Prayer Makeover: Part II

Last week I spent some time going over the rules or conditions of prayer. These five rules were not my own, they were found explicitly in the Word of God. If you remember, I used quite a few different books of the Bible to demonstrate God’s instructions about prayer.

This week, for Part II of our Prayer Makeover, I want to go into the process of prayer, and we will only be looking at one book of the Bible. So, (clears throat) please turn your books to Matthew 6, verses 5 to 8. You can go ahead and bookmark the page, because we’re going to be here for a bit…

“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.”

Here Jesus tells us a few things about how we should pray…. Well, first, He actually tells us how not to pray. We can’t be doing it out in the open for all to see. Now, does this mean we can’t pray out loud before a meal with our family? Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray in our small groups and group bible studies and prayer meetings with friends? Not necessarily.

See, the hypocrites that Jesus is talking about used to get all dressed up to go out on the street corner and shout out prayers that they could have just said at home in their pajamas. But they didn’t do it to talk (much less listen) to God. They did it so that other people would look at them and think, “Oh, look at that holy person! How faithful they are! They are so righteous! I love they way they pray!”

This is why Jesus says that these people have already received their reward. They get credit for their prayers from the people that hear them (the people that the prayers are actually for). These prayers are not for God, so God does not give them a reward in heaven for their windy, wordy, empty prayers.

Jesus warns us to not be like those people, who keep babbling, thinking that they will be heard because they keep on talking and talking and talking. When they do this, Jesus, implies, their words loose meaning, but they also insult God in the process; they are treating Him as if He doesn’t already know what they need! Our God knows everything! He knows what each and every one of us needs better than even we do! 

Now, back then, as I said, these people would go out to the town square to shout prayers to the Lord. Today’s equivalent might be praising the Lord in a Facebook status, or tweeting Bible verses. It all depends on the intent. If the intent is that you really truly think God is checking his newsfeed on “the Book of Faces” (as my husband so cleverly calls it), and so you want to let him know you’re a “fan” of His, then fine! But most of the time we post and tweet those things to make sure other people see them, not to make sure God sees them …. and honestly, I’m guilty of this too… so let’s all work on this one!

I remember being in a college prayer group when I first got saved. Each time we got together, we would talk about the Word and how it was working in our lives, then we would ask for prayer requests. After that, we would do what I like to call “Popcorn-Prayer” (this is the teacher side of me coming out!). One person would start praying, then after they had finished, another person with pick it up and pray as well, and then, after some silence, another person would pray… and so on and so forth until the last person prayed and we all would say, “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”.

I would sit there with my eyes shut, not really listening to the others, but instead I would be rehearsing my prayer! I would think about what things to say and how to phrase things, and I would review the prayer request.

Now, to be honest, I don’t think I did this in order to be praised on Earth for my holiness or beautiful prayers. I think I was actually nervous about praying in front of other people because I was a new Christian, and I really didn’t know how to pray! 

Luckily Jesus actually tells us how to do that too…

He tells us to go to our room, close the door, fall to our knees, and pray in secret. This way, our prayers are only for Him and Him alone. We are not doing it for show and our reward will be saved for us in heaven rather than being wasted here on Earth with compliments from others.

So, now we have some general guidelines about how to pray, and we have Jesus’ direct words about how not to pray. What do we do now?

Practice!

  • Take instruction from Jesus and go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!
  • Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Write about what you’re thankful for. Write about what you’re sorry for. Write about what you need or what you know others really need. Write about how incredible God is. Write about the questions you have for God.
  • Read the Word and speak the Word. God loves to hear His Word repeated back to Him, that’s why Jesus always quotes scripture. Read the Word, memorize verses, and speak them aloud in your private prayers. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life.
  • Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day. You won’t have to routinely rattle off a prayer during your lunch break at work just to fit your prayer time in if you are constantly communicating with God, whether silently or aloud. And remember, communication is a two-way street!

Next post, we will still be in Matthew 6, so keep that bookmark in your Bible or internet browser! We will take our prayer time to the next level with the “model prayer”

See you soon Saints!

“Get behind me Satan!”

