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Tag Archives: Matthew

Conversations over the past weeks have touched on . . .

Delight in Jesus

Cultivating passion

Enjoying God

Finding our hearts captured by Jesus

Pressing beyond just “going through the motions”

Not only are such thoughts on my heart, but they are continually coming up in conversations I am having with other friends and followers of Jesus. So, I continue to discuss and explore and to think and to pray about just how it is that we can encourage growth in delight in Jesus in our own souls and the lives of our friends.

As I think about these things, I keep coming back to a few things that Jesus said.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

There is a progression evident in these words:

Treasure is what draws the heart. The heart drawn pursues the treasure. The treasure obtained results in joy.

If I am not vigorously running after Jesus it is because I am not tasting joy. If I am not tasting joy it is because my heart is not finding in him what it wants. If my heart is not finding in Jesus what it wants it is because I do not see the treasure that he is. This is not a “magic formula” for joy in Jesus, but it is real progression that we all experience.

I can not “will” joy. Nor can I merely “intend” my heart to pursue Jesus in joy. So given this progression how can we cultivate joy in Jesus?

We can fight to see the treasure that he is. We can be attentive to what he reveals about himself, be alert to how he shows himself in life and in Scripture. We can watch to catch a glimpse of glory and grace and splendor. We can make much of Jesus in the presence of our friends. We can mutually magnify all that Jesus is. We can, by looking, raise Jesus’ “treasure quotient” in our hearts and as we do that . . .

We will see Jesus as “treasure-ful.” Seeing Jesus as “treasure-ful” we will run after him. Running after him as our treasure we will find him to be “all that”. And finding Jesus to be “all that” we will experience life with him as joy.

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The followers of Jesus watched him pray. They listened as he spoke with the Father. They saw the fruit and the result of his praying. And so it seems to be only reasonable that they would have asked him to teach them to pray. They wanted to learn how to talk with the Father the way that he did.

In answer to the disciples’ request to teach them to pray, Jesus offered an “index prayer”–something like a prayer guideline. Not a collection of the very words to say or repeat, but a pattern of the kinds of things to talk with the Father about. In a number of prior posts, we listened to and explored this model prayer. Here we turn, once again, to the last essential request (initially touched on in “Where He Leads Us”).

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

We have to think carefully about requesting the Father to “not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This is not a plea for the Lord to refrain from tempting us to do evil, to not entice us into sin. The Lord does not do that kind of thing. But the Lord does orchestrate things in such a way that we do face times of temptation, as seen with the disciples themselves.

When they were with Jesus in the Garden before Jesus’ betrayal, he enjoined his followers to pray.

“Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

The situation the disciples found themselves in was wholly within the Father’s purview. They weren’t where they were by accident, but by design. But praying was necessary to keep them from giving into the temptation that they were facing. Although they might well have had a longing to live well and right with Jesus (the “willing spirit”), their ability to live into that was deficient without divine help (the “flesh is weak”).

A similar dynamic is reflected in Paul’s words about the things he faced during his years of ministry. In writing about how he had faced various hardships, Paul wrote:

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom; to him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17-18)

In the midst of trouble and hardship, Paul needed the Lord’s help. In these two sentences, Paul twice makes reference to the Lord’s “rescuing” him–the same word used by Jesus in teaching us to pray for deliverance from evil. And the evil we are asking to be delivered from is the same word Paul uses to speak of being delivered from “every evil deed.” Paul experienced the reality of that last phrase of “the Lord’s prayer.”

Putting these pieces together, we can fill in the picture of what Jesus is teaching us about prayer. We are encouraged to ask:

“Father, knowing that trouble will come but assured of your sovereign reign over all, do not allow me to be taken to the brink of trials that will overwhelm me, but rescue me out of all that is wicked, delivered from all that might draw me away from you or turn my heart from running fully after you.”

What could or should we pray for? What things are appropriate to ask the Lord about? Jesus offers a framework for us to think well about prayer when asked, by his followers, to teach them to pray.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

This model prayer is not a call to repeat these specific words, but is an invitation and model to pray these kinds of things. We should talk to God about these issues, mentioned here by Jesus.

In previous posts we have unpacked a great deal of this model prayer. Here we turn our attention to the last two ideas: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

We know from other passages of Scripture that God does not tempt us. James tells us “God himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).  If that is the case, then in what way is it appropriate to pray that God “not lead us into temptation”? That request sounds like we are asking him to not do something that he would never do.

Jesus’ own experience may provide us a way to understand this request. We read about an encounter Jesus had with Satan in the Gospels.

Immediately the Spirit impelled [Jesus] to go out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:12-13)

What are we to make of this? The Spirit clearly led Jesus into the wilderness; the language Mark uses suggests that Jesus was, literally, “driven” by the Spirit to the wilderness. When Jesus got to the wilderness, he was confronted by Satan in a series of temptations. Is it reasonable to assume that there is some connection between the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness and Jesus’ temptation at the hand of Satan? It would seem so.

So did the Spirit, the Lord, tempt Jesus? Of course not. Did the Spirit lead Jesus into a situation where he was exposed to temptation? Apparently. Was it the Spirit’s intention for Jesus to be caught up in a sinful situation? Of course not. But did the Spirit permit Jesus’ exposure to the wiles of the devil? Apparently.

Similar to what happened to Job–where the devil asked for permission to distress Job and entice him to turn from God–the Spirit led Jesus in such a way that he was exposed to attack.

Neither in Jesus’ case nor in Job’s case was this permission–this exposure to an attack from the devil–moral evil on God’s part. He did not set up either Job or Jesus to fall in sin. But the Lord did orchestrate things in such a way that the devil had access to Job and Jesus.

