Background Scripture: Matthew 6:9-15
Quotes of the Week:
"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."
This next lesson involves transformation in prayer. We are probably all acquainted with prayer, at least in some context. If you've grown up in church, you have heard a multitude of prayers in many different situations. There are prayers during worship services, prayers during Bible Study, prayers before church meals and prayer services. Some churches will say the same prayers, week after week and service after service. While you may not have memorized prayers on purpose, many people can find themselves reciting these prayers because they have heard them so often. Even if you didn't grow up in church, you've likely heard prayers that were spoken at different events.
It has been unnerving to see how people have sought to remove prayer from all sorts of places. It never was the case when I was in school, but I do recall people being very upset that prayer was removed from schools. I had to look it up, but in 1962, the United States Supreme Court decided that prayer in schools violated the First Amendment because it represented the establishment of religion. In 2000, the US Supreme Court prohibited student led prayers over public address systems at school events. Over the years, we have seen how prayer has been removed from many graduation ceremonies and other school functions, and even coaches not being allowed to pray with their teams before a game. Whether it has been directly influenced by the removal of prayer in schools or not, we would have to agree that there has been a dramatic increase in the instances of violence that have been seen among school age children and young adults. We could have a large discussion about how the removal of God from many places has led to many of the woes of society today, but that won't be this lesson.
In this lesson, I believe that we should all take a personal look at our own prayer lives, and ask ourselves if the term transformation makes sense in relation to our prayers. If you are a believer, I'm sure that prayer is at least somewhat a part of your life, even if it just happened to be ones you heard at church. Take a few minutes and do a personal inventory of your own prayer life over the last week and month. How many prayers have you heard? How many prayers have you spoken? How many prayers were with others? How many prayers did you say on your own? Have you prayed before meals? Have you prayed before you retired or when you got up? Have you found time to pray throughout your day? Have you made time to pray throughout the day? This is one of the key indicators of our spiritual walk and if you've found that you aren't spending time in prayer, perhaps God desires to use this lesson as a reminder of the importance of prayer in your own life.
I do know that there are many people who spend a lot of regular time in prayer. My mom, for one, is someone who is regularly lifting other people in her prayers. She has lists of when people are traveling, when they are having surgeries and other matters that people are facing. I also know that when she says she will pray for something, she will follow through. There are others who would claim that their spiritual gift is prayer. They say that they have seen God answer many of their prayers, and they look for ways to pray for others. In my own life, it would seem that I have gone through cycles where prayer was much more prevalent and other times where I didn't pray as much.
There are times when many people will turn to prayer, due to an immediate need that has hit them personally or of a close friend or family member. In some cases, churches can experience a revival of sorts as the people of God truly turn to God. There are other times when some people seem to bargain with God, saying if you do this for me, then I will do this for you. (When we stop and think about that, it is amazing that we aren't struck down by lightning as soon as we think we are on a par to bargain with God). It is rather seldom when people actually remember their promises or fulfill their part, assuming that what they prayed for happened. There are others who throw prayers out, only as a last resort, or use the word prayer to talk about something that has little if any chance of happening.
In our lives, we know that some things are basic to our survival. We all deal with hunger and thirst. We all desire to be able to communicate. I suppose that some people can go without talking for a long time, but it changes some of the basic things about their lives. In the life of a Christian, there are also some basics. Some of these include prayer, Bible Study, worship, giving and sharing with others. If one of the basics of your Christian life is problematic, you will see problems in other areas eventually. Some have a hard time praying in front of others. It may be because they don't like to talk in front of others, or they are ignorant of how to pray, or perhaps they believe prayer to be a private affair. However, what I hope that we will all acknowledge is that prayer is a key aspect of our walk with God.
In this passage, Jesus was giving them a model of how they should pray. This is commonly referred to as the Lord's Prayer, although there are other prayers that Jesus prayed as well. To begin with, Jesus directs them to the object of their prayer, Our Father in heaven. We have no need to pray to any other person, an intermediary or to go through some hierarchical system. Through our relationship with Jesus, we have the ability to take our concerns to the Father.
As Jesus continued, He said, "Hallowed be Thy name". Hallowed is not a word that we use often today, but it is a word that denotes immense respect. How careless are we when we forget that we are taking our petitions before the most awesome and wondrous God? The Jews took this to an extreme. They would not even speak the name of God. I read that when the name of God was written, they would throw away the ink. They held the name of God in very high regard.
I often am drawn back to the story of Moses and the burning bush, which can be found in Exodus 3. Moses saw the bush on fire in the wilderness, which was not that odd of a sight. However, Moses noticed that the fire was not consuming the bush. As he neared the bush, God called out to Moses. God told Moses to not come closer without removing the sandals from his feet, because he was standing on holy ground. I have heard different pastors talk about the meaning of taking off his sandals. There could be many derived meanings. Some included that nothing man made was to be between Moses and God, or the bottom of the sandals had stains of the past. When we go before God, we must seek Him in purity. When you take off your shoes (or at least when I take off mine), many tend to walk much more carefully. There can be many more things brought out, but the key thing is to remember the holiness of God as we approach Him.
