admin

Jul 222016
 

Forgivenessand forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors……For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)

Today we arrive at a key point of the ‘Lord’s prayer’. I don’t think I am overstating it, but this subject is crucial if you want to be a true follower of Jesus. It’s such an important subject that straight after Jesus taught His disciples about prayer, He reiterates the point again in verses 14 and 15 to accentuate the importance of this subject.

I know I’m generally going through the ‘sermon on the mount’ verse by verse, but rather than cover the same subject in two weeks’ time, I thought I would do it all today.

Forgiveness is a key aspect of Christianity, because anyone who is a follower of Christ has asked for and received forgiveness. If anyone just follows Christ because they think they are already a good person, they have missed the point. Before we come to Christ, we are all sinners and a long way from God. In fact the bible refers to us as ‘dead’ in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13 etc). We cannot reach God through our own efforts. We come to an acknowledgment of our sinful state before a Holy God and receive the forgiveness Jesus offers that is available through His death and resurrection.

The important point of our verses today is that when we have received forgiveness we should in turn forgive others. God has given us the example to follow. It just isn’t right to receive God’s forgiveness and not extend forgiveness to others. Jesus makes this point in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In fact the consequences of not forgiving somebody are quite shocking.

God knows that forgiveness is one of the hardest things for us to do. It is not just a ‘one-off’ process either. We have to forgive some people over and over again. We do it continuously, because every now and again the same old hurt and resentments come back to us. That’s why we should repeat this prayer, if not daily, then very regularly.

This subject is so important because we are all part of God’s family. As a parent I hate it when my kids fall out and fight, God is just the same. He loves it when His children get on with each other and forgive one another. In fact the bible says that when it happens He has reserved a big blessing for us:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!….. For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1,3)

There is generally a lot of misunderstanding regarding forgiveness. Forgiveness is not necessarily restoring a relationship to its previous state before things went wrong. Sometimes when trust has been broken it can take a long time to win back. It’s not becoming a ‘door mat’ either so that someone sins against you multiple times and you are stuck just having to forgive them without them facing up to the consequences of their sins. Sin needs to be confronted and not tolerated.

I will finish with just a few more points about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is a process. People can be very hurtful and especially those closest to us. Some emotional problems can take a long time to heal. Start with the intention to forgive and then let God help you achieve it.
  • We forgive if they repent or not. Some people can hurt us and they seem to be quite happy to do so. Remember this; Forgiveness is about our attitude, not their action.
  • We don’t always have to tell them. Some people can be blissfully unaware that they have hurt us. Telling them we have forgiven them can be a bit of manipulation to make them feel guilty. It can also be a form of pride. Some people need to be confronted though, so make sure you are confronting with the right attitude.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It’s normal for memories to be triggered in the future. When we get these memories, it’s what we do with them that counts. Many times we have to forgive over and over again. It should get better the more you do though!
 July 22, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm forgiveness, Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 152016
 

DAILYBREADGive us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)

This next part of ‘The Lord’s prayer’ may come as a bit of a surprise. We have been praying about the glorious themes of God’s kingdom and His will and rather than continuing on to other ‘spiritual’ things we instead focus on a rather mundane subject of daily bread. But the placement of this ‘mundane’ subject at this point reveals a lot about the care and compassion of God.

I’m going to take this simple sentence bit by bit and reveal to you what it shows about our wonderful God.

Firstly, notice it says “give us” not “give me.” I have said it many times before, that our culture is all about ‘me, me, me.” We are encouraged to only think about ourselves; “What can I get out of it?” “Is it right for me?” God’s kingdom is much more about ‘us’ about God’s church together. God doesn’t mind us praying for our own provisions but He loves it when we look out for our brothers and sisters and consider their needs too.

The next thing to notice is we are requesting our bread for “this day.” We are not asking for bread for the week or for the month. We only need enough for this day. Looking any further could lead to worry and perhaps a lack of trust. This has echoes in the Old Testament where God gave an amazing provision of daily sustenance called “Manna.” The passage is found in Exodus 16:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. (Exodus 16:4)…….And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. (Exodus 16:19-20)

We need to trust God on a daily basis for that day’s provision. Our faith will grow ever stronger as we become reliant on Him and trust Him for each day’s supply.

