Join us here for online worship today, Sunday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m.:
Read Matthew 7:7-11
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NRSV)
Every Christmas season, kids beging to put their lists together to send to the jolly old elf in the North Pole. All year long, kids look forward to this particular holiday where their everything they want, or so they hope, will be lying under an evergreen tree wrapped in paper and a bow. With that said, all year long parents are reminding their children that they had better be nice or other wise Santa will be bringing them a lump of coal. Or worse still, they had better not be naught or Krampus (Google it) will come to visit them.
Still, kids know that they will end up with presents and not coal or some soul snatching, child-eating demon under their tree. They know that they are going to at least get some, if not all, of what they had put on their list. In fact, the list is just half of the equation. Not only do kids make their list out, but they persist in telling their parents that they really want this, or they really are hoping Santa gets them that. Their persistence is enough to get them what they want.
What is sad is that this kind of Christmas list mentality doesn’t end at Christmas time, no is it just prevelant with children. In fact, many grown Christians hold this mentality as well and it is how they approach their prayer life. God is seen as some sort of Santa Claus in the sky and faith is seen as some sort of vehicle that helps you believe God will fulfill your wish list. I guess this is the result of living in a consumer driven world, where the consumer (the church goer) is always right and expects to get what they paid for (through offering, or through faith and/or devtion, etc.).
Thus, many Christians approach today’s passage with that understanding in mind. Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” That get’s interpreted into a prosperity driven message of persisting (aka bugging) God for what you want until you get it. If God doesn’t answer your prayer it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough, or you didn’t pray in the right manner, or you didn’t persist enough in your prayers.
This is a bad, bad, bad theology and it also happens to be completely missing the point of Jesus’ teaching here. First, it needs to be said that Jesus has already modeled what our prayer should look like in Matthew 6 (refer back to parts 15 & 16 of this series to refresh your memory). Today’s text comes in light of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is clear that the kind of prayer Jesus things we ough to be praying looks nothing like a Christmas wish list for Santa.
Rather, we should be praying for God’s will to be done, for God’s Kingdom to come, and for God to give us what we need spiritually and physically to carry on the work God’s calling us to do (this is different than praying for God to give us what we want). We should be praying for forgiveness (for ourself and others), and asking God to guide us every step of the way. Today’s text is setting up what are three Jewish expressions for prayer: Ask, seek, knock. These aren’t three unrelated expressions, either, but are three interrelated expressions that help us to establish a dynamic and vital prayer life.
Asking God implies less of a “begging” for God to gift us with things, as much as implies a complete dependence on God for everything, just as a child totally depends on his/her parents. We ask God, because we know God is the one who provides. Asking must be understood in light of our dependence on God, for it to truly be what Christ is teaching us. Yet, prayer does not just involve us asking and God supplying. God is not the only active participant, but we are as well.
Jesus’ three tiered approach to understanding prayer is that we will ask by seeking and knocking. In other words, we don’t just ask, sit back and wait. Rather, we ask for God’s will to be done all the while seeking it out and knocking on all of the doors until we find the one God has opened for us. Prayer is not just done with our words, but with our very actions. We should be living embodiments of our prayers, totally dependent on God, but totally an active participant in God’s plan for us and for this world. This is what it means to pray, according to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We ask God, not only with our words, but through our actions by seeking and knocking. When we are aligned with and dependent upon God’s will, and when we actively seek and knock in order to follow God’s will, we surely will receive what we are actively searching for.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Lord, thank you for the gift of prayer. May your will be done, and may I ever seek and knock on doors until your will be revealed unto me. Amen.
Read John 13:34-35
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
One of the great pleasures of being a pastor is the fact that I get to lead in worship week in and week out. I love worship because it brings people together with a common purpose, which is to refresh and renew our connection to our Lord and God. One of the most important elements in worship, for me, is music. I love singing hymns, singing and/listening to “Special Music”, centering myself on the prelude and greeting people during the postlude.
Many people don’t know the actual purpose for hymns. Most people sing hymns in church because it is an “age-old” tradition, never giving it a further thought beyond that. But hymns do play a very important part in the worship service in that they impart important Christian theology to the congregation as they sing them.
One popular hymn tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” This hymn suggests to those singing it that Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world by our love for each other and our love for all of God’s creation. This is one of those hymns that informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and for his will for us as his followers; however, when we look at the history of Christianity, and even at Christians today, are we living up to the love for each other that the hymn speaks of? Are we graceful toward one another, are we accepting of difference, and patient with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the way we believe and understand things?
I remember a couple of years ago, Rob Bell came out with a book titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.” Up until the writing of this book, Rob had garnered quite a following and was well-liked by most in the Christian world, including Evangelicals; however, once the title of this book was released in order to promote it, that acceptance quickly turned into anathema. People, including the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, were calling Rob Bell a “heretic” and denouncing this book which, according to the critics, claimed that hell doesn’t exist.
The odd thing is that these criticisms of Rob’s book came out BEFORE the book was released for people to read. That means, in case you didn’t catch it, that people were claiming the book said something without ever having read the book. Their assessment was based off of the title of the book and a promotional video where Rob poses some provocative questions…again, not giving the answers to them but just posing them. After actually reading the book, which was provocative for sure, I did not discover “heresy.” I simply found Rob wrestling, in a relevant way, with a theology that many people wrestle with. Nor did I find him EVER claiming that hell does not exist. Quite the opposite, actually.
The point of this is not to endorse Rob Bell or his book, but rather to put a caution on something that should, by this point, seem obvious. Christ called us to love one another…that people will know we are his by our love of one another. Let us not be so quick to judge, to anathematized, and to demonize fellow Christians who might think differently than we do. If we cannot love our own family in Christ, how can we ever love our neighbors? What’s more, if we cannot love our own spiritual kin, how can we ever love our enemies? Christ has set the bar high for those wishing to follow him, and when we fall short of that bar, we do not reflect Christ. Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
In Christ love ALWAYS wins.
Lord, teach me to be more loving of my fellow Christians, especially those who think and believe differently than me. Amen.