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“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Returning to the Proverbs, Jesus quotes King Solomon who, in God’s wisdom, warned, Do not wear yourself to out get rich…Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle [Proverbs 23:4a & 5].
Matthew tells us that earthly treasures can be destroyed by moth and rust or stolen by thieves. Luke says that, besides the peril of moths and thieves, our purses can wear out [Luke 12:33]. James warns the rich that the deterioration of their earthly fortunes and fancies, and the judgment of their greed-driven corruption, will bring them great despair [James 5:1-3].
Pharaohs filled their tombs with food, clothing, oils and ointments, games, gold, jewelry, elaborate furniture, chariots, weapons, boats and statues of servants peoples that the dead was supposed to be able to call to life and service in the afterlife. They believed that there was more than just this earthly life, but they believed that they could take this mortal world with them.
Well, there is certainly more. All will go on to eternal life [Matthew 25:46; John 5:29]. But no one will be able to take one thing from this physical earth with them whether they are condemned to hell or whether they ascend to heaven. Everything in this life will pass away [Matthew 24:35; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17].
So then, how can we store up treasure in heaven?
Jesus said that one ways is to sell our worldly treasures–our possessions–give to the poor and follow Him [Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33 & 18:22]. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have…a God who will never leave us or forsake us [Hebrews 13:5]. Paul says good, be rich–meaning do a lot of–good works, and be generous and ready to share [1 Timothy 6:18].
It’s not about destituting ourselves. It’s about not clinging to and being enslaved by money. It’s about the heart [Luke 12:34; 1 Timothy 6:19].
With money in our hands and pockets, we tend to view ourselves more highly than we ought [Romans 12:3]. We see ourselves as our own provider, without need of God. But our money is worthless in the scheme of eternity. No one can buy their way into heaven. No one can buy their way out of hell.
When we stubbornly hold onto all that our hands have provided, when we are stingy about helping those in need, when we insist on tending to our own earthly securities, we miss out on the blessings of serving God. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills [Psalm 50:10]. Any provision we have comes by His goodness and His grace alone. But the enemy comes to steal it all away by the temptations of our own evil desires [James 1:14].
Where is your heart? On money and earthly possessions? Or on economy of heaven?
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Once we get our prayer word count in check so that we’re talking respectfully to God–not just whining and nagging–and we have our hearts reverenced to recognize Him as the One True Living God, then we should will the coming of His kingdom–the restoration of His Creation to the way He intended it–to this earth [Matthew 3:2].
This piece of the struggle with prayer is huge!
Think about what most prayer times consist of. I want. I want. I need. I need. Give me. Bless me. My friends/family want and need. The world wants and needs. Get’er done God. Amen.
But do we ever take the time to stop and consider whether what we want and think we need are in anyway connected to what God is trying to do on the planet through human history? Not usually.
It’s normal sinful human nature to pray like this, but then it is also completely understandable that we don’t get the responses that we’re hoping for. Remember, Satan lied to us and told us that we could be our own god. Sometimes Christians try to let God be God as long as He does what they want. In essence, we recognize there is a true God, but we’re just trying to use His divine power and authority to fulfill of our self-as-god desires.
Not how it works. We’ve got it completely backwards. Because our faith doesn’t exist to move God. Our faith exists so that God can move us.
Just because we believe He exists. Just because we believe He has the power to heal and the means to provide. Just because we say that we love Him, doesn’t mean we get to use Him like our own personal servant. We need to stop praying like He’s a God-on-a-leash, here to do what we say, and start praying out of our genuine relationship with Him.
Loving Him. Understanding His plan and purpose on this planet and how we fit into it. Seeking His will and wisdom in all things [Matthew 26:39]. Leaning on Him to provide as He sees best for us instead of telling Him what we think is best for us [Proverbs 30:8]. And trusting Him.
If you’ve ever struggled with praying and unbelief in prayer, maybe you need to check out whether you’re trying to use God to get what you want–even in well meaning things like the healing of a loved one or protection in a natural disaster. Remember, that when we pray according to God’s will, it will be done [1 John 5:14-15]. But when we pray according to our self-as-god will, we shouldn’t be surprised when the heavens respond with cricket chirps.