… and I’m not just talking about the White Stripes album.

Today I was reading Matthew (if you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been reading through this book for a while now), and I was startled by the words “Get behind me Satan!” coming from Jesus’ mouth. The surprising part wasn’t so much that he said them, but rather who he said them to:

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it Lord! this must never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. “ Matthew 16:21-23

Yep, he says those startling words to Peter.

The weird part about all of this is in this same chapter, Peter (at the time he was ‘called’ Simon) totally impresses Jesus with his faith and understanding in his divinity that Jesus renames him to “Peter”.

At this point, Jesus has been getting all kinds of annoyed at his disciples because they just aren’t getting it!

They freak out when they don’t have enough bread even though Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into food for over five thousand men (not including the women and children). Then, when Jesus is trying to warn them not to listen to the Pharisees, they misunderstand him entirely and get paranoid that Jesus is mad at them because they didn’t pack any food (which is silly because Jesus actually tells them not to bring anything with them when traveling).

But Peter is the one who passes the test.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they say, “Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus says toe them, “But who do you say that I am?” And it’s Simon/Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Paraphrased from Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus is elated– someone finally gets it! Quite honestly, I don’t think most of his disciples really understood this fact about Jesus’ divinity up until after his death. They knew he was special, but why would Jesus respond so enthusiastically to Peter if all his followers were also aware that he was divine?

“Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” Matthew 16:17-19

This description has a lot of heavy language in it. I mean look at it! Peter, first of all, gets his new name, then he’s got Jesus telling him that God himself revealed important information to him, that he’s the rock that the church will be built on, that the Devil will not prevail against said church, and that he’s going to be giving Peter the kingdom of heaven!

Talk about some heavy stuff!

So how does Jesus go from praising the heck out of Peter to then calling him “Satan” and a “stumbling block” that stands in his way?

The truth of the matter is that we all are just like Peter.

Sometimes we totally impress and excite our God…. and other times we annoy him to no end. He still has patience with us, just like Jesus does with Peter even after this last encounter (and then later when he denies him three more times), but we do have the tendency to, as Jesus puts it, “set our minds not on divine things, but on human things.”

This human vs. divine thing is kind of clutch.

Jesus tells Peter that whatever he gains and looses here on earth, he also will gain and loose in heaven. But then he also tells Peter that his mind is not focused on heaven; which is a big problem!

Paradoxically, Jesus is the perfect blending of both of these things; he is fully divine, but also fully human.

So what does all this mean?

Well, it may not be so easy to say. However, I believe this verse’s purpose is to put the fear of God back into our hearts and to get us focusing on heaven rather than earth.

Sometimes people like to paint this pretty picture of Jesus as this meek, mild, accepting person, but just from the initial passage– (the “Get behind me Satan!” passage)– you can clearly see that his man is nowhere near meek!

Jesus has a mission, and it’s a tough one, the toughest one that any man has ever faced: to take on the wrath of God and die for the world’s sins.

Jesus knows he must do this, and yeah, it looks crazy (as many times Jesus’ missions do), but he’s got to do it, and any person who says otherwise is clearly not supporting the mission of God. If you’re not for him, your against him.

We are evil. And God hates evil. And it sucks, because we have Satan working to turn us into stumbling blocks to God’s mission 24/7 and the rest of the world is not helping us out in the least.

Jesus told Peter that he came about his wisdom not by the world, but by God– divine intervention, if you will. And the same is true for us; any understanding we may have of Christ, any truly selfless act or piece of truth we receive or give comes from God.

Like Peter, we are capable of incredible good, but we also are capable and highly susceptible to disdainful evil. Even our closest, dearest friends.

If God is calling us to his mission, then anyone or anything that tempts us to stray from that divine path is a stumbling block to Jesus.

What would it be like if we reacted the way Jesus does in these situations? ….

“hey man, I know you trying to quit smoking and like, take care of your body or whatever, but you want to step out and share a smoke with me?”

“GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!!”

“…Woah, chill out dude…”

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme. But maybe we’re called to see things this way. Maybe we’re called to see ourselves this way.

