Many Christians remember their first prayer asking for God's forgiveness. This is taught in vacation Bible school and often a major step in a person's walk in faith as they "ask Jesus into their heart."
You likely remember your own first prayer where you made an admission of sin and asked for forgiveness from God so that you could come into right relationship with Him. After this, have you made praying for forgiveness a regular part of your faith journey?
Forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life and yet I don't think most of us pray for forgiveness enough. There is a profound promise in scripture about forgiveness: "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 NIV). Learn to pray for forgiveness and claim this promise!
Praying for forgiveness is relational
Praying for forgiveness takes on many forms. You might need to pray for God's strength to help you forgive someone in your life. You might need to receive God's view of you as you ask for forgiveness from Him. Or you might pray that God would help to reconcile a relationship and allow someone else to forgive you.
In any case, forgiveness is not something we do on our own. Even if you are hoping to forgive yourself (a very popular phrase in culture today) you cannot do this without a relationship with God. To forgive yourself, you have to admit that you have made a mistake, admit your own humanity and ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you. Only God can give you the vision for yourself and others that will allow you to walk in true forgiveness.
In prayer, start by viewing praying for forgiveness as a relational conversation. It's not just about you or for you - think through the relationships that are necessary for forgiveness to transform your life.
Praying for forgiveness requires awareness
As I mentioned before, I don't think many of us pray for forgiveness enough. One reason for this might be because we aren't aware of the need for it. If you aren't sure where to start when praying for forgiveness, start by asking God to give you a repentant heart.
Psalm 51:17 says, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."
Begin your prayer of forgiveness by inviting the Holy Spirit to search your heart for areas where you need to forgive yourself or others in your life. Then transition to praying for forgiveness with an increased awareness of what is going on in your own heart.
Praying for forgiveness is ongoing
When we ask for forgiveness from God, He freely gives it and He never runs out. But that doesn't mean that we can easily and instantly experience forgiveness in one simple prayer. Praying for forgiveness requires an ongoing relationship with God where we actively ask for forgiveness.
The Gospel Coalition explains it like this:
"As a judge, God no longer sees our sin, because his “righteous” verdict removes all condemnation (Rom. 8:1). But as a Father, he’s quite aware of our remaining sin, and he wants us to be aware of it, too, so that we can fight it, kill it, and ask him to forgive it. But we must realize that God sees our sins as a loving Father, not as angry critic. That’s how the Lord’s Prayer begins: not “Our Judge,” but “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). We pray this petition from inside the family of God, not from the outside trying to get back in."
God doesn't want you to be continually praying for forgiveness because you're worried about your salvation or feel intense guilt or shame. Instead, He lovingly wants to make us aware of ways that our relationships are at risk of not reaching His best for us by harboring unforgiveness or living with unconfessed sin.
When you pray for forgiveness in your life, go to God knowing His love for you is infinite and make a confession asking for His forgiveness knowing that because we are people who will never reach perfection, we'll have to do it again.