pray in secret

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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 6:5-6

It’s encouraging to be told by someone that they are praying for you. Usually such people really take prayer seriously and faithfully practice it. Of course on media such thoughts can at least seem cheap. Which is why we need to follow through, and I would think, most people do.

To actually be prayed for is a blessing. And to be praying for others. If we’re concerned that others know about our prayer life, their knowing might be our only reward, as our Lord tells us in the above passage. If there’s one thing we should do above anything else, as far as an act goes, it should be praying.  But if we want others to know about our prayer life, then we don’t have the heart of prayer God wants. Part of that heart is a broken and contrite spirit, acknowledging our faults including the desire to be seen and noticed at times, so that people might look up to us.

The heart in prayer God wants is that prayer might be our life breath, but also as utterances throughout the day, and on special occasions. As well as having a heart to listen to whatever God might be saying to us. And with the desire not to be noticed, but for God’s blessing on others to God’s praise. In and through Jesus.

faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

greed or God

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Matthew 6:24

There are no two ways about it, we live in an all too often greed driven society. The rich at the top are taking in exponential profit, siphoning off hardly enough for their workers to keep up with inflation. The gap between the rich and the rest keeps growing. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we find that those making mega bucks might be willing to do so not only in not paying sufficient wages, but often also not caring about the health of their workers or consumers. Just a sad fact of life.

If we love God with all our being and doing and love our neighbor as ourselves, then such a thought would never enter our minds. We want to do the best for others, as well for the good of all as we consider our planet Earth.

Jesus makes no bones about it. It’s either one or the other. Do we really love God? That will show in how we look at and use money. Do we trust that God will take care of our needs? That is tied together as we can see from this passage (click the above link).

Yes, money is important, useful, and can be a blessing from God for us to meet our needs and bless others. But it can also be a curse if we idolize it as in loving it, hoarding it and living it up as if this world is the end and we’re our own god or independent of God. Something we’re to reject, as we embrace the One who loves us and the world that One created. In and through Jesus.

God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.

one day and one step at a time, and keep going

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

Hebrews 11:8-10; MSG

Abraham’s story is a fascinating one and not without a lot of bumps, bruises, and some bumbles along the way. The account given here from Genesis by the writer to the Hebrews looks at it in its totality in a nutshell. What kept Abraham going through thick and thin, as well as the fits and starts he had along the way was the sense of a call from God with a much bigger goal than anything the world could offer, and indeed against the grain of what would surely be expected. The abandonment of all idols to serve the true living God; Abraham built a number of altars in worship of God along the way. And a trust in God’s promise which on the bare face of things was indeed impossible, or at best like a nice dream.

We are called to the same faith as Abraham, yes, for our justification before God in being declared in the right through faith now in Christ’s finished work. And really also for all of life. Like Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. We are part of Abraham’s progeny here on the earth that all nations might be blessed through us, indeed through the Seed which would be the fulfillment and the way of bringing this to pass: Christ, Jesus, the Messiah.

For me that means one day at a time, one step at a time, and to keep going. With eyes on the big picture and on the goal: God’s will and calling for us in Christ Jesus. We have to have a sense of God’s leading in this. We need that, and then we proceed on. Yes, even when it makes little to no sense to us. We press on through the bumps and bruises and indeed bumbles along the way. God has it. We have to trust in God, in God’s promises to us. Together in this with others. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.

straight paths

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I think the note on making our paths straight from the NET Bible is helpful:

The verb יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer.

God is for us humans. That is unequivocally demonstrated in the Word becoming flesh, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Son and in that, God becoming human. And of course the life, and the death and resurrection, and all that followed and follows that.

We too often seem to equate God’s will with misery. But actually it’s just the opposite. Yes, we won’t always be happy since there is so much brokenness and tragedy in this world. But we’ll still be blessed and have God’s peace.

And God will make the way straight and yes, successful, in his will. Not success as the world would see it, though there may be some overlap since the good of God in creation touches all. God gives us what we need to live in his will as we trust and obey.

God will certainly make the way when there’s no way, what only God can do. Not just for our blessing, but that we might be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

 

the prayer that God always affirms

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5:14-15

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:23b-24

It’s amazing, the promise in God’s word that should encourage us in our prayer life in Jesus. The challenge is to seek to pray according to God’s will. We find that will in Scripture. Our expectations though have to take in the full scope of God’s revealed will to us found there, and none of us can completely understand that, even if we know Scripture well. But even if we don’t know much, we can start praying with the faith of a little child. As God’s children, God’s Spirit will help us. God’s answer will come, but in God’s own good time and way.

This is a great encouragement to me, and something I want to think of more as I pray, whatever I’m praying about. As we seek to be a blessing to others. In and through Jesus.

 

 

our humble, faithful witness

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

It is important to be faithful day after day. I did not say perfect, but faithful. None of us is perfect; we’re not going to realize that in this life. But we’re to be faithful, which includes plugging away in what we have to do every day and doing so in a way that is a witness to those around us. That will include repentance on our part along the way, and growth in grace, as we seek to love others because of God’s love for us, and our love for God in return, in Christ.

I have found this to be powerfully and wonderfully true in my own experience. God can work wonders even through us, in spite of and perhaps even through our imperfection, but honest attempt to remain faithful. We want to be pleasing to God and a blessing to others. That is our goal. And God will help us as we continue on day after day. In and through Jesus.