Being aware of our susceptibility to the attacks of the devil and the devil’s power to sway our minds and hearts, the request to not be led into temptation is most likely a plea to not be placed in situations where we are exposed beyond what the Lord knows we will be able to handle. It’s a prayer rooted in our honest, humble, self-assessment. With a proper sobriety, rather than shouting “bring it on!” when facing trouble and trials, this is the cry of a dependent heart.

“Please, gracious Lord, spare me all that you can in order to keep me from being at risk of stumbling in sin.”

We have relationships that are reciprocal–those  “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of relationships. Perhaps at work, in school, or even in the family, we can find relationships that work on this kind of bartering.

When we don’t hold up our end of the bargain, we anticipate not getting reciprocated. And, when the other is not scratching our back, we are not likely to scratch theirs.

When we first hear Jesus’ words about forgiving in the “Lord’s prayer,” we might think that he is describing something akin to this reciprocal kind of relationship. But as we look a little deeper, it will be clear such is not the case.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

When Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” we might first think, “Oh, so in order to get forgiven I must forgive.” In other words, we are bartering with God for forgiveness and will only get forgiven by him when we extend forgiveness to others.

If this were the case, then it is a remarkable out-of-place request. All the rest of the petitions in this prayer are invitations for God to take initiative, for God to be the primary actor. We are asking to be the beneficiaries of his good grace. It is unlikely that Jesus makes an abrupt shift in thinking and tucks into the middle of this model prayer a call for us to barter with God for forgiveness.

The language Jesus uses does not have to mean “God, you owe us forgiveness because we have extended forgiveness to others.” Although there must be some relationship between our forgiving others and God’s forgiving us, the relationship might not be causal (as if our forgiving others is the cause of God extending us forgiveness) but the relationship might still be vital.

In another place, Jesus says that the one who has been forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47). Someone living in the richness of God’s love and forgiveness lives that out in a certain way–in the Luke passage, through the expression of love. The reality of the one (forgiveness from God) is reflected in the reality of the other (loving).

In praying “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” it may be that the idea is more “continue to let us live in this forgiveness we experience from you, O Lord, for we long to live in that reality in all our relationships.” It would not be that our forgiving others merits our being forgiven by God, but that our living in forgiveness with others is the way to express our delight and our longing for a continual life of forgiveness with God. The reality of the one (forgiveness from God) is reflected in the reality of the other (forgiving others).

In other words, to request forgiveness from God without desiring to live in forgiveness with others suggests that we do not really want to live in an atmosphere of forgiveness. It is not so much bartering for blessings, but sincerity in longing to live there–in forgiveness–that may well be in view.

I see a similar kind of relationship between us and the Lord reflected in the Psalms.

Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in you. (Psalm 33:22)

God’s “lovingkindness” is his free and gracious disposition to do good to those who are the objects of his love. We neither merit nor deserve to be the objects of his lovingkindness. So when the psalmist asks for God’s lovingkindness to be upon him “according as we have hoped in you,” he is not saying “You have to treat us with lovingkindness because of what we have done in hoping in you, God!” The psalmist is asking God to continue to treat them the way he has because that is the psalmist sincere desire–to live there in God’s lovingkindness. And that desire is reflected in the ongoing hope he has in God. There is a relationship between the “as we have hoped in you” and “let your lovingkindness by upon us,” but it is not causal. The hoping does not cause God to extend lovingkindness. But the way to live in the lovingkindness of God is to continue to hope in him.

In similar fashion, our forgiving others does not mandate or place a requirement upon God that he now must forgive us, but the way to continue to live in the experience of God’s forgiveness is to continue to extend forgiveness to others. Trusting, believing, that he forgives us, we cannot but live in that forgiveness.

In teaching his followers to pray, Jesus offered a template for how to think about prayer. He wasn’t providing the very words he wanted his followers to repeat, but he was offering a perspective on how to pray.

Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘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 also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-12)

Working our way through this model prayer, each phrase gets unpacked. At this point, we are looking at the request for “daily bread.” (See posts “Asking For What’s Intended,” and “Do You Ever Ask for ‘Daily Bread’?”)

On the face of it, this is clearly an invitation to ask the Father for our daily sustenance–for the provision of our daily food. But it could be that the reference to “daily bread” includes more than just the actual food we eat. It may refer to all that we need for daily life.

In Luke 12, the Gospel writer records for us Jesus’ words about how we are to live daily life in the presence of the Father. Jesus touches on many of the daily things we concern ourselves with–what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear, how we will store up for the future, how many days we will live (Luke 12:22-32). These are the daily concern that fill our minds and hearts, that drive us through the days to busy-ness, that are at the core of the worries that keep us up at night. The “daily bread” as well as the “daily drink” and the “daily clothing” and the “daily resources” and the “daily health” are all brought together by Jesus in talking about the kind of life we are invited into.

And Jesus’ call in the face of these daily demands is simple and clear:

For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:30-32)

The Father intends to meet our needs today. It is his pleasure to do so. This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t or don’t need to ask for daily needs (again, see the post on “Asking for What’s Intended”), but it does mean that we can rightly request of our good Father the things we need today to live in the kind of life that he wants for us.

I realize that I often head into the day simply assuming that “things will work out.” I don’t typically stop, listen to the Father about what he might have in store for me today, attend to what it will take to live well in that day he has laid out for me, and then ask him to provide all that is needed for me to live a kingdom kind of life today.

But in this model prayer, Jesus is encouraging that very thing–a daily attentiveness that fosters a daily dependence that ushers in a daily rich life with the living God.

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