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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Shifting Winds

windmill-dennis-flood-2004Two of the most universally recognized portions of Scripture in the Bible are The Lord’s Prayer, and Psalm 23. The Lord’s Prayer is actually tucked in the middle of Jesus Sermon on the Mount, and it is how Jesus taught folks back then (and those of us today through his teachings in the Bible) how to pray. Jesus’ instructions are found in Matthew 6:5-15 (NKJV):

The Model Prayer

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father who is 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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The key to answered prayer, of course, is held in our ability to forgive those who have done harm to us in some way (as in trespasses or debtors). Trespass is defined as “an unlawful act causing injury to the person, property, or rights of another, committed with force or violence, actual or implied” (quote source here); and debtor is defined as “a person who is in debt or under financial obligation to another” (quote source here).

Psalm 23 is one of the most well known psalms of David, the shepherd boy and the warrior who became Israel’s second king (brief background story is available at this link). Here is Psalm 23 (NKJV):

Psalm 23
(A Psalm of David)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;

He leads me beside
the still waters.

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths
of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me

All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord

Forever.

Like millions of others down through the ages up through today, I memorized both The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 many years ago, but I have to say that their meaning and power did not become clear to me until these past seven plus years as I have traversed through one of the toughest times in my entire life since I lost my job in Houston back in April 2009. And they have become as much a part of me as breathing.

The other day I ran across a new book, the subject of which happens to be on both The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. The book is titled, 21 Seconds to Change Your World (2016) by Dr. Mark Rutland, who is “a missionary, evangelist, ordained minister of the International Ministerial Fellowship, and founder and president of Global Servants and the National Institute of Christian Leadership. He also currently serves on the preaching team at Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel. Dr. Rutland was the third President of Oral Roberts University, and prior to Oral Roberts University he served as President of Southeastern University for ten years. Additionally he has served as Pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando, Florida, and as an Associate Pastor at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Rutland is also a New York Times bestselling author and he has written numerous books to include “ReLaunch” (2013) and this latest offering, “21 Seconds to Change Your World” (2016). (Source: here and from the back book cover).

This book describes a ten-year period of time in Dr. Rutland’s life when, as he explains in Chapter 1 titled, “How The Lord’s Prayer Saved My Life,” he had fallen into a well of “fatigue, toxic success, and, subsequently, depression that had subverted my soul” (p. 17). On pages 19-20, Dr. Rutland explains:

Over the course of those painful years, nearly ten years, where I prayed the Lord’s Prayer like a drowning man, I added to my daily saturation in that prayer an ancient song, or perhaps a poem, written not by a Jewish rabbi but by a Jewish king. David, Israel’s greatest and most complicated king, wrote the poem a thousand years before Jesus of Nazareth was born. Today Jews and Gentiles alike still use the poem devotionally. It is called the Twenty-third Psalm.

I began with the Lord’s Prayer, then later mixed in the Twenty-third Psalm. Prayed back to back, over and over and over again, dozens of times a day, they became the lifeline that hauled me up from the pit and put my feet in a broad place. They were medicine and life and health to me. They became the recipe of the divine. Now, all these years later, I still pray them together, time after time, every single day of my life. Praying them together so often, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times over these years, I began to see how beautifully the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 fit together. they are gears that interlock gently, perfectly, never grinding, turning the human soul toward the healing for which it yearns. Seen, prayed, and laid out side by side, the parallel splendor of the two is absolutely miraculous.

Come with me now. Let me introduce you or, more likely, reintroduce you to my beloved friends, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. Of course, they are not my friends alone. They have brought healing power to millions for centuries. I invite you to meet them, or meet them again, and come to know them more intimately, perhap more fully, then you ever have before. (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 19-20).

In my own life over these past several years, the combination of praying The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 (not as a matter of rote memory but as an intimate connection to God) just sort of “happened” from the hard place I found myself in after going through a massive job hunt of several years standing, and yet it seemed as if the doors of heaven remained closed to me (actually, slammed shut) as far as finding another job. While in Dr. Rutland’s case it was depression caused from fatigue and toxic success that had all but consumed his life at that time, it has not been a case of depression in my own life. Rather, it is an intense exasperation at not being able to understand what, exactly, was (and still is) standing in the way of me not being able to find another job. After all, I had never had a hard time find working in my entire life until I encountered that job in Houston that I ended up losing in April 2009, a scant seven months after it began in late September 2008. Also, a seven-month job, regardless of any reason for losing it–in and of itself–should not have ended a successful twenty-year career in my professional field of work.

