A Confident Prayer Prompted by Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Heavenly Father,

Teach me to ask for whatever I need from you.  Sometimes I forget; sometimes I just do not bother.  Sometimes I am negligent in prayer.  Make the kind of person who asks, seeks and knocks.  Teach me to be confident as I pray.

I know that you are good, so infinitely, incomparably good compared to me.  Sometimes even I do good things for my children or for others.  Why should I not be confident as I approach you with my needs?

Teach me to pray bold, confident prayers.  In the very word confident I see a root implying “faith” or “trust.”  Help me to have complete confidence in you.

You are good and you give good things.  Make me the kind of person who prays for good things that you would be more than happy to give,

In Christ,

Amen.

 

The easy way out? – Matthew 7:13-14

Toward the end of his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said,

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Wouldn’t it be great if following Jesus was the easiest thing we could do?  Popularity, public approval, material well-being, and an absence of trials and temptations.  Isn’t that the life most of us would like to have?  It turns out a life like that is more likely to lead to destruction.

We can learn a few things from Christ’s first followers.  Neither the Gospels nor the book of Acts, nor the rest of the New Testament gives any evidence that those early believers were getting voted “Most Likely to Succeed” or winning popularity contests of any sort.  They didn’t take the easy way out.  Why should we expect anything different?  

We need to be careful here.  Lack of popularity is no guarantee we are faithfully following Jesus either.  It might just mean we are doing a lot wrong.  

Still, when we try our best to serve God in accordance with his revealed will, we can expect it to bring some difficulty.  We can also expect that quite a few others will decide to go another way — through a wide gate and down an easy path.  Many will take the easy way out.  Look around.  Which gate are you heading going through and which path are you following?  How does it compare with the way of the cross?

A Prayer about Prayer Itself Prompted by Matthew 6:5-8

“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.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I come to you in prayer to talk about my personal prayer life. 

Jesus here reminds me that I may be tempted to pray in public, perhaps because I feel pressure to pray, but ignore you in my private times when perhaps I need prayer most.  Let me not be a hypocrite by praying only to be seen and heard by those who would think of me as spiritual.  Let my private prayer times outdo my public prayers.  Let my public prayers be a natural outflow of my personal times with you.

Help my prayers not to be full of empty words, but rather full of sincere and meaningful content, offered up freely to you.  Let my requests be related to actual needs that you would pleased to meet.  Let my praises be true expressions of humble adoration. Help me to be open, honest and plain-spoken.  You aren’t listening for artful compositions, but rather looking for the right attitude of heart.  Let my heart be right before you.

Father, I know full well that my life depends on you.  My standing before you depends on the work of your Son Jesus.  You know my needs perfectly.  May the Spirit lead me as I pray so that I might pray according to your will.  May my prayers not be purely selfish even when I ask things for myself.  May they be full of truth at every level.  May I always pray with your glory and honor in mind.

And may I be among those who move mountains with my little faith and little prayers.

In Christ,

Amen.

Looking toward the end result – Matthew 5:3-12

Christ’s beatitudes, those memorable opening words from his Sermon on the Mount, are among the most loved and best known verses in the Bible.  People who never bother to read the Bible quote them.  They appear in all kinds of contexts and sometimes entirely out of context.  Here they are once more.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What strikes me about them today is their long-term outlook.  Each one points to some activity or condition in the present and what we might call its long-term reward or payoff.  That is, it gives us the “why” that makes each activity or condition worthwhile right now.  Christ’s perspective is nothing short of eternal.

Some of them seem completely improbable.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are you when others revile you…”  And yet we have on the authority of Jesus that in any of these situations we should count ourselves blessed.

These are the words of the one who brought blessing out of his cross.  Jesus endured that, knowing that it was necessary to accomplish his objectives.  I want to be able to look toward Jesus and look toward the end result of what he might be doing in my life in the same way.  It’s a lot like Hebrews 12:1-2.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

A Prayer about Loving Enemies Prompted by Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to love not only those who love us first, but also those who treat us badly.  Jesus expressed his love by dying for us precisely at a time when we were rebelling against his authority.  Help us to do the same sort of thing whenever we are presented with the chance.  Then help us to make opportunities to love where none exist.

When we are disrespected, help us to respond with respect.  When we are ignored precisely as we think we need someone’s attention, help us to think of the needs of others and pay attention to them.  When we are hurt, help us to respond with healing love and in so doing, become more like Jesus our Lord.

In saying all of this, we know that this love does not come naturally to us, but we know that it can arise as the result of you working supernaturally within our hearts.  We need your Holy Spirit to work within us to produce this spiritual fruit.

Father, may self-giving love be a mark of who we are as your children and as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is in his name that we pray.

Amen.