Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: Sermon on the Mount

Aftermath of a miracle: the rejection

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God.  The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus?  Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for?  Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe?  Why would anyone pass that up?

Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so.  But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.

The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:

John 11:45-47
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”

The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles.  Honestly, they couldn’t.  There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb.  If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw.  But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection?  Not a chance.

But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus?  If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him?  Here’s what they said:

John 11:48
“If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They would have to give up control.  They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status.  They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome.  Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.

Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah.  And obviously, those claims had been wrong.  But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.

In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:

1.       If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state.  If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate.  Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel.  And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.

2.       If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer.  How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus?  Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?

3.       Find a way to get rid of Jesus.  This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.

They chose #3.

John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.  Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was.  For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great.  They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.

When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies.  We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable.  We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do.  People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy.  They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.

We can’t choose for them.  So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Keep Pressing,

How to be rich and live richly

We discovered last time that we’re rich.  Richly rich.  That if we make over $32,400 per year ($15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% of the world.  But we also found out that no matter what our income amounts to, we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have wealth, because God richly provides us with all things to enjoy

God gives good gifts, and gifts are given for the enjoyment of the one receiving it.  Maybe someone got a better gift than you, and it doesn’t seem fair…however, our jealousy tends to evaporate once we expand our comparison circle to include the rest of the world.

So now that we know we’re rich, what do we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A few observations:
·        Jesus gave no indication that being wealthy in this life (or the next) is wrong.
·        What is considered valuable now is not going to be what is considered valuable in the next life.
·        How we obtain wealth in this life is not how we store up treasures for the next life.

During his ministry, Jesus met many rich folks who didn’t handle their wealth very well in light of eternity.  A few examples include the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), also the Pharisees and their scribes (Luke 5:29-31).  The rich were also featured in Jesus’ parables as bad examples of how to live life in the present age (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 16:19-31, and Luke 18:9-14).

So, what should us rich 1%ers do?  What does God consider the right way to handle the wealth He’s given us?

Paul addressed that topic in his instructions to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being rich in the age to come means being other-focused in the present age.  Whether we make $15,000 a year or $1,500,000 a year – what we do with what God has given us will determine the foundation of our lives in the next life.

That thought just blows me away, so dwell on it for just a moment with me.  Everything in this life is building *only* the foundation for our lives in eternity.  What we build, the work we do, the experiences we will have in the next life…are going to be based upon the choices we make in the present age.

My mentor, Joe, would tell me often “This life is just boot camp for the next.”  C.S. Lewis wrote that our present lives are simply the cover and the title page…when we enter Eternity future, we will begin Chapter 1 of the Great Story that never ends, where each chapter is better than the one before.

Partnering with God now affects how we can partner with God in Eternity.  We should absolutely enjoy the gifts God has given us, but don’t enjoy them selfishly.  Do goodBe rich in good worksBe generousBe willing to share.

Lay a good foundation for the age to come.  Find and take hold of life that is real.

Keep Pressing,

Running away

We all had moments like this as kids.  We saw the danger coming, and it was coming in fast.  Maybe for you it was a schoolyard bully, or the neighbor’s large dog, or the owner of a property that you were not supposed to be on.  Whatever it was, the adrenalin kicked in and you instinctively knew what you had to do next…


Adrenaline is not called the “fight or flight” hormone for nothing.  When it starts pumping through our body, we are suddenly stronger, more focused, and significantly faster than we have ever been.  But we must decide, and decide quickly, how we are going to use our enhanced capabilities.  Some things aren’t worth fighting over, it’s best just to get away…and get away as quickly as possible.

As he was wrapping up his letter of direction and encouragement to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

For Timothy to try balancing the pursuit of riches and being a man of God would have been completely futile.  Not only would he waste his time, but he would risk becoming trapped or falling into ruin and destruction.  A chasing after money leads to all kinds of compromises he would have never thought possible…it would lead him away from the faith and his reward would be many pains.

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

No wonder Paul’s advice to Timothy was to RUN.

But Paul doesn’t leave Timothy hanging either.  God isn’t just handing out a set of rules “Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.”  Whenever you find a “don’t” in Scripture, it’s almost always accompanied by an alternative “do”.

