Do As I Pray.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Matthew 6:9-13

The Bible has a lot to say about the topic of prayer.

“…pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV

Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” – Luke 5:16 NET

“…pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:28 ESV

“…pray at all times in the Spirit.” – Ephesians 6:18 NASB

When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard.” – Matthew 6:7 NET

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” – James 5:13 ESV

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…” – Colossians 4:2 ESV

But while there is no shortage of advice and admonitions regarding prayer in the Scriptures, it’s far easier to read about than actually put into practice. And even when we do actually pray, we can find ourselves doing it for the wrong reasons. James rather bluntly reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3 ESV). For many, prayer is nothing more than an attempt to get from God what we want or desire. But Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. Which is why Jesus placed early within His model prayer the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” The goal of our relationship with God should be a growing sense of intimacy and familiarity. We should desire to know Him better and better. But if God becomes little more than a source for seeking our self-prescribed satisfaction and comfort, we miss the whole point. God really does want to give us what we desire, but He prefers that He be what we desire. More than money. More than popularity. More than a trouble-free life. More than pleasure. More than health. More than anything or anyone else. When writing to the believers in Ephesus, John wrapped up his letter with these words: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). John is telling his readers that, because of their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they have been given a relationship with God. He is the true God and eternal life. Jesus Himself declared, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). To know Jesus is to know God. Jesus knew God well. He knew His Father intimately and with the loving familiarity of a son toward a dad. He loved talking with His Father. He prayed regularly to His Father. The gospel of Luke tells us, “Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NET). He longed to hear from His Father. He shared His heart with His Father.

But I find it interesting that right after John reminded his readers of their relationship with the one true God, he warned them, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21 ESV). That is the last line of his entire letter. But why did he choose to end his letter that way? I think it was because he knew that men will always struggle with replacing the one true God with false gods. Timothy Keller describes idols in these sobering and somewhat convicting terms: “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living“ (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods). Prayer should be seen as an ongoing, unhindered opportunity to spend time and get to know better the one true God. Yes, we can bring Him our needs. We can even share with Him our desires. But as we grow to know Him better and better, we will see that much of what we wanted was outside of His will – not necessarily wrong or sinful – but simply not what He had in mind for us. In His prayer, Jesus keeps the content short and simple. It has just the right blend of adoration, submission, intimacy, awe, dependency, and responsibility for maintaining relationships with others. It acknowledges our need for God. It provides expression of our love for and adoration of God. The whole prayer is really about God. And at the end of the day, that is what the focus of our lives as believers should be about. Again, as Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Knowing God because we know Jesus. Having an intimate and familiar relationship with the Father because we have believed in His Son. That is the essence of eternal life. The goal of salvation is not heaven – it’s God. Eternal life is not about a destination – it’s about a relationship with God. Getting saved isn’t to stay out of hell – it’s about knowing God.

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The Privilege of Knowing God.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. – 1 John 5:20 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

John closes his letter with a strong note of affirmation: “We know that the Son of God has come.” John has given his own personal testimony to that fact, along with the testimonies of the three very reliable witnesses, not to mention God Himself. The evidence is more than sufficient to prove that Jesus not only came, but that He was and is the Son of God. He existed before the creation of the world with God. Not only that, He played a major part in the creation of the world. John begins his gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV). The deity of Jesus is essential to the plan of salvation. Without it, mankind’s sin problem remains unchanged. We are left with the ever-present reality of sin in our lives and the complete incapacity to refrain from sin or remove the guilt and sentence of death associated with it. There were those in John’s day who believed that Jesus simply came to show us a better way to live. He came to give us a more enlightened moral code by which to conduct our lives. But Jesus’ entire life led to the cross, where He sacrificed Himself for the sins of mankind. He atoned for man’s sin by offering Himself as a worthy, sinless sacrifice. And as a result, when anyone places their faith in Him as their Savior and sin substitute, they receive not only cleansing from sin, but His righteousness. In other words, Jesus didn’t just pay our debt off and bring our balance to zero. That would still have left us spiritually penniless and helpless. No, what Jesus did was give us His righteousness. He replaced our indebtedness to God with the wealth of His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Not only that, He provided a way for us to know God and experience fellowship with Him for the very first time in our lives.

We can know the one, true God. No longer are we left to try and conjure up our own version of God or find something else that might act as a stand-in for Him. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can actually, legitimately know God. We can come into His presence. And when we do, we come as His children, not groveling, fearful debtors. He looks on us as His own children. He sees us as righteous, because our sins have all been paid for in full – past, present and future. We no longer have to try and earn His favor. We don’t have to attempt to measure up and keep our sin-quotient below 50 percent. Yes, we are to live holy lives, because that is what He has called us to. But we don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or in order to earn His love and favor. We do it gladly, out of love for Him. And we do it in the strength He has provided us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Our testimony can be that of Paul’s, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us. The Spirit of God has taken up a permanent residence within each and every believer.

