MONDAY, 10/10
Read Matthew 6:5.
We begin a new week in the Sermon on the Mount with a continuation of the theme we began exploring last week: the internal motivations behind our religious practices.
Jesus uses the Pharisees as an example. The Pharisees were well respected in Jesus’ day. Many of their religious practices were done in the public eye. The original intent was to be an example to the people, which could indeed be beneficial. As you might imagine, the people would look at the Pharisees with great respect. The people assumed because of all they did that if anyone was righteous before God, it was the Pharisees. As a result, they were given honors and privileges by the people.
As you might imagine, over time many of the Pharisees began to veer from their original motivation to encourage the people. The human heart has a great need for approval and the lure of power is powerful. Jesus criticized them because they soon fell in love with the power, respect and honor they were given by the people. They built comfortable lives based on their “righteous” practices. Jesus sought to expose them. Sure, they were doing “righteous” things, but their hearts and motivations were far from being right before God’s eyes. That’s why Jesus said to the people that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. The people were no doubt shocked by Jesus’ words because they thought there was no way they could do as many righteous things as the Pharisees did. Jesus was actually talking about their hearts. What we do must be done with a pure heart and pure motivations if it is going to be honored by God.
If our religious practices are done solely to gain favor with others, we will likely gain the reward we are seeking. People will respect us for what we do. They will see us in a favorable light and perhaps even put us on a pedestal. However, we know how the praise of others can be fickle. In the Christian celebrity pastor world of the American church today, we watch how these pastors go from almost being canonized to canceled in a tweet. The approval of people isn’t much of a reward. In light of eternity, it’s shallow and empty.
As we continue this theme of Jesus’ in the Sermon on the Mount, consider again the motivations for your practices. The good religious practices of devotion you do, are they done to grow in your relationship with Christ or for another purpose? Be honest with yourself. Like the Pharisees, our motivations can change without us even being aware of it. It’s worth us examining our hearts as Jesus challenges us to do here.
Praying Together:
“Lord, You know my heart. I pray You make my motivations and intentions known. While it is easy to judge the Pharisees, it is much easier to become one than we would like to admit. At times, I have become a Pharisee seeking respect and privilege above Your approval. Purify my heart and my practices. I want to know You and bless You more than I want the praise of others. Amen.”
TUESDAY, 10/11
Read Matthew 6:6.
The religious practices Jesus names in Matthew 6 are giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. This is by no means an exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines. We could certainly add to the list of faithful religious practices. The aim of these practices is to grow us in connection to Jesus. They help form and nurture a deeper relationship with Him as we practice them. The Pharisees came to use these to gain the approval of their community rather than seeking the approval of God.
Jesus said they received their reward of respect in their community. They got what they wanted but not what mattered in God’s blessing. They chose the lesser thing and got it. Jesus encourages us to seek the greater thing, which is being blessed by God.
I want to be careful with my words in talking about seeking God’s blessing because we also can adopt a lesser motivation here. God’s blessing is not the ultimate reason we practice spiritual disciplines. This is the primary idea in the prosperity gospel mindset. They say God will bless you with more money if you give us some money first. Well, what is your motivation for giving then? It’s to get more from God. We can see that isn’t exactly a pure motivation. When we give to get, we’re engaging in a relationship of convenience with God. We expect an exchange of goods. God wants us to experience much more than that.
The truth is God does want to bless us. He loves to shower blessings upon His people. He wants us to experience His blessing when we practice our devotion to Him, but that blessing shouldn’t be our primary motivation. CS Lewis said when we make blessing our objective, we’ll miss it. If we seek blessing alone, we will miss out on the true lasting blessing which is God Himself. When we seek the Lord, the blessing will follow. The blessing is the byproduct of seeking the right thing, or One.
With that being said, I want to encourage you to take Jesus’ words here to heart. If you don’t already have one, find a place for intimate prayer. It might be a closet or a bedroom or your back porch. Find a place and a time where you can tuck away and remove yourself from distractions. In order to do that you will likely have to be mindful of the time in addition to the space. I know if my children are awake, there is no hidden space. They will find me. Seek out a space and time when you can make God your focus. Pursue Him in prayer and He will meet you there. When you come to enjoy His presence and fellowship, you will discover the blessing He has in mind for us here.
Sending Prayer:
“Father, I long to know You. I want to experience Your blessing, but my greatest desire is You. It is to know You and be known by You. I want to know Your heart and to experience Your fullness. Please meet me when I draw unto You. For You and Your presence are the greatest blessing I can experience. Amen.”
Read Matthew 6:7-8.
I know many people who can get behind these verses. Short prayers you say, got it!
Jesus is not laying down a command to always keep our prayers brief. It’s not as if God is too busy or gets bored with us. Sure, Jesus prayed short prayers at times, but not every prayer was quick. Jesus spent all night praying at times. The entire chapter of John 17 is Jesus’ praying. Sometimes we need to spend extra time praying. Sometimes it takes us awhile to get into the spirit of praying or to flush out what is going on in our hearts. If you want a vibrant prayer life, devoting time to prayer is essential.
