In Jesus’ Words: What is Prayer? (Matthew 6:9-15)

prayerPrayer is the most powerful thing we have.

It is the only thing, where we have a direct, immediate and continuous voice to God in Heaven.  It’s a two-way communication. Prayer is also a special privilege to Believers in Jesus Christ.  Jesus intercedes on our behalf to God.  I can only imagine the conversations that must be going on constantly – more airwaves than the internet!  But prayer is also a very serious thing.  It is not something we should take frivolously.  It is not a vehicle for wishes or a pleasant greetings.  When you offer to pray for someone, do it!  Write it down in your prayer journal, set aside some time in your day, and devote it to prayer.  Not everyone may be open to talking about God, but almost everyone, including strangers, will be open to sharing a prayer request with you, or will let you pray for them.  We all have that same longing.

Prayer is often very misunderstood.

When prayers don’t seem to be answered, some give up on faith, or use that as an excuse not to believe.  But real prayer is less about our wants and desires, and more about aligning our hearts and will to God, and getting to know God better.  When I look at prayer requests from my church, work associates, friends and family, I never see requests for a bigger house, fancy things, or a new sports car.  But if you watch most tv commercials, you would think these things are our biggest desires.  No, our true prayers and needs are deep, personal longings – a healing for sickness or cancer, for our children to return, for a widow’s comfort, for a husband to find a job…  By prayer, I’ve seen drug addicts turn their lives around, alcoholics begin a new life, prodigal sons and daughters find their way home, and most importantly, a person calling on the name of the Lord to be saved (known as the Believer’s prayer).  No one else can do that for you.

Prayer is less about our circumstances and more about our hearts.

It can start with one simple thought: God, I need your help.  It is the honest, humble, real crying out prayer to God, not just once but daily, that will begin to change a person.  And when our hearts are changed, our circumstances will begin to change.  When we relinquish everything to God, we allow Him to intervene in our lives.  Don’t miss out on God’s intervention in your life!

 ~ Matthew 6:9-15  The Lord’s Prayer ~

Jesus demonstrated and talked a lot about prayer.  It was very important to him.  As I continue on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, the next passage is Jesus showing us how to pray.  Rather than just reciting or memorizing this prayer, I wanted to look closely at what Jesus is saying.  My additional thoughts are in parenthesis.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

    Our Father in heaven,     (acknowledge who God is)
  hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,       (acknowledge the kingdom of God)
      your will be done,          (align with God’s will)
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. (give us what we need, daily dependence on God)
 And forgive us our debts,        (acknowledge we are sinners and need a Savior)
as we also have forgiven our debtors.  (forgive others in same way as Christ)
And lead us not into temptation,      (Satan is powerless when we pray)
 but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (evidence of a true, changed heart)

In Jesus’ Words: How to give and pray in secret (Matthew 6:1-8)

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It’s been an incredibly hard week.  I’m sure we’ve all had a week or two like this… It starts out normal, with the usual routines and the usual hello’s, and the promise of making plans – a party to attend, a get-together for dinner, that work project… and then wham!  Something unexpected happens.  Plans stop, you begin to remember the last conversation you had with someone, and suddenly life takes on a whole new meaning.

This week, my Bible study teacher passed away at a too-young age.  Sunday morning, I sat in my regular chair listening to him talk about Jesus with a smile on his face.  He talked about how life is a vapor and we should be spending our time and talents on the things that matter in heaven, not on the empty things which do not last, for none of us know how much time we have left on this earth…  On my way out, he asked how my family was doing, always thinking of others.  Less than 24 hours later, he was in heaven.

Though it was a complete shock with no satisfactory answer for his quick passing, I too would want my last 24 hours to be spent talking about Jesus with a smile on my face.  Jesus never promised us a long life, but he warned us many times about making our days count.  I would rather have 40 years of living for God than 80 years living without.

So as I come to the next passage on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, it seems to be a very appropriate one on how we should live our lives:  Give to the poor. Give in secret, so your motives are like Jesus. Pray. Pray all the time, in secret, just between you and Jesus.  We may not always get everything we ask, but we will never walk alone and will be closer to Jesus for having done so.

~ Matthew 6:1-8  How to give. How to pray. ~

“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. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t 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.”

“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. 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.”

My grandfather was an old country preacher.  There aren’t many like him any more.
It’s been told that when he was on his deathbed in his old age, surrounded by family, he took his last breath and then opened his eyes from an unconscious state, looked up toward the hospital ceiling and smiled.  I believe he saw Jesus at that moment, coming down from heaven to greet him and take him home.  I cannot think of any better way to leave this life than to know you will be greeted by Jesus and that he knows you personally.  Jesus will say to God, I know him. He’s with me and he’s been forgiven.”

This is the statement of faith we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Romans 10:9,13

In Jesus’ Words: Go the second mile (Matthew 5:33-48)

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What are you doing out of the ordinary? 

This is what Jesus asked the crowds during his Sermon on the Mount.  It is my favorite part of Jesus’ sermon so far, as I continue on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament.  It’s relatable, even for today.

Go the extra mile.

We’ve all heard this phrase before, but did you know it actually originated with Jesus?  If we apply the principles Jesus mentions in this one passage, I believe it would take care of most of our problems.

~ Matthew 5:33-48  Tell the truth. Go the second mile. Love your enemies. ~

“Again, you have heard it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. But I tell you, don’t take an oat at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Neither should you swear by your head,  because you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.”

