Jesus grew up in a nation which loved prayer.The Scribes and Pharisees misunderstood the purpose of prayer and how to go about it, but no one ever accused them of not having a deep love for the practice of it.Here in Matthew 7, we have the inauguration of Christian prayer: what it is, our role in it, what God does with our prayers, and what we may expect from prayer.
First, prayer is not a magician’s trick and God is not a Genie in a bottle.Just because we ask specifically for something and we do not receive it doesn’t mean that God didn’t hear and answer that prayer.Many pastors preach and people believe that all you have to do to have blessings, health and prosperity in life is to ask for it.If that is so, then why isn’t every Christian rich?Prayer engages the will of God in your life, leaps over the boundaries of your limitations and plugs you into the spiritual resources of the Holy Spirit.That’s what prayer is.
Second, the real translation is, “Keep on asking and to you will be given!”This verse says that our role is to keep on asking and keep on seeking through prayer. Without that persistence, nothing happens because we have tied God’s hands.If we don’t pray we may as well gamble our way through life depending upon our luck and good fortune.
Third, it also says that God will answer our persistent prayers, because that’s what He does with our prayers.He answers them.But it does not say that His answer will always be, “Yes!”Sometimes God says “No,” or “Not yet.”Then sometimes God answers by saying, “I’ve got a better idea.”What we know is that without prayer, which is our part, God is limited to what He will do because He wants us to initiate the process of His work in our lives through prayer.
Fourth, I believe some prayers go unanswered because they are not really prayers at all.Prayer without expectation is insincere.What do you expect to happen when you pray to God?If there is no expectation, there is no faith.If there is no faith, it isn’t prayer!God is our Father in whom we are to place great trust.Jesus gives us two illustrations which could have begun with something like, “What parent is going to hate his/her child?”What a silly question!Will a parent give a hungry child a stone that looks like a loaf of bread?If a child asks for a fish, will a parent give him an eel (which by Jewish law was unclean)?No parent would treat a child like that, nor will our Heavenly Father neglect our needs when we pray.He may not give us what we want but He will give us what we need, and we have every right to expect it.
My daughter from Zimbabwe (she adopted Sherry and me), tells the story of being impressed one Sunday in the worship service to give her shoes to a lady who needed shoes.Happily, she walked home from church that day barefoot.Now she had no shoes so she prayed about it.God heard her prayer, but He gave a family in the church a car and my daughter and her children never had to walk to church again.Did God answer her prayer?Of course He did because that’s what God does!Beloved, God loves you so much that if you need bread, He will not give you a stone instead.It may not be bread that you receive from Him but it will be exactly what you need.Keep on asking, seeking and knocking…God will hear you and He will give you enough.
On February 28, 1795, Governor Samuel Adams of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of prayer for his state:“To pray that the Light of the Gospel, and the rights of Conscience, may be continued to the people of the United America; and that His Holy Word may be improved by them, so that the name of God may be exalted, and their own Liberty and Happiness secured.”* If prayer could be so right then, how can it be so wrong now?God help us to pray with more boldness than ever before.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, as Bruce Wilkinson said, may we learn to “attempt something so large that it is doomed to failure unless God steps in.”Amen and amen.
I communicated with a long-time friend recently who told me that some of our former classmates from junior and senior high school had started a website where those interested could reconnect.
While I attended junior high with many, I transferred to a Catholic high school and only saw those former classmates periodically.Many years have passed by and I admit, I haven’t thought of those classmates.When I reflected on those years, it was not with fond memories, so the thought of reconnecting never crossed my mind.
After some prodding, I registered, looked at pictures – I recognized some names and/or pictures, some I didn’t.I contemplated whether I would take the next step.
Imagine my surprise when I finally took the plunge, posting a brief profile and a picture. The first few responses actually remembered me and highlighted a few pursuits we mutually shared.There were a few pleasant exchanges.Several have even encouraged me to join a class reunion this summer.
There was one response (from an individual whose face I can’t place), but it hit a nerve.“Don’t let the past haunt you…”I stopped for a moment and all of the emotions from those years went flashing by, albeit for a brief moment.When I read the rest of his message…”come and join us in July.We would love to see that beautiful smile as displayed in your picture.”Wow, nice recovery I thought.For an instant, I hadn’t put my feelings to words, but he did.“Don’t let the past haunt you.”