Well, if you’re a regular reader of my blog you know my story. And the point of this blog post is not a recounting of my story. I have to say I was delighted to find this book that combines a heartfelt study of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 together as I know what it has meant in my own life to pray both in combination more times then I can count over these past several years.

the-lord-is-my-shepherd-i-shall-not-want21 Seconds to Change Your World is a treasure trove of information on the history of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, and despite what some of my readers may be thinking (possibly “how boring, right?”), Dr. Rutland has a wonderful way of making them come alive in a way that most folks familiar with both passages have never given thought to beyond the cursory or rote reading/praying of each passage.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is titled, “The Journey Begins,” and includes three chapters titled, “How the Lord’s Prayer saved my life,” “Life-changing words: The Rabbi’s Prayer and the King’s Poem,” and “A brief history of Jesus and David.” The second part is titled, “The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23,” and contains Chapters 4-19, where Dr. Rutland takes each passage, line by line and sometimes combined together, using rich histories of both Jesus and David to bring to life each line of both passages in a way I have never read before in other books on this subject.

The third and final part is titled, “To Change Your World,” which contains the final five chapters on saturation prayer, meditational prayer, congregational prayer, inner healing, and benediction, plus Appendix A: One Night With the Good Shepherd; and Appendix B: The Lord’s Prayer in various languages.

Mark Batterson, a New York Times bestselling author and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC., states the following in his forward at the beginning of Dr. Rutland’s book on pp. 9-11:

If I had to teach one message over and over and over again, it would be how to pray. The good news is that the best teacher in the history of mankind made it really easy for people like me to teach this message. Thousands of years ago Jesus gave us a template; we call it “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Thus “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” with it’s strangely simple and wildly profound message, was born. This book is bold. This book is vulnerable. This book is revolutionary. By combining two ancient poems, Dr. Rutland has given us a compass for our intellect and our spirituality that is both universal and sufficient. In the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, everything that you might feel needs to be said when you pray is said beautifully–whether it’s solitarily or congregationally.

I’ve always said that I believe we are all only one prayer away from a totally different life. But Dr. Rutland has taken it a step further. It’s exactly 21 seconds. That is not a long time to completely revolutionize your world. . . .

It you ask me what I pray for more than anything else, the answer is hands-down the favor of God. While it’s difficult to describe or define, the favor of God is what God can do for you that you cannot do for yourself. Asking for a better way to pray is a prayer that can and should be prayed. It’s funny that prayer is one of the most difficult and simplest things to do every single day. Sometimes, though it might be all we have, it’s hard to find the right words. We can all attest to this. Who hasn’t felt the blush of guilt from having to admit that you don’t pray enough or that you should pray more? But always remember one thing when it comes to prayer–it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. The Bible gave us the words, and this book reinforces and sheds a new and relevant light on them.

You are only 21 second away from living a totally different life. (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 9-11).

The following is from Chapter 13 titled, “David–Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” from Psalm 23:5a (pp. 101-103):

How very like David the king this statement is [e.g. Psalm 23:5a]. David knew all about enemies. His whole life he was surrounded by enemies. The ravenous beasts who wanted his sheep were the enemies of his childhood. And what a childhood it was! After the lions and bears came Goliath, then Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, palace plotters, one of his own sons, and finally, old age. When David wrote of enemies, he knew whereof he spoke. He lived his life in the presence of enemies.

It’s no wonder then that he speaks of God’s loving providence in the midst–not in the absence–of enemies. David never said God would give me a life without enemies. He did say that God has not forsaken me when gossipers and detractors and envious plotters are circling me like hungry wolves.

As a university president and a businessman, I frequently needed cash-flow projections from my chief financial officer. In order to understand those projections I had to know the assumptions they were based on. Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are based on a certain set of assumptions.

Here are the seven assumptions of the Lord’s Prayer:

  1. There is a God and He is our heavenly Father.
  2. He is worthy to be praised.
  3. He is our king and He has a will for our lives now, not just later in heaven.
  4. We must eat to live, and we can trust Him to eat.
  5. We have all sinned and need forgiveness.
  6. We must forgive to be forgiven.
  7. We will face temptation and evil.

