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.

July 31, 2017 Supernatural Law- Proverbs 10:1-5, Romans 6:23

consequences

A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief. Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. A child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame. – Proverbs 10:1-5 (NRSV)

The book of Proverbs is considered to be a book of wisdom. It has been attributed to King Solomon, as is Ecclesiastes, another wisdom book of the Bible.  Much of what Solomon teaches has to do with cause and effect, or “natural law,” which is the principle that actions have consequences.  Even in science this basic concept is found in Newton’s Third Law, which is, “Every action in nature has an opposite and equal reaction.”

In Scripture the apostle Paul gives us a theological truth that is very similar to Newton’s Third Law:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”- Romans 6:23 (NRSV)

No matter how hard we try, sometimes we are wise children and other times we are foolish children. We can be deceptive and petty and downright evil in our dealings with others.  We can be slackers and miss opportunities to participate in the life of God’s kingdom. There are so many ways we fail God and fall short of His will every day even if we try to do the right things.  God demands perfection, and we just aren’t capable of it.  He gives us His best, and even our best efforts can’t measure up.

On the surface, and here in the natural world, we humans are doomed to the consequences of natural law. Our physical bodies are going to die, and those physical bodies are subject to all of the entropy, apathy and decay that is rampant throughout this world. Both Paul in his letter to the Romans, and Newton in his Third Law underscore inevitable truths about the natural world.  Sin results in death.  Actions have consequences. That is the Law of God, and it is universal throughout His creation.  The Gospel- the good news- is that Jesus took on the consequence of death for us.  Since Jesus conquered death and the grave on our behalf, we are free to live.  Life in Jesus, the good news of the Gospel, is supernatural law.

Solomon taught wise principles, even if he didn’t always adhere to them himself. He gave many instructions to follow to make our lives here on earth more God-pleasing and prosperous. It is always good for us to read the teachings of the Proverbs- and a blessing for us that they are part of Scripture, because they give us good and healthy standards for living.  But apart from the grace of God in Christ we don’t stand a chance of living up to those standards.

Wisdom says we need to to run to Jesus, to go to the foot of the Cross and ask for His forgiveness and mercy and grace. We have the confidence in Him that we shouldn’t try to have in ourselves alone. His supernatural law transcends the inevitabilities of the natural law of this world.

How can we find ways to run to the foot of the Cross and find help in Christ when we are overwhelmed?

December 30, 2016- Trust – Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSV)

Trust vs. mistrust.  In the study of psychology, the conflict between having trust in the world around us and failing to have trust is the first of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.  As developing human beings we have to be able to relate to and function in the world of other humans, so trust is important.

The very first issue that human beings are faced with as infants is a question that is central to our physical survival.  Is someone going to be forthcoming with providing meals for the child? Is the child going to have appropriate warmth and clothing and shelter?

Who can we trust?  Is mother going to provide me food and warmth?  Is father going to protect and nurture me?

In most instances, to the best of our ability, human parents affirm and reinforce a child’s trust in them.  Unfortunately a child’s trust is not always best placed in his or her parents’ ability to care for them and keep them safe.

Many adults have issues with trusting others and building good relationships with people because their trust was betrayed early on. Most of us suffer the lasting effects of broken trust if not from our parents, then from others in our lives who have not been kind to us or faithful in their dealings with us.

Sometimes our struggle with mistrust enters into our relationship with God, especially when we don’t understand what He’s up to.

We have all been burnt before. If you can’t trust Mom and Dad, or your spouse, or your best friend, then it’s kind of difficult to trust anyone, including God.

Yet God tells us: trust Me, not in your own understanding.  Have faith that He is in control and has our lives in His hands.