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.
1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 5:6-11NIV

According to a 2015 survey of 6000 people, the number one priority in a relationship is honesty, with a whopping 70% saying it is the most important aspect of a relationship (Croce, 2015). More than anything, we want to know the truth about where we’re at with the people we value most, even if that truth is painful or takes some getting used to.

It explains why so many people today are done with the institutions in our country. We sense, often rightly, we’re being sold something, but we aren’t necessarily sure what is really being sold. We’re afraid to commit to anything because we’ve been so often disappointed by false or misleading advertising. As the adage says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” We long to connect with people and institutions who genuinely care about us, not just what we have to offer or what the other party can get out of us…but we’re skeptical anyone really is offering that kind of relationship. Even Christianity is more and more viewed as a group selling morality but not delivering.

In this passage, Peter is writing to fellow Christians during a time when Emperor Nero, the leader of the Roman Empire, is absolutely butchering Christians. One of the more well-known ways Christians were killed was by putting a group of them in the Colosseum and then releasing into their midst half-starved lions. The crowds would watch as they were hunted and ripped apart before their eyes.

It is interesting Peter describes Satan as a lion prowling about, looking for someone to devour. The implication is, as great as the threat of persecution for the Christian is, the threat of the spiritual attacks of Satan is just as great. He can also rip us apart…in soul-deep ways.

Does Peter go on to say, “But no worries…it’ll be fine”?

No…no he doesn’t. In fact, he goes on to write they will, in fact, suffer at the hands of Satan during their life here on earth. He doesn’t sugar-coat it. He. Is. Honest.

That means God’s priority in His relationship with us is exactly what we’re hungry for: honesty. He guided the writers of the books of the Bible to be completely honest with what the cost of following Him will be. He doesn’t try to make it look prettier or easier than it really will be. He doesn’t dismiss the struggle.

He points it out. Right up front.

In my book…that’s a trustworthy God. And if He’s honest about the suffering, then we can trust He’s honest about the promise, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

  1. How has your trust been betrayed by misleading promises?
  2. Why do you find it hard to trust what you hear in scripture?
  3. How is God’s honesty about the struggle helpful in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, keep track of struggles you’ve faced related trying to be faithful to Christ. Ask God to give you strength to stand firm in Him.

References

Croce, M. (2015, September 1). Forget sex, the secret to a good relationship is communication. Daily Record. Retrieved from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/family-relationships/forget-sex-secret-good-relationship-6357824

John 14:6 – Jesus’ Truth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6ESV

When I was young, I remember going to the local butterfly habitat with a group of kids. I vividly remember getting up the courage to pet a tarantula (it’s legs felt like kitten fur!), flicking lights on an off in a scorpion habitat because the scorpions could glow-in-the-dark, and entering the giant, butterfly room. There were butterflies everywhere, of every color. They even landed on people as they walked among the verdant flowers and plants.

Unfortunately, as clear as these memories are, there is one even clearer that ended up defining the trip for me. This was the time of the “Beanie Baby” craze, and in the gift shop they had a stuffed bee that looked a lot like a “Beanie Baby”. I wanted it desperately…but I didn’t have the money to purchase it. So, when it was time to leave, I reluctantly put it back on the shelf and headed out with the rest of the group. While we were eating outside, our leader came around and was checking everyone’s bags, so when she got to the friend I had gone through the exhibit with, I said jokingly, “What? You think we stole something?”

When the bag opened…to my horror, there sat the very stuffed bee I had wanted so much. And my supposed friend accused me of putting it there while she was in the bathroom. Over my protests, our leader made us both return the bee and apologize for stealing it. It was one of the most humiliating, and unjust, experiences of my childhood.

Experiences like this can end up defining a person. When we are treated poorly, when we suffer because people cannot be honest and decent to others, we start to believe everyone is that way. When a husband or father leaves, when a mother or wife is abusive, when a boss pushes us to lie to make the sale, when a teacher clearly plays favorites, when friends betray our confidences…we start to believe we can only trust ourselves.

Sometimes…perhaps more than sometimes…we even look at God that way. When the world is so dark, when there is so much hardship we have to endure… it is easy to lose trust in God.

Yet Jesus insists He is quite the opposite of the lack of honesty and decency we see in the world. Instead of being out to trick us, He insists, “I am…the truth.” He is the embodiment of all that is true. It is His very nature. In a world where we are constantly overwhelmed by lies, even from inside our own heads, we can look to Jesus for honesty and guidance. We can rely on Him to be consistent when no one and nothing else is. We can find direction and hope in a world that seems to empty of both.

Let the voice of Jesus cut through the garbage this world and Satan throws at you…and be set free by the Truth.

  1. What untruths do you see portrayed as truth in our culture?
  2. What are some untruths you find yourself believing about yourself?
  3. Why are those untruths so hard for you to shake?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Read this compilation of who God says you are by bible.org. Write down a few that really speak into your heart on a notecard. Put it in your wallet in front of your credit card so every time you spend money, you are reminded of the Truth about you from God.