October 10, 2018 – Wisdom, God’s Will, and the Lord’s Prayer – Proverbs 19:20-21, Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:11-13

prayer for guidance

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:20-21 (ESV)

(Jesus said:) And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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.

 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:5-13 (ESV)

What do wisdom and prayer have in common? We learn from the inspired writer of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord (meaning respect, reverence and awe) is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of God is insight. If we want to be wise, we should seek God in the study of His Word, and in prayer.

Jesus teaches us to pray. It’s important to take a look at how Jesus teaches us to pray. Prayer is not meant to be a display of piety or any kind of a show to impress other people.  It is conversation with God in which we come to Him with everything He already knows about us. In prayer we give thanks. We praise. We joyfully affirm who God is.  We also bring to Him our sadness, our mourning, and even our anger. We intercede for those around us- for our friends, our family and even our enemies. We lay bare our vulnerabilities to the Author of Life- confessing that in and of ourselves we are dead in trespasses and sins. We affirm that by faith in Christ alone we have forgiveness, absolution and eternal life.  We trust Him for what we need, and we ask Him for what we think we want.

Why should we bother to pray if God already knows our heart and our needs?

We pray from that fear of the Lord, because in prayer we are acting out of faith.  We believe that God is omnipotent, that He is holy, and that His goodness and His plan will prevail.  We may not have our petitionary prayers answered in the way we ask, but getting our wants fulfilled isn’t the primary purpose of prayer.

If one looks at petitionary prayer from the standpoint of a child asking a parent for what the child wants, it makes a little more sense. A good parent knows what his or her child needs and will do his or her best to provide for a child’s needs.  Sometimes what a child wants is not congruent with what a child needs- ice cream and bacon for every meal sounds great to a child on the surface, right now, but a parent knows bacon and ice cream for every meal isn’t a healthy choice long term.

God knows when the things we want may not be in line for His plan for us. He does know our needs, and He does provide for them.  We may never understand why we must bear the crosses of sorrow, loss and pain. We know that Jesus endured all manner of suffering while He lived on earth, up to and including a brutal death by crucifixion. We aren’t going to “get out of life alive.”  Life on earth isn’t permanent. We don’t know why we are called to the way of the Cross, but we know that to live in Christ, we are called to die to ourselves and to the world.  We may not find understanding as we pray, and we may not like the answers we get- or don’t get. Yet we pray, and we trust. God is getting us ready for the not-yet world to come.

(Jesus teaches) :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 11:11-13 (ESV)

We pray because Jesus tells us to pray- not in the anticipation that God will become a celestial Santa Claus Who rains down all kinds of material stuff just because we ask for it, rather, we come to Him in faith. We trust that God is God even when we don’t understand.

We ask Him for daily bread because we trust that God is the One Who gives us provision every day, even when we don’t know where it’s going to come from.  We trust that God will forgive our sins and that they are washed away forever in Jesus’ blood. We trust God for the grace to pass the undeserved and unearned forgiveness He gives us along to those around us, who also don’t deserve it and can’t earn it. We trust that Jesus walks with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He has conquered the grave and so will we. We trust that Jesus keeps us from the evil one. We trust that He has rescued us from sin and despair and unbelief.

We believe the promise we receive in the water and the Word- that we are named and claimed and made to be children of God.  And so, we pray.

July 3, 2018 Neither Poverty Nor Riches, but Somewhere in the Middle- Proverbs 30:7-9, 2 Corinthians 8:9

man walking on train rail

Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

When we pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we agree with and trust God for “daily bread-“ not because we doubt whether or not God provides for us, but so that we stand in agreement with God and that we know the One from whom our sustenance and life come.

Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. – Martin Luther, on the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

The world surrounds us with messages that implore us to buy more, to upgrade our technology, to be thinner, to be more beautiful, ad nauseam. Advertising teaches us dissatisfaction with what we have so that we will strive for more, bigger and better.  The urge to keep up with the Joneses is written deeply in American culture, as if somehow our value as people is validated by wearing the latest fashion or having the newest smartphone.

Contrast the wisdom of Agur (the writer of the above verses from Proverbs) as it was recorded in God’s word for our benefit. His prayer is more like: Keep us honest. Maintain us materially somewhere in the middle, neither rich nor poor, but having enough for our daily needs. Keep us from either trusting in our own abilities to the point where we fail to see our need for God and thank Him for everything; or from being so impoverished and desperate that we starve and must scrape or even steal to survive.

We are so conditioned to believe in our own ambition- or blame our failures on “bad luck” or our circumstances, but that’s not how God wants us to go about things. He calls us to rely on Him and know that our needs– though not necessarily our wants– will be met.

