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.