How to Pray for Forgiveness
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2018 23 May
“Lord, Forgive me for all the bad things I did today. Amen.”
Does that prayer work? Is that how you should pray for forgiveness?
More likely, this little statement is just a standard catch-all bedtime prayer to make sure your bases are covered in case a nuclear fallout, home invasion, or unsuspecting heart attack occurs while you’re sleeping. (Maybe a similar motivation for mumbling “I’m sorry” to your sibling whenever your mom caught you in a tug-of-war over a Barbie doll or a PlayStation remote?)
But you’re not really all that sorry. Ashamed, maybe. Worried, probably. But radically changed? Forgiven by God Almighty?
This is where the difficulty lies. How do you know when your spiritual slate has been wiped clean? What if you haven’t said the right words? What if you’re not truly convinced you needed to ask for forgiveness in the first place? And how do you even know if forgiveness works? It’s not like God stands in front of you and waves His hand and suggests three “Hail Marys” to purify your soul. Who can say when you’ve been forgiven before a righteous God?
Thankfully, the Bible fully explains the importance of forgiveness and the process for gaining forgiveness from God.
Forgiveness from God is essential for relationship with God.
Because God is holy, He cannot be in relationship with sin. When we live with unconfessed and unforgiven sin, we are unholy. But when we confess and turn from our sin (1 John 1:9), God forgives us. Jesus’ death on the cross made Him the substitute for the punishment we deserve (1 Peter 2:24). Therefore, God sees Jesus instead of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) when we repent. Until we confess our sins to God and ask Jesus to be our Savior, we will never fully experience God’s forgiveness (Romans 10:13).
Forgiveness of others is essential for forgiveness from God.
Admitting our sins before God and getting His forgiveness might be easier than from people with whom we have conflicts. But God says that forgiving others is mandatory if we want forgiveness from Him (Matthew 6:14-15). If we won’t forgive other people, God won’t hear our prayers (Psalm 66:18).
Forgiveness from God doesn’t require anybody else doing anything for you.
Salvation by Jesus Christ gives every believer direct access to God. Jesus taught His disciples to pray directly to God in Matthew 6:9-15. You don’t need to be anywhere special or do anything special. It doesn’t even matter if the person you apologize to apologizes back. Forgiveness is a personal transaction between you and God Almighty.
So how to do you ask God to forgive you? Is there anything too horrible for God to forgive? Well, King David was called “a man after God’s own heart,” and he stole a man’s wife, got her pregnant, and killed her husband. We’re talking adultery at best (and rape at the worst), plus murder. Paul killed and tortured Christians before repenting and becoming the world’s greatest missionary. You can be forgiven, also. Read David’s prayers of confession and notice his confidence in God’s forgiveness in Psalm 32 and Psalm 51.
You can also follow this basic prayer guideline, modeled after a multitude of confessions in the Bible:
Confess your sin—own and name what you’ve done. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t say you didn’t mean it that way or you’re sorry someone was offended. Say that you lied, cheated, were rude, etc. The word confess in Greek means to say the same as. Call your sin what God would call it (1 John 1:9). Always confess to God; if you’ve sinned against another person, confess to them also.
Repent of your sin—admitting you’ve done wrong is not the same as repenting. Repent means to turn a different direction. Take action to change the road you’re headed down. Ephesians 4:22-32 outlines a practical plan for changing bad habits: stop doing it and start doing the opposite. For example, if you’re a gossiper, stop gossiping and start edifying others.
- Ask for forgiveness—giving another person some control over mending a broken relationship is humbling, but it’s the key to restoration. When both parties are engaged in restoring broken trust by extending mercy to each other, the bond between them grows stronger. The word ask is used almost 800 times in the Bible, many times in reference to prayer and restoring a relationship with someone else.
Here’s a sample prayer of confession. Fill in the blanks with the information specific to you:
Dear God, I’m sorry for my sin. I ______________ (what you did), which was a sin against you, as well as a sin against __________ (who you hurt). Please help me turn from this behavior. I will begin ________________ (how you’ll change) instead of what I have done. Please forgive me and help me to grow in my relationship to you and _________, whom I’ve hurt. Thank you for your love and mercy. Thank you for forgiving me and choosing to forget my sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Nothing feels better than rebuilding a severed relationship with God or another person. Confession and forgiveness can erase anger, despondency, hurt, bitterness, depression, vengeance, and anxiety. All it takes is a little humility and courage.
Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, blogger, and speaker. Her blogs, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. She has a BA in Creative Writing and is earning a MA in Theology and Culture. Her book Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places comes out in 2019. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com.
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