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Earlier, Paul told Timothy that godlinessholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). 

So, we see the contrast here: Paul says to run from what the world sees as lifegiving now and to pursue what God says is lifegiving both now and in eternity.

Timothy had to choose what he was going to run from and what he would pursue

We must make the same choice.

Keep Pressing,

Priorities and prayer

If we were to list our priorities in life, we would likely say that we want to have our basic needs met, we want to have a little bit ‘extra’ in reserve, and then we think that we’re in a good place to find out what God would have in store for us.  However, Jesus desires for us to have our objectives in life properly organized.  What he says should have top priority usually isn’t first in line for us.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, and clothing] will be provided for you.

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

See how Jesus flips the order on us?  He actually claims that pursuing a life that lines up with God’s priorities is more important than our basic sustenance…so much so that he makes two promises – that our basic needs will be met AND that when we aim for God’s kingdom, we’ll obtain it.

In order to drive home the point that our heavenly Father will actually reveal his kingdom and his righteousness to us, Jesus uses a comparison that we’re all familiar with – a father providing for the needs of his son.

Matthew 7:9-10 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

We read this and immediately think ‘Of course the father wouldn’t fulfill a good request with something useless (a stone) or something dangerous (a snake)’.

Anticipating this reaction, Jesus gives a comparison to demonstrate his application point:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Whenever a speaker wants his audience to understand something, he will make sure to drive the point by repeating himself in several different forms.  So don’t miss out on what Jesus is saying in this passage. 

Our pursuit of living as part of God’s kingdom and purposes is the most important aim for us in this life.  It’s even more important that what we would consider to be the basic necessities – food, drink, and clothing.  Jesus promises that the Father will fulfill our pursuit of kingdom living, even claiming that the Father is better at granting this request than we are at taking care of those closest to us.

Now that I’m convinced of the priority of seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness, I just need to answer the question ‘how’.  How do we do this?  How is the kingdom possible to obtain?

Jesus said keep asking…keep searching…keep knocking…keep pursuing it by talking to God about it.  Ask God about his kingdom, search for ways to live rightly in God’s eyes, knock when we have questions about what to do next.  In a word, we need to


Keep Pressing,

Ask, Search, Knock

Here are some commonly quoted verses regarding how we should pray

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Pretty clear, right?  The text says everyone who asks, so all we have to do is keep pestering God, and he’ll eventually give us what we’re asking for. 

Honestly, we don’t think of praying quite in those terms, but we do convince ourselves (and others) of similar thoughts, such as

·        If I pray about a situation every day for 40 days, God will hear and answer my request.
·        God hasn’t answered my prayer yet…maybe I’m not praying “hard enough”.
·        If I get a lot of people praying about my request, then God will be convinced to give me the outcome I want.

However, our experience tells us otherwise…everyone doesn’t get everything they pray for.  Healing doesn’t always come.  There are relationships that never reconcile.  Opportunities are lost forever because in some situations there are no take-backs, no do-overs, no mulligans.

So then what is Jesus really getting at here when he tells us to persistently ask, search, and knock?

We never want to read a few verses from the Bible without considering the context of the other verses around them.  In our case, we’re still looking at what Jesus taught during his Sermon on the Mount.  In a few verses previous to the ones we’re looking at, Jesus was teaching about how to avoid the trap of worrying, and said this:

Matthew 6:31-32 So don’t worry saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Try to imagine life without a grocery store or clothing store.  The basic necessities of getting our next meal would be pretty high on our priority lists.  However, Jesus is instructing them to not get wrapped up in these kinds of questions…there is something more important than food and clothing, something else they should be pursuing.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

All these things – food, drink, and clothing – will be provided by God when we focus on his purpose, his right way of living.  That’s a fantastic promise in and of itself…but then just a little bit later Jesus says

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Now that we see these verses context, it’s clear that Jesus is urging his followers to ask for, seek out, and pursue entrance into the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Jesus is guaranteeing that his followers will obtain what they are after…the very thing they hold as more important than food and clothing…a relationship and partnership with the God of the Universe.