I am quite convinced that Jesus wasn’t talking about just bread. I believe ‘bread’ here is a metaphor for every kind of provision in our lives. God provides for us in many different ways and in many different areas. Apart from physical food, He also provides emotionally and spiritually, shelter and clothing too, jobs, loved ones and family, even sleep (Psalm 127:2). He provides everything that is essential for the wellbeing of our lives.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

In many ways, those of us in the affluent west have many things we need already. Many in the rest of the world wonder where their next meal is coming from. We must never forget or take for granted how blessed we are living where we do. Perhaps the ‘us’ part is God asking us to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Something to think about!

When we ask God to provide for us, we are humbly acknowledging Him as the sole giver of all that we need. We are living day by day, not worrying about tomorrow. We need to come to Him every day in full expectation that He will do all that He has promised and provide for our every need.

 July 15, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 082016
 

Gods kingdom and willYour kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

We are currently going through a mini-series on ‘The lord’s prayer’ within a very long running exploration of the most famous sermon of all time, ‘The sermon on the mount.’

Last week we explored the privilege of being able to call God ‘father’ and how, when we pray, that we should desire that His name would be; honoured, revered and adored. We discovered that it is not just a prayer to be repeated over and over, but each part is like a heading we can use to expand our prayers.

Today we are going to look at two more headings: God’s kingdom and His will.

Have you got clear in your mind what God’s kingdom is? It can be a little confusing can’t it? There have been many opinions over the years about what His kingdom is. Some would say it is all in the future, when He comes again and makes everything new. Some think it is His church, or social reform, or even that it is a personal conversion experience.

The Kingdom of God is mentioned many times in scripture and so we can get a good understanding by studying these passages together.

The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ refers to God’s rule and reign. It is clear that there are two kingdoms which are in conflict; ‘Satan’s,’ or the ‘kingdom of this world’ and the kingdom of God.

Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom down to earth, to meet the opposing kingdom head on. He announced on many occasions that the kingdom of God had arrived;

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:7)

There is an aspect too that God’s kingdom is yet to come fully. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament and multiple passages in the New (not least the book of Revelation) which speak about God’s kingdom being established and Jesus sitting on the throne.

So we can say that the Kingdom of God has an aspect of ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. Until the time that Jesus fully establishes His kingdom when He comes again, He has passed the rule of His kingdom here on earth to His ambassadors; those of us who have accepted Him as Lord. We can bring His kingdom in now, through prayer and action. When we pray for healing, when we witness, when we forgive and love and help the poor and many other ways, we are bringing God’s kingdom to earth. This is the essence of this part of the prayer, we are asking for God to establish more and more of his kingdom right here in the enemies kingdom. For the light to push back the darkness.

The second part of the passage today talks about God’s will.

It’s so easy, when we pray, to focus on our own needs and wants. That is the way the world is, always focusing in on itself. When we pray to God it must be different. We need to lay aside our own agendas and pray in line with what God wants.

Jesus was the perfect example of this type of attitude

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

Even when He was in complete anguish, His determination was still true. In the garden of Gethsemane when He was sweating blood, He still had the grit to say;

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Knowing God’s will is actually very easy, it is the obeying of it which is hard. God’s will is clear throughout the bible, in the way we are to be and the way we should act. It’s actually as simple as copying Jesus. He has provided The Holy Spirit to equip us and help us accomplish God’s desires.

What you need to remember is that God has a perfect will for your life and He wants to help you to achieve it. We can often think we know best but we don’t. Only God knows the full picture and He wants to keep us on the path of contentment, of love, joy and peace. The closer we follow His will, the more we will achieve those things.

Let’s pray this week that His kingdom and will are first in our lives.

 July 8, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 012016
 

Our fatherPray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matthew 6:9)

Last week we looked at a number of reasons to pray, mainly because God has invited us to and through Jesus given us an example of how to do it. Jesus prayed a lot and I’m sure His disciples wondered what the secret was. In fact I know they wondered because they asked him outright in the parallel passage to the Lord’s prayer in Luke 1. They asked “Teach us to pray.” I don’t know about you, but prayer doesn’t come naturally to me and I find it to be the hardest discipline to do in the Christian life. That is why, when Jesus responds to our request to teach us, we had better sit up and take notice.