But the main point John leaves us with as he closes out his letter is that “we may know him who is true.” By coming to know Jesus as Savior, we come to know God the Father. There is no other way. Any other attempt to come to know God will fall short. It will end in idolatry, a false form of God. Rather than the true God, man will always end up worshiping false gods – apart from Christ. John wants us to know that Jesus makes it possible for us to know the one true God and experience eternal life. But one of the false perceptions among many believers is that eternal life is somehow a commodity. It is some kind of future reward reserved for those who make the right choice and place their faith in Jesus. But Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Knowing God and Jesus is eternal life. It is the reward. A relationship with God and His Son is the prize. But do we value it? Do we fully appreciate the remarkable reality that we can have an intimate, experiential knowledge of God – right here, right now? Jesus has made it possible for us to know and understand the infinite, indefinable, all-powerful God of the universe. Through the living word, Jesus; and the written Word, the Scriptures; and the indwelling Spirit; we can know and understand God. We can come to comprehend His character and nature. We can grow in our knowledge of Him. We can increasingly see His incredible love for us and respond in kind. Rather than seeing Him as distant, detached and difficult to understand, we can know and love Him. And we don’t have to wait for heaven in order to start. What an incredible privilege.

1 Kings 17-18, 2 Corinthians 7

Limping Along.

1 Kings 17-18, 2 Corinthians 7

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” – 1 Kings 11:21 ESV

The story of the history of Israel is filled with images of indecisiveness, unfaithfulness, mixed allegiances, and self-centered motives. In other words, it is the story of mankind. But these were the chosen people of God. They had experienced first-hand the powerful hand of God on their lives, having been miraculously set free from captivity in Egypt, provided for and protected for more than 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness, and eventually, given a land of rich abundance and fruitfulness filled with cities and homes they hadn’t built and crops they hadn’t planted. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again over the years. He had given them a great king in David. He had made them a powerful nation. He had blessed them with a wise king in Solomon whose reign was marked by a period of peace and plenty. But despite all of God’s goodness and blessing, the people of Israel could not remain faithful. They never full rejected God. Instead, they hedged their bets and worshiped other gods as well, ensuring that they had all their bases covered when it came to divine protection and provision. But the gods they worshiped proved to be no gods at all. They were impotent and non-existent. When the prophets of Baal called out to him, he remained silent. He gave no answer. “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, answer us! But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made” (1 Kings 18:26 ESV). It’s interesting to note that the same verb is used in verse 26 to describe the actions of the prophets of Baal that Elijah uses in verse 21 to describe the people of God – they limped. The actual Hebrew word can mean “to limp, to hop, to jump around.” It is the image of someone on crutches who is unsteady, unstable indecisive, and hesitant in their actions. They were anxious and fearful, unsure if their god was going to come through for them. They lacked conviction and faith. They weren’t short on effort or determination, because they even “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Kings 18:28 ESV). But for all their effort and energy, their god remained silent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But in contrast, we have the God of Elijah. In the period of time leading up to this event, Elijah had been personally cared for by God, having been miraculously fed by ravens. He had seen a poor widow’s meager oil and flour multiplied by God in order to keep herself, her son, and himself alive. He had watched as the widow’s son became sick and died, but he had trusted God to bring him back to life, and He did. Elijah’s God was alive and well. He could hear and He could respond. He was powerful and compassionate. He could be trusted. And we see in Elijah’s actions that day on Mount Carmel that he believed in his God. He did not limp along in unbelief. He was not hesitant. He exhibited no doubt or indecisiveness. His actions were clear and his orders, concise. He called and his God responded – in power. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stone and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1 Kings 18:38-39 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

As long as the people continued to share their allegiance between God and a host of false gods, they would continue to limp along, living lives marked by powerlessness, hopelessness, and physical, as well as spiritual drought. Placing their trust in anyone or anything other than God would continue to prove unproductive and, ultimately, destructive. For all their expended effort and religious zeal, the prophets of Baal only ended up doing harm to themselves. Their blind faith in a false god would result in their own deaths. But the people of Israel were like a lame person on two crutches. Their faith was unsteady and their spiritual walk was unstable. They limped about between the one true God and a host of false gods. They staggered between truth and falsehood. But Elijah challenged them to choose. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 ESV). But they were indecisive. They were unsure. They had long ago begun to doubt in the power of the one true God. As a result, they had begun seeking out the potential help of any and all gods who might meet their needs or fulfill their desires. If God couldn’t or wouldn’t come through, perhaps they could find another god who would meet their needs. As is usually the case, they were seeking a god would would accommodate their wishes. They wanted a god of their own making, who would take care of them according to their own standards. But because their gods were powerless and silent, they wavered back and forth between a host of gods, waiting and watching, hoping that one of them would prove to be the god they were looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul has already reminded us that the people of Israel were the chosen people of God. He had promised to dwell among them. He had promised to walk among them. He had promised to be their Father and treat them as His own children. All they had to do was live like who they were: the children of God. They were to separate themselves from the rest of the world and live distinctively different lives, according to God’s standards, not their own. And Paul reminded the Corinthians, that as followers of Christ, they were also to see themselves as holy and distinct, children of God. He pleaded, “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV). In other words, they were to make the pursuit of holiness their primary focus. Rather than waver in indecisiveness, they were to do everything in their power to “make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without” (The Message). Paul was wanting to see them live with a singular focus: pursuing holiness and Christ-likeness. But far too often, as believers, we can find ourselves limping along, like someone trying to navigate life while leaning on two crutches. We are unsteady and unsure of ourselves. We are placing our hope and leaning our lives on things that can’t deliver. We are relying on things that, in the long run, will prove themselves unreliable. Only God can be trusted. Only God can come through for us. Only God can deliver what it is we need. How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him.

Father, I want to follow You. I want to lean on You, rely on You, trust in You. I am tired of limping along in indecisiveness. You have proven Yourself faithful and true time and time again in my life. The things of this world have proven themselves unreliable and unworthy of my allegiance. Help me to stop wavering and begin trusting You more. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org