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“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?
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus’ brother, James, tells us that pure and faultless religion in God’s eyes is, looking after widows and orphans in their distress [James 1:27]. In other words, giving to the needy is an act of righteousness.
But let’s look at the idea of religion first. Religion is either belief in God [one or many] or it is a system of practices that stems from this belief. And the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people believe there is a God and do nothing to demonstrate this belief. While many others doubt or don’t fully understand their own beliefs and yet religiously do many habitual activities in honor of their half-hearted faith.
To be religious is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes by any means. It’s not even equivalent to being Christian or Godly. To this end, the world often views the church as hypocritical. If we say we believe in God, then we should live like we believe in God. End of story. Otherwise, hypocrites.
But with sinful human beings, even saved ones, it’s not always that easy.
Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders of His earthly day. They kept the Law. Taught the Law. Disciplined and punished others who broke the Law. But their commitment to the Law was only skin deep. All was for show, so that people would consider them religious, or maybe even righteous.
But God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7]. And He saw the Jewish religious leaders as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27-28]–pristinely manicured in appearance, but rotting spiritual corpses at heart. One of the reasons for this comment was the fact that they only gave to the needy if it garnered them some attention.
Announcing with trumpets in the streets then would be like posting our good deeds all over social media now–Hey, look what I just did everybody! Aren’t I wonderful? Jesus is very clear. This type of worldly attention seeking is empty, meaningless. How many people today post things to social media just to feel rejected because they didn’t get a like [or a million likes]? The world’s attention, the fame in this life, none of it can satisfy because it only lasts a nano-moment in the scheme of eternity.
But doing things for Christ will last [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 3:23-24]. And that means doing things out of a sincere heart to help others and not for the temporary recognition from other human beings.
Are you religious or righteous–living God’s way purely out of love for God?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8-9
Purity of heart. Not exactly easy to accomplish, considering that sin makes, every inclination of the human heart…only evil all the time [Genesis 6:5b]. Precisely why King David acknowledged the need to, hide [God’s] word in [his] heart so that [he] might not sin against [God] [Psalm 119:11] and why God prayed for the steadfastness of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29].
You see, the word of God is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12] which only God can see [1 Samuel 16:7]. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. So it is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Him that we can be made righteous through Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. We can be being made pure in heart.
Seeking God in His Word, seeking His purity in our heart, will truly bless us. No greater joy will we know than knowing our Lord.
One fruit of the pure heart is peacemaking. As Christians, we should be so filled with peace that we can speak peace into those around us–even without using our words! And when others know us as as peacable, then they will also know us as God’s own children. What an amazing testimony!
So seeking to purify our hearts through God’s Word will bring us great joy and renew God’s peacemaking image in us, which will, again, bring us more joy. It’s an up-spiral. A positive progression instead of the world’s downward spiraling depression.
Start a new cycle. Reverse the sin feedback loop.
Which way do your emotions spiral? Earthward? Or heavenward?
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
God is omniscient. He knew Joseph’s heart–his thoughts and motivations [1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:12]. He knew that Joseph and Mary were righteous and God-fearing. He knew that Mary would face public disgrace and possible life-ending consequences depending on Joseph’s reaction. But He also knew that Joseph was the man He could trust to see that Mary was well cared for as she bore the Christ child.
Joseph was a Godly father and husband. That was why he wrestled with the righteousness piece of this whole finding-Mary-pregnant-during-their-engagement thing. He knew that he hadn’t slept with her.
But God intervenes in Joseph’s understanding to set the record straight. God brings the light of truth through an angelic dream. Dream oracles were a firm part of ancient beliefs and not just in Israel. However, God spoke in dreams to the patriarch Jacob [Genesis 28:11-19], his son Joseph [Genesis 37:5-11], King Solomon [1 Kings 3:5-15; and many of the prophets [Numbers 12:6; Daniel 7].