No other god, human, or religious system can fulfill a guarantee like this one.  Jesus claims that our Father in heaven will see us though.  Once again, Jesus’ teaching leaves us with the realization that the content of our prayers is much, much too small…and the relationship we’re being invited into is something much bigger and much better than anything in this life. 

That relationship is worth the effort it takes to persistently seek God.  Just like Jesus, I encourage you to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking, and keep praying that God reveals the kingdom and His righteousness

Keep Pressing,

Forgiveness and prayer (part 2)

While looking at the text of the model prayer that Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, we’ve found a challenging connection between God forgiving us and our willingness to forgive others:

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

The verses closely around the model prayer gave us better insight into what Christ meant when he said we should pray that, based upon our forgiveness of others, God would limit his forgiveness of us.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive people their wrong-doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrong-doing.

This is a challenging command for us, because we like to compartmentalize our relationships with others away from our relationship with God.  With Jesus teaching that these two areas affect each other, it forces us to look at others in the same manner that God looks at us.

However, part of me wants to argue that I should be able to just talk to God and resolve my issues with him before I worry about resolving any issues with others.  And a passage of Scripture comes to mind that appears to support that desire.

As Christians, we love to quote 1 John 1:9 as the remedy for when we stumble and sin:

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This is a verse that every believer should have memorized.  There is a great assurance of forgiveness found in this verse.  And all unrighteousness means ALL unrighteousness.  In addition to the sins that I confess, this verse tells me that God will also clear our relationship with him of any other sin or error – even if I forgot about a particular sin or didn’t recognize something as sin. 

However, nothing in 1 John 1:9 says I have to forgive anyone else before God forgives me.  So it appears that we have John, a disciple of Jesus, contradicting what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  How do we deal with this?

First of all, we need to remember who the immediate audience is in both passages.  Jesus’ teaching is directed toward those who view him as the Messiah.  John is writing to those who have already placed their faith in Jesus as Savior.  The kind of prayer that John and Jesus are teaching us about is not the “sinner’s prayer” where a person begins a relationship with God by placing their faith in Jesus…the kind of prayer that both are dealing with pertains to our on-going relationship with God as we live our day-to-day lives.

Secondly, the “cure” for this apparent discrepancy is the same skill we applied to understand Matthew 6:12 – we need to look at the surrounding context for 1 John 1:9

1 John 1:6-7 If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” and walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

From these verses, we see again that when our faith-walk doesn’t match our faith-talk…our relationships with others AND our relationship with God is affected.  And if, by some chance, we’ve convinced ourselves that we couldn’t possibly be that hypocritical, John has a warning for us:

1 John 1:8-9 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When we go to God in prayer and expect Him to forgive our sins when we haven’t forgiven others, we deceive ourselves…and are hypocritical before God.  This isn’t to say we can’t talk to God until all relationships are fully healed, rather the aim is to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light and be ready to forgive others, just as God stands ready to forgive us from ALL unrighteousness.

Our Father in Heaven…forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

Keep Pressing,

Forgiveness and prayer (part 1)

We have been taking a close look at what Jesus has prescribed as the model for our prayers:

Matthew 6:9-13 Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

In the middle of Jesus’ model prayer, we find a peculiar statement.

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

This statement stands out because it is the only conditional statement in the entire model prayer. 

It’s conditional in that it is self-limiting.  In effect, I’m asking God to forgive me to the degree that I have forgiven others.  And that’s a pretty scary thought – because I’m quick to ask God for his forgiveness of my own sins and failings, but I also tend to harbor grudges against those who have hurt me.  To ask for God’s forgiveness when I am unwilling to extend the same grace to others is hypocritical…and how offensive would that be to ask God for something I am unwilling to give to others in my life?

Jesus affirms the importance of this relationship habit when immediately after giving the model prayer, he says

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive people their wrong-doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrong-doing.

Christ’s main purpose in the model prayer is the development of the relationship between us and God.  However, it seems that our relationship with others also affects how well we can relate to God.  We demonstrate our own understanding of God’s unconditional forgiveness toward us in how well we forgive those who have wronged us.

