Balancing the Books

By Pastor Phil Stanley 8-6-23

One of the sneakiest best times to be at church is Tuesday morning prayer. We come here at 10am and a handful of us pray and worship for usually about an hour. It probably doesn’t speak too well of me but I always seem to be surprised by how wonderful it is spending time in prayer together. The better way of saying it is that I always feel refreshed more than I anticipate after we leave on Tuesday. 

The message I have this morning came from our prayer time on Tuesday. The Lord was speaking to me and at first I thought it was only for me but then when I started preparing for Wednesday night Bible study, the scripture for our lesson went right along with what I felt like God was saying to me. And if that wasn’t enough confirmation, I was researching something for an article I wrote for the church blog and stumbled into another scripture that goes perfectly with it. 

So I figured I ought to take the hint and talk this morning about balancing the books.

How many of you guys have run a business or have experience dealing with accounting? 

One of the first things they’ll teach you about accounting is about a balance sheet. 

It’s a really simple way to quickly see the assets and liabilities of a company. I’m not an accounting expert. I tried keeping the books for my business when I first started and I think I lasted all of three months before hiring a CPA to handle it. 

But I do remember the basics I was taught in school and a balance sheet is a pretty easy way to evaluate how things are going. 

In the simplest terms, one column represents what’s owned, and the other what’s owed. 

The Bible has a lot to say about debts but I’m going to share with you what I got on Tuesday. 

Sometimes when I’m praying and I don’t have a long laundry list of items I’m bringing to the Lord, I’ll try to take the Lord’s prayer and apply it to that particular day. 

Let’s look at the scripture and then I’ll show you where God got me. 

This is in the J.B Phillips modern english translation and it’s Jesus giving us a model for prayer. Picking up in verse 5 of Matthew 6:

5-13 “And then, when you pray, don’t be like the play-actors. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street-corners so that people may see them at it. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get. But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you. And when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words. Don’t be like them. After all, God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this—‘Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil’.”

Matthew 6:5-13

Probably everyone here can quote the Lord’s prayer but I doubt that many of us slow down and apply it as the framework of our prayer life. 

Folks recite it all the time and I’m all for it but that wasn’t the intended purpose. He has given us the model so we can petition heaven. 

Notice it starts with bringing praise to God. We acknowledge His divine nature right off the bat. Then we come in humility and surrender our will to His. We establish up front that we affirm His plan and that even if we really like our plans and ideas, we will submit and commit to his kingdom. 

Notice we start with praising Him in the context of all He’s done in the past, we then transition to the present where we bring our current needs. We just ask him for what we need in that moment. We’re present with Him. 

And then this is where we set things right. We ask that He forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us. 

We acknowledge that our books are out of balance and we have no way to fix them ourselves. And the hard part is next where we commit to settle what’s owed against us as He settles our own debt. 

I don’t think it’s an accident that immediately after we ask for our debts to be settled Jesus’ model looks to the future and asks for us to be spared from temptation and evil. 

I think it highlights how easy it is to fall into the trap of getting radically set free and then trying to get leverage on someone who owes us. 

The temptation is all too real to receive forgiveness one second and then demand retribution from someone else the next. 

When I was praying on Tuesday I started praying that the Lord would forgive me my debts and then He did the dirtiest trick of all time. He reminded me of folks who owe me. It was like I could see a balance sheet and He made it clear that I was to forgive all things wrongs against me for free. And then He made me pray for them. 

How many of you can relate to having to pray for someone you don’t really feel like praying for? 

It hurts a little. We feel so entitled to retribution and yet we cannot repay our own debts even if we got everything that’s owed to us. 

Immediately following the Lord’s prayer it says in verse 14 

14-15 “For if you forgive other people their failures, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive other people, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your failures.”

Matthew 6:14-15

That’s the part we skip over. We just like to move on to “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

The amount of time we waste waiting for repayment is sickening. We miss out on so much of what God has for us because we haven’t learned to completely forgive. 

We use forgiveness as a bargaining chip instead of as the gift it’s designed to be.

When we forgive someone, we need to remove the strings we’ve attached. God’s only terms and conditions of His forgiveness is that we don’t place any terms and conditions on those who we forgive. 

To experience the true freedom of God’s forgiveness, we have to stop seeking out repayment from others. 

We talked about Wednesday in Bible study. The woman of renown sin showed up to a dinner party she wasn’t invited to and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed him with expensive perfume. 

Let’s look at it in Luke 7

 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were really a prophet, he would know who this woman is and what sort of a person is touching him. He would have realised that she is a bad woman.”

40 Then Jesus spoke to him, “Simon, there is something I want to say to you.” “Very well, Master,” he returned, “say it.”

41-42 “Once upon a time, there were two men in debt to the same money-lender. One owed him fifty pounds and the other five. And since they were unable to pay, he generously cancelled both of their debts. Now, which one of them do you suppose will love him more?”

43 “Well,” returned Simon, “I suppose it will be the one who has been more generously treated,”

44-47 “Exactly,” replied Jesus, and then turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “You can see this woman? I came into your house but you provided no water to wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There was no warmth in your greeting, but she, from the moment I came in, has not stopped covering my feet with kisses. You gave me no oil for my head, but she has put perfume on my feet. That is why I tell you, Simon, that her sins, many as they are, are forgiven; for she has shown me so much love. But the man who has little to be forgiven has only a little love to give.”

Luke 7:39-47

Comparing our debts to others robs us of the freedom being offered. 

Psalm 32:1-2

Oh, what joy for those

    whose disobedience is forgiven,

    whose sin is put out of sight!

Yes, what joy for those

    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,[b]

    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Psalm 32:1-2

It’s easy for us to remember who owes us. I think we can also remember times we’ve been forgiven for things we’ve owed. Try remembering what you’ve forgiven someone of that you don’t also secretly wish to get repaid for. It’s somehow harder to remember those. 

We all have been hurt by people. We can all relate to someone wronging us. But have you received the freedom of forgiveness? The only way to fully be healed of those hurts is to let go of what you’re owed.

Some of you need to forgive yourselves too. It’s not just others we have to forgive. If we want God to forgive us and to heal us and to make us whole again we have to become better at giving forgiveness. 

We need to embrace the life principle of “Forgiveness is instant and without conditions, trust is earned.” 

The only person you can instantly trust is God himself. He’s earned our trust for all eternity and His faithfulness is His witness. 

Maybe the reason we find it so hard to forgive without limits is that we’re insecure. 

We’re afraid of not having enough so we leverage everything we can all the time. 

The end of Matthew chapter 6 addresses worry and provision. 

31-33 “So don’t worry and don’t keep saying, ‘What shall we eat, what shall we drink or what shall we wear?! That is what pagans are always looking for; your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness, and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.

34 “Don’t worry at all then about tomorrow. Tomorrow can take care of itself! One day’s trouble is enough for one day.”

Matthew 6:31-34

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the same chapter of Jesus’ prayer model ends with instructions about worry. I think He’s addressing the same issue. We have forgiveness issues because we have trust issues. 

Will you let God balance the books of your life this morning? Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? Maybe it’s someone you thought you already have forgiven but under further evaluation you realize that you have to cut the strings you’ve attached to your forgiveness. It’s hard but that’s where the healing comes from. 

Psalm 32 goes on to say: The Lord says, 

8 “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.

    I will advise you and watch over you.

9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule

    that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

Let go of your stubbornness and experience the plan God has for you. Unforgiveness can rob you of your purpose.