December 11, 2019- Advent 11, Luke 11- Lord, Teach Us to Pray, The Sign of Jonah, and Woe to the Pharisees

jesus-prayer-in-john-17

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Give us each day our daily bread,and forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)

We pray the Lord’s Prayer hopefully by memory, but not so much on auto pilot that we pray without thinking about what the petitions mean.  God is holy.  We long for His kingdom to come in its fullness, when there will be no more death or pain or crying or sadness or war. We trust that God provides all that we need on a daily basis, and we thank Him for that.  We ask God to forgive our sins and to give us the grace to forgive others when they sin against us.  We also pray that we would not fall prey to all the temptations around us, but hold fast to God and His Word instead.

Jesus tells the story of a man who pesters his friend for bread in the middle of the night.  The friend opens the door not so much because the man is a friend but because of the man’s persistence.  God hears our prayers not so much because of our persistence- because God knows our prayers before we pray them.  God answers our prayers (though not always the way we think He should) because He loves us and always has the best in mind for us.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:9-13 (ESV)

Jesus had many critics, especially when He healed people and set them free of diseases or demons.  Some critics said Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of demons, also known as the “lord of the flies.”

Jesus reminds them that a house divided cannot stand, and that, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Luke 11:23

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. Luke 11:29-30 (ESV)

Jesus is referring to Jonah 1:17 . Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, so will Jesus spend three days in the grave before He will rise from the dead.  This is the only sign God will give for the people of Israel.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” Luke 11:33-36 (ESV)

Jesus is the Light of the world.  In this Advent season we look so forward to the coming of the light in the darkness.  The more that Jesus is reflected in us the more that we spread the light.

Jesus had an ongoing issue with the Pharisees.  Their emphasis was so strong on obeying the letter of the law that the intention behind it was lost.  Theirs was a culture of works-righteousness and they were all about outward observances and appearances. They were not about reflecting God’s light, but about making themselves look good. Jesus had much criticism for this mindset.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” Luke 11:42-44 (ESV)

The opposite of lighting up the world with grace is putting on a self serving display.  If we spend all of our time proving to the world how good we are and seeking recognition for our deeds, what does that say for our motives?

We begin this chapter by praying the way Jesus taught us.  His will is not always easy.  We will always have conflict between wanting my will versus submitting to and praying for thy will.  Yet in Him we are given our daily bread- not just food to eat, but the grace and the means to live according to His will and to forgive others as He forgives us.  Rather than focusing on outside works and appearances, and trying to earn brownie points, we trust that Jesus will transform us from the inside out so that His light will shine through us.

 

 

August 2, 2017- What Are We Asking For? Matthew 7:7-11

ugly skater pants

(Jesus said): “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11 (NRSV)

“Now you’re asking for it!” How many times did we hear that phrase directed at us when we were children?  How many times have we said it to our own kids?  It was always a phrase that meant you were asking for trouble, and you were about to receive it.

Kids ask for some pretty outrageous things. My son once begged me for a pair of horrendously ugly $100 skater pants- during a summer in which he miraculously grew from about 5’6” to about 6’ in the span of about three months.  Even had I been foolish enough to spend that kind of money on a rather (in my mind anyway) ugly and impractical pair of pants, by the end of the summer they wouldn’t have fit.  It was better for him- and for my wallet at the time- for him to wear the cargo shorts he already had in the summer, and for us to seek out more sensible and affordable pants to wear in the fall.

I wanted my son to have serviceable and affordable clothing, and for him not to be mocked too severely by his friends for his clothing choices.

Sometimes what we want and what we need are two different things.

Sometimes we come to God asking for silly or impractical things like the awful skater pants my son asked for when he was fourteen. Sometimes we ask for things that appear to be good on the surface, but would ultimately be harmful for us.  Sometimes we ask to be delivered from trials that are difficult and painful, but necessary for us to learn and grow into being the people God created us to be.

We don’t see the complete picture. God does, and He is out for our ultimate good.  He is equipping us for eternal life as well as for life right now. So sometimes His answer to our requests needs to be no.

It has been said that the purpose of prayer is not so much to come to God asking for gifts in the way that a child might make out a list for Santa Claus, but to come to God and talk with Him, to let Him speak to us and align our wills with His will.

God does hear our prayers, and through our prayers He does transform our hearts so that we desire the things that He desires for us. Even if we don’t always get what we ask for, God provides what we need- abundantly, fully and always.