Whenever my family members wrong me, or my coworker backstabs me, or my friend neglects me…to the degree that I harbor my anger toward them and let my resentment linger, Jesus says my relationship with the God of the Universe will be hindered! 

When my boys are not getting along, their individual relationships with me are also affected.  There have been plenty of times where we do not move forward until their relationship with each other has been addressed.  My son has no standing with me to ask for forgiveness when he is unwilling to forgive his brother.

I think that is why Jesus includes a direction in his model prayer to pray conditionally about us restoring our relationship with God through our forgiveness of others.

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

A difficult thing to pray, that is for sure…but keeping it in mind helps guide us to the goal of fulfilling our created design – we were made in God’s image, as a reflection of who he is, so we should forgive like he does.

Keep Pressing,

God-focused prayers

When I read the model prayer that Jesus gave, one observation that sticks out to me is how much of the prayer is focused on God.  Take a look, and notice how many times God is mentioned:

Matthew 6:9-13 Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Jesus instructs us to pray that God’s name and reputation be honored, that his kingdom would come to earth, and that God would rule the earth just like he does in heaven.  The prayer ends with us telling God that he has the highest position, above all people and things, for all eternity.

That’s a lot of information about God in a prayer that is to God.

Why should I pray God’s attributes and qualities back to him?  It’s not like God doesn’t know these things about himself, nor do I expect that Jesus would be instructing us to say these things just to stroke God’s ego.  However, we cannot escape Jesus’ direction to spend roughly half of our prayer time focusing on who God is and what he is like.

Jesus is instructing us to remember exactly who it is we’re speaking with when we pray…the God who imagined and created the universe.  God designed subatomic particles and then stitched them together to form everything from plants, to people, to planets.  He imagined weather patterns and constellations.  God is the author of everything we can see, taste, hear, touch, or smell.  His authority and power are unlimited.  God is responsible for all these things and more…and he is the person we are instructed to bring our prayers to.

This kind of praying – a deliberate focus on who God is and what he is like – is an antidote for the modern insistence that “prayer works”…as if the fact that “I’m praying” or that “many of us are praying” will provide someone healing or financial rescue.  It’s not the number of people praying or performing the act of prayer that creates a change to our circumstances…it’s the one we are praying to that enacts the change! 

Our prayers are only as effective as the one we are praying to!  We tend to focus on the act of prayer as being effective, rather that remembering Who it is that we are praying to.  Remembering that we are talking with the God of the Universe makes us feel small…but that’s because…we are small.

But if I’m small, then how do I know that God will actually listen to anything I have to say?

We can be assured that God hears us, for two reasons.  First, Jesus is telling us to pray to God, and Jesus only gives true instructions.  Secondly, look at the first two words of the model prayer – Our Father.  Even though we are significantly small, we are invited to speak to the great God of Everything, and address him as father.

With our perspective set for who we are, and more importantly who God is, we can then approach God with our requests and needs.  It’s a whole lot easier to trust God with the outcome of our requests and situations when we have a clear picture of the person we’re praying to.

Keep Pressing,

Pray like this

For those who gathered around Jesus to hear and apply his teachings during the Sermon on the Mount, they were given some specific instructions about prayer.  Jesus has said to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44), to pray with the aim of talking to God and not for showing off in front of others (Matthew 6:5), and not to babble on and on in an attempt to educate God about our needs because God already knows them (Matthew 6:7-8).

If I were among those in the crowd, I think my head might be hurting a little after hearing this.  Jesus has completely re-arranged what I thought prayer was about.  He has so drastically changed what I have been taught was the purpose of prayer, that I am left wondering how I’m supposed to pray at all.  I can understand what he taught, and I can see why these changes to my praying habits are necessary…but I feel a little unsure of how to apply what Jesus has said.

I am so grateful for what Jesus said next:

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Based upon these new prayer-content instructions, Jesus provides us a model for putting his teaching into practice.  Don’t let its familiarity fool you…look for how Jesus incorporates his teaching into this model of a prayer:

Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Jesus’ instruction to love and pray for our enemies is found in the fifth line, where we recognize that our acts of forgiveness for the wrongs committed against us are echoes of how God has forgiven our own wrongs against him.

