A Prayer Prompted by Luke 16

Dearest heavenly Father,

You have so constructed this world that it has become, for us, a place to prepare for eternity.  Help us to get our hearts in the right place and keep them there – focused on you and not on ourselves, our possessions or our worldly pleasures.  Help us to use what material goods we have to serve you and prepare ourselves treasure in heaven.

Help us to see our trials as a gift from you, especially designed to train us and lead us to Jesus.  Your servant James once wrote (James 1:2-4) that we should, “Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

That’s what we want to be – “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  To the extent that we must endure trials, experience pain and undergo suffering, let it be for your glory and the honor of the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 7

Dear Father in heaven,

We come before you in humility knowing that in ourselves there is nothing that would make us worthy to have you listen to our prayers.  We truly have nothing to offer but our faith in Christ.  We know that he came to proclaim forgiveness to sinners like ourselves, so we ask you to cleanse us of our sins.

We ask you to make us faithful intercessors, much like the centurion, with respect to those we love. Please hear the prayers that we offer up for others.

Help us to remain faithful in the midst of our own trials, even as John had to remain faithful in prison.

And as we recognize how great your forgiveness has been toward us, make us people who would show you great love.

In Christ,

Amen.

Is this the Jesus we wanted? – Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

John the Baptist was languishing in prison.  Conditions were harsh even for him, a man unaccustomed to comfort.  Further, he was not a criminal, and he knew he didn’t belong there.  Where was that Messiah that was going to set the world right?  Jesus was certainly that very man, wasn’t he?  There was the voice from heaven and the Spirit descending like a dove.  He was a relative and John knew him well enough to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the one.  But again, here he was, locked up and no happy ending anywhere in sight.  Who can blame him for asking Jesus for some word of hope or instruction?

The doubts of a saint are vastly different from the doubts of the skeptic.  When we find we don’t have the Jesus we wanted, we need assurance, even if we are determined to believe.  It’s a question of trust.  We can trust someone during difficult times, but still acknowledge that the times are difficult.  Disappointment with God is a real thing.  Our faith may waver, but it will not fail.  Surely, as we wait, God will strengthen our heart.

The skeptic sees things differently.  Difficulties just add to his denials.  She builds a wall of doubt out of bricks inscribed with objections.  Trials are never an acceptable outcome of obedience.  Disobedience can always find its reasons.

The saint knows better.  The narrow gate and the difficult way lead to life.  The rugged cross is something to cherish and something to cling to, while awaiting to exchange it for a crown.  Is this the Jesus we wanted?  No matter, it is the real Jesus.  And he would tell us the same thing he told John: 

“The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

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?