Friday, August 29, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 4

After comments about prayer, Jesus then gives us an instructional template.

Directing the Heart

How are we to pray? During His sermon, Jesus began a model prayer for us with these words:

So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

Jesus tells us to pray to "Our Father in heaven." This should set our mental attitude as we come to a time of prayer. From the Old Testament and much of the new, we understand that we are praying to God, and that He is our Lord and King. We owe Him our lives and our service. But Jesus tells us that we can come to Him and call Him, "Father." This connotes a more significant relationship than we would imagine. But Jesus is very serious about just this aspect. The entire sermon has many references to God as our Father. This relationship is our primary motivation for the lives that we should live.

God as Father is a two-way relationship. As Father, He loves us and we honor Him. He protects and we abide. He provides and we give thanks. He instructs and we emulate, He disciplines and we mature. He touches and we respond. He commands and we obey. So much of the time we focus on command/obedience and we forget all the other wonderful aspects of our walk with our Father. When we approach Him in prayer, he is all these things for us and we need to be all these things to Him.

Jesus tells us to pray in first person plural, "Our Father..." Prayer, even in private, is to have a community focus. We can pray for our own needs, of course, but it must not stop there. We are to be intercessors. We pray, "Give us..." and we are asking for the Father's provision for family, friend, and foe. We pray, "Forgive us..." and we seek reconciliation with the Father and among ourselves. We pray, "Lead us..." and "Deliver us..." because we all need proper guidance and protection.

We are to pray that the Father's name "be honored." This is both a request and an attitude. As a request, we are asking for the knowledge of the Father to fill the earth and for the earth to respond in honor. It is our chance to grieve over those things, in our lives and the lives of others, that bring dishonor to the name: hypocrisy, judgment that triumphs over mercy, mercy that triumphs over instruction and discipleship, those who hate God, etc. It is a time to recognize and put away our hypocrisy. As an attitude, we can begin our prayers with worship, praise, and thanksgiving. We worship who He is. We praise Him for His works, and we thank Him for His care and provision.

We ask for the Father's kingdom to come. Along these lines, we pray for the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the rule and reign of the Father in the hearts of men and women. We pray for the welfare of the distressed and oppressed. We pray for physical healing, deliverance, change of hearts, broken relationships, and such things as would change with an acceptance of the Father and His ways. We also look forward to Jesus' return to live and rule among us.

So we begin our prayers by focusing on the one to whom we pray. He is Father and King. Turning our hearts to Him helps us to become like Him.

Monday: Sustaining the Heart

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Thursday, August 28, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 3

After Jesus spoke on having a private prayer life, he spoke on the need to base prayer on real communication and faith.    

Putting Prayer in Perspective

Jesus' instruction on prayer in Matthew continued with this admonition

When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8, The Net Bible)

Jesus contrasts prayer to the Father with the prayers of the Gentiles. He describes Gentile prayer as the repetitious babbling of many words. What might this mean and how do we relate this to our prayers?

  • "Like the Gentiles". The Gentiles did not worship the true God.
  • Repetitious babble connotes a lack of real content.
  • Many words to be heard suggests rituals, incantations, and technique.

Gentile prayer is about the manipulation of spiritual forces and entities that do not generally care about you as an individual. 

We can, of course, now give Jesus' words a Christian spin:

  • "Like the Gentiles" -- Praying to God in Name, but not in knowledge. This is similar to what Paul wrote to the Romans about the Jews who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah, "For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth." (Romans 10:2)
  • Repetitious babbling -- Praying without real content. Perhaps this would be like reciting liturgical prayers without connecting to their content.
  • Many words to be heard -- Praying with an attitude that God is not listening and must be manipulated to answer.

In answer to this, Jesus says that our Father knows what we need even before we ask. We are praying to our Father, which means that we are in a family relationship. We are part of His life, and he anticipates what we need. We can, therefore, come to Him as transparent people. We can come before Him glad, sad, or mad and He will be there in full understanding. That, by the way, is what Job did over and over as he sought to understand the cause and meaning of his suffering. Manipulation is not required.

If our Father knows what we need before we ask, why should we pray? There are two reasons. The first is because of the rewards of prayer that go beyond just meeting our needs. The second is that there are many other things for which to pray.

So Jesus has instructed about the place and manner of our prayers. We are to have a private life of prayer, and we are to pray to a real person. This person is interested in us and our needs and does not need to be manipulated.

So what makes for a good prayer?

Friday: Directing the Heart

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 2

Jesus prayed in public, as John 17 and other passages demonstrate. There will always be a need for prayer in public. But as we will see in Jesus' teaching on the subject of prayer, the public must be built on the private.    

Putting Prayer in its Place

Jesus' instruction on prayer in Matthew begins this way:

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6, The Net Bible)

Jesus develops two basic kinds of prayer. There is "showcase prayer" by which the person praying actually draws attention to himself. He wants to be known as spiritual and holy. His religion gives him status, and by public prayer, he maintains and feeds it. The second kind of prayer is "relational prayer." This is prayer that seeks time with the Father. Jesus, for teaching purposes, draws a distinct line between the two, but we must acknowledge that most people will fall somewhere between the two extremes. It is also important to understand no one can read the mind and intentions of another heart. What might seem to be the height of arrogance may only reflect upbringing. Or gentle quiet prayers may come from one who has no private prayer life at all. Jesus' instruction is for us to know and personally apply His words and let the Holy Spirit guide and train our hearts in these matters.