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

“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 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. 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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This part of the sermon is one of the strongest arguments for Jesus. No person could have written something like this. It is not in our nature to think like this by ourselves. There would have been no earthly reason or gain to have said these things. Jesus could have easily come as a military hero or king on earth, but he did not.  If Jesus is who he said he was, then His words matter.

Jesus does not give us a list of do’s and don’ts.  He is more interested in how we treat others, especially those who do not deserve our kindness.  He shows us a picture of what His grace looks like, which is to love regardless.  This is how God’s love is; it is not our secular or popular view of love.

It means loving people through their make mistakes. Forgiving them. Being there so you can catch them when they fall.  “An apology may be in the making”, is what I once heard someone say.  It is for all those times when someone may want to apologize but they just can’t do it for whatever reason. You make the first move and give them that chance to apologize, to make things better. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but you will not have any regrets living by this principle that Jesus teaches. You never know who is watching and learning. God notices, and He will reward you for it in heaven.

“To the love-starved, a word of affection can be a feast.” – Max Lucado

People need your love more than you can imagine.

Love based on who God is, not who you are.

76% of Americans say they have no one to turn to.

Don’t stand in someone’s way of seeing Jesus.

“You are changing the world when you are changing one person’s world.”
– Ann Voscamp, A Thousand Gifts

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In Jesus’ Words: Adultery and Divorce (Matthew 5:27-32)

Jesus-sermon-on-the-mountI wonder how many people got up and walked away from the crowd when Jesus started talking about adultery and divorce during his Sermon on the Mount.  It’s fine to talk about Blessings and Salt and Light, but now Jesus comes to this part of his sermon.  Some people may have even mumbled, “Who does this guy think he is to tell me how to run my life!”  Oh wait….

If Jesus is who he said he was – the Son of God and the one who would die for our sins to keep us from going to hell – then what he says truly matters.  This is the direct voice of God.  We have all wished for God to speak to us at times, and Jesus does just that.

The subject of adultery, sexual sins, and divorce can bring up a lot of pain and hurt with many people.  Yet Jesus did not avoid the subject or the truth.  He was warning the crowds about those things that can keep us away from seeking God and repentance, and therefore might lead to eternal separation in hell.  Nothing on this earth is worth that gamble.  Jesus also knew that even 2000 years later, this subject would be more important than ever, as we have seen the breakdown of the family and marriage, pornography addiction, and sexual abuse crimes increase in astonishing numbers like we have never seen before.  Here is what Jesus said on the subject:

~ Matthew 5:27-32 – Adultery in the Heart and Divorce ~

“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery.  But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!”

“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.  But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Marriage, like life, is never free from problems nor should we expect it to be.  I have been married 24 years and have lived in our home 22 years.  I’ve been told by others that I do not like change… but I like to think of it more as a comfort and safe haven instead.  I’ve known people who move to a new house every few years so they always have the most modern things and latest kitchen.  It feels shiny and new and exciting, but the problem is everything eventually becomes old.  Though my house may show a little wear and tear after 22 years of life, I like knowing there is always one place in this world where my family and I can return to at the end of the day, and know that we are loved and accepted and always welcome.  It is a safe boundary where Jesus is present and evil is not welcome within our doors.  The inevitable of growing old will happen to us too, no matter how many shiny new things I may buy, and I take comfort in knowing I will grow old with the one person who knows me best, puts up with the good and the bad, and is not just around during the good times.

I realize we don’t all have this choice in life, but if the decision is yours to make, I sincerely hope you will choose long life over temporary things.  Yet no matter what your situation may be, know that Jesus can be your home and safe haven.  He will never leave you or harm you, never stop loving you, and He is preparing a far better home for us than we can ever imagine here on earth.

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In Jesus’ Words: The Law and the Heart (Matthew 5:17-26)

lawandheartJesus did not come to replace or change the law, but to show us its true intent.  Most of us would agree today that our world, our own country, or even some of our laws have lost their original purpose and intent.  Yet at the same time, we can also be so concerned about laws and rules and appearances that we forget the main purpose of what is most important.  Jesus speaks about a lot of these things in his famous Sermon on the Mount.  He first tells us how to be blessed and how we are to be the Salt and Light of the world, and then he begins to explain the laws to the crowds that have gathered around Him.  Here is the next passage in my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament.

~ Matthew 5:17-26 – Christ Fulfills the Law, Murder Begins in the Heart ~

“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.  So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!”

Jesus first tells us there is a ranking in heaven – the least and the greatest.  There is more than just believing who Jesus is.  Those who claim to follow Christ but don’t act like it and mislead others will be called the least.  Those who practice what they believe and teach God’s way to others will be called great.  Eternity is a long time to be the least.

With Jesus’ second passage, I must confess I am guilty of this almost every morning.  I step into my car to drive through rush-hour traffic, and I almost always end up calling some other driver a moron under my breath (funny how they had the same word back then too).  But I think Jesus means something even more here.  Before we confess our wrongs to God, we are first to reconcile with those we have mistreated, offended or hurt.  God already knows what we have done.  He doesn’t need us to tell Him.  God wants a change in our heart (true confession), which can only be brought about when we practice God’s love through loving others.  Only then can we have a real relationship with God.  And that is what God wants most.

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