All pretention and showmanship is removed when we pray the beginning and ending of this model prayer.  The focus is clearly on God – his reputation, his kingdom, his power, and his glory.  There is nothing in these lines that draw the attention back to self.

Lastly, we see no repetition and no instruction to say this prayer repeatedly.  While there are requests, they are only focused on the immediate needs – food for today, forgiveness now, and rescue from the tempting snares set against us.

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Jesus is telling us that based on what we now know, this is what we should do with it.  He has enlightened us with his teaching and has given us a direct path to apply what we’ve learned.  Remember, it’s a model…not a form letter.  A template is meant to be mimicked, but it can also be adjusted slightly, as needed. 

Will we trust Jesus enough to try out his application?

Keep Pressing,

What am I saying?

Matthew 6:7-8 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

The Greeks and Romans of Jesus’ day believed that in order to get their god to pay attention to them, they must repeat their requests many times over.  They assumed that the more their prayer was repeated, the better the chance that the god would hear them accurately and being repetitive would also give them a better chance at getting exactly what they wanted.  A modern example of this babbling practice happens when someone advocates saying multiple “Our Fathers” or multiple Novenas to ensure that God gives us the answer we want. 

While the pagans (and a few of us modern folks) may think we can arm-twist God based upon long, eloquent, repetitive, formal prayers…it seems that most of the prayers coming from the average Christian tend to babble, but in a slightly different manner. Have you ever noticed that when some people pray, almost every other word is “God” or “Lord God”?

“God, well, Lord God…we thank you God for the things that you, Lord God, have given us.  And, God, we ask you, God, to help our friend, dear God, who’s really sick right now, Lord God”

In cases like these, God’s name has become a filler-word in their prayer, similar to the word “um” when we don’t know what to say next.  When we find ourselves stumbling around in our prayers like this, it’s usually an indication that we’re more worried about what the others around us think of our praying skills than we are thinking about actually talking with God.  If you remove every time God is named…the prayer is small, yes…but it is down to the essential issues of our hearts – and that’s where God wants to engage us in our prayers.

However, if verse 8 is correct, and your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him…why should we bother to pray?  I mean, what’s the point of telling him something he’s already well aware of?

Since God approaches us using a Father-to-child model for our relationship with him, it can be instructive for us to think about our relationship with our own children.  Since I am more experienced in life, as well as more mature and observant, than either of my boys…I know what they need before they even ask.  In fact, most of the time, I am keenly aware of their needs before they even recognize them as actual needs.

While I could just fulfill every need as it comes up, doing so would actually hinder their growth toward adulthood.  The recognition of the need, the struggle to handle the need, and the decision to ask for help with the need are all steps toward maturity.  And all the while, I am ready, willing, and able to help…but my primary aim is not to fulfill all their needs, rather my goal is to shepherd them into maturity.  There have also been multiple occasions where what my son thinks he needs is not necessarily what he truly needs in that moment.

When my boys approach me, I’m not looking for long-winded arguments to convince me, they’re not going to get anywhere repeating “Dad, Dad, Dad” multiple times during our discussion, and yes, I know what they truly need in that moment.  Ultimately though, I love partnering with them as they grow up.

Based upon what Jesus has taught us about prayer, I’m certain that our Father in heaven feels the same way.  We don’t have to dress up our words, and we can trust he knows what’s best for us.  What he’s most interested in is relationship with us.

Keep Pressing,

What's my motivation?

We like to be recognized, especially for doing good things.  There’s nothing wrong with receiving a compliment for a job well done…unless your aim was to get a compliment.

Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them.  Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses several areas where we may have the outward appearance of being mature or spiritual, but instead our motives behind the behavior is misplaced.  His point is that improper motives will prevent us from receiving a reward from God.  One area where he calls out our motives is prayer:

Matthew 6:5-6 Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people.  I assure you: They’ve got their reward!  But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This isn’t a prohibition on praying in public, rather this is instruction to make sure our motivation for praying in public is the right one.  We should not be praying with the secret aim to be seen by people.  That’s what makes us hypocrites…acting like we’re talking to God, when really we’re just talking out loud with our eyes closed, hoping that others notice how “spiritual” we are.