At the outset I want to make clear that Jesus is not just giving an example prayer to repeat. Just say these words and that will do. When it says “pray then like this” it means ‘pray in this manner’ or ‘this is the sort of thing you should pray’. It is not saying ‘repeat these exact words’. I believe Jesus is giving us a template, a group of headings if you like, to help us pray effectively.

The first heading “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name” is packed with amazing truth and the best way we should start all our prayers. Let me just unpack a few thoughts to help us.

There is no other religion past and present that would presume to call their god “Father”. It is an absolutely extraordinary statement and we have sadly lost the wonder of it through over-familiarity. It is true that the scribes and Pharisee’s would have been aware that God had revealed himself as a father in a couple of places in the Old Testament. Amongst others:-

for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. (Jeremiah 31:9)

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

But there is a big difference between having the concept of God being a father figure over a nation and coming to God individually and calling Him ‘Father’.

This concept can be quite difficult for some people. The word ‘father’ can have very negative connotations. Some earthly fathers can be distant, cruel and even violent and can cloud our understanding of what a true father should be. We need to read and meditate on the bible and see how God reveals himself as a loving, kind and forgiving father. A good example of the sort of father that God has revealed himself to be is found in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The more we meditate on that sort of father, the more we can appreciate what God is truly like. What a comforting thought to start our prayers with, we come to a God who is for us and passionate about us, who loves us and wants the absolute best for us.

It mentions that our father is in heaven, this is not referring to its physical position but focuses on the fact that He is ‘other’ and different from His creation. Heaven is the place of His majesty and glory. He is above us, lofty and transcendent. It’s the place of His rule and control. It distinguishes the one true God from pale imitations. He is in heaven, they are not.

So what does “hallowed be your name mean?”

The word ‘hallow’ means to sanctify or make holy or treat as holy. It is an intense desire that God’s name would be recognised and made known, that it would be set apart and adored, I believe this is a request or a petition and not a declaration. It comes from a heart of worship. The best thing to do when praying is to start with worship. Honouring and revering God starts us off on the right foot. We are not principally coming with a list of wants or concerns and demands. It is not a list of things that are troubling us at the moment that we rattle off. The reason we are worshipping is to give reverence and respect to the one we are approaching.

God’s name is multi-faceted. It means many things in the bible and has many aspects and characteristics. Some examples are:

· The Lord our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

· The Lord who heals (Exodus 15:25-26)

· The Lord who provides (Genesis 22:1-14)

· The Lord our shepherd (Psalm 23:1)

· And many, many more.

As you encounter these names in your bible reading, use them in your prayers back to God. If, for instance, you know someone who needs healing, pray that His name would be honoured through their healing.

What a wonderful platform to start a prayer. A declaration that the loving father, who is close and approachable, is also seated above all things in heaven and is in control. That same God has revealed many aspects of His character and can meet all of our needs as we pray to Him.

Next week we will look at what it means when it says “Your kingdom come.”

 July 1, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 242016
 

WhyPrayDo not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Just before we start an in-depth look at the Lord’s prayer, let’s consider why we need to pray in the first place. If our father in heaven knows what we need before we ask Him, why should we bother? After all it is quite clear in the bible that God does know all things;

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. (Psalm 147:4)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

(1) Because He has asked us to!

You might even say He has commanded it. Jesus gave a parable encouraging us to pray “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) It was the parable of the persistent widow.

(2) Because He wills it

It is amazing that the sovereign God, the one who created all things and controls them should want us to pray. It is a mystery, but clear in scripture that He does:

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalm 2:8)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

(3) So that we rely on Him

Another mystery that’s difficult to fathom is that God wants a relationship with us. He loves to be consulted and asked and just simply to talk with us. But oftentimes we don’t pray until the situation gets desperate. The story of Jonah is a case in point

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish,saying,“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:1-2)

Even when we’ve been completely disobedient, God still wants us to pray

(4) He wants our obedience

Sometimes, we just need to trust that God knows best. If He has asked us to pray, it is for a very good reason and we won’t always know what that reason is! Are you obedient? Here’s a sobering verse:

You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

(5) Because prayer changes things

Of course God knows our needs, but like an encouraging parent, he dignifies us and helps us experience the joy of seeing things happen through our prayers. He wants to partner with us and that we should learn and grow through this partnering relationship.