It was similar to God’s message to us – despite our mistakes – intentional or unintentional – HE has forgiven us.HE has wiped our slates clean.HE has given us a new beginning.No matter what occurred in the past, it’s done and over.The remnants of those bygone days hold no relevance to HIS plan for us and where we are today.
I can’t tell you if I’ll join my former classmates in July, but I feel some would want to see me again.And you can rest assured, if I attend; I won’t let the “past haunt me.”It’s water under the bridge and I’ve grown and, hopefully, most of them have too.
Gospelines Prayer:Father, thank You for the nudge through one of Your children.True, I hadn’t given much thought to those from yesteryear.I probably hadn’t truly gotten over how I was made to feel.I forgive them and I forgive myself for holding on to those feelings for longer than I care to admit.
Help me to look at this opportunity to reconnect through a fresh set of eyes.And remind me that with You, I’ll never have to contemplate the thought…
Many voices had said, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.”That is the Golden Rule in negative form and it finds many parallels in Jewish philosophy.A heathen approached the great teacher Hillel and said, “I am prepared to become a proselyte on the condition that you can teach me the whole Law while I am standing on one leg.”The Rabbi replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole Law, and the rest is commentary; go and learn.”
Again and again, in every culture it appears in the negative form as the basis of all ethical teaching, but no one dared state it like Jesus by turning it around to a positive statement.In the negative, it is not a religious teaching at all; it merely states what you are “NOT” to do.A religion which has as its basic rule what “NOT” to do is of no use to the world.Even a non-religious man can go through his whole life “NOT” causing harm to another human being, but the rule was never “Golden” until Jesus expressed it in the POSITIVE in His Sermon on the Mount.This was a radical statement which revolutionized the status quo in the Eastern world, not only for the Jews but also among the Roman and Greek cultures.
It is one thing to say, “I must not hurt people,” but quite another to say, “I must go out of my way to be helpful to others.”The Law can make us refrain from hurting others, but only LOVE strives to help someone.The only person who can possibly accomplish that is the person who has the love of Christ in his heart.He will forgive as he wishes to be forgiven; help as he wants to be helped; encourage as he wants to be encouraged; and care for others as he wants to be cared for.
No one will ever be able to practice this Mount Everest of biblical principles until he has totally died to self.To obey this radical teaching he must become a brand new man or woman.Are you one of the few who will be raised to new heights in Christian principle and practice?Is it your desire to stretch higher than you have ever reached before?The Golden Rule is not for weaklings, it is for people of great strength and greater love.To become a regular practitioner will totally transform who you are right now.In a few days, no one will recognize the old you. Beloved, the Golden Rule isn’t something you memorize and quote to others when it soothes your religious conscience. It is something you are; something you do every day of your life.If you live it and love it, you will practice it in your play time, and work time, during family time, and church time.Never again will anyone call into question whether or not you are a Christian because the loudness of your words will no longer drown out the silence of your actions.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, I wonder how many times someone has thought, “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your life is playing louder than your message.”Please balance the stereo of my witness, so that my actions and words will be heard at the same volume.Amen and amen.
Close your eyes and imagine being 15 year old friends in 1989.On the way from a nearby 7-Eleven store, you discover a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.No, this isn’t a retelling of the story of Christ in the manger, but it’s significant.God sent two of his angels to perform a miracle.
Chris Astles and Emily Yanich were going about the usual business of teenagers on a summer’s day, September 6, over 20 years ago when they heard the faint cry of a baby left on a doorstep of the townhouse complex they lived in.They looked around and didn’t notice any mothers nearby.Upon further exploration, Chris freaked out once he realized the baby girl had been abandoned with her umbilical cord still attached and he didn’t have the ability to stop her from crying.They pondered what to do next and decided to take the baby to Emily’s house where her stepfather, Bill, called 911.Police, medics and firefighters arrived quickly.After being interviewed by police, the baby was whisked away by paramedics.Emily and Chris bought the baby a teddy bear at the 7-Eleven which they often frequented and took it to the hospital on a visit before returning to high school.
Chris and Emily moved on in their lives, eventually marrying, their lives forever intertwined; calling each other each year on September 6, wondering what happened to the baby they rescued.
The baby girl was adopted by a British couple living in suburban Washington and named Mia.The adoptive mother even sent Chris and Emily a letter and a picture a year or two after they found her on the doorstep.Her adoptive parents didn’t tell Mia about being abandoned at birth for fear it would upset her.Of course, Mia was an inquisitive child and around age 9 discovered the newspaper story in a scrapbook.
