WEEK TWO, DAY ONE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION
WEEK TWO THEME: PRAYER
DAY ONE TITLE: JESUS TEACHES US HOW TO PRAY
SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 6:5-15
SCRIPTURE SNIPPET: “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place.”
THOUGHTS: When you pray…. My experience with prayer has greatly evolved from my earlier days! At this point in time, I experience many levels of prayer. It has grown over time from that set aside time of extreme focus that I often felt a complete failure at, to a companionship of acknowledging and brewing over the things of the heart. It’s like over time, I went from needing an “appointment” to pray to feeling God’s presence near at all times and when a concern or need pops into the heart and brain, in that moment I can begin conversation with my Father about the issue, turning it over to Him immediately. When I watch the news – and especially in this Coronavirus era I become more and more overwhelmed with helplessness and confusion. It has almost been automatic during these times now to begin a dialogue with Our Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent Father. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever present – everywhere. Handing these issues to the Father helps me feel like I’ve participated in a better outcome. Sometime it sparks “rabbit trails” into deeper searching and further understandings seeking God’s wisdom. And sometimes, it requires further action on my part – God plants the nudges and I need to act.
This casual prayer time I believe is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing me into God’s perfect presence. But there are times when focused prayer is urgent – mandatory! Those specific times when I must shut out all else and focus on God in his holiness and in the wonder fo God’s kingdom. It is a time to look at my role as His vessel of love and to praise Him for that ability and relationship, and then discuss all things with Him as I would on a phone call with a dear friend or loved one. When on the phone, I am not usually able to do too many other things, I have to focus on that conversation to be both active listener and present in the conversation. During these specific prayer times there needs to be no pretense nor performance. The hypocrite would make a show of his or her prayer time being loud and using flowery and abundant language for others to be impressed. True prayer is private and between God and his beloved child. It is not for the benefit of others. There may be times when I am to pray publicly and these times of private prayer will enable me to do this with all humility and from personal relationship.
These private times of prayer are for those things that are so personal and so private they can only be shared with God and maybe few confidants if any. But first it is a time of acknowledging Who God is – the beginning and the end – Holy – Creator – Savior – Sustainer – Trinity – the Great I AM. As I identify with Who I am talking with, I can do nothing else – regardless of the circumstances of my earthly life – except praise my God. In the presence of such holiness and wonder, praise is the only response. So many of the Psalms begin with the writer in a form of hell and loneliness and then over the course of the Psalm it often ends in praise and adoration. It’s like a transition from earthly to heavenly!
On my birthday every year, people focus on me and celebrate me and make me feel really special. But on my birthday, I think of my Mom who carried me and nurtured me in the womb and who went through great pain and discomfort to bring me into this world and spent years of self-denial to make sure I was cared for and provided for.. I am grateful for my Dad who cared for her during all that time and was there for her while she gave birth. I think of the two of them together adoring me as their first born and taking care of my every need. I am grateful for the boundaries that they provided and the leadership and faithful witness they gave that formed me into the person I have become. I recognize that my birthday is the day that I entered this earthly stage of my life, but how empty it would have been without their special gifts to nurture me forward.
God is like the most wonderful parent ever imaginable, and when I visit with Him, I can’t help but celebrate the joy of such a love and relationship that has seen me through so much of life and never failed me even in my darkest of days. Praise is so core in that perfect relationship. As I move forward with that private conversation with God, there are certainly needs that will surface. There are sins that have trapped me. There are attitudes that I have had to meet square on and release, and still more that I must overcome. As I lay all of these before God, I am released to received His Holy Spirit that can empower me to move forward and wait for the spectacular ways that the needs are met, the sin is erased and the attitudes are adjusted so that I can live forgiven and be forgiving.
It is not that I just decide to do better, it is a work of God in our relationship that propels it. It is my surrender of it all. It is in relationship that new understandings and greater joy in living can come about. Practice helps, but there are times that I must return to that personal, intimate time with God of surrender and acknowledgement and praise repeatedly to be able to let go. Jesus seems to instruct his disciples both in word and example and through parables the importance of being both active and present in our individual relationship with God in order to be fruitful and to multiply the kingdom. This is not something that I can do alone.
Jesus ends this passage focusing on forgiveness a bit further. Jesus stresses that in order to be truly forgiven, I must be freely forgiving. This is an act of my will. I become the hypocrite if I am willing to receive my own forgiveness as if I am somehow more special than the one to whom I would choose to withhold forgiveness. Should this choice of unforgiveness become mine, I am once again trapped…unable to be a true child of God in every essence of the understanding. I think it is probably one of the hardest humanistic characteristics to release. Once I am wronged and hurt, my human “self” builds a wall of resentment and protection against such a thing to prevent it ever happening again – even subconsciously. Recognizing these walls is the first part of the work, dismantling these walls is step two, leaving them dismantled – leaving myself vulnerable to more hurt is the hardest of all. This is God’s work in me. God help me.
God, I ask that you give us lives of relationship with You that leads us into better and better understanding of You and Your Kingdom. Encourage our earthly walk with faithfulness and Your Joy! Amen.