Rather, Jesus instructs us to go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret.  This is both practical and makes sense.  If I’m focusing more on what others are thinking when I talk to God than I am focusing on my conversation with God…then the best remedy is to completely remove all other people from my conversation time with God. 

Jesus doesn’t stop there, however.  If we choose to engage God in prayer for the right motive – that we actually want to talk with him – Jesus says that your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Ok, but what’s the reward?  In these verses, Jesus says that both the hypocrites and those who pray in secret will actually get what they are aiming for…the hypocrite will be seen by the people immediately around him, and that is his “reward” will be found in the opinion of others.  On the other hand, those that pray in secret to God, in order to spend time with him…they will also get what they aim at, namely a relationship with the King of the Universe!  That “reward” has benefits in this life and in eternity future.  The hypocrite’s motivation and perspective is much, much too small…and he misses out because of it.

If I only hold my wife’s hand when we’re in public, if I the only time I act interested in what she has to say is when other people are watching, or if I only say “I love you” when I know someone else will hear me tell her…while it may appear that I have the perfect relationship with my wife, the exact opposite is true and I’m living a lie.  The only benefit I receive is that someone thinks that I’m a good husband.  However, the truth is that my wife would feel isolated and alone, with nothing but a sham of a relationship with me.  The right way to have a relationship with my wife is to do all those things, even when no one is watching.  The reward for doing those things is a genuine, deep relationship with my wife – and that kind of relationship will be readily apparent to others.

Jesus is pointing out that when we’re more concerned with what others hear in our prayers than who we are praying to, we lose the ultimate reward of fellowship with God!

So let’s “go deep” with God – pray to him in private, purposely get to know him intimately and away from all other distractions.  If we do so, the public side of our relationship will take care of itself.

Keep Pressing,

Praying for an enemy (part 2)

Words are cheap.

Words are easy to say, but sometimes they are hard to follow through with.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has this to say about how those in the Kingdom of God should act toward enemies:

Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of our Father in heaven.  For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Last time, we wrestled with this passage and what Jesus is instructing us to do.  Someone who is actively plotting our downfall, someone who takes pleasure in seeing us fail, someone who harasses us without end – that is not the person I am generally interested in showing love to or want to pray for.

As we look at what Jesus taught here about prayer…it almost feels too big. 

All sorts of defensive thoughts and emotions come to mind when I imagine praying for those who persecute me.  However, the core of all those thoughts and emotions is my own self-centeredness.  Even when recognize this truth, I’m still unsure of how to pray for an enemy. 

Thankfully, we have an example.

Within about a 12 hour timeframe, Jesus was betrayed, falsely accused, slapped, spat on, beaten, repeatedly mocked, savagely whipped, crowned with thorns, and had three metal spikes viciously hammered into his wrists and feet.  After all that, and while he was suffocating to death on the cross, Jesus said

Luke 23:34 Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.

In the midst of excruciating pain, less than a few hours before death, after all he had been through – Jesus petitioned God for their forgiveness.  Jesus kept his enemies’ most important need in mind, despite the circumstances.

That’s something I love about Jesus.  He never asks of us anything that he couldn’t do or wouldn’t do himself.

Everything he went through in those 12 hours, we have also experienced, to some degree, at the hand of an enemy.  On the days when I feel betrayed by those closest to me, the days that someone’s words leave welts and wounds on my heart and in my mind, or when I am antagonized to the point that it feels like they have ripped open my flesh – Jesus has been there before.  There are times when we’re getting run over by someone who is purposely out to make our life miserable (or worse).  Let’s be honest, there are people like that in the world.  They go beyond just being self-centered, and they are actively looking for ways to take us down.

It’s in those frazzled, exhausted moments that we need to be praying for our enemies.  Just like Jesus did, we must remember that their greatest need – God’s forgiveness – is greater than our greatest pains.