Do you pray for God’s will or your own to be done?
“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. This then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,'”Matthew 6:7-9
Quite often, Jesus references the Old Testament in His New Testament discourse. This should, in our minds, solidify His statement that He came to fulfill the Law and not to abolish even the smallest portion of it [Matthew 5:17-18].
The mention of pagans here, hearkens back to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:26-29] and an exhortation of King Solomon about speaking thoughtfully and purposefully with God [Ecclesiastes 5:2]. Both contrast the verbose tendencies of idol worshipers.
Their gods are no god at all but rather precious metal, stone, wood and the like–statues and images made by human hands [Psalm 115:4 & 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Jeremiah 16:20-21]. They cannot hear or respond. Because of this, idol worshipers tend to talk and talk and talk their nonliving god into the ground, like beating a dead horse they can never penetrate the idol’s ears, let alone its heart, with their many words.
As Christians, we serve the one true living God [Jeremiah 10:10]. We don’t need to drone on with repetitive incantations or nagging requests. God hears us just fine [1 Samuel 1:17-20; 1 John 5:14]. And He knows what we need before we even ask Him [Matthew 6:8]. So we shouldn’t treat Him like a deaf stone statue. It’s irreverent. And it shows that we don’t have a right understanding of Him. That we need to grow in our relationship with Him.
When we pray, we know that God hears us and that, in His wisdom, He will do what is right in response to our request. Which–contrary to human opinion–is not always to give us what we ask for.
So then, how should we pray?
Recognize God for who He is. Our heavenly Father, whose very name is hallowed–meaning holy. We don’t use God’s name emptily or profanely. We don’t treat it like a magic genie’s lamp to get whatever we want. Instead, we call on the Lord as our friend who sticks closer than a brother and as our loving Father [Proverbs 18:24; 1 John 3:1].
It’s like walking into a king’s palace or any U.S. president’s Oval Office and saying, Yo bub, give me whatever I want because I’m asking you by name and you’re my government servant and you have to do whatever I want. We wouldn’t dream of trying to get things like this from earthly authorities. So why is it that when we pray we treat God with no more respect than a fictitious genie in a lamp?
If you struggle with prayer and the faith to believe that God will answer, maybe try putting your requests on ice for a time, and start seeking God to show you who He really is. Get to know Him as God. Begin to reverence Him in your heart and life. Then, when your relationship is right, bring your requests to Him as your Holy Heavenly Father.
How do you talk to God when you pray?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“As Jesus was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22
Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee by calling disciples to Himself. This was not customary. In fact, usually it was the disciple who chose the teacher or rabbi. Prospective students would begin by sitting at the back of the room, listening to their would-be rabbi. If they liked the teaching and wanted to study under the rabbi then they worked their way to sitting in the front and following the rabbi wherever he taught.
But that was an earthly tradition. God isn’t content to wait around while we stray further and further from His truth, hoping that we might show up in the back of His class our of curiosity. He passionately pursues all people.
Jesus found His first four disciples working as fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. So they were probably of mixed Gentile and Jewish origin. They probably had a recognizable accent to the “purer” Jews of the south. And they probably would have been despised–or looked down on–by the religiously devout just as much as Jesus was.
They were perfect for the job in every way!
Simon Peter is hard at work with his brother Andrew when Jesus promised to make them fishers of men. James and John responded too.
I have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus meant by this turn of phrase. Were they well versed in the prophecies of the Messiah? Or were they from Galilean families who practiced watered-down worship?
Regardless of what their understanding, what we do know about these men is the most important thing that could be said of anyone. They followed Jesus. Without hesitation. Without concern about their livelihood or their parents. They literally laid it all down and committed their lives to Him.
So often we let the love of the world consume us–the desires of our physical bodies, the desires of our eyes and the pride for what we have and do–bind us up [1 John 2:16]. When Jesus knocks on our hearts and calls our name, we hesitate. But what about my college plans? My job path? My friends? My house? My family? My healthcare? My retirement?