I believe it is valid for us to take our concerns to God. Prayer is our key avenue of communication and if you are not comfortable in praying for the things that keep you up at night, then something is missing. But, how often do we ask for God's will to be done in any given situation? I believe that most of us have grown closer to God through our trials and problematic areas of life. It is somewhat odd that when someone enters that part of their life, we try and pray them out of it as quick as possible. On one hand, we know that is often where God works, but on the other hand, we don't necessarily want those we love to have to deal with what that entails. Pray for the specific situations that you know of, but remember to seek God's will in each of those.
Sometimes, I think I would just want to know what God's will is going to be. Isn't that the same with you? It would make going through things much easier if we knew what was going to come in a week, a month, a year or longer. However, God doesn't give us His will in that manner, and we should be thankful. I believe that God gives us what we need when we need it. If you were somehow able to see what was coming in your life, whether it be loss, pain or some other adverse situation, it would likely cause you to feel worse about things right now. Seek God's will, but seek it for this point in time. Allow God to speak to you.
We all would like to have shelves full of everything we need as long as we think we need it, but when we 'think' we have what we need, we begin to realize that we are less and less dependent upon God, and are more reliant upon ourselves (or our assets). It certainly is wise to plan for the future, but we must all realize that we have no guarantee for the future, and that God will give us what we need, as we need it.
When and how does God forgive us? We are forgiven for our sin when we truly accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and have a sincere heart. There is an act of confession that we are a sinner, and that on our own, we are not worthy of forgiveness or of the Father's love. When God forgives us, He forgives us completely. We can read that our sins are as far as the east from the west from us, when we are forgiven. In other places, we read that our sins are at the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately, in instances of people forgiving people, the east and west eventually meet, so they are never really gone. Or, as I've said at one other point, many of us may feel as if we are friends with Spongebob Square Pants, who seem to live where they can gain easy access to those past sins and continually bring them up.
There are pretty clear implications that how we forgive is related to how we are forgiven. I believe that should give many of us pause. We can all think of people that we have had a hard time forgiving, and probably others that seem to have had a hard time forgiving us. We'll talk about that more in second, but there are many reasons why we should be willing to forgive. And, many of those reasons are ones that we unfortunately learn about in our lives. The inability to forgive becomes a poison and eventually backfires on the one who will simply not forgive. What began as a wrong that is held onto leads to bitterness and then to resentment and then to anger. Not having the ability to forgive will eventually twist your view of life altogether.
We know we should forgive, but maybe we need to think about what that means, or maybe what that doesn't mean. The key ideas of forgiveness are to cover, to take away or to pardon. As one child in Sunday school answered "What is the first thing we must do to be forgiven of our sin?" with "sin", we see forgiveness deals with some sort of failure. To forgive lifts the penalty and pardons the offender. It is never a feeling, but it is a decision. Forgiveness does not always mean that a relationship is restored, but there is a conscious decision to let go of what has happened. Forgiveness can be granted on behalf of the one who has been wronged, but a relationship can only be repaired when the wrong has been acknowledged by the offender. Many of us as believers know of our forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but it always requires us to confess our sins. If we refuse to acknowledge that we have sinned, we will not find God's forgiveness.
A book that Berkley and I recently purchased is entitled "When Sorry isn't Enough", by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. In a section entitle "Can you forgive without an apology", they write. Genuine forgiveness and reconciliation are two-person transactions that are enabled by apologies. Some, particularly within the Christian worldview, have taught forgiveness without an apology. … The Christian is instructed to forgive others in the same manner that God forgives us. How does God forgive us? The scriptures say that if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins. … Forgiveness without an apology is often encouraged for the benefit of the forgiver rather than the benefit of the offender. Such forgiveness does not lead to reconciliation. When there is no apology, the Christian is encouraged to release the person to God for justice and to release one's anger to God through forbearance. Dietrick Bonhoeffer, the great theologian who was martyred by the Nazis in a concentration camp in 1945, argued against the "preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance". He referred to such forgiveness as "cheap grace,., which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner."
There are other times where we put ourselves in situations where we are tempted. I've found over the years that everybody has their own trouble spots and if you can't identify what your trouble spot is, you will often place yourself in the path of temptation. When you don't recognize the enemy, the enemy is more likely to defeat you. Jesus prayed that we would not be led, by others or by our own selves, into temptation. When we encounter temptation, we need God's deliverance. There are some things that we may be able to will past, but in the end, we need God's hand in all that we do.
Jesus gave us an example or a pattern of how we should pray. There should be some measure of worship and adoration of God, and the desire to line up with His plan for our lives. We are reminded to pray for our daily needs, and to remember the need we have to confess our sins to God, and forgive others as we have been forgiven.
How many of your prayers are even close to this? I know that we may mean well at times, but our prayers tend to be a laundry list of what we want to happen. How many times has your prayer been something like "Change that other person", rather than the prayer of "O God, change me and my heart"? How often do we try and impress our own will upon God, as opposed to asking for His will to be done, and for us to conform to it? Does anything need to change in your prayers?
As you consider this lesson, ask yourself if God is speaking to you in regards to your prayer life. Try to find time to seek God in your prayers this week and remember the aspects of this model prayer. While rote memorization and recitation of the Lord's Prayer is not what we are called to do, memorizing and praying through it, adding your own prayers may be a great way to combine the two. As we consider all that God has done for us, let us not settle with giving him less than our best.