How many people can you think of in scripture who specifically prayed to God to be forgiven of their sin(s) and received what they asked for?
The closest I can come is a suggestion from Peter and John to Simon, the would-be spiritual sorcerer – and the “perhaps” seems to be no guarantee that God will automatically forgive:
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” – Acts 8:18-24
Simon seems to have perceived that he needs the prayers of someone else, just as James recommends:
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:14-16
Nor is he alone. In the Old Testament, Pharaoh seems to recognize the same need:
Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.” Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. Exodus 10:16-18
In fact, there are lots of examples in scripture where someone prays for another for the forgiveness of their sins: Abraham (Genesis 20:17); Moses (Numbers 14:19-20); Samuel (1 Samuel 12:19-24); Asaph (Psalm 79:5-8); Solomon (I Kings 8:46-51); Daniel (Daniel 9:17-19); Jesus (Luke 23:34); Stephen (Acts 7:59-60). You’ll note in many of the Old Testament citations, the prayer is for all the people, not just a particular individual. You might even recall that Samuel (I Samuel 15:24-26) would not accept Saul’s penitence and plea for forgiveness because God had rejected him as king – possibly because he had just lied about his disobedience, compounding sin upon sin.
And Job (Job 7:20-21) begs God for forgiveness, but God’s reply is only a question: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8). Yet, at the close of the encounter, God indicates that He will forgive Job’s friends for their impertinence if only Job will pray for them (42:7-9) and He does so – after he has prayed for his friends (42:10). On the other hand, though God restores Job’s losses by doubling them, no mention is made of forgiveness.
While Jabez prays for a blessing that God grants (1 Chronicles 4:9-10), nothing is said about forgiveness there, either.
David prays for God’s mercy and relief from bloodguilt in Psalm 51 … but there is no response. Did he receive what he asked for?
Jesus instructs that prayer should be plural when asking forgiveness in Matthew 6:9-15. In Mark 11:25, He instructs that a forgiving spirit in prayer must be a prerequisite to God’s forgiveness. He tells a story in Luke 18:9-14 about a publican who admits to God he is a sinner and begs for mercy, and goes home justified before God. Is that the same as forgiveness? If it is, was the publican a real person, or a character – a loner with no friends to pray for him – in a story meant primarily to illustrate the futility of confidence in one’s own righteousness and the power of confession in a public way, in a public place?
Some time back I blogged that “I have come to pray less for myself and more for others,” (Answers to Prayer) without really explaining the scriptural basis of why I believe “this is where much of the power of community in God’s kingdom lies.”
So am I missing something?
Can you come up with someone in scripture who prayed for forgiveness for himself or herself, and received what was requested?
Or is it possible that there is something more vital to our need for community, confession, transparency, humility and public penitence than we have generally recognized?