Here are the seven assumptions of Psalm 23:

  1. The Lord is a good and caring shepherd-provider, even as I am a needy sheep.
  2. I have needs in my body such as food and water.
  3. My soul also has needs such as restoration.
  4. I live in a confusing world and I need guidance.
  5. I will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. (The psalmist assumes that it is a matter of when, not if.)
  6. There will be times I need comfort and protection.
  7. I will (not might) have enemies.

This last assumption is probably the most painful to learn. When I was young–and I believe many young folks feel this way–I thought that if I was a nice person I would not have enemies. Now I see that nothing you do can keep someone else from deciding they are your enemy. You may indeed make enemies with your own actions, but you are likely to have enemies regardless of how nice or good or generous or anything you are. It is so hard for those who desire to be no one’s enemy to realize that they themselves have enemies not of their own making. On the other hand, it is a joy to realize that though I may be absolutely surrounded by enemies, I am not abandoned. Even in their mocking presence, I am loved, guarded, and provided for by my Father and Shepherd.

The story of Hadassah, or Esther, is perhaps the prime example in the Bible of the truth about hidden enemies. The young Queen Esther is certainly to be admired, but the real heroic figure in the story in Mordecai. Without Mordecai there is no story of Esther. Indeed, without Mordecai, the slaughter of the Jews would have been an unimaginable horror. Mordecai’s story is also a prime example of God’s blessing in the presence of enemies.

In that story, told in the book of Esther, a man named Haman hates Mordecai, the Jew. Haman’s is an unreasonable and envious hatred, as, by the way, most anti-Semitism is unreasonable and fueled by envy. Haman wants to despoil Mordecai, take all he has, pull him down, and even kill him–and not just Mordecai, but every Jew in Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai has no such evil designs on Haman. He does not harbor hatred for Haman, or want him killed, or covet Haman’s position or his possessions. Mordecai is a decent man, a faithful servant of the king, and a loyal citizen, yet Haman hates him bitterly.

It is a dangerous naïveté to think that because you are a decent, God-fearing person who tries to be friendly and fair to everyone, you will have no enemies. Psalm 23 assumes the presence of enemies, not the absence of enemies. Just like Mordecai, you have enemies. And just like Haman, they feel justified, even righteous in their every attempt to bring you down. Haman justified his efforts to destroy Mordecai by wrapping it in the claim that it would be good for Xerxes and his kingdom. You have enemies who assume your destruction might even be good for God and His kingdom. When my soul most needed restoration, I was shocked to discover that some did not want me healed, but instead wanted me strung up.

As in the case of Haman and Mordecai, God will also care for you miraculously. At one point, Mordecai’s archenemy, Haman, must lead Mordecai through the streets of the capital, proclaiming the king’s favor upon the hated Jew. Finally, of course, Esther is used by God to foil the murderous plot, and Haman himself is hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

We can rest in the knowledge that God will protect us and give us victory over those who hate us without cause.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 101-104).

I hope this sample reading from Chapter 13 in 21 Seconds to Change Your World has whetted your appetite for more. Click here to find a variety of bookstores where this book can be purchased. I know in my own life, even though my outward circumstances haven’t changed yet, how incredibly meaningful it has been to me in my own relationship with Jesus Christ to combine The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 over and over and over again in prayer. To have found Dr. Rutland’s book the other day was a confirmation to me of just how powerful combining them in prayer can be. And if you haven’t memorized them yet, do so now.

I’d like to end this post with the words from The Lord’s Prayer that are left out in some translations. They are found in the closing of the prayer (NKJV, also found in KJV):

For Yours (thine) is the kingdom and the power . . .

And the glory, forever . . .

Amen . . . .

YouTube Video: “Overcomer” by Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

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What Did Jesus Teach?

sermononthemountOne of Jesus’ most famous teachable moments occurred in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). GotQuestions?org gives a summary account of the Sermon on the Mount as follows:

The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew chapters 5-7. Matthew 5:1-2 is the reason it is known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them…” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by anyone.

The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics. It is not the purpose of this article to comment on every section, but rather to give a brief summary of what it contains. If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

Matthew 5:3-12The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:13-16Salt and Light
Matthew 5:17-20Jesus fulfilled the Law
Matthew 5:21-26Anger and Murder
Matthew 5:27-30Lust and Adultery
Matthew 5:31-32Divorce and Remarriage
Matthew 5:33-37Oaths
Matthew 5:38-42Eye for an Eye
Matthew 5:43-48Love your enemies
Matthew 6:1-4Give to the Needy
Matthew 6:5-15How to Pray
Matthew 6:16-18How to Fast
Matthew 6:19-24Treasures in Heaven
Matthew 6:25-34Do not worry
Matthew 7:1-6Do not judge hypocritically
Matthew 7:7-12Ask, Seek, Knock
Matthew 7:13-14The Narrow Gate
Matthew 7:15-23False Prophets
Matthew 7:24-27The Wise Builder

Matthew 7:28-29 concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the following statement: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” May we all continue to be amazed at His teaching and follow the principles that He taught in the Sermon on the Mount! (Quote source here.)

