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When You Pray

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As Pastor Shaun begins our series from the Lord’s Prayer, he will start with some background in place to help us gain a better understanding of what Jesus was teaching His disciples. Was this simply a pattern prayer to be repeated by generations to come or was there more? We want to learn not only what Jesus said the prayer should include, but also what he was teaching about prayer itself.

In verse 1 of chapter 6 Jesus says plainly “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” He goes on to talk about those who make it a point to be noticed for their compassionate giving to others, being sure to draw attention to their philanthropy. It really goes to motivation. Did you notice the phrase “in order to?” When our purpose is to be noticed, something must change. Having mentioned the danger of wanting to be seen for our righteous activities, Jesus turns to one of the pivotal parts of the Christian life; our prayer life. He gives 2 warnings.

  1. Don’t pray to be seen (verses 5-6). Jesus describes in these verses, a person who makes sure their praying is seen in public (in the synagogue or even on the street corner). His point is not that we should not ever pray publicly, but that our desire in our prayer life should not be for others to see how spiritual we are. The point is, prayer is designed to be a private conversation between my heavenly Father and me. It is not intended to display my spiritual prowess.
  2. Don’t pray to be heard (verses 7-8). There were those (often the Pharisees) who felt themselves very advanced in prayer and would stand in the synagogue, piously repeating, with great skill, prayers designed to impress people with the spiritual prowess of the one praying. Jesus’ point is that it doesn’t impress God. He also mentions the piling up of “empty phrases.” Repetition in our prayer life can be a useful tool to help us remember various truths about God or to focus our attention on some biblical truths as we learn and grow in our prayer life. In fact, many people repeat the Lord’s Prayer on a regular basis. Jesus is not teaching against any and all forms of repetition. However, the goal is not to sound impressive, rather to speak from our heart to the heart of our heavenly Father.

When we go in our Bibles to Luke 11, we find a new setting. The first couple of verses let us know that it was in the context of a prayer time that Jesus was having with His disciples. As they finished, and as the Lord Himself finished praying, one of the disciples requested that Jesus give them some instruction on prayer. Jesus responds to His disciples and says, “when you pray…”

That little 3-word phrase, is significant. It is the title the first message in our series on prayer. I think it is as simple as this: Jesus, when He teaches on prayer, assumes that the people were already praying. This was not a new habit that needed to be developed. It was not a new discipline being introduced. It was to be understood as an ordinary practice of the Christian life.

If someone were to ask me how to communicate with their spouse, I would not begin with, “you need to start by talking to them.” It is self-evident that if you want to have effective communication with your spouse, you need to be talking with them already. I heard the story of a couple that once came to a marriage counselor where the wife complained, “he never tells me he loves me.” When the counselor asked the man why this was true, he answered “I told her I loved her when we got married. If I ever change my mind, I’ll let her know!” Not cool.

If I want my prayer life to become more effective, the first and most important step is to begin praying. The initial steps in prayer seem a little awkward because we are not used to doing it, but as we practice the art of talking with God and sharing our heart with Him, we learn to become more comfortable with the whole idea. Prayer is not primarily about listing our requests and desires and waiting for the answers to come. Prayer is an ongoing, relationship-building conversation with our heavenly Father in which we learn to get into the flow of God’s purposes. If I only come to God to talk with Him when something changes (i.e., a new life experience takes place, something comes up, a bad circumstance happens), I’ll never learn to pray effectively.

So, the instruction of Jesus is actually quite simple. It is not, “you should start praying and this is how it goes.” His instruction is, “when you pray, keep it simple, keep it focused on the glory of God and do it as an integral part of your relationship with Him, not as an opportunity for others to see how advanced you have become in your spiritual life.”

Posted by David Wilson with

When the Smallest Gift is the Biggest

In the message this coming Sunday, our pastor will address some principles for giving from 1 Corinthians 16. Our giving should be purposeful, prayerful, reflective of our estimation of God’s worth (an act of worship) and is the privilege of each one of us. It will be a healthy challenge for us to consider our financial ways and our participation in the work of God in the world through our finances.

One of the passages that helps to highlight the need for “each one” of us to participate in giving generously to the Lord is in Mark 12: 41-44. The account really starts toward the end of chapter 11 and says that Jesus came to Jerusalem and was walking in the temple. He is approached by various religious leaders, challenging Him on one matter or another. In response to one of the questions, Jesus points out that the greatest of all the commandments is to love God with every fiber of our being. And, He adds, commandment number two is to love our neighbor as our self. After warning the people around Him of the showy religion of the Scribes, we are told that he sits down near the treasury. Here is where it gets interesting.

Apparently, Jesus had been walking through the temple, talking with those following him, and responding to questions. Now He takes a seat. His choice of seating is important. Remember, He just spoke of the showy attitude of the religious leaders. Now He sits down to watch in a spot that would make most of us squirm; right next to the offering box. Not only that; but He sits and watches what people are putting in the box!

Numerous wealthy people come by with their coins jingling in their pockets and their bags of money displayed so all could easily see what they were giving. You can almost picture it if you work at it… Then along comes a poor widow. She lives in a culture in which she has no support. The text doesn’t mention her family (who should have been caring for her). There was no government assistance program for her. She had to try and survive on her own in a very male dominated society on whatever she could scrape together. She shuffles up to the offering box, waiting her turn in line as all the wealthy people around her give their huge quantities of money. Then it is her turn. She quietly reaches into her pouch and pulls out “two copper coins, which make a penny.” She drops them into the offering box. They are so small in both size and weight, they hardly make a sound as they fall through the slot and land on the mounds of money the previous people had put in. Incidentally; what she gave was the equivalent of 1/64 of a day’s wage. It was the amount of money that the average worker would earn in 8 minutes. The kicker is this. Jesus explains that this is “everything she had; all she had to live on.”

It is a teaching moment and Jesus doesn’t let it slip by. He quickly claims that what the poor widow gave was more than what all the others had given. This unnamed lady exemplifies the importance of each one of us giving. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t tell her to keep her money or that her small amount wouldn’t really do much so she should just use it to care for her own needs. He allows her to give and allows her the privilege of watching God provide for her needs after putting His kingdom first.

What a powerful lesson! She hadn’t given a greater quantity than the others. But she had given far more generously than the others. As we prepare to think about giving and the message that we will hear this Sunday, let’s remember that it is always about our intentional generosity, not about the size of the check that we put in the offering. Paul reminded Timothy that those who are rich in this world are given those resources so that they can be generous. Being wealthy is not a bad thing. Not being generous when we are wealthy is a bad thing.

If you have a lot; give a lot. Invest in the kingdom of God and store up for eternity. Trust in the Lord; not in your money. If you have little; give sacrificially and watch God provide for your needs as you prioritize His kingdom ahead of yours.

Posted by David Wilson with

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