So, what is Jesus saying here then? Jesus has a specific point here. There was a practice in ancient world that believed the volume of words was important to bless the gods. You had to invest an amount of words to earn the ear of the gods. Jesus said your Father in heaven is not like that. You don’t have to pray for an extended period of time before He listens to you. He is Your Father who loves you. We can have the utmost confidence that if we turn to Him in prayer, He is there with us.
The crux of Jesus’ teaching on prayer here is that we are known by God. Both God’s intimate knowledge of our heart and His love for His children means that we can trust that He doesn’t need our many words to hear us or respond to us. He knows us. He knows our hearts. He loves us. Therefore, He will respond to our need.
The most powerful prayer I ever prayed in my life came in a dark time in my life. I was 15 and facing a brain tumor. One sleepless night I hit rock bottom. All I could muster to pray was: “God, I need You.” My Father heard me and His presence flooded my fear-filled heart.
Whether our words are many or few, the Lord is always eager to meet with us. So, turn to Him today. Pray until you know you have prayed, whether it takes a lot or a little is beside the point. Enjoy your time with Your Father who knows you, hears you and loves you.
Sending Prayer:
“Jesus, thank You for Your teachings that open wide the Kingdom to me. I trust that You hear me when I pray. You know me far better than I know myself. As one who is known by You, I come to You as I am. I am thankful that You promise to meet me in my praying and promise to be present in it. I love You. Amen.”
Read Matthew 6:9-10.
Listen to these words, “This then is how you should pray,” Jesus said. Do you know what that means? It means that Jesus is discipling you. He is teaching you and me how to pray, just like He taught His disciples.
Jesus is giving us a model prayer here. We would do well to pay attention to the form, meaning the structure of the prayer, and the content, what Jesus prays about. In today’s passage, we are looking at the opening of the prayer and how it should inform our praying.
Jesus begins by addressing God as “Father.” Now you might say that is normal for Jesus because God is His Father, and you would be right, but remember Jesus is teaching us how to pray. Jesus says we should pray from the privileged position of a child to a loving parent. God is more than some impersonal deity who lives in some inaccessible realm. He is a Father to us. He has come to us in human flesh through Christ to make Himself accessible to us and also that we could know Him. Jesus is teaching us that prayer should imitate the way a child converses with a loving parent.
Jesus goes on to say, “Hallowed be Your name.” Hallowed is not a regular part of our vocabulary today. So, what does Jesus mean by this? Jesus is saying, “Holy is Your name.” It’s a way of acknowledging God’s character and nature, which is holy. God is unlike us in His character. He is perfect and good. When we pray to Him, we look upon Him with reverence and awe. When we hold this together with the address to God as Father, we see that the spirit of prayer is seeing God as greater than us and being for us.
Jesus continues saying, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In His model prayer, Jesus calls on us to pray for God’s Kingdom and will. Our desire is to see His Kingdom come and will done here just like it is in heaven. This is a powerful statement given that heaven is where God rules. His will is executed perfectly in the heavenly realm. This prayer is saying, “God we want to do Your will here on earth just like those in heaven do Your will.” This speaks to our desire to be obedient to God. We are His servants. We are willing to do whatever we can to promote His Kingdom here.
I wonder which part of Jesus’ introduction of His prayer stands out to you? Is it praying to God as Father? Is it considering God’s holiness and nature? Is it praying for His Kingdom and will to be done? Consider what you can begin practicing in your own prayer life.
Sending Prayer:
“God, I take this teaching to heart. I come to You as a child does their loving parent. While I do not deserve to approach You as Your beloved child, I am just that to You. You have done everything in Christ to see that I can indeed come to You and cry Abba Father. You are holy. You are good in the very core of Your being. You are love and I am in awe of You. I want to see that Your good will is done. While I cannot make Your Kingdom come or make others in this world do Your will, I will see to it that I do Your will. I will let the Kingdom break out in my life through the ways I love and bring You glory. Amen.”
FRIDAY, 10/14
Read Matthew 6:11
I spent most of my life as proactive planner. For me, it was about making sure I served my marketing clients well. It was about ensuring that all of their needs were met. I still keep an extensive calendar, color coded and outlined well. For those of us who plan, we live our lives by our own set of rules. It works for us planners because we can think ahead, and…if I am openly honest, it’s a way to control my schedule and the schedule of others. Life is so much easier when we can have that much control over things in our lives.
When considering what it means to “give us this day, our daily bread”, let me take you back to a simpler time. You are Moses, faced with leading so many people through the harsh and barren wilderness. Think about their complaints and how their hunger and thirst doubled in intensity when they learned they had to trust an unseen God to feed them. There was no planning or controlling the amount they ate. I can only imagine what it felt like to walk through the wilderness and not being able to trust God to feed them as much as they need. The anxiety of not having enough can lead to the fear of life lost. At least when they were slaves in Egypt, they had a job to do and food to eat. It was provided for them. Without the ritual, the habit, the expectation, the schedule, they could not be convinced they would be fed.