“At first, Mia said, it bothered her that she had been abandoned, but then she became curious about the two teenagers who had saved her and whose teddy bear she still had.”
During high school, Mia attempted to find Chris and Emily.She had their names from the newspaper story, but there were too many Chris Astles on Facebook and she was leery of randomly selecting whom to contact.
Fast forward to December 2009
Upon further research on Facebook, she found someone who might be Emily.She found Chris’ name among the list of friends and decided this had to be them.
After agonizing over her decision, she finally “friended” them and the next day, both Chris and Emily responded, “Who are you?”Mia was nervous about what to say to them, fearing they wouldn’t want to hear from her or that they may think she was a crazy person.
Mia’s response was pure and simple, “If you’re the Chris Astle I was looking for then I just want to thank you.You and Ms. Yanich found me on someone’s doorstep when I was an infant.I don’t really know what else to say, but thank you.”
Chris exclaimed out loud “It’s the best Christmas present I have ever gotten.”Emily said “it’s like a miracle…my heart is filled now.There was always a little spot missing.”The three of them are planning a reunion.
Prayer:Father, this story illustrates that Your plan was not a coincidence.Chris and Emily were where You wanted them to be at the right time.And, Mia, never lost hope.
Thank You for allowing us to witness another miracle.We never know how or when You will use us and by what means You’ll put your plan in motion.We need to hear Your call and be obedient to Your will.
Everything we have studied in the Sermon on the Mount until now has been pointing to this very passage.Greater scholars than I have called the subject of these verses, “Life at the Crossroads” because it demands a choice from every person who hears the words of Jesus.If I knew these were the last words which my non-Christian family members and friends would read from me, this would be it.The verses are simple in their message and uncompromising in their truth.Here it is:at some point in our lives we will face two gates, two ways and two crowds.In each case we must choose one or the other.
We must choose between two gates, the narrow gate or the wide one.The Narrow Gate is the road less traveled.First, notice that God DEMANDS that we choose.It is a crossroad which demands a decision.
Second, we must enter THIS gate, the narrow one.We are given no choice if we wish to escape eternal punishment for our sins.The narrow gate is the only option open to those who hope to experience heaven and escape hell.
Third, you must enter ALONE.You cannot say, “I am a Christian because I was raised in a Christian family.I am a child of God, because I live in a Christian nation.I have lived a good life and I have all these witnesses who will stand up for me.”None of those things will help.You will enter the gate alone or not at all.
Fourth, it’s very DIFFICULT to enter the narrow gate.Verse 14 says about the narrow gate, "Only a few find it."Finding God is difficult because there are few who are willing to give up their selfish pride to give in to Jesus Christ as their only hope.
Fifth, you must enter it EMPTY-HANDED.You must strip away everything you have and give yourself 100% to Jesus.Nothing you own will qualify you for entering the narrow gate.
Sixth, you must enter REPENTANTLY by surrendering yourself to Jesus Christ.Otherwise, you will not be able to enter the narrow gate at all.
The other gate choice is the wide gate.Hey, this is the easy one!Bring everyone with you; you don’t have to enter alone, and you can bring all your baggage with you because the more the merrier.Trust me; you won’t have to change a thing about yourself.This is the gateway of self-indulgence. The end, however, is not as pretty as the narrow gate.For this gate is the pathway to destruction.
So, two gates; then there are two ways:the broad way and the narrow way!If you want the easy way, that’s the broad way.Anyone can qualify and you will have your rewards quickly.Everything which you gain on earth, that’s it!There is no other reward for you.But the narrow way is the way toward salvation in Jesus Christ.
And finally, the Bible passage (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV) speaks not only about two gates and two ways, but it also tells of two crowds:for the wide gate, many (a large crowd) enter through it.And for the narrow gate, few enter it.Do you want to follow the crowd? Then go on with your selfish self and do what you are doing now.Whatever reward you are seeking you will find it on earth.There is no reward for you in heaven…none!Ah, but for those in the smaller crowd who seek the narrow gate, even though you may be in the minority here on earth, it will be worth it all when you see Jesus in eternity!For great will be your reward in heaven.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, remind us that You are our creator and we are a work in progress; that Your way is not the short way, with promises of immediate results; but the long way, though narrow and less traveled, is always the best way, because there is no short-cut when creating a masterpiece.Amen and amen.