It’s interesting that the angel addresses Joseph by his genealogy. Had anyone ever called him Joseph son of David before? Because of the meticulously kept family records, he surely knew his own descent from the great patriarch Abraham and King David, but did he readily identify with these two men of promise? God wants to make sure that Joseph now understands what his significance in this story is.
By calling Joseph his genealogical title God is showing that the baby to be born in his family will fulfill the promise made to King David. God further expands on this explanation, assuring Joseph that Mary has not been with another man. She is still a virgin, miraculously carrying God’s own child–which will be born a son.
Now there was no way to know in those days whether a child would be male or female until it was born. So God reveals the gender in order to confirm that what He is saying is true. When the baby is born and really is a boy, Joseph will understand that the dream really was from God and that the child really is the son of God.
Until then, he has to accept the situation on faith alone. But when the truth is fulfilled–the baby is born and Joseph consummates his marriage with Mary and finds she really still is a virgin–then he has a part to play as well. When Joseph’s faith comes to fruition, he will give his God-man stepson the name Jesus to publicly acknowledge his belief in the truth God spoke to him beforehand.
All of us are born with the seed of faith to believe in God and the truth of His Word. When we study and cultivate our relationship with Him, His Word is fulfilled in our lives through salvation, the fruit of the Spirit lived out in us, and blessings. Is your faith coming to fruition? Or is it drying up in the seed of your passing child and teen years?
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” Matthew 1:1-6a
The Israelites kept meticulous genealogies throughout their history. Family lineage was extremely important for earthly reasons, but God also determined an accurate recording of the direct line through whom Jesus would come.
At the outset of Matthew’s genealogical recalling, Jesus is named the Messiah–the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation. First, the author notes, in backwards order, the two most important men in Jesus’ line. He is the promised son of King David who will reign forever on the throne [2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 9:5; Jeremiah 33:17; et al]. He is also the promised seed of the patriarch Abraham through whom the whole world will be blessed [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Galatians 3:8].
Then the genealogy follows forward from the first notable ancestor. [Although, just like the rest of us, Jesus line can be traced all the way back to Noah and Adam. So we truly are brothers and sisters of Christ!] All three patriarchs make the list–Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–the three men with whom God identifies Himself to Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:6]. Jacob was later called Israel and the Jewish nation took this name from him [Genesis 32:28].
Jacob’s son Judah, meaning praise, is mentioned next as are his sons by Tamar [Genesis 38]. Tamar is one of the few women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ, she kept Judah accountable to his duties. And on down to Salmon the father of Boaz before another woman is mentioned. In fact, Boaz is tied to two notable women in Jesus’ lineage. His mother, Rahab, was the woman who aided the Canaanite spies when the Israelites were scouting out the Promised Land [Joshua 2 & 6]. And his wife, Ruth, was the Moabitess who accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi back to her homeland [Ruth 1:6-22].
From these came King David, the man after God’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. Jesus is the fulfillment of promise after promise. He is the son of Eve that will crush the serpent’s head [Genesis 3:15]. He is the seed of Abraham through whom the whole world–Jew and Gentile alike–will be blessed. And He is the son of David, the righteous one, who will always sit on the throne.
Do you understand the significance of Jesus’ genealogy? Are you ready to give an answer about Jesus’ lineage? More importantly, have you accepted Abraham’s seed with mustard-like faith and become a co-heir with Christ?
“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'” Isaiah 14:13-14 [NASB]
God is sovereign. That means that He alone determines what is sin and how much sin–if any–is permissible.
Most people recognize the government’s authority to institute speed limits and to set and enforce consequences for disobeying them. Extrinsic school rules and government laws limit the exercise of our freewill. Yet without such limitations, society would fall into utter chaos, so people are glad to be good citizens.
However, there are plenty of people–who sit in after-school detention, or in-school suspension, or traffic court, or U.S. prisons–that refuse to acknowledge that they have done any wrong. Why? Often it’s simply because they disagree with the authorities. They want to be their own parent, their own school principal or superintendent, or their own police officer and president wrapped into one.
These same transgressors get bitter and angry about having to live according to someone else’s rule. They skirt the compliance line as closely as possible, trying to take back as much autocracy as they can.
You see, Satan lied to all humanity when he said that we could be our own sovereign [Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:14]. Because of this feel-good deception, we rebel against God’s stringent No-Sin policy [Deuteronomy 1:26, & 9:7 & 23; 1 Samuel 12:14; Daniel 9:9; et al].
Yielding to no one but self as god, we think of ourselves more highly than we ought [Romans 12:3]. I’m not so bad. I’m better than other people I know. I’m good enough. I don’t commit the really big bad sins.
All of it denies God’s goodness as our standard.
It denies His righteousness as the only truth and way to eternal life, justifying the works of our own hands. It is no less than modern idolatry.
It denies His transcendence–that He is equally outside of all sin. To God, sin is sin. There is no grey. No better or worse sins. Not even better or worse people. Just those who have accepted forgiveness and those who refuse Him.
In His sovereignty, God sets the sin limit for inheriting eternity–and He set it at zero.
But all have sinned [Romans 3:23]. It is not our righteousness that opens the gates of heaven to any one of us–not a godly parent or grandparent, not a pastor, not the disciples, not a martyr, not Mother Theresa or Billy Graham. All our righteousness is as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. It is by Christ, who alone is sinless and who has become our righteousness, that we receive eternal life [John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9]. And that’s not license to keep sinning [Romans 6:1]!
Do you think of your own goodness more highly than you ought? To whom does your heart yield? Are you skirting the lines of godliness?
“Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
Dictionaries fail to offer a Godly definition of love. Love is more than an intense feeling of deep affection–fondness or liking–and it is nothing at all to do with physical attraction. Love is the constant, unwavering will for the good of the one loved.
God so loved the world–all the people who have ever, do now and will ever walk on the earth–that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus, to sacrifice Himself to pay the wages of all of our sins so that we could be reconciled to God and have eternal life [John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Hebrews 7:27 & 10:10].
And His love for us is constant. It never fails [1 Corinthians 13:8]. It never forsakes us [Hebrews 13:5]. It never flinches in embarrassment at what we say or do. It never looks on our outward appearance aghast or ashamed to be seen with us [1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12]. It never prefers another [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]. It never wavers in good will for us in any way.
God’s love for us is infinitely faithful and perfect in every way. He infinitely-faithfully wills for our good [Deuteronomy 7:9].
Since God is infinitely wise and all-knowing we should joyfully and eagerly trust ourselves to His definition of goodness [Deuteronomy 23:5], rather than choosing to be our own god [Genesis 3:5] and stand in judgment on His goodness and love in our lives. When we will to define goodness and sinfulness our own way; when we will to choose ourselves alone rather than to love God and our fellow human being–even in the small selfish and white lie moments–we give sin a foothold in our hearts [Ephesians 4:27]. Sin that, when fully grown, births our own death [James 1:15].
Because, despite being made in God’s image, no matter how opposite of our Creator we have been and no matter how contrary to our Heavenly Father’s holy standard we have lived, He will always forgive. He will always be gracious and compassionate with us, slow to anger and abounding in love–faithfully willing for our ultimate, eternal good [Nehemiah 9:17].
Jesus is the branch born from the root of God’s love [Isaiah 11:1 & 10]. We were once cut off from the branch because of our sin. But when, by grace through faith, we accept God’s gift of love we are grafted back into the vine–the branch of Christ [John 15:1-17; Romans 11:11-24]. Therefore, the root of our existence is God–His love, His mercy and grace, His goodness, faithfulness, justice and mercy. All that He is flows through us when we are living in Him as a branch grafted to the vine that springs from His root.
How can you know if the graft has taken? Your life will bear the fruit of your root, and, when God is your root, you will bear much good fruit [John 15:8; Galatians 5:22-23].
What is the fruit of your spirit? Do you abound in love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control [Galatians 5:22-23]? Does God’s love flow freely through you into everyone you meet?