Exodus 16:16-21 tells us the Lord blessed them with with manna and instructed them to gather it every morning except the Sabbath. They were only allowed to take what they needed, no more or less. Any manna the Israelites tried to hoard would turn sour and stink. They had to learn to trust God and learn that their will, their plan, their schedule was not considered in this. We have to allow room for God to provide what we need, even today.
The daily manna was a test of obedience and trust in God. It tests our ability to be patient and responsive when it comes to following God’s will. Daily manna means that He provides what we need from day to day. Can you trust God and set aside your plans for His? Are you ready to be totally dependent on God for your day-to-day needs? No more planning three weeks ahead. Daily manna means to slow our lives down to pay attention to Gods presence in our world a day at a time.
Praying together:
“Lord Almighty, Full of Grace, show me how to slow down my life to appreciate Your Presence in it. Teach me how to step back from needing control over every detail of my life. There is so much about You I do not understand and yet You have been a consistent source of strength and hope for me. I pray each day we can step back from our busyness, if only for a little while, so that we can see You at work in our lives. Amen.”
Read Matthew 6:12-13
What does it take to keep a religious community together? In these verses, there is a way for us to live in a community that is as close to the Kingdom of God as possible. This means that the very foundation of this community is based on love, including love for God and love for each other. Given our sinful nature, we are drawn towards sin. We are going to make mistakes. Some behavior is easier to forgive than others, but there is an expectation that each member of the religious community will do whatever is necessary to keep the peace and build strength for the community overall.
To pray the Lord’s Prayer over the community requires a focus on three petitions, including daily bread (solely depend on God), forgiveness and deliverance. Besides depending on God, it is important to have a process in place where sins can be forgiven. Christ has left us with several examples of forgiveness, including the soldiers and others that hung him on the cross (Luke 23:24), Peter (Mark 16:7), the adulteress (7:53-8:11) and the sinful woman that anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). When we learn to acknowledge our sins, repent of our sins and forgive each other, we can set those living around us free from sin against us (and they can do the same). If we can be forgiven and we can forgive others, we will strengthen the bonds between community members. God forgives only the penitent and one of the chief evidences of a true Penitence is it forgiving spirit!
The last petition of deliverance is puzzling. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. So, behind these words that Jesus gave us to pray are the implications that the devil is too strong for us, that we are too weak to stand up to him, but that our heavenly father will deliver us if we call upon him. One theologian paraphrased it this way: “Do not allow us to be led into a temptation that overwhelms us, but rescue us from the evil one.”
All three petitions that Jesus places on our lips for material (daily bread), spiritual (forgiveness) and moral (deliverance from evil) needs seem to cover all our human needs. What we are doing whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer is to express our dependence on God in every area of our lives. Christian prayer is God centered in contrast to self-centeredness of the Pharisees. This prayer is intelligent as it expresses thoughtful dependence versus mechanical incantations of the heathen. When we come to God in prayer, we do not come hypocritically but thoughtfully, humbly and trustfully like little children to their father.
By asking God for help in every area of need, we are, in a sense, submitting to his ability to take care of us in all ways possible. There is no limit to Gods love as long as we seek Him and live as close to without sin as possible. How does this understanding of the petitions change the way you see the Lords Prayer? Which petition do you resonate with most?
Praying together:
“O Lord Almighty, connect with me with in new ways. Show me my weaknesses so that we may work on them with you in prayer. To pray effectively about being human, I need to take the time to consider what I need most as a Christian. Be patient with me Lord, as I consider my weaknesses in all three places of petition: physical, spiritual and moral. Join me to pray for my growing edges. Help me to encourage prayer for others who struggle to meet their own needs. In Jesus name, Amen.”
SUNDAY, 10/16
Read Matthew 6,14-15
In our personal lives, our ability to forgive plays a huge part in defining our faith and our ability to maintain our personal relationships over time. Over and over again, God is present for every sin committed, every moment of our penitence and every pursuit of asking others for forgiveness for these sins. God sees what is in our hearts and witnesses how each of us deals with those who have hurt us.
And even though God wants the best for each of us, including a loving heart that is changed for the better, God also knows the importance of each heart to the success of greater faith community. It requires us to aspire to the common good of the faith community. This means that if one is hurt by another, there must be an acknowledgement of the hurt, an earnest repentance and the asking for forgiveness out of the one who hurt another and a willingness to forgive by the one who was hurt.
God expects us to love and forgive each other because it is the best way to strengthen the bonds of those participating in a faith community. When we have been forgiven, we are most likely to forgive others. It is in forgiving of others that God will also forgive you. Forgiving others is one of the most important indicators of a changed heart. What are you willing to do to forgive others when they hurt you?
Praying together:
“Holy God, thank you for sending me the best example of love and forgiveness at work in this world through Your Son, Jesus. There is so much that I have to learn about how to live up to your expectations of me, Lord. Help me take baby steps as I learn how to be a willing participant when asking or receiving an apology. Show me how to change my heart, to soften it in Your Presence. Teach me to be vulnerable and ready to serve in what ever way I am called to do so. Amen.”