Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

“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 6:5-13ESV

“You can’t beat me!” my niece proudly proclaimed to her mom, immediately taking off, arms and legs pumping. It was a bold statement, really. Ignoring the fact she was five years old and somewhere around three feet tall, my niece had more than just the limits of her leg length to compete against. Her mother was a former NCAA sprinter. Her high school state 400 meter time would have placed her eighth in the Beijing Olympics, and that wasn’t even the height of her running career. In other words, even twenty years later, my sister-in-law is not slow.

The statement is an example of how the limited experience of children makes them poor evaluators of their own skills. What is more, it had been a long time since she’d seen my husband and I. She’d grown a bit and thought we were “so fast”, so she was showing off for attention. It was cute. It was innocent. It made my husband and I laugh.

We laugh, but aren’t we still like that, even as adults? We may not come right out with such a bold “look at me” statement, particularly one so easy to disproved. But how often do we do things or buy things or say things because we want other people to think well of us? Because we want to look good? Because we want some sort of “return on investment” for our efforts? Ultimately, how often are we trying to prove something to everybody watching? Even to God?

In this passage, Jesus condemns public prayer or praying “on and on”. Yet are public prayers or long prayers the real issue He’s highlighting? I don’t think so. He’s trying to highlight a deeper heart issue. What He’s getting at is the Pharisees prayed in public to get the praises of people, to prove they were righteous enough. The “pagans” “babbled on and on” in their prayers to prove they were devoted enough for their gods to grant them their desires. Their prayers were not about being a relationship with God…they were about proving their worthiness.

Prayer isn’t about proving anything to God. God is already our Father; He says so multiple times in this passage. We don’t need to prove our devotion to Him; He already knows us fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). That leaves us free to be totally honest with Him. To hold nothing back as we speak to Him about our lives, our days, our desires, our joys, our fears, our failures…as we bare a soul already known well by our good Father. We are free to be in a relationship grounded in complete trust, knowing nothing inside us repels the God who saved us with eyes wide open.

He’s not going anywhere.

  1. Why do we often view relationships as a means to an end, rather than the end in themselves?
  2. We have a society focused on “earning what you get”. What’s the danger when we apply that concept to our relationship with God?
  3. How does trying to “prove something” to God actually impair your ability to be close to Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, setup a chair across from your favorite spot to sit in your house. Imagine Jesus grabbing a seat in that empty chair and dare to tell Him at least one “ugly truth” out loud, without editing to make it sound better. Then rest in the knowledge He heard it and you are still loved.
Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 1:15-20ESV

Truth…how can we even know it in our world? Since the revelation of how prevalent and deep-running “fake news” is, every time I read an article or watch a snippet of news…I feel the worm of doubt eating its way through the back of my mind, unless the news report is on rescued kittens or the latest outfit a female royal wore to a high-profile event. It’s gotten to the point where, unless I actually read the transcript of the entire conversation being reported on, I nearly wholly doubt the truth of what is being reported. The biases are so obvious, even in the most respected sources of world news…how can I even know for sure what is really happening unless I witness it myself? I find myself asking:

“What is true?”

And in so doing, I echo the question an incredulous Pontius Pilate posited to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38ESV). Ironically enough, in a world where we celebrate “You do you” truth, where truth’s parameters are defined subjectively by the individual without any necessary application to anyone else… we hunger for somewhere strong to stand. We want the things we believe in to not just be our arbitrary stances but to have good reasons for us to believe them. We want to know we are doing well, even if we don’t agree what that looks like. We want our lives to have meaning, not just a chasing after the whims of the moment. When we stand at the end of our lives, we want to look back and say, “Man…what a good ride.”

Interestingly, it seems as though we stand in a world similar to the one in which Pontius Pilate first placed his question before Jesus. A preoccupation with gladiatorial violence and love of dangerous chariot races doesn’t seem that different from some of the reality shows and popular sports we see today. People want their shows to be more and more realistic, barring no content in the pursuit of “authenticity”. Paganism, central to Roman culture, is the on the rise in the United States. Extremely lose parameters on sex and sexuality were common in Rome (at least for men), and we see those same parameters sliding away for men and women today. Political unrest and dissidence are shared between ancient Rome and the modern United States, including a general skepticism of the reliability of political entities. I’m sure a more informed historian could draw even deeper parallels.