Keep Pressing,

Praying for an enemy (part 1)

The first time Jesus discusses prayer during his Sermon on the Mount is at the end of a series of Kingdom-living examples.  Jesus begins each example with “you have heard that it was said”, which is followed by Jesus quoting a portion of the Mosaic Law.  Then Jesus looks beyond the letter of the Law to teach that even the person’s motivation is to be evaluated by that part of the Law.  His last example in this section states:

Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

The Jewish community of Jesus’ day was very internally focused.  They thoroughly believed that it was them against the world, and in many ways, that was true.  However, nowhere in the Law does it give license for the Jew to hate your enemy, the only direction is to love your neighbor.  Unfortunately, in their acceptance of the command to love their neighbor, they applied it only to their Jewish neighbor, and then they rationalized that they could do the opposite to an enemy.

Let’s not mince words here, either.  When Jesus said enemy, he meant enemy.  Someone who is actively opposing you.  The Greek word for persecute means to actively pursue or systematically oppress and harass a person or group.  Jesus isn’t giving instruction on how to deal with the annoying or selfish people we encounter…he’s talking about those who purposely oppose, fight, and undermine us.

Enemies are the ones who instigate situations, initiate fights, reduce us to tears, stress us out…we have heart problems, sleep issues, and mental breakdowns because of their actions and their desire to see us fail.

But should I seriously love them?  Why should I pray for that person?  Why should I petition the God of the Universe to lovingly interact with someone who is out to get me?  Truthfully, I’d rather pray that God gives me strength to deal with them…or better yet, I’d rather pray that God just removes them from my life altogether.

Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

The sobering question we must ask ourselves is “How does our Father in heaven act toward enemies?

Jesus continues:

Matthew 5:45-47 For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 

God uses the things he has authority over for the benefit of those who love him…and for the benefit of those who actively oppose him.  Let that sink in for a moment…

There are some blessings God continues to give toward those who practice evil against him.  He does it daily, without fail…even if they never acknowledge him for it.  And when we act like God does toward enemies – loving them and praying for them, even when they don’t deserve it – we are modeling God’s love to others.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to explain that choosing to treat enemies the way the sons of your Father in heaven would…to choose to love and pray for those that persecute us…these actions will be rewarded!

Jesus makes this point by referring back to how the Jews were loving only their Jewish neighbor and hating their enemies, and pointing out the lack of reward for acting differently towards enemies than God does:

Matthew 5:46-47 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have?  Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary?  Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?

Love, greet, and pray for your enemies.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first direction about prayer is for us to petition God on behalf of those who actively try to undermine us.

Will we follow through on this instruction?  As we saw before, it is the wise man who hears Jesus’ words and does what Jesus says.  It won’t be easy, but God promises a reward when we choose to act like he does.

Keep Pressing,

Trust and prayer

The first place we’re going to look at when it comes to what Jesus taught about prayer is during his longest and most famous teaching session, known as the Sermon on the Mount.  However, before we get to his teachings about a person’s prayer-life, it’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and listen to what Jesus has to say about his teaching in general.

At the end of his sermon, Jesus concluded with this illustration:

Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house.  Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed.  And its collapse was great!”

The two groups of people the Jesus is addressing here are those that “hear and do” in contrast with those who “hear and don’t”.  Both groups hear Jesus’ words.  And what did they just hear?  The Sermon on the Mount, which was instruction primarily focused on Kingdom living.  So now that they have received direction, Jesus closes by warning them about the importance of putting his words into practice.

Notice the other similarities between the builders:

  • Both needed to build a house for protection from the coming storms
  • Both built their house before the storm came, presumably while the weather was good
  • Both experienced storms, as they couldn’t prevent the weather

But the difference between the builders…in fact, the ONLY difference between the builders…was also the defining difference when the storms arrived.

Jesus is claiming that the difference between those that “hear and do” and those that “hear and don’t” is just as significant as the foundation chosen by the builders.

Do we trust Jesus enough to act on his words?  It does us no good to simply listen to Christ’s teachings about prayer (or any other topic) if we’re not willing to take him at his word…and then take action accordingly.  In fact, Jesus says to that to hear him and then disregard his words will result in the eventual collapse of what we build in this life.

If we’re going to learn to pray like Jesus, we’re going to have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about…and then take action accordingly.

Keep Pressing,