There are many other wonderful aspects of prayer we could look into and I just want to finish with a few more thoughts:

· We pray because we love. We are in a relationship with God and we want to spend time with Him.

· We want to know God more fully. Not just to get things but to know Him One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

· We pray to acknowledge our dependence on God: In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

· We pray so that God might receive glory – It’s all about His name and reputation

Finally, we are followers of Jesus and He actually prayed quite a lot!

Next week we will start to look at ‘The Lord’s prayer’ and discover Jesus’ richest teaching on prayer.

 June 24, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 172016
 

Babbling like pagansAnd when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NIV)

This week we continue on the subject of praying and Jesus again turns to how we should not pray. I’ve used the New International Version this week because I was quite interested in the phrase “Babbling like Pagans” and wondered what it meant. From the outset, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all pagans babble, just in case any happen to stumble upon this blog and get offended. It’s not exactly clear from historical evidence what Jesus was referring to and perhaps the ESV makes it a little clearer. That says “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do”. The truth is the word translated ‘babble’ here is not found at all in the rest of the bible or any other ancient manuscripts. We don’t really know how to translate it. Jesus was certainly aware that some people tried to impress God by using religious language or using certain phrases over and over again.

I imagine that Jesus may have in mind the story in the Old Testament where Elijah takes on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings. It has always been one of my favourite bible stories. Elijah has basically challenged the prophets to a dual to see which God will answer their prayers and send fire from heaven. The prophets of Baal have already been praying all morning;

And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:27-29)

They said a lot and they did a lot, but firstly they were praying to the wrong God and secondly they were trying the wrong way to impress him.

The One true God has already been impressed with Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice and so when we come to God humbly, in Jesus’ name we stand a lot more chance of being heard.

We can certainly be guilty of vain repetitions. I have heard the Lord’s prayer quoted Verbatim almost as a mantra on many occasions and I rather think the point has been missed. As I intend to show you over the coming weeks, I believe the Lord’s prayer is a template with various prayer headings rather than a phrase to quote repetitively. I also believe that saying the rosary can be very similar, just quoting something over and over again to seek to obtain absolution. It’s as if we are trying to impress God by the number of times we pray ‘Hail Mary’(apart from the fact the ‘Hail Mary’ is praying to the wrong person!). These examples can certainly be ‘vain repetitions’.

I certainly don’t think Jesus is referring to the length of our prayers, because he sometimes prayed all night. Nor do I think he is saying not to repeat ourselves as Jesus himself prayed the same thing 3 times in the garden of Gethsemane (That God would take the cup from Him).

Some would say that praying in tongues would constitute babbling. I would take issue with this. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it is babbling. You would be considered extremely insensitive if you went to a foreign country and described their language as babbling just because you didn’t understand it. Speaking in tongues is described in the bible as a heavenly language (1 Corinthians 13:1) so I would be very careful dismissively calling it ‘babbling’

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

I would say that praying in tongues is the perfect antidote to repeating yourself unnecessarily!

We’ve considered quite a few ‘do nots’ so now let’s have a look at the sort of prayers that God does listen to;

Pray in faith

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Approach God with humility and sincerity

When we come to Him we acknowledge His supremacy and we yield to His will. It’s not about us making our lists of demands, we humbly recognise our position before Him

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. (Psalm 138:6)

Pray according to his will

And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

We only need to open the pages of the bible to discover what God’s will is. It’s a really good habit to pray as you read. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you do.

Praying through the Lord’s prayer is an excellent template as I said before and we will look at this over the next few weeks. I’ll leave you with more excellent advice from the bible on this subject, which puts it all quite simply:

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

 June 17, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 102016
 

Praying in secretBut when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

In this part of ‘The sermon on the mount’ we are covering Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We are spending a few weeks alternating between how not to pray and how we should pray. Last week we looked at how not to pray – by praying to impress other people. This week Jesus talks about the correct attitude of praying – in secret. I don’t for one minute think that Jesus is condemning all types of public praying. There are instances in the bible where he prayed in public himself and the early church prayed in corporate prayer meetings often. In this passage, Jesus is not addressing corporate prayer, He is addressing private prayer between an individual and God.

