What was the very first message Jesus preached when He started His ministry? His grand opening? The first and most important message God wanted to share with mankind since Adam & Eve left the garden?
We all know it so well… The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) What we believe – influences us and others (chapter 5). We are all shaped by what we believe about our relationship with God (chapter 6) and our relationship with people (chapter 7). People are created to be driven by their moral compass – conviction. Whatever we believe will drive us to live a certain way and act in a certain manner.
So Jesus starts His teaching approach with what has become the single biggest obstacle between God & man and man & man – manipulation of truth. For a very long time the religious leaders and teachers have controlled the way people think & act towards God and man. By distorting the message God has for His people, they in essence control what people believe about God and how they should act. The main reason being financial gain but when misinterpretation is the cause, the motive may be pure but the result is the same. This is still happening to this very day…
Note what He says in Matt 5:21; 27; 31; 33; 38; 43 repeatedly: “You have heard it SAID…” not ‘it is written’ – He was quoting the teachers of the day – those responsible for caring for the flock but isn’t. God’s law or directions were perfect in its nature but distorted by imperfect motivation. So Jesus is restoring His Father’s Name, His character before he can start any form of ministry of reconciliation. Because whatever we believe about our relationship to God influences our relationship towards ourselves and others. If we perceive we are manipulated by God, we tend to manipulate God and other people in the process. For example if we believe that God can be manipulated by using ‘vain repetitions’ or ‘heap up phrases’, we will use it to control the outcome of our prayers. Jesus uses this example in Matt 6:5-15 saying start where you would like to finish – trusting your loving Father. “He knows what you need before you ask Him” (v8). See what Jesus was teaching is not something new, He was restoring what was distorted – prayer is not so much about words as it is about trust & faith… (1 Kings 18:25-29). The problem is not using too many words, the problem is we cannot trust Him with our most valuable and therefore prayer becomes a tool where we steer the most powerful Hand we know, into the direction we deem good and right. Instead of accepting His plan, trusting His way – we try to move outcomes and shape results to our favour using our words or even His words to interrogate Him to act in our ‘best interests’. Prayer becomes more powerful than God Himself when we exchange our faith in a loving Father for our ability to persuade.
Say we take the ‘words’ and or ‘needs’ out of our prayers – what do we have left? God says in v.8 that He knows what we need even before we ask it or even before we know we have a need… Maybe we are asking things of Him that He is already doing – like a 3-year old reminding you to pay the mortgage so that he has a room to sleep in. We take on ourselves the giant burden of constantly reminding the King of Kings of His to-do-list. And what if we don’t ask or don’t remind Him – He might forget – He is very busy running the universe and all. He could be pacing up and down wanting to provide but we didn’t ask and now He’s really in a pickle because He can only meet a need IF we ask. We tend to take away His almighty power and reduce Him to just another ‘Butler’ serving our needs.
Should we then stop talking to God altogether? NO! This is not what Jesus is suggesting… He isn’t questioning the method but rather the motive of our hearts. Why do we seek or serve Him? Or is He serving us…? This is really the most important question – the one I think Jesus confronted the people sitting before Him little more than 2000 years ago and is still asking Christians today…
Almost every prayer is ended with: “in the name of Jesus we pray”… and we do this because we take what Jesus taught in John 16:23, at face value but is this what He meant? Can we ask anything and tie His name ‘Jesus’ to it and God must deliver? Like a magic wand is used by a magician to pull the rabbit out of the hat? For us to better understand the context and meaning of John 16:23, we need to understand the Old Testament definition of prayer. In Ex 34:5-6 we find an example of what prayer meant to a Hebrew person when Moses “called on the name of the Lord”… God revealed His character and reputation to Moses and also to us. We should actually start with “in the name of Jesus” or in other words: “Jesus, because you are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth – I trust you for the following…”
If we add His name to the end of any prayer like an ingredient to a cake mix or a key on a key ring, we could be using His name in vain without realizing it. This could be the main reason why He doesn’t respond or respond ‘favourably’ to most prayers.
What about ‘money’? The bible speaks more on this topic than any other. When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found a land of farmers, not shepherds, as they had been in the wilderness. The land was fertile beyond anything the Hebrew nomads had ever seen and the Canaanites attributed this fertility to their god ‘Baal’. An intense battle began for the minds and hearts of God’s people as they struggled to trust YHVH to provide fertile farms in the Promised Land. Just to be safe, they worshiped both. This is what Jesus referred to in chapter 6:24 and it continues until chapter 7.
This struggle, to be totally committed to God, is of vital importance to us today as well. We don’t think of ourselves as idol worshipers, yet we struggle to serve God alone in every part of our lives.
The BE-attitudes are also the PRACTICAL-attitudes because we choose to follow Him and here He gives us the ‘how’…