So we ask, ‘What is truth?” as Pontius Pilate did two thousand years ago…and shrug.

But the question is: what did Jesus say that drove Pontius to ask this heart-deep question?

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37ESV).

You see…Jesus is the source of truth we are hungry for.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus to:

  • receive “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” – v. 17
  • have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened” v. 18
  • know what is the hope to which he has called you” – v. 18

If you look at the bolded words in this passage, all of them have to do with someone coming to know something in deep, life-changing ways. The Spirit referenced in verse 17 is the Spirit of God, whose whole job is to help us know and understand God’s voice and will. To have your heart’s eyes enlightened is to have them come to see the world through the eyes and love of God so you desire what He desires. To know God’s hope is to know the hope revealed in Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the Devil when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

You see, in a world where everything seems suspicious and uncertain, fearful and dangerous and hopeless…Jesus gave Himself so we could know truth. The kind of truth immune to the twisted words and judgment of this life. The kind of truth that never buckles under scrutiny. The kind of truth we can turn to when we are pounded with lie after lie. The kind of truth we can stand firm on when everything else is stripped away.

And He is not a truth buried in mystery that we have to hunt down. He is truth revealed. Revealed freely out of love for us.

  • When you look at our culture today, what discourages you?
  • When you try to define what is true, how hard is it for you to do so? Why?
  • Do you sense the desire for firm truth in our culture, even as we reject it? Where?
  • Challenge for the Week: If Jesus is the truth, then His words shape reality. Review His words in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and ask God to guide you to live into His truth this week. Pray this prayer every morning.

 

Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20ESV

Most kids, it seems to me, love puppets and clowns. They’re funny, they’re outgoing, and they inspire the imagination. I was not like most kids. By three years old, I had decided both these things were scary and untrustworthy. My mom would take me to the fair, and she couldn’t get me to go anywhere near the clown shows. Even the Christian clowns made me uncomfortable.

I remember one fair, when I was very young, we were walking past a tent where they were doing a kids’ event, and they were appealing to families walking by to come into the tent. It was a clown show, and I could see the kids gathering around the clowns doing the presentation. Amidst the rising fear, I reached for my mom’s hand. As she held my hand, the fear was still there…but I also felt safe. I knew my mom was there, that she wouldn’t leave me…that I would be okay because she loved me.

In Matthew 28, the disciples are coming to the end of three-and-a-half incredible years at the feet and side of Jesus. Not only had they seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, stand up against the Pharisees, raise the dead, and feed thousands with a poor boy’s meal…He had enabled them to do the same in His name. What is more, they had watched Him die a brutal, agonizing death…only to rise from the dead and walk with them and teach them even more. Now…He is about to ascend into heaven, and He has just given them an incredible responsibility:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20aESV).

In other words, Jesus is telling them, “Make faithful believers of the whole world.” May it be noted the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth – namely Rome –  just decided Jesus was a threat and had Him executed with no evidence of a crime. The religious leaders of the Jews, the very leaders ALL the disciple’s friends and family are part of, conspired for Jesus’ murder to take place. And the world outside Rome is no safer for lone people with no apparent protection. Add to that, Jesus is leaving. While He had sent the disciples on missions before, it was always with the plan of them returning to His side to learn and grow again at His feet. To their eyes, this time He will not be there to physically turn to. They will not be able to have the same deep, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind conversations.

Can you imagine how daunting this task would seem? How afraid they might have been?

But, like my mom taking my hand when I was afraid, Jesus acknowledges their fears with these final parting words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20bESV). He isn’t leaving them alone to this task, with no support and no help. He will be with them through it all, speaking the truth to their hearts, speaking the truth through their mouths and hands. And to be honest…they faced a brutal road. Every disciple, except for John, would be murdered serving this mission, and John himself would die in exile on a prison island. Yet they did not die alone. In death they leapt into the arms of Jesus because He was never away from their sides.