Before we analyse the passage, let’s consider the awesome privilege we have in the first place of entering into any communication with Almighty God. The creator of the universe, the Holy God who dwells in unapproachable light has made Himself available to us. Jesus died to make a way into the father’s presence through His supreme sacrifice. God has not given in and said “Ok you can come to me if you want to” no, He has actively pursued us. He passionately desires a relationship with us because He loves us. Isn’t that amazing?

Going back to the passage, Jesus is saying “when you pray.” It is an assumption that we will. It certainly isn’t ‘if’. As Christians we have given submitted ourselves to God. What he wants for us matters. We have made Him Lord of our lives and so He now has control over us. We couldn’t be called followers if we had no interest in where He wants to take us.

Going into a room is not literal but symbolic. Not all followers of Jesus have a private place they can go to. Going into a room and closing a door is symbolic of finding a place where you can commune with the Lord privately. Shutting the door is an act of dedication of saying to God that “only you matter” This is ‘our’ time. For that reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea having your phone with you. To spend quality time with God we need to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus himself was constantly surrounded by people but He found time to be with the father. He would get up early in the morning or retreat to a solitary place.

We obviously can’t see God, so this discipline is a tremendous act of faith. We are exercising our faith every time we go to Him alone and consequently our faith will grow.

Jesus wants us to pray in private so that our motives are pure. If our communication is in secret it is not impressing anybody else. On our own we get His undivided attention, a personal audience with Him. The reward is God hearing our prayers and answering them. It reminds us of our dependence on Him. By praying behind closed doors you are showing that God means more to you than anybody or anything else.

It seems crazy, given the immense privilege we have, but praying to God, for the Christian, is one of the hardest disciplines to engage in. It takes great practice and commitment. If you don’t do it so much, don’t be discouraged, God wants to help you. Jesus’ disciples found it hard, so don’t be surprised if you do too. Over the next few weeks we will be investigating some amazing teaching on prayer. Let these blogs inspire you to go deeper into prayer and discover the delight of spending time with our amazing God.

Let me leave you this week with a poem;

Mid all the traffic of the ways,
Turmoils without, within,
Make in my heart a quiet place,
And come and dwell therein.

A little shrine of quietness,
All sacred to Thyself,
Where Thou shalt all my soul possess,
And I may find myself.

A little shelter from life’s stress,
Where I may lay me prone,
And bare my soul in loneliness,
And know as I am known.

A little place of mystic grace,
Of self and sin swept bare,
Where I may look upon Thy face,
And talk with Thee in prayer.

by William A Dunkerley

 June 10, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jun 032016
 

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the subject of giving as one of the 3 main symbols of piety at the time of Jesus. This week, and for quite some time, we will be looking at the next symbol of piety that Jesus addresses – prayer. Jesus is going to give us the richest teaching on prayer ever taught, but first He is going to address the wrong way of praying – as showing off!

Jesus again uses the word ‘hypocrite’ to describe the people who love praying in public places. If you remember a couple of weeks ago, I said that a hypocrite was another word for an actor; someone who is putting on a show, playing a role of someone they are not. This was exactly what was going on here. These ‘prayers’ were all about the performance. It was all designed to show how pious they were.

The Synagogue and street corners were normal places to pray, because devout Jews would stop whatever they were doing at the appointed hour of the day and pray (much like Muslims do today). The appointed times were; 9am, midday and 3 in the afternoon and you can imagine these pious Jews making sure they were in a very public space at these times for maximum exposure! They were not seekers after God but seekers after popularity and honour. They just wanted to be seen and that was their reward (all of it!).

I don’t believe that Jesus was condemning all public prayer. As was very often the case, He was addressing his listener’s attitudes. He was showing them (and us) that we can very often be more worried about our reputation and what people think about us, than what God thinks. God is much more interested in our character than our reputation. One version of Philippians 2:7 is that Jesus made himself of ‘no reputation’ (New King James version). If Jesus wasn’t worried about His reputation, then neither should we.

I want to bring this closer to home and consider how this might look in our day. Very few of us have access to a synagogue or are likely to stand on street corners and pray but we can sometimes have a wrong attitude when we pray in public. I think certain attitudes can affect us when we pray in corporate prayer meetings and as I have given some thought to this, I must confess I have been guilty of some of these attitudes too. How many of us like to demonstrate how knowledgeable we are when we pray out loud in a prayer meeting, quoting verse after verse we have memorised? Or pray for an extended time for added effect? We can show off without even noticing it. Our natural inclination to be popular and well thought of takes over.