Here is the complete Sermon on the Mount” from the New International Version (NIV):

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Fulfillment of the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Murder

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister,Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

counterculture43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Giving to the Needy

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think 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.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
    For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.
 (NKJV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,  your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

True and False Disciples

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught as one who had authority–and Jesus has the ultimate authority, too. After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (read about his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection in Matthew 26-28), he made this statement to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In a summary on Life, Hope & Truth,” on the Sermon on the Mount,” the author, John Foster, states, “Nearly 2,000 years ago, Christ preached a profound sermon showing how converted Christians are to live. How essential is the Sermon on the Mount today?” (Quote source and summary at this link.) At the end of the summary he states:

The words of this sermon are as relevant today as they were when Christ spoke them! For “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). (Quote source here.)

The Sermon on the Mount is profoundly relevant to our lives today. I’d like to end this post with the entire words found in Matthew 6:13, of which the words in the second part of the verse are often left off in later versions of the Bible. They are found in the King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 which states (KJV): And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power . . .

And the glory, forever . . .

Amen . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Lord’s Prayer” – Andrea Bocelli (w/choir):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Don’t Substitute Praying for Obeying

Lord teach us to pray“Prayer changes everything”–it’s a motto we find plastered everywhere on posters and mugs and coffee cups, and we’ve all heard it expressed over and over again. And the Bible has a lot to say about prayer, and how it is an absolutely vital part of a Christian’s life. In fact, it is his or her lifeline to the very throne of God.

Jesus taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15 (NKJV) when he stated:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever. Amen.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It seems as if a zillion books have been written on the subject of prayer, and it is an area that we sometimes (or often) struggle with (at least I know that I do). Often, it’s not just praying that is a struggle but also receiving an answer from God regarding those prayers. Sometimes the answer comes quickly, sometimes it takes years, and sometimes it seems as if there is no answer at all no matter how long we wait (which some folks will say is an answer in itself regardless of how unsatisfying that explanation happens to be).

I’ve been a Christian since I was a young girl, and about the time I got into my late teens or early twenties, I started hearing an expression that is fairly pervasive in the Christian culture when it comes to “answered prayers.” And it goes like this: There are three basic answers God gives us to every prayer we pray–“Yes,” “No,” or “Wait” (“wait” can also be translated to mean “God has something better in mind”). And that’s pretty much it. More often then I’d like to remember the answers to some of my prayers have remained in the “Wait” category to the point that it no longer has any meaning to me anymore, or I’ve lost interest or moved beyond what I wanted years ago–like when I’ve prayed in years past about finding a husband to the point of ad nauseam. And after many of the bad or boring marriages I’ve witnessed (along with the number of married men who tried to seduce me when I was younger), I concluded that single is far better than marrying someone just to be married and, hence, more “acceptable” to society (and the Christian culture) at large. And, I have always thought there was something not quite right in that very simplistic answer regarding how God answers prayers.

The other day I ran across a chapter titled, Does God Always Answer Prayer? in the book, Man: The Dwelling Place of God,” by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), and compiled by Anita M. Bailey. The book in its entirety is available online at this link. Here is what Tozer stated about the subject:

Does God Always Answer Prayer?

CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION, the cultivation of a psychology of uncritical belief is not an unqualified good, and if carried too far it may be a positive evil. The whole world has been booby-trapped by the devil, and the deadliest trap of all is the religious one. Error never looks so innocent as when it is found in the sanctuary.

One field where harmless-looking but deadly traps appear in great profusion is the field of prayer. There are more sweet notions about prayer than could be contained in a large book, all of them wrong and all highly injurious to the souls of men.

I think of one such false notion that is found often in pleasant places consorting smilingly with other notions of unquestionable orthodoxy. It is that God always answers prayer.

This error appears among the saints as a kind of all-purpose philosophic therapy to prevent any disappointed Christian from suffering too great a shock when it becomes evident to him that his prayer expectations are not being fulfilled. It is explained that God always answers prayer, either by saying Yes or by saying No, or by substituting something else for the desired favor.