The same stands true for you, believer. In every moment of fear, every breath of terror and uncertainty, every sense of inevitable, crushing defeat… Jesus has never left your side. As He promised the disciples, He is with you always, even to the end of all we know. The fear may persist, but you are not abandoned.

You are never alone.

  • On a piece of paper, list all the fears you are facing right now, great or small.
  • When you think about all these fears, how do you feel? Whatever feelings or thoughts came to mind, note them under your list.
  • How might Jesus’ constant presence in the midst of these fears and feelings impact how you deal with fear?
  • Challenge for the week: Jesus has promised to be with us in fear. Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6 and speak it to yourself whenever your fear begins to rise.

Matthew 6:25-33 – God’s Character

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:25-33ESV

I was a horse girl growing up. Some girls liked dolls or makeup or playing dress-up… but for me, it was all about horses all the time. Naturally, the majority of my toys were plastic horses, and there aren’t enough pages to record all the stories I wove out of their flashing hooves and flowing manes. At one time, I think I remember counting around 250 horses of varying sizes and colors stashed in my closet (the “barn”).

Inevitably, in these valiant horse-stories, there were also casualties. Sparring stallions sometimes broke legs. A foal slipping from careless fingers would lose an ear. My favorite toy horse (a black stallion named Spark) even had two broken legs. My horses were well-loved, thoroughly played-with, and they showed it. Broken legs, in particular, were a cause for tears. How can a horse with broken legs roam free?

But I always knew where to take my anxiousness. His oversized coffee-cup proudly proclaimed him “Mr. Fix-It”…and in my world he was better known as “Dad”. I knew if anyone could fix my horses, he could. I also completely trusted him to never turn me away. He never had before, and even if it took a long time, I knew my horses were well-cared-for in his hands.

In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus tells us “do not be anxious about your life.” It is easy to get caught on these words and frame the rest of what He says in the context of an impossible command. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with anxiety constantly. I am uncomfortably familiar with the knotting stomached, pounding-hearted, sleepless nights that leave you feeling exhausted and even more worried the next day. Viewing this passage only as a command would easily leave me anxious about trying not to be anxious.

But to stop at “Do not be anxious” would be to miss the life-giving truth Jesus points us to over and over again throughout this passage:

  • verse 26 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Emphasis mine).
  • verse 30 – “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you…” (Emphasis mine).
  • verses 31 & 32b – “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Emphasis mine).

Jesus is reminding us not to be anxious because we don’t need to. I didn’t need to be anxious about my horses’ broken pieces because I knew the character of my father. He loved me and wanted to help me. In his hands, I knew my horses would be fixed.

We don’t need to be anxious our lives because we can trust in the character of our God, who…

  • is faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13),
  • is patient (2 Peter 3:9),
  • created all things (Genesis 1:1),
  • is more powerful than anyone on earth (Isaiah 40:23),
  • provides all good things (James 1:17),
  • sacrificed His only son to save us (John 3:16),
  • keeps promises (Numbers 23:19),
  • is perfect (Psalm 18:30),
  • is compassionate, gracious, and righteous (Psalm 116:5),
  • and even more!

Compared to our anxiety, our God is far more mighty and able to handle what we cannot control. The creator of the universe, in the midst of your anxiety, taps you on the shoulder and reminds you “Look at me. Remember me.” He whispers quietly in your ear “I am with you always, to the end” (Matthew 28:20b).

 

  1. What are the things causing you anxiety right now? It may be helpful to list them out.
  2. Search for a list of bible verses about the character of God online. How do the characteristics of God speak to your list of anxieties?
  3. When anxiety is ruling you, how does that impact your decision making?
  4. Challenge for this week: using the bible verses you found about God’s character, pick one characteristic that really spoke to you and spend a little time each day reading Bible passages that explore this characteristic of God.