The other day I opened to Matthew chapter 6 for my personal devotions. Since I’ve read the Sermon on the Mount a number of times, I wanted to see this passage in a new way. As I read through it, I was struck that what seems at first to be a warning against self-serving motivations for good deeds, is actually an invitation to intimacy with our heavenly Father.
Jesus begins by assuming that since the needy have a special place in God’s heart, those who claim to love him will also share gladly with the poor. He points out, however, that people have different reasons for handing their hard earned cash to the down and out–reasons that gain differing results for the giver.
It gives pause for solemn contemplation. Have we ever been like the religious person who displays her piety, hoping to boost her image in the eyes of others? The only gains there are temporary, shallow applause and admiration. The Father disregards such acts and we lose a reward of eternal significance.
When we long to please and bring glory only to God, he delights in rewarding us. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver. When we spend time with our Lord, we take on his heart for the world and for us. Our gifts of money, time, and strength flow freely from our lives. Distance from God only leads us into the arid, empty desert of tradition without substance or fruitfulness.
In verse 5, Christ moves on to the topic of prayer, again using the term, “hypocrites” to describe those who turn their “prayer life” into a show with no depth. Just like self-seeking good deeds, such petitions will fall to the ground with a hollow clunk. Instead, God invites us to come away with him to the “secret place,” far away from the distractions of noise, people, and other demands. There, we have eyes only for him and he for us and we honor only him. We make the time to enjoy one another’s company. He shares his heart with us and we pour out our hearts to him.
Jesus says that the Father sees “what is done in secret” (verses 4 and 6). This should gratify and comfort us if we are living a life of integrity, openness, and obedience to God. God’s tender watchfullness is a precious part of that close relationship, part of the fathering process. “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.”
These same words should terrifythe one who is committing sins, “done in secret” for nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. Mark 4:22 says that all that is hidden will one day be revealed. Psalms 33:13-14 states that God looks out from heaven and sees everyone living on the face of the earth.
In verse 7, Jesus addresses the practice of repetitive prayers that are offered simply as a function of religious practice–offered from a sense of duty. Our wonderful God and Father desires a loving exchange, a sharing of our daily lives with him. He wants us to hear his voice–wants our dynamic involvement with him because that’s why we were created. We can then have dynamic involvement with the world.
To bring his teaching on prayer home, Jesus offers a model for us to begin with. What has become known as The Lord’s Prayer depicts no cold, detached God. Rather, it portrays the Creator’s concern for his world, his longing for restoration of deep relationships between himself and the humans he created in his image.
We need to be careful this prayer model does not become just what Christ warned us against: Another dry, repetitious function of dead religion. There is nothing wrong with reciting rote prayers–as long as they come from the heart and aren’t a substitute for spontaneous, regular communication with the Lord.
I can picture the Savior sitting down with his disciples and looking into their eyes.
“Pray like this,” he says. “Our Father in heaven,”
What a picture of tenderness, relationship and caring. If our earthly dads were anything but tender and caring, God wants us to experience real fathering.
“May your name be kept holy.”
God is an unchanging standard we can depend on in a chaotic world of rising and falling and civilizations that are too often confused or rebellious when it comes to right and wrong and to what is sacred.
“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Someone said that God’s will is obviously not being done in this world to the extent it should be or Christ wouldn’t have asked us to pray for it to be done. Our Father doesn’t watch passively from heaven while we make a mess of things here. He has plans and purposes and all of them are good. He hurts with us in our pain and suffering and he wants peace, joy, love and justice to reign on earth, even as it does in heaven. Yet he expects us to be the vehicles of such change.
“Give us today the food we need.”
If a child has a good father, he can trust that father with the satisfaction of his needs and freely shares the smallest details of his life. Our heavenly Father invites us to do the same and is fully willing and able to provide for us today and forever. Unfortunately, this does not mean that everyone experiences the reality of God’s provision. This is why God calls us to give and be his hands and feet and voice, his agents for revolution.
“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
Sins and offenses stand in the way of real relationship with both God and man. We are separated from the Creator who wants us to walk in endless friendship with him and cuts us off from eternal life with him in heaven. Unforgiveness towards others creates heartache and brokenness and robs us of peace and joy. Jesus came to restore all that and make forgiveness, transformation, and reconciliation available through his death on the cross.
“And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
God strengthens us when we make him and his word our priority. Jesus knows what he’s talking about here because he had a face-off with the devil in the wilderness and endured heavy temptations. God offers us protection in the day of evil. (Psalms 91, Ephesians 6:11-17) But we only have that protection if we don’t flirt with temptation.
Some translations of the Bible such as The New Living Translation which I quote here, does not have the second half of verse 13. The New American Standard Bible says,
“For yours (the Father’s) is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”
There is no God like our God with his authority, superiority, salvation, love, and majestic holiness. 1 Timothy 6:15b-16 says,
“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (NASB)
What an awesome, amazing privilege to be invited into the throne room of such a God, to take him as our Father and to engage in loving fellowship with him for eternity.