God is not interested in how long our prayers are or whether we have remembered lots of verses to quote. He is looking at your heart, your desire and your sincerity. We have such an awesome privilege when we pray, to speak to the God of the universe. Let’s not spoil it and ignore Him to impress others.

Next week we will look at how God wants us to pray most of the time – in secret!

 June 3, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
May 272016
 

Left hand not knowing what right is doingBut when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

Last week we looked at the loud and ostentatious way in which the High priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time liked to give their offerings. We looked at the fact that Jesus was saying ‘when’ you give and not ‘if’. It was the manner in which they were giving that Jesus was addressing and what the motivation of their hearts was.

Jesus has already dealt previously with the subject of money and how it can hold us in its grip. Do we control it or do we let it control us? That is the initial question, but there is still a subsequent issue to consider; when we give it away, who do we want to get the glory? Put simply like that, it should be obvious, but motivations are never that simple and can sometimes take us by surprise.

The fact is, we instinctively like to receive the credit when we have done something good or noteworthy. We want to be recognised and thanked. We naturally don’t want to be anonymous. Giving in secret is very counter-cultural; the way the world gives is usually very egotistical. Just watch the fanfare surrounded by certain televised charity events such as comic or sport relief. I understand that money needs to be collected for worthwhile causes but it always seems to me to be a little showy and extravagant.

The attitude of doing things in secret crosses over into every part of the Christian life. We don’t advertise how much we give just as much as how much we; pray, fast, serve or do good works. Our motivation and goal is to do everything for an audience of one. So that even when people misrepresent us, we know that God knows and what other people think, increasingly doesn’t matter.

I believe that what Jesus is getting at when he says that our left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing is about not even telling ourselves what we are doing. What I mean by this is we don’t even dwell in our thoughts about how good we have just been. Our self-consciousness can very quickly become our self-righteousness. This sort of attitude can only come from maturity, from a heart that only wants to do what pleases God. So when you are next tempted to tell others about what you have just done, whisper a quick prayer and say to God “Let that be our little secret!”

 May 27, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
May 202016
 

blowing own trumpetThus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2)

There were 3 main signs of piety in Israel at the time of Jesus. These were: Alms giving, prayer and fasting and Jesus deals with all three in chapter 6. He of course was not looking for piety but hearts that reflected God’s character. Of course giving, praying and fasting are good things but Jesus was addressing what the Pharisees and religious leaders had twisted them into; something that deflected the glory from God.

The first thing we can notice from this passage is that Jesus says “When you give” not ‘if’. The assumption is that we will give to the needy. The bible is very clear about God’s heart for the poor, His heart towards them is demonstrated again and again. Talking about the poor person he commands;

You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)

Jesus himself recognised the need to help the poor and admitted that all the time that mankind was remaining in sin the problem would not go away;

For the poor you always have with you (John 12:8)

The Pharisee’s were fully aware of the need to provide for the poor, but not from a godly heart to alleviate their suffering. No, it was another chance to demonstrate how pious they were.

There is no evidence that they actually blew a trumpet before putting money in the collection, that would be ridiculous, but you get the impression that they would have liked to have had a full marching band behind them, announcing their arrival, if they could have gotten away with it!

There is a theory that the collection boxes in the synagogue were shaped like a trumpet and the coins would swirl around before going in the box. You can imagine the Pharisees getting some rather large coins and throwing them in rather violently to make the maximum amount of noise.

Jesus then goes on to call them ‘hypocrites’ which is a very strong word. The word used for Hypocrite was actually an ‘actor’ playing a part. An actor is someone who pretends to be someone who they are not. Rather apt don’t you think? They were all about the show and external spectacle. Their hearts remained untouched and this was what Jesus was addressing.

Let’s finish this by bringing it closer to home. I can get very smug when I think about the Pharisees and how hypocritical they were. They were quite a caricature, but actually, sometimes, we can have a very similar attitude to theirs. It is very easy to pick out deficiencies in other people, but fail to see when we are being proud ourselves. Writing this has caused me to examine my own heart with regards my motivations. Why don’t you do the same?

 May 20, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »