Sunday, September 25, 2016

Talking to God - Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:9-13

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we first focus on God. Our Father in Heaven, whose name is lifted up and obeyed, on earth as it is in heaven. Now, in this part of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus shifts the focus. Having praised God for who He is, we now begin to ask of God. As in Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Now it is the time to make our requests to God. 

We begin by requesting our daily bread. This is a prayer for God to meet our physical needs. It is a recognition that God is the giver and sustainer of life itself. Sometimes we need reminding that Every good and perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17a) but this prayer keeps us rooted in this truth. Even our food itself is a gift from God. 

Did you notice that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray for weekly bread? It was daily bread. This would have made his original audience think of one event in their history. Does anyone know what this would be? In Exodus 16, the Israelites had come out of Egyptian captivity, but now they were grumbling that they were hungry. The Israelites grumbled to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:3-5)

God provided them bread from heaven, which they called “manna” (which simply means “what is it?”) He provided it each day except for the Sabbath. If they tried to keep it for the next day, they found it rotten and full of maggots. They had to completely trust in God, every day, for their daily bread. This kind of trust is what Jesus is teaching. To utterly and completely rely on God for everything.

How does God answer this prayer? When we pray to God, asking us to provide daily bread, sometimes God provides miraculously, as in the time when Jesus was teaching and healing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the people were hungry. Jesus asked his disciple Philip where they would get enough bread for the people to eat. Philip responded that it would take half a year’s wages to just give everyone a bite to eat. However, Jesus, multiplied a boy’s lunch, five small loaves and two fish, and fed 5000 with it, leaving 12 baskets full of leftovers.

But the primary way God provides is through work, as we can see in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, where Paul tells the church in Thessalonica, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” God has given most of us the energy, resources, and opportunity to work. For those who are unable to work, He provides care through those who can work. Whether He does so directly or indirectly, God is always the source of our physical well-being. He makes the earth produce what we need, and He gives us the ability to procure it. MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God (p. 95). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

But this prayer is more than for physical provision. After Jesus fed the 500, people were looking for him, but Jesus called them out. He said, “You aren’t looking for me even for the signs and wonders, but because I gave you free food.” In John 6:32-35, Jesus tells the people, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 

Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, asking God to provide us our daily bread, we are praying a double prayer. We are asking for physical provision. But we are also asking for more. We ask for Jesus, recognizing that our very life depends on Him, that in Him, we will never go hungry. Indeed, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6). If you hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God, Jesus will fill you. 

So we continue to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask for physical provision, and we ask for Jesus Himself. And we in turn provide the same for those around us.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Talking to God: What's this Kingdom Business?

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Matthew 6:10

Do you have any friends who always talk about the same thing, all the time? I had one friend who was always talking about girls. Another friend only talked about music. If you get me started talking about running, I’m sorry, but I will talk all day. 

Jesus had one subject he talked about all the time. In the first three Gospels, He was always talking about the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist came, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people (Matthew 4:23).

It was the center of Jesus’ ministry. The Kingdom of God. It was so central in his ministry, that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to ask for God’s Kingdom to come, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

So what does this really mean?

God’s kingdom is first and foremost the sovereign rule or reign of God. It is secondly the sphere of blessing where that reign is experienced. So there is the rule, and there is the place where the king rules. For a king to rule, there must be something or somewhere to rule. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 1269–1270). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

So where does God rule? You might answer “Heaven” and you’d be right. But Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his reign to cover the earth as well. You see, Jesus came, initiating God’s kingdom on earth. But it has yet to be fulfilled, and will not be until we experience what we read in Revelation 11:15: “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1269). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, our prayer is an extension of the line from two weeks ago, where we prayed “Hallowed be Thy name.” To properly lift God’s name as Holy means we must obey his word.

It can be easy to say “God, I want your kingdom to come” in one moment and then behave selfishly in the next, but truly praying for God’s kingdom to extend all over the world means first and foremost that each of us who call ourselves Christians must be conformed to His will. 

How do we become conformed to God’s will? By being transformed by the renewing of our minds. By the power of the word of God. There’s a reason our church partners sent Bibles to us; not just so we could all have a Bible, but so we could all use our Bibles.  But it’s not just about knowing the Bible, but also about doing God’s will. James 1:22-25 talks about this: And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law — the law that sets you free — and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he instructed us to pray: Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God does not force his will upon us; God forever gives us the choice to follow or not to follow. To obey or not to obey. But Jesus gave us the example to follow in the Garden of Gethsemane, even as he was about to be arrested and crucified. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

This is a picture of asking God for His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Sometimes we pray and strive after things we want that don’t glorify God, and sometimes God gives us these things and we find out that they don’t satisfy. Money, human relationships, fancy cars, big houses, all of these are nice, but they won’t satisfy. Some people like to talk about what they’ll have in Heaven, about how fancy their mansion will be, but I believe when we get there, we’ll find that isn’t important at all, because we will have the one thing that is most important. We will have perfect relationship with God. God’s perfect rule will be fulfilled.

But in the meantime, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. And the only way we can see that happen is if each one of us surrenders completely to Him, to allow Him to have His way with us.