Having said that, there are some warning signs that we might want to pay attention to.

  • Do I have an "I am speaking to God" voice. This may be a matter of upbringing. Nevertheless, none is needed and such a change in voice can draw attention to the one praying--unless one is in an environment that does this, in which case not changing the voice can draw attention to yourself.
  • Elegant words and lots of them. This may be a matter of gifting and natural oratory, but again none are needed.
  • Personal agenda. It's hard to excuse this one. You pray according to what you want done and what others need to do to help it along.
  • Gossip. "Please God. Help Jane resist the temptation to keep seeing that guy." Such public prayers are only fruitful if Jane is there and has asked for intercession on that subject. 
  • Public prayer of any kind without a private prayer life. It is a given that if you are not speaking to the Father when you are alone, there is no good speaking to Him publicly.

Instead Jesus advises us to go into our rooms and shut the door. This is the "normal" opposite of standing on a street corner. If He had used a phrase like "pray in private" or "pray alone" all kinds of extreme ideas may have developed. How private do you need to be? Must we become hermits or monks to have a prayer life? Jesus simply meant that there are places and ways to pray that are between us and the Father. By entering such places we demonstrate that we "believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) In such a place:

  • We can have an "I am speaking to God" voice if that helps us connect with Him and give Him honor.
  • We can use elegant words as a way of offering Him our best.
  • We can have a personal agenda, because it is now between us and the Father and He can open and close doors as He sees fit.
  • We can pray for Jane. Since it is just between us and the Father, we are more likely to be showing genuine concern for her welfare.
  • And, of course, we now have a basis for praying in public.

We can be in our own rooms or in public and still pray privately. As Paul wrote, "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) 

The private life is one measure of who we are. Too many times I have seen good public families suddenly come apart from within. It became apparent that the life behind the closed doors of the home was far different from the public family persona. If we believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him, that will affect our most private of lives, because we will know that He is there. We then know that there is no private life. Lest this cause you great fear, guilt, and concern, remember that Jesus says that, "your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." Showcase prayer has the single reward of public acclaim. The rewards of relational prayer is that it can:

  • Direct the heart.
  • Receive answers and close or open doors
  • Strengthen the character and spirit
  • Increase faith and spiritual gifting
  • Bring a deeper sense of the Father's presence and care.

These are good things and worth having.

Having put prayer in its place, Jesus then goes on to put prayer in perspective.

Thursday: Putting Prayer in Perspective

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><> 

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Jesus on Prayer - 1

As I wrote last week, I am taking a few days off from the study of Job and turning my attention to Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15. Today, I cover the context of Jesus' instruction.


Matthew 5 - 7 contains the well known Sermon on the Mount. It has a parallel in Luke 6:20-49, which suggests that Matthew might have recorded a sermon that Jesus gave often. Because it is well known, we must guard ourselves, less its very familiarity work against our receiving its instruction.

The sermon is about the heart. Religion tends to be about external forms and obedience to rules. Jesus' challenges us to evaluate ourselves by an inner standard. “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell." (Matthew 5:21-22) Murder is an external sin. It is obvious and visible. It is easy to condemn the murderer. But Jesus tells us to look to our anger. Our anger can be visible or invisible. It matters not; we have the seeds of murder in our heart and we had best uproot them by the Father's grace. And so Jesus teaches about a life lived and judged by attitudes in the heart. There is nothing here by which we can judge others. We can only take His words and by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, judge our own lives and move to change.

Of interest in this study are the opening lines of Matthew 6:

“Be careful about not living righteously merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1, The Net Bible)

With these words, Jesus speaks of outward versus inward religious expression. In Matthew 6:2-4, Jesus speaks of giving. In Matthew 6:5-15, He speaks of prayer, and in 6:16-18, He speaks of fasting. His treatment of all 3 topics is the same, if you have the outward form only, if the outward form focuses attention on you, and if you have no inner reality, the public acclaim that you receive--real or imagined--is all the benefit you will derive. There is little wonder about this, the approval of men is a strong motivation. It is relatively immediate and more tangible. It is a trap well hidden and able to catch us. 

Of course, a visible spiritual life is not of itself bad. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, "I am not writing these things to shame you, but to correct you as my dear children. For though you may have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I encourage you, then, be imitators of me." (1 Corinthians 4:14-16) Paul said, "Be imitators of me. What you see me do, do yourselves." Godly men and women are often the first models of godly living that a new believer has, and I believe we need more. I certainly benefited, over 30 years ago now, from men decades old in their faith. Now I hope to be the same. The difference for Paul to the Corinthians is that he did not derive his self-image from the attention. He was a bond-servant of Jesus Christ and spent himself for the church and her people. Men and women like that are worth emulating.

Not so those who give to be recognized for their giving. Not so those who entertain with great prayers. Not so those who fast in agony for the admiration of others. They have erected outward forms only. They have confused the approval of others for approval of the Father.

Over the next few days, I will be looking into what Jesus said about prayer as He discusses its outward forms and instructs with inner.

Wednesday: Putting Prayer in its Place

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, August 25, 2003

No post today

My flight got in way late last night. I had no time to write. See you tomorrow.