Have you ever felt Satan at work in your life?

What are stumbling blocks in Jesus’ mission for you, and how can you recognize them when they may simply look like Peter, a concerned and protective friend?

What do you think is the balance between focusing on divine things and earthly things?

Shake the Dust

“I’m going to shake the dust off this crummy old town and I’m going to see the world.” –It’s a Wonderful Life

When my husband and I first started dating, he took me to a Slam Poetry event in Chicago and we saw a wonderful poet named Anis Mojgani perform. One of my favorites that he performed was a piece entitled Shake the Dust.

I recently ran across this poem and after reading it again don’t think I liked it then for the same reasons I like it so much now.

Back then, I thought it was a poem for the reject, the neglected, the hopeless, and the down-trodden, encouraging and inspiring the lowly to be heard.  But back then I did not connect it with what Jesus tells his apostles in Matthew 10:14: 

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.

Anis isn’t the only one who borrowed this phrase to describe a need to be listened to and recognized, even as an imperfect and ignored human being.

“Shake the Dust” is a feature documentary by Adam Sjöberg that tells the stories of break-dancers in struggling communities around the globe. Although separated by cultural boundaries and individual struggles, these communities are intrinsically tied to one another through their passion for hip-hop culture and the freedom to express themselves.

(If you have time to watch the video in the above link, I highly recommend you do so)

And now for some more Bible-talk!

In Acts 18:5-8, the apostle Paul and his traveling church are all in Corinth, and he initially spends his time preaching to the Jews. Unfortunately they don’t listen and are unwelcoming (to say the least). So Paul shakes out his clothes in protest and says, essentially, “Fine! If you’re not interested, from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

And so he does, and the Word is heard.

This is a story about what to do with “difficult soil,” and oddly enough we find out that it’s not to keep on keeping-on. It’s to high-tail it outta there. This story also highlights a principle of fruitfulness in disciple-making and gospel ministry.

Essentially the message is: Cast seed widely, but concentrate your efforts where the harvest is ripe. If the harvest isn’t ripe, move on.

Everyone remembers the parable of the “Good Soil” right? Well, it’s in Matthew 13, if you need to review.

Here’s how Jesus explains it:

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Paul, unlike many Christians now-a-days, did not waste his time with rocky ground, or weedy soil. He spread his seeds wide and waited to see where they would come up strong and healthy; he waited to see where the good soil was, then he spent his time here. 

Many Christians can get caught up in staying persistent with people who just aren’t producing fruit, and that makes it difficult for them to produce fruit. Jesus tells us not to “cast our pearls to swine”, meaning we cannot afford to waste our words or time with people who will not welcome it or hear it.

Sometimes it’s hard, and it almost sounds crass and mean, but Jesus makes it quite clear what the cost of his discipleship is, and it is far from easy to be a follower of Christ:

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — 36  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

Jesus rebukes people and tells us we have to do the same. We have to learn when to Shake the Dust and move on to people who are worth our time.

 So what does all of this have to do with Anis and the brake-dancers I mentioned earlier?

My guess is that these artists were greatly inspired by the idea of leaving and going elsewhere if you are not being accepted and listened to where you are or with what you are doing. Anis’s poem encourages the lowly that they are loved above the rest, just like Jesus’s message! And Adam’s documentary helps tell the story of underprivileged children who find their voice through hip-hop, never letting their struggles get in the way of their expression, but rather, allowing them to fuel their talents and strength. Jesus tells us to deliver our own message in a way which others will hear it too (ie: putting it in good soil rather than bad). He also tells us to expect trials of great pain when spreading his Word.

If your message is falling on deaf ears, stop talking to those ears!

If you are not welcome where you are with your Spirit-inspired words, get outta there!

Jesus promises that there will be people who hate you because you love Him.  (Matthew 10:16-21) So get used to shaking that dust and never letting it get you down or stop you on your mission.

What truth do you find in Jesus’s promise of pitting brother against brother and added persecution? In what ways have you shaken the dust from your feet and left someone or something hard to leave? Is it mean-spirited to think that some people are so-called “lost causes”?

What do you think?