Agur’s wisdom in the Proverbs, Luther’s teaching on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the apostle Paul’s reminder in 2nd Corinthians that Jesus sacrificed everything specifically to save us from sin and death, are all contrary to the wisdom of the world.  Scripture doesn’t teach us about how to have the greatest life ever right now. God is not a vending machine, nor is He a celestial scorekeeper, looking for our every failure and flaw. In Scripture we learn about Jesus- what He has done to save us from sin and death.  Throughout Scripture we are pointed to Jesus and His love for us. We are reminded that in our baptism we have received the greatest, most lavish, most precious gift of all- the gift of eternal life with God forever.

Trusting in our own ability to achieve, earn and be self-reliant, and thinking we can do it all and don’t need God, and failing to trust God for our daily bread in difficult times are opposite sides of the same error. We need to trust God that He will give us what we need to live and thrive without leaning to one or the other extreme.

Jesus has already provided for us- forever. In our doubt we succumb to worry that our needs will not be met, and we get trapped in the pursuit of our own wants. May we trust Jesus that He will indeed provide our daily bread as we seek Him and His will for us, and trust Him that He cares for us and provides for us.

April 16, 2018- An Unnatural Love- 1 John 3:10-16

cain and abel2

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:10-16 (ESV)

If we think that it is possible for us to love everyone all the time, realistically we have to admit we don’t. It’s really easy to become cynical and unloving toward our fellow humans when we turn on the news, when we look out the door, drive on the freeway, or end up cleaning up after a family member yet again. Sinful humanity is really good at letting each other down.

Love does not come naturally to us. Anyone who has observed toddlers (or automotive technicians) for any length of time will find that human nature compels our hearts to stay focused on me, me, me.  It is hard to observe small children for any length of time without fights breaking out over who possesses what thing, or over who gets the most attention or privileges.  If one child wants a particular toy, the others will want that toy as well, no matter how many toys each child already has.  If Grandma is busy with child A, child B will barge in and scream for Grandma’s attention as well.

When humans are left to our own devices, we look out for our own well being, but not so much for the well being of others. We put our own interests and feelings first. Any of us put in the right situation can act just as Cain did. That inclination toward evil is built into our flesh and has been with humanity since the Fall.

God gave us His Law and His commandments because He knows that we need boundaries for our behavior. The Law is a good thing even if we can’t observe it completely and faithfully. Even with protective boundaries, God knew we could not keep His Law and redeem ourselves by good behavior no matter how hard we try.

Because God knew we could not save ourselves, He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again to save us from our sins. He took the punishment that brings us peace and bore the wounds that bring us our healing, as well as our salvation, restoration and sanctification. (Isaiah 53:5)  Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing.  Not because He had to, but because God loves us.

In our Baptism we are adopted into God’s family. With the water and the Word we are baptized into the crucifixion and death of Jesus as well as we share in His resurrection. We share in His suffering, but we also share in eternal life. Our sins are washed away, and we are set free to act as who we have become in Christ.

The difficult part of this paradox of being a sinful human, but a saint of God at the same time (simul justus et peccator) is that we cannot completely drown the “old Adam.”  Even if we take the good advice of Martin Luther and put on Baptism as daily wear, we find that we don’t always have the mind of Christ.   We still sin no matter how hard we try not to.  We still lose our patience, we still scream “me, me, me” like a toddler, and we still hold grudges and offenses against those around us.  All we can do is lean on and rely on Jesus.

Love is the greatest commandment of the Law- to love God and to love our neighbor- including those neighbors we aren’t too thrilled to claim. Apart from Jesus we cannot breathe. We cannot have life. We cannot save ourselves.  Apart from Jesus we can’t even think of loving God or anyone else.  The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took our place. He does for us what we cannot do ourselves. He gives us all we need and walks with us through every day.  Because of His love for us we are called to respond in love for those around us, that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

October 24, 2017: The Office of the Keys: The Power of Intercession – 2 Chronicles 30:9, 17-20, Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:5-8

jesus compassion 3

For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9 (NRSV)

For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord.  For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (NRSV)

(Jesus, speaking to Simon Peter and a group of disciples): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 (NRSV)

And he (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)

The Office of the Keys– which is the authority of average believers to forgive others and intercede for others- is probably one of the least understood concepts in Lutheran theology, but it is a radical twist from the traditional teaching of the church of Luther’s day.  While the church hierarchy taught that forgiveness had to be earned- or bought- and that forgiveness could only be granted by an ordained priest, according to the Bible, Jesus taught that the authority to forgive and to pray for others (binding and loosing) belongs to every believer.