Now, it would be hard to invent a neater trick than this to save face for the petitioner whose requests have been rejected for non-obedience. Thus when a prayer is not answered he has but to smile brightly and explain, “God said No.” It is all so very comfortable. His wobbly faith is saved from confusion and his conscience is permitted to lie undisturbed. But I wonder if it is honest.

To receive an answer to prayer as the Bible uses the term and as Christians have understood it historically, two elements must be present: (1) A clear-cut request made to God for a specific favor; (2) A clear-cut granting of that favor by God in answer to the request. There must be no semantic twisting, no changing of labels, no altering of the map during the journey to help the embarrassed tourist to find himself.

When we go to God with a request that He modify the existing situation for us, that is, that He answer prayer, there are two conditions that we must meet: (1) We must pray in the will of God and (2) we must be on what old-fashioned Christians often call “praying ground”; that is, we must be living lives pleasing to God.

It is futile to beg God to act contrary to His revealed purposes. To pray with confidence the petitioner must be certain that his request falls within the broad will of God for His people.

The second condition is also vitally important. God has not placed Himself under obligation to honor the requests of worldly, carnal or disobedient Christians. He hears and answers the prayers only of those who walk in His way. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight . . . . If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (I John 3:21, 22; John 15:7).

God wants us to pray and He wants to answer our prayers, but He makes our use of prayer as a privilege to commingle with His use of prayer as a discipline. To receive answers to prayer we must meet God’s terms. If we neglect His commandments our petitions will not be honored. He will alter situations only at the request of obedient and humble souls.

The God-always-answers-prayer sophistry leaves the praying man without discipline. By the exercise of this bit of smooth casuistry he ignores the necessity to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, and actually takes God’s flat refusal to answer his prayer as the very answer itself. Of course such a man will not grow in holiness; he will never learn how to wrestle and wait; he will never know correction; he will not hear the voice of God calling him forward; he will never arrive at the place where he is morally and spiritually fit to have his prayers answered. His wrong philosophy has ruined him.

That is why I turn aside to expose the bit of bad theology upon which his bad philosophy is founded. The man who accepts it never knows where he stands; he never knows whether or not he has true faith, for if his request is not granted he avoids the implication by the simple dodge of declaring that God switched the whole thing around and gave him something else. He will not allow himself to shoot at a target, so he cannot tell how good or how bad a marksman he is.

Of certain persons James says plainly: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” From that brief sentence we may learn that God refuses some requests because they who make them are not morally worthy to receive the answer. But this means nothing to the one who has been seduced into the belief that God always answers prayer. When such a man asks and receives not he passes his hand over the hat and comes up with the answer in some other form. One thing he clings to with great tenacity: God never turns anyone away, but invariably grants every request.

The truth is that God always answers the prayer that accords with His will as revealed in the Scriptures, provided the one who prays is obedient and trustful. Further than this we dare not go.

if you love me keep my commandmentsAs Tozer stated above, “The God-always-answers-prayer sophistry leaves the praying man without discipline. By the exercise of this bit of smooth casuistry he ignores the necessity to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, and actually takes God’s flat refusal to answer his prayer as the very answer itself. Of course such a man will not grow in holiness; he will never learn how to wrestle and wait; he will never know correction; he will not hear the voice of God calling him forward; he will never arrive at the place where he is morally and spiritually fit to have his prayers answered. His wrong philosophy has ruined him.”

We live in a “how to be a Christian in one easy step” culture today where we put all the emphasis on God to do everything for us and that we aren’t expected to, or worst yet, don’t have to do anything in return (as in obedience to God and Jesus Christ) once we have said a little Jesus prayer to accept Jesus as our Savior. Tozer didn’t mince any words about that kind of philosophy either in what he stated above. And it’s a deadly philosophy that ruins people spiritually at every turn.

I ran across a devotion yesterday titled “Don’t Substitute Praying for Obeying,” in the devotional book, Tozer on Christian Leadership,” that states the following:

Don’t Substitute Praying for Obeying

So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” —1 Samuel 15:22

Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late–and how little revival has resulted?

Considering the volume of prayer that is ascending these days, rivers of revival should be flowing in blessing throughout the land. That no such results are in evidence should not discourage us; rather it should stir us to find out why our prayers are not answered….

I believe our problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying; and it simply will not work….

