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Pride

large prayer gathering

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Because of social distancing, this year’s observance will be very different than those in the past. Normally, churches and communities will gather for a worship service, a prayer breakfast, or a prayer service. Oftentimes, local politicians are invited to pray — or to be prayed over — during this time. For the national observance, popular Christian artists will perform for large crowds and popular Christian leaders will be asked to speak.

I’m not sure how much prayer actually happens at these events. In the events I’ve organized, I tried to make our time very prayer-centered rather than preacher-centered or church-centered. We used public forums to avoid the accusation that this was a “Baptist Thing” or even a specific church thing. We invited all churches and individuals to participate, per the National Day of Prayer’s guidelines. We tried to center the event on praying for the seven mountains/spheres of influence in America: Family, Religion, Education, Government, Media/Communication, Celebration (Arts, Entertainment, Sport), and Economics (Business, Science, Technology).

But what about Jesus’ statements where Jesus told His Disciples to not pray in public? (Matthew 6:5–8) A college friend of mine and I have had some heated disagreements on the application of this passage to the National Day of Prayer. He says that Jesus said Believers shouldn’t pray in public. My contention is that Jesus isn’t condemning the public display of prayer, but rather publicly praying for the purpose of being recognized and being applauded for doing so. Jesus’ emphasis is on the heart, the motivation for praying in public. He says the same for publicly giving to the poor and publicly fasting. His point is that if you’re only in it for the public recognition and public applause, that’s all you’ll get. If instead, you’re looking for the recognition and applause from your Father, then pray in secret, give in secret, and fast in secret.

So in the future on the National Day of Prayer — or the next time you go to church for that matter — consider your heart. Are you going to an event to be seen? Are you going to an event to be recognized? Are you going to an event in order that people will know how committed to prayer you are? Then be careful! If you’re wanting the applause of people, that’s all you’ll get. But if you want God to hear your prayers, pray in secret. Sure, pray in public, but don’t let all of your prayers be heard in public.

God’s more interested in your heart, not your public display of your faith.

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pruning a rose bush
Spring pruning roses in the garden

Reading the Bible can sometimes be a little unpleasant. If in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus points out some things about divorce and remarriage, as well as money. His words are uncomfortable because His words are not accepted by many, even those who claim to follow Jesus.

I am surprised at how quickly Christians turn to divorce and how quickly remarry someone else. It’s as if they forget that it’s better to not make a vow and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Christians seek a church wedding — for the marriage to be blessed by God — and so quickly renege on the vows they made to their spouse and to God. It isn’t right (according to Jesus). He allows (though doesn’t require) divorce in very limited circumstances. And yet, they idolize their own happiness instead of seeking the eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Finally in Matthew 19, He addresses a man who self-righteously asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life. When Jesus points him to the Law, the man claims to be blameless. And then, Jesus pokes him in the idols. He tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he had a lot of possessions. I would rephrase that to say that a lot of possessions had him. There’s nothing wrong with having money. God blesses many people with more money than they need to survive. And with these blessings, God expects those blessings to be passed on to others. (Luke 12:48)

Application

Reformer John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. I cannot refute that statement. It is so true! I need no help from the world or the devil to come up with all kinds of things to distract me from living wholeheartedly for the glory of the Lover of my Soul.

As I began this devotional, I said that if in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved. I meant that. Either you’re only reading comfortable parts of the Bible, or you are merely letting your eyes skim the ink on the page.

As you read, ask God to show you those areas where your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs don’t line up with His Word. (Psalm 139:23–24) And be prepared for Him to answer that prayer. The Holy Spirit will let empower you to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

Notice that behavior is only part of what needs to be changed as we grow in our relationship with God. Our idols live in our beliefs and attitudes and they express themselves in our behavior. Behavior that doesn’t line up with God’s revealed will in the Bible is fruit. It’s the leaves and branches that we tend to focus on, thinking that if we can just control them, we can have a good relationship with Him. But pruning leaves and branches actually work to bring out more of what you’re attempting to cut off. It’s true of pruning your rose bushes and it’s true of attempting to prune your behavior to enhance your walk with God.

God completely loves you with an everlasting love. He completely accepts you as you are when you come to Him. But He loves you too deeply to let you continue living with your idols.

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awestruck

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus tells His Disciples that one must come to Him as a child. In fact, one who comes like a child will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

What is it about coming as a child that Jesus praises? Well, He mentions one thing: humility. Like I’ve said before, the first rule in Christianity 101 is God is God, and the second is, you’re not God. If you want to come to Jesus, you have to come in humility. You have to lay aside your claims to privilege. You have to lay aside your preferences. You have to accept His preferences. And the more you can do that, the better things will go for you in your life.

I’m not saying that your life will only go well. On the contrary, your life may look like it’s falling apart from the outside. But as you seek His priorities, the more you will see higher purposes for the things that happen in your life, the good things and the bad things that come through the hands of your loving Father. Nothing happens apart from His control. Nothing happens apart from God’s very decree.

But not only is humility part of coming as a child, so is coming with a sense of wonder, a sense of awe concerning the things of God. You may see children as being gullible. They tend to believe everything. But not only that, they also have a sense of recognizing wonder in the universe.

“As much as children ask why, when it comes to the wonder of the world around them, they do not ask why because they are skeptics, but rather they ask because they believe and thirst to know the world’s secrets. The miraculous is everywhere, and the children embrace it. There is something about growing older that turns us off to wonder, making our visits to Narnia less and less common. David Bentley Hart contrasts the way of children with the way of adults: ‘As we age … we lose our sense of the intimate otherness of things; we allow habit to displace awe, inevitability to banish delight; we grow into adulthood and put away childish things.'” [1]

Application

If you are a Believer, where is your sense of awe? Where is your sense of wonder? Where do you find delight? What childish things have you put away?

When was the last time you were awestruck by an encounter with God through His Word? When was the last time you were rendered speechless with thoughts of the things of God?

In what ways do you need to recapture the humility, awe and wonder of childhood?

[1] I just happened to read about this just this afternoon in None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett. © Copyright 2019 Baker Books, p. 42.

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Jesus heals a leper.
Image credit: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.

For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])

If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.

For a comment on “mustard faith”, see my posts here and here.

Application

Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!

And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.

If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.

And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.

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Check your judging eyes

Today’s Bible reading is well-known, especially by those who don’t want to be judged by you. You may have even quoted Jesus when He said, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 ESV)

Oftentimes, this passage is pulled out of thin air as if it had no context at all. Sure, Jesus told His Disciples not to judge, but look at the context of His instruction. Fourteen verses later, He says,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15–20 (ESV)

Obviously, in order to beware of false prophets, you have to do a certain amount of judging. He says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20 ESV) So what’s going on here? Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Of course not!

Let’s look a little closer to the immediate context of Matthew 7:1 by looking at the very next verse. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 ESV) And then look at verse three through five. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5 ESV)

It appears that Jesus is simply saying that we need to be aware that we all suffer from bad eyesight. And we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge others.

Application

We had some friends whose kids wanted a slice of pie. But there was only one slice. They told their kids that one of them could cut the piece in half and the other kid could choose which half to eat. Let me tell you, the kid cutting the pie made sure that he sliced the pieces exactly the same size! If he hadn’t, he would surely have eaten the smaller slice!

All of us have trouble seeing clearly. And when it comes time to make judgment calls, Jesus tells us to be careful. Our judgment should be according to the way that we would want to be judged. This is an application of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) which sits right in the middle of the chapter.

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