Jesus also taught that we have the authority in Him to go directly to Him in prayer concerning our own needs. We can and should pray for each other as well, but we are welcome and invited to approach Him with anything and everything.

In prayer, God has a dialogue with us- He changes our hearts and minds to be in agreement with His will.

The idea that Jesus followers have the authority (not just ordained clergy, but everyday garden variety believers) to intercede for others is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the prophets (such as Moses) and sometimes the kings (such as Hezekiah) stepped in for the people and asked God for mercy on the people’s behalf.  Today Jesus has expanded that authority to everyone- a concept known as the Priesthood of Believers.

Jesus encourages us to step in for others in prayer. He tells us to be persistent and not give up when we pray.  He tells us we have the power to forgive others which is another reason why confession is good for the soul, as it allows others to pray for us and intercede on our behalf.

Sometimes in the confusion and hopelessness in this world we find it hard to pray. We don’t know who to pray for or what their needs might be. We wonder if God hears our prayers at times.  Yet intercessory prayer is one of the most powerful ways that every Jesus follower can work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

“You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum! Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.” – Martin Luther from Faith Alone, A Daily Devotional

Prayer is for all Jesus followers at all times, in all things. We are encouraged to come to Him no matter what troubles our hearts and minds.  We are encouraged to pray for others because our persistence in prayer may be the difference between God-life or hopelessness and despair for them.

The other part of this is that prayer and coming before God is more about one’s heart and motive than about following the rules. Anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows it’s not possible to Follow the Rules one hundred percent.  Following the rules doesn’t make us fit to come before God- the fact that Jesus told us to come to Him as we are, in our fallibility and humanity and to trust Him does.

Jesus, Who first interceded on our behalf, asks us to pray for others and to forgive the way He forgives us. We were put here on this earth for a reason, which just might include being the difference for someone else.

September 29, 2017 – Forgive Us When We Do Wrong- Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. Matthew 6:12 (CEB)

The traditional English translation of this verse is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”  and that is part of forgiveness, but that wording tends to limit our understanding of forgiveness to monetary transactions or mortgage payments. Forgiveness is much more than simply writing off a debt, which is why a more comprehensive translation of this verse is necessary here.

In Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we get into the hardest, yet most necessary thing to do if we humans are to live in community and live at peace with God: forgive.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

 But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, — for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, — but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6,14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. – from the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer from Luther’s Large Catechism

 Forgiveness is not blithe forgetfulness, in which we no longer remember the hurtful things said or done to us. Forgiveness toward others is a process in which we acknowledge the injury and pain that we have suffered at the hands of others, but we make the conscious choice to let go of our anger and surrender our claims to revenge against those who have wronged us. We surrender those who have wronged us to the mercy of God, as we surrender ourselves to His mercy and forgiveness when we do wrong.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Sometimes forgiveness means to let that person or group of people out of our lives, especially if they are unforgiving toward us or if they have the potential to be toxic to us in the future.  There is nothing about forgiveness that requires us to endure abuse or live in a toxic environment.  Forgiveness allows us to get rid of the toxic anger and pain we carry and give it to God.  He can handle it.  He can heal and restore us. We can’t work that kind of restoration and healing ourselves.  Forgiveness toward others is really for our own good.

Our response to a loving God who forgives us unconditionally is to pass that gift along, and let His healing and His grace flow through us.

It has been said that the heaviest burden to carry is a grudge.

However…Jesus said to take up His yoke, because His burden is light.

Who do we need to consciously decide to forgive today?

September 25, 2017- The Power of Prayer- Matthew 18:18-20, Matthew 6:7-15

max lucado on prayer

(Jesus said): “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:18-20 (NRSV)

Sometimes we get it in our heads that prayer is an option- that we aren’t holy enough to pray, or that we don’t really have to do it- or that prayer is a last resort, or that prayer is a way of earning brownie points if we keep repeating the words enough. Martin Luther had much to say on the value of prayer in his Large Catechism in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus taught us to pray:

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,  Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:7-15 (NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer, that we learn as children as a rote prayer, is actually a template for prayer.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, but crisis is not the time to learn to pray. Prayer should already be natural to us and written on our hearts well before we are in desperation mode. Rote prayers, the Psalms and all of the encouragement offered in Scripture are given to us to study and pray and commit to memory so that we know how to pray, in good times and in bad. Then when we are in crisis and can’t find the words to pray, the words are already written on our hearts and minds.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us the prayers that God wants to hear from us. Prayer is God’s way of calling us closer to Him.

Have we come to God in prayer today? Have we agreed in prayer with another Jesus follower today?

Have we taken the time to listen to God’s response to us?