Monday, March 27, 2017

Pray the Right Way

Part 2 of Talking to God

Text: Matthew 6:7-9a




“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matt. 6:9a).


Where's the Manual?

Instruction manuals are becoming obsolete.

When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray (“Lord, teach us to pray,” Luke 11:1), he didn’t give them a prayer manual; he gave them a prayer model. This model prayer is known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).


Do I Have Your Attention?

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray (vv. 5-8). They should not pray “as the Gentiles [i.e., the pagans] do” (v. 7). [1] “They think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). In other words, they think they won’t get their god’s attention unless they keep pestering him.

The pagan’s god is like a landlord. To get a landlord’s attention, you often need to keep pestering until he finally gets your leaky faucet fixed. Our God is not like a landlord; he’s our Father. [2] He won’t ignore us. We are his children, and he loves us. To pray the right way, we must pray believing that we are talking to a Father who loves us. 


Father?

What right do we have to call God our Father? We can call God our Father because he has adopted us into his family. To all who have put their faith in Jesus, “[God] gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

God didn’t simply snap his fingers and say, “You’re in my family.” He brought us into his family through the death of Jesus on the cross. The cross is the proof of God’s love for us. We know that God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him us for us all” (Rom. 8:32). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

J. I. Packer writes, “As God’s adopted children we are loved no less than is the one whom God called his ‘beloved Son.’” [3] “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).


We Know Our Father Loves Us

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Pray then like this” (v. 9). [4] In other words, pray like you are talking to a Father who loves you. We don’t have to scream for God’s attention. He is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [5]

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).


Just Show Me!

Some people find it difficult to learn something (e.g., how to play a board game) by reading instructions. In frustration, they finally blurt out, “Just show me!”

This is what Jesus did. He showed us how to pray. And he began by showing us that we are praying to a Father who loves us.

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[1] In this context, a Gentile refers to a pagan (i.e., someone who worships a false god).
[2] Many people’s fathers are/were not good, so it can be difficult to relate to God as his child. We must remember that God is a perfect Father.
[3] J. I. Packer, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, 28.
[4] R. T. France writes, “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[5] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listening Before You Speak

Part 1 of Talking to God

Topic: Bible reading and prayer




Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97). 


A One-Sided Conversation

Have you ever been in a conversation in which the other person wouldn’t stop talking? It’s not very enjoyable. You want to speak, but you never get a chance!

Prayer is talking to God. But God doesn’t want us to do all the talking. He wants to speak to us. And how does God speak to us? Through the Bible (also know as the word of God).


Struggling to Pray 

Many Christians struggle to take the time to pray. Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we underestimate the importance of prayer. We will usually make time for things that are important to us.
Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we’re very busy. D. A. Carson, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out.” [1]

We believe that food is essential, and we make time for it everyday. If we believe that prayer is essential to the Christina life, we must make time for it. Maybe we have good intentions to take time to pray, but we never end up doing much praying. We are like the disciples Peter, James, and John. Jesus said to them, ““Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

It’s probably a good idea to designate a quiet time and place. Jesus often withdrew to “desolate places” to pray (Luke 5:16).


Prayer Is Not a One-Sided Conversation

Before we speak to God, God wants to speak to us. God speaks to us when we read and meditate on his word. Meditate? J. I. Packer writes, “We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.” [2] A mind meditating on God’s word is like a sponge absorbing water.

Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. With what do we fill our minds? God’s word. Several times in Scripture we are urged to mediate upon God’s word.
  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8). 
  • “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). 
  • “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). 
  • “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Ps. 119:148). 
  • “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Ps. 143:5). 
Busyness and distractions are the enemies of meditating on God’s word. Stillness and solitude are the friends of meditating on God’s word.

The need for mediating on God’s word is illustrated in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (v. 39), but Martha “was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42).


Meditating and Praying

Here are a few basic steps for meditation upon God’s word and prayer. [3]
  • Think of the privilege of prayer. Realize God is present. Ask him to help you pray. 
  • Read a Scripture passage. Pick one or two truths you find in the passage. Choose the one that most impresses you and write it in a sentence. Now ask: How does this truth help me praise God? How does it show me a sin to confess? How does it show me something to ask for? 
  • Now turn the answers to the three questions into a prayer—adoration, petition, and suppli-cation. 
  • Pray about whatever needs are on your heart. Also spend time thanking God for the ways you see him working in your life and caring for you. 
  • Take a moment to thank and admire God for what he has showed you today. End with a note of praise. 
This plan only takes about 15 minutes. (Of course, that makes it sound easier than it actually is.) But taking time to meditate upon God word and pray will make a huge difference in our lives.

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[1] D. A Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 114.
[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God.
[3] This plan is taken from Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (254-255).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Made to Work

Part 16 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18




As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13).


Out of Order 

A machine is made to work. When a vending machine doesn’t work, what do we do? We put an “out of order” sign on it. The phrase “out of order” means “not working properly or at all.”

Some people in the Thessalonian church were “walking in idleness.” The Greek word translated “idleness” (ataktos) literally means “out of order.” [1] They were “out of order” because they were refusing to work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t work; they wouldn’t work.


The Sin of Hardly Working

During my younger years, I was often asked, “Are you working hard or hardly working?” Some of the Thessalonians were hardly working. To make matters worse, they weren’t exactly idle. They weren’t “busy at work,” but they were “busybodies” (v. 11).

This wasn’t something that Paul took lightly. He writes, “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). If they don’t obey this command, Paul tells the Thessalonians to exercise tough love: “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (v. 6). What’s the desired outcome of this tough love? Paul writes, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (v. 14). Is shame the desired outcome? No, Paul writes, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (v. 15). The “brother” is warned so that he will acknowledge his sin and turn from it.


Why Do We Work?

What’s the first thing that the Bible says about God? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is a worker! “But,” you say, “God doesn’t get tired from his work like we do.” That’s true. Isaiah 40:28 says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.”

But let’s not forget that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus shows us what God is like. When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell us about his days as a rabbi (i.e., a teacher), but what did he do before he was a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown) referred to him as “the carpenter.” The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. The word was used for “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone.” [2] Jesus didn’t refuse to do hard work. (This was before the invention of power tools!) And don’t think that Jesus didn’t get tired. [3]

God is a worker, and he made us to be workers. God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). When we work, we act like God. Work was part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19)—which sounds similar to the command Paul mentions in verse 10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”


Reasons for Working Hard

Paul mentions that he worked hard with his hands—his trade was tent making—while he was with the Thessalonians (vv. 7-9). He was worthy of receiving money from the Thessalonians for his preaching and teaching, but he decided that the gospel would be better received if he supported himself.

There are many reasons why Christians should work and do their best at their work: (1) so that we won’t be an unnecessary burden to others (vv. 8, 12), (2) so that we will have money to share with those in need (1 Thess. 4:28), and (3) so that we may win the respect of those outside the church. How we work can affect how people view the gospel. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul urged them to “to work with your hands…, so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (4:12). 

Notice that all four reasons are other-oriented rather than self-centered. The motive is love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).


Don't Grow Weary in Doing Good

Paul writes, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). This is similar to what Paul says in Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The NIV says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” We might get tired from doing good, but we’re never to get tired of doing good. Remember the good that God has done for us, especially giving his Son to die for us.

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[1] The King James Version translates ataktos as “disorderly.”
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] John 4:6 tells us that Jesus sat down because he was tired (“wearied as he was from his journey”).