Prayer is never an acceptable substitute for obedience. The sovereign Lord accepts no offering from His creatures that is not accompanied by obedience. To pray for revival while ignoring or actually flouting the plain precept laid down in the Scriptures is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Of God and Men, 55-57.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; show me any wicked way that needs to be corrected in my own life before revival can come. I’m praying for revival; help me to also be obeying. Amen.” (Devotion for September 23.)

As I was thinking about the implications of what Tozer has to say regarding prayer and our expectations when it comes to God answering our prayers, I thought back on these past six years since I lost my job in Houston and how, during the first couple of years, the prayer at the forefront of all of my prayer requests was my need to find a job and an income again as soon as possible. It was a very legitimate need since I am my only means of financial support (e.g., I don’t have a husband or family I can rely on for financial support). It seemed to me to be clearly obvious that this was a very viable prayer to be praying, and I had witnessed many other Christians during this time who were also unemployed finding jobs and getting their lives back from the brink of financial disaster in answer to their own prayers. That it wasn’t happening to me was a perplexity of major proportions. Was I not as “Christian” as those other folks who had prayed and received jobs? It was a real stumbling block for me those first two years as I simply did not understand what was going on and I didn’t know if there was something I was personally doing that was holding God back from answering my very legitimate request for a very viable need in my life.

During these past six years I have come to understand that there is a whole lot more going on in this world of ours that oftentimes overshadows what we think are our immediate needs. Yes, there is definitely an “obedience” factor on our part when it comes to receiving genuine answered prayers from God, but there is also a very specific area that we tend to ignore (oftentimes not on purpose) that is a part of how Jesus taught us to pray. That part is this: “Your kingdom come; Your will be done; on earth as it is in Heaven.” We rarely see God’s kingdom as He sees it in our own everyday lives.

While the answer to my prayer for a job so that I could be financially solvent again (as in a regular paycheck and keeping a roof over my head) has gone unanswered for almost six years now, I have experienced the “care” of God in miraculous ways that I never could have experienced had He just plopped down another job in front of me back when I lost that job six years ago. These past six years, while frustrating to their very core at times, have provided me with the most enlightening and awe-inspiring evidence in my life for the existence of the God that I have always said I believed in and it has, indeed, increased my faith and my understanding exponentially.

Has it been hard? You bet it has. Have I suffered loss? Of course I have. Have I had challenges that I absolutely did not know how to maneuver around and that only God could guide me through? Yes, more times that I can even count. But He has always been there every single step of the way to keep me from stepping on landmines and veering off course in the wrong direction. And he has taken care of every need of mine even if it wasn’t in the way I wanted it to be. He has been there for me when I didn’t even have a clue anymore exactly how to pray or what to pray for. And he has been there when I just didn’t want to keep going on in this trial of mine anymore and I was desperate to try and twist his arm to get me out of it.

“Thy will be done.” If we could only understand with our finite minds exactly what that means we wouldn’t be nearly are harried or hurried or as selfish as we are in this life. If we could just get a glimpse of what is really going on behind the curtain of our own lives and see this world from God’s perspective, it would humble us in a way that would change us forever, and for the rest of our lives here on earth, too. And the only way to really see that is to experience it through the trials God allows to come our way. And if we try to wiggle out of them too soon, it can ruin us spiritually.

The truth is that we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for so much of the time because we can’t see beyond our own needs or desires. And when we don’t have a vision of God “high and lifted up” in all areas of our lives our prayers can become trite and myopic and we try to answer them on our own if we have the wherewithall to do it.

Obedience to God is not an option for Christians, but it has to be done from a heart of love, and not from just following a list of rules. It has to be something we want to do (through the power of the Holy Spirit as we can’t accomplish it on our own) and not viewed as a negative as it so often is anymore. And, it is just as Paul describes in Romans 7 & 8 (click here to read that passage).

Tozer made the following statement in a chapter titled, On Wrestling in Prayer,” in the book, This World: Playground or Battleground?(available online in its entirety at this link):

The spiritual quality of a prayer is determined not by its intensity but by its origin. In evaluating prayer we should inquire who is doing the praying–our determined hearts or the Holy Spirit? If the prayer originates with the Holy Spirit, then the wrestling can be beautiful and wonderful; but if we are the victims of our own overheated desires, our praying can be as carnal as any other act . . . .

Only the Spirit can pray effectively. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).

Well, enough said. You get the picture . . . .

My will be done . . .

Or Thy will be done . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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