Through the Lens of Prayer

Matthew 6.1-18

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the centrality of prayer to this section. In the middle of these three examples, giving to the poor, praying, and fasting, He stops to give instruction on prayer. But why? What is prayer? How vital would you say it is to your Christian walk? Does your practice of prayer reflect it?

I’m afraid that for most of us, prayer is an optional exercise with no real power. We pray because we feel like we should…or maybe we feel like praying will change God’s mind and get Him to see things our way. But that’s not real prayer. The prayer that Jesus talks about has the power of rending the veil between the temporal and the eternal. It allows us to see more clearly the reality of the kingdom. It is practicing the presence of God…recognizing our Father who is always near.

I was also struck by the contrast between the true righteousness of the kingdom citizen and the righteousness of the pretenders, and how easy it is to slip into a righteousness of show…attempting to impress others with our own piety. Trace evidence of our desire to run our own universe and receive our own praise. But we as kingdom citizens must cultivate the inner life of the spirit, learning the secret life that the Father calls us to. And as we cultivate the inner life, we begin to live in the true righteousness of the kingdom. Cultivating the inner life depends on the change of perspective that only prayer can bring.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Prayer is the lens through which we truly begin to see life in the kingdom…” Prayer brings the temporal and eternal together. When we enter prayer, we bring our cares and worries to the One who infinitely cares about us. And He gives kingdom perspective to our day-to-day lives. The inner life of prayer nourishes our soul.

As I thought about my own life, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first ministry job. I was tasked with teaching a class on the spiritual life…should have been easy for someone who just graduated from seminary, right? But I felt so far from God. My righteousness began to stink of the pretend kind, and I was desperate for something more. I wanted to experience the abundant life, the kingdom life that Jesus promised. So I went on a six month quest to discover that life. I began to focus on the inner life of the spirit…combining meditating on the Word with extended times of prayer and silence. I also sought to remove distractions like wasted time in front of a screen. And it was amazing the changes that God wrought during that time. I truly began to enjoy life in the kingdom, and my perspective on others changed. I went from being “cerebral” to being a pastor. For the first time in a long time, I was able to let my light shine…

But what about you? What do you do with this? I want to be clear. Jesus isn’t creating a new Law, but showing us the character qualities of kingdom citizens. The pretenders of righteousness want folks to see their good deeds. The possessors of kingdom righteousness are unaware of others watching. They are too busy being wholesalers of grace…showing mercy, expressing underserved love for those God brings in their path.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them? How is that working out for you? My guess is…forgiveness is difficult because you don’t recognize your own need of forgiveness. Those of us who have a low view of our own sin, have an equally low view of God’s grace. Amazing grace? It’s not that amazing… We fail to see our spiritual bankruptcy and any real need for mercy. Pretend righteousness always results in one of two things: pride or self-loathing. Neither characterizes life in the kingdom.

This story challenges us toward a greater dependence on the Father in prayer. And it challenges us to examine our motives…do we let our light shine so that the Father will be glorified, or do we practice a pretend righteousness before men so that we may be glorified?

My prayer for us this week is we would know the true righteousness of the kingdom, that we would cultivate the inner life of the spirit, and that kingdom life will naturally flow out in all our actions this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

For an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org, or follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

 

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The Next Chapter

Last night we finished the book of Acts. After a harrowing boat ride, Paul finally arrives in Rome. Along the way he ministers not only to sailors and military personnel, but also to the island inhabitants of Malta. The gospel continues to spread. And in Rome he meets with the Jews living there to discuss the charges against him. He presents the hope of the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, but the group rejects the message. Once again he turns to the Gentiles.

Several themes came up as we talked last night. We clearly see God at work expanding His kingdom, directing both individuals and the church. The gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, and the church, which began as a Jewish body, quickly incorporates all nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed). Opposition grows but the church overcomes. The resurrection is the primary emphasis of the speeches given by major characters in the story like Peter, Stephen and Paul.

The narrative ends with the obvious questions: What happened to Paul? What’s the rest of the story? Luke leaves room for us to add our own chapter. The story of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom is not finished yet. The story continues still today. But I wonder what those early believers would think of this chapter. Would they recognize the church they fought so hard to establish? When I read about the way that they loved and sacrificed and engaged their culture, I really wonder.

Discussing Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, with some friends I realized what a stinging indictment his book is against Christianity. The fact that he could lump all of Christendom into the same category of the other world religions so easily, shows that the church as a whole is failing at its job to be salt and light. That an atheist who has had as much contact with Christians as Hitchens did throughout his life is unable to caveat his statements about Christianity because he saw something different about the believers he encountered is telling.

Luke ends the book of Acts with the statement, “Boldly and without hindrance he (Paul) preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wonder how boldly we are preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus through both word and action to a world that so desperately needs to hear…

Until next time…stay salty.