We have so much that we, like the rich young ruler, sadly turn away from following Jesus’ lead [Mark 10:21-22].
Is your life free to follow Christ? Or are you weighted down by the world?
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
God is love. He loved us first. He loves us most. He loves more than we could ever ask or imagine. Constantly. Faithfully. Mercifully. Full of grace, pressed down, shaken together and running over [Luke 6:38].
His love for us is holy. We are set a part as children [1 John 3:1], not the human toys purported by pagan mythologies. We are prepared as His spotless bride [Revelation 19:7-8], not exploited as harlots like in the mythological pantheons.
His love for us is sovereign and transcendent. That’s why His anger stirs when we continually and blatantly sin against one another [Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 6:1; James 2:13]. And when we sit in judgment on other people’s sins while disregarding our own [Matthew 7:2-5; Luke 6:41-42].
His love for us is righteous and good. It wills only for our eternal best. It treats us only with rightness–that which is infinitely and precisely correct according to God’s moral law. Never impatiently or unkindly. Never enviously, boastfully or arrogantly. Never dishonoring us or using us for His own gain. We do not easily trip God’s temper, and our reciprocal love toward God covers over the multitude of our sin. His love does not delight in evil. Period. But it rejoices when a sinner finds the truth, the way and the life. God’s love eternally protects as we trust in Him. His love eternally hopes we will choose to repent, though, He already knows whether or not we will. His love perseveres from the beginning to the end of human history, pursuing our hearts to return to Him–our first love, who first loved us.
In His eternal wisdom, His love will never fail us [1 Corinthians 13].
But our finite human love will fail us every time. Unless we deny our flesh and take up the cross of Christ [Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23], our sin-warped love will fixate on another thing, like money, and become the root of all evil [1 Timothy 6:10]. Or like physical and material desires, temptations that will grow into full blown death [James 1:15]. It will fixate on finite, sinful human beings and fail to meet our self-absorbed, insatiable expectations. Leaving us with the sense of being robbed and cheated rather than whole.
God’s love for us is holy–wholeness itself.
His love for us is just. It respects our freewill even when it hurts God’s heart [Deuteronomy 5:29]. He will give to each as each has chosen–the righteous to everlasting life and the unrighteous to everlasting condemnation [Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:15 & 21:27].
Do you know the depths of the riches of God’s love for you? Do you realize that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all Creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:38-39]?
It’s true. The only thing that can separate you from God’s love is you.
“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:17-18
We were all designed to love and be loved by the One who is Love [1 John 4:8]. Jesus came, reaching into our finite enmity with God’s infinite love for us [Genesis 3:15].
He didn’t come to condemn us [John 3:17]. Nor did He come to abolish the law that condemns us [Matthew 5:17]. He came in love to save us from our sin. He came to be our peace with God and our peace within [John 14:27; Romans 5:1]. He came, saying, Do not be afraid [Matthew 28:5; Luke 12:4] even though being afraid of the all-powerful holy God is the most sinful-natural feeling there is.
But God’s love is perfect, it is absolute and complete. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice by grace through faith, no punishment, no further consequence need be exacted to right our sin. There’s nothing to be afraid of when we come to God out of our love for Him.
How much more, then, as the forgiven should we be overjoyed and overflowing with God’s love as we deal with our fellow human beings? God so loved everyone that He sent His Son Jesus to die for all of our sins. We can’t and shouldn’t want to keep that a secret! What would happen if Christians didn’t live a life that lights the world with God’s love?
At one time Jesus physically walked on this earth, but before His coming and after His ascension it has been the job of believers to live out God’s love–to be Jesus with skin on while He is at the right hand of the Father preparing a place for us [Mark 16:19; John 14:2-3]. God loves your family every bit as much as you do and infinitely more. He loves your friends and their families. And your neighbors and their neighbors and everyone on the planet throughout all of human history.
But for many of these, you may be the only Jesus they ever meet. You may be the only light of eternal life they ever see, the only love they ever know.
How great is your love for God? Does it overflow into the world around you? Are you a faithful copy of Christ within you?