannot meet (with his help) and he often provides us biblical examples of men and women who have applied his principles to their lives. Here are 4 of these examples of powerful prayers and forgiveness in the Bible:

Prayer #1: Jesus Prays for His Persecutors

Prayer #1: Jesus Prays for His Persecutors

Jesus was the ultimate role model of forgiving what seems unforgivable. Tortured and nailed to the cross at Calvary as an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT).

Hearing Jesus’ powerful prayer of forgiveness, one of the taunting criminals hanging on a cross beside Jesus realized that Jesus must be who he said he was and pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42 NLT).

Jesus forgave his sins, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43

Even “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’” Luke 23:47

Jesus would never ask us to do something he hasn’t done himself. Every act of our forgiveness can be just as powerful a witness to unbelievers as Jesus was on the cross when he took on the sins of the world.

Prayer #2: Stephen Prays for His Murderers

Steven was the first martyr of the early church. As Jewish leaders stoned Stephen to death for publically sharing the gospel, Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul, stood by and approvingly watched. But he also heard Stephen’s last prayer forgiving his murderers: “As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died” (Acts 7:59-60 NLT)

While Paul sanctioned Stephen’s murder, after his own conversion God would later forgive Paul for persecuting Christians and use him as “my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15 NLT). 

And what was God’s message through Paul? Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. Eph. 1:3, 7

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Prayer #3: Joseph Trusted God and Forgave His Brothers

Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob and his older brothers were jealous. They plotted to kill Joseph but instead sold him to slave traders who sold him to Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s wife tried to seduce him but he ran away so the scorned woman told her husband Joseph had tried to rape her. Pharaoh threw Joseph in prison where “The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed” (Gen. 39:23 NLT).

Eventually, a turn of events finds Joseph out of prison and the second-most powerful man ruling over Egypt’s food supply. A predicted famine occurs and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for grain. Joseph recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. 

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, they expect him to seek revenge. But through all his trials, Joseph prayerfully knows that God is with him. So he says, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Gen. 45:4-5 NLT).

After Jacob died, the brothers were sure Joseph would now get his revenge so they concocted a story, “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly. So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.’ When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. ‘Look, we are your slaves!’ they said.

But Joseph replied, ‘Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good’” (Gen. 50:16-20 NLT).

 A remarkable story of forgiveness, grace, and mercy, much as God offers to all of us when like Joseph’s brothers we are so unworthy. It’s difficult to comprehend such kindness. How could Joseph be so forgiving? Because God had revealed to him a purpose in his suffering, so his forgiveness for his brothers was sincere and genuine. Those kinds of revelations are available to us too when we pray and trust God.

Prayer #4: David’s Plea for God’s Forgiveness

Prayer #4: David’s Plea for God’s Forgiveness

Even though David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) and his chosen King, David was human and not above sinning. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband, Uriah, killed in battle when she became pregnant.

David foolishly thought he could hide his sin even from God. But as God often does, he used another person to confront him with his sin. “The LORD sent Nathan to David” (2 Sam. 12:1). Nathan told David a parable about a cheating man and then revealed it was David, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” (2 Sam. 12:9).

David recognized he was the cheater. Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13).

Psalm 51:1-4 records David’s prayer for forgiveness:

“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.” (NLT)

God did forgive David, but sin always has consequences. Sadly the baby conceived by David and Bathsheba didn’t live and David was held accountable for the death of Uriah.

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How Can We Apply These Prayers for Forgiveness to Our Own Lives?

When we consider Jesus, Stephen, and Joseph’s forgiveness of their persecutors, and God’s forgiveness of David, it puts into perspective those things wrongfully done to us, or we’ve done, that we think are just plain unforgivable.

 In her book Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom tells the story of teaching in Germany during 1947, when one of the cruelest former Ravensbrück camp guards approached her. Ravensbrück camp was where she and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in 1944 for harboring Jews and Betsie died in that camp. Corrie was reluctant to forgive the guard but prayed she would be able to. She wrote that “For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard, and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.”

Corrie also wrote that in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi brutality, those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.

Someone wisely said that forgiveness sets a prisoner free and that prisoner is you. When we don’t forgive, we often play the offense over and over in our minds and let it torture us while the person who hurt us is going on with their life. 

Many, including me, have described forgiveness as a weight lifted off our shoulders. Forgiveness doesn’t justify the other person’s actions and it may not result in reconciliation, especially if the other person is not safe, but it does release you from carrying around the burden of anger and bitterness and not allowing their actions to destroy you.

Scripture doesn’t simply suggest forgiveness; it commands forgiveness for our own peace and tranquility. Ephesians 4:32 NLT says, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” 

And Colossians 3:13 NLT tells us, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” 

It has been suggested that “The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the happiest.”

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