78. Only the very best – always?

Jesus’ response is very simple. One of the Jewish Rabbis asked, “Is there a man who ever hates his son?” Jesus’ argument is that no father ever refused the request of his son; and God the great Father will never refuse the requests of his children.

Jesus’ examples are carefully chosen. He takes three examples; Luke adds a third to the two Matthew gives.

 If a son asks bread, will his father give him a stone? If a son asks a fish, will his father give him a serpent? If a son asks an egg, will his father give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:12)

The point is that in each case the two things cited bear a close resemblance.

The little, round, limestone stones on the seashore were exactly the shape and the colour of little loaves. If a son asks bread will his father mock him by offering him a stone, which looks like bread but which is impossible to eat?

If a son asks a fish, will his father give him a serpent? Almost certainly the serpent is an eel. According to the Jewish food laws an eel could not be eaten, because an eel was an unclean fish. “Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you” (Leviticus 11:12). That regulation ruled out the eel as an article of diet. If a son asks for a fish, will his father indeed give him a fish, but a fish, which it is forbidden to eat, and which is useless to eat? Would a father mock his son’s hunger like that?

If the son asks for an egg, will his father give him a scorpion? The scorpion is a dangerous little animal. The sting can be exceedingly painful, and sometimes even fatal. In Israel there is a pale kind of scorpion, which, when folded up, would look exactly like an egg. If a son asks for an egg, will his father mock him by handing him a biting scorpion?

God will never refuse our prayers; and God will never mock our prayers.

The Greeks had their stories about the gods who answered men’s prayers, but the answer was an answer with a twist, a double-edged gift. Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth, so the Greek story ran. Zeus, the king of the gods, offered her any gift that she might choose for her mortal lover. Aurora very naturally chose that Tithonus might live forever; but she had forgotten to ask that Tithonus might remain for ever young; and so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.

Any man who prays is bound to want to know to what kind of God he is praying. He wants to know in what kind of atmosphere his prayers will be heard. Is he praying to a grudging God out of whom every gift has to be squeezed and coerced? Is he praying to a mocking God whose gifts may well be double-edged? Is he praying to an angry God who must be appeased and calmed?

Is he praying to a God whose heart is so kind that he is more ready to give than we are to ask?

In Revelation the reception of our prayers is described. This is the atmosphere in which prayer is heard. Let us note Revelation 5:8 and never forget this verse.

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

 Jesus said it. It is good and true. I believe it. Period. He said God is good and give good gifts. He said it is His Father’s joy to give to those who will receive.

Micah 7 says God delights in mercy.

The story of Jesus explaining the good gifts of the father to the son, explains en encourages why we should accept God’s way and timing as our answer. God will always answer our prayers; but he will answer them in his way.

Often if he answered our prayers as we at the moment desired it would be the worst thing possible for us, for in our ignorance we often ask for gifts which would be our ruin. This saying of Jesus tells us, not only that God will answer, but that God will answer in wisdom and in love.

Move in the Spirit. Move your thinking, move your resolve, move your attitude, to where you belong to receive the Father.

In Greek there are two kinds of imperative; there is one definite command, like “Close the door!” There is also the present imperative which commands a man to go on doing something or do it always. “Always close the door,” would be a present imperative. The words of Jesus here are present imperatives. Jesus is saying, “Go on asking; go on seeking; go on knocking.” He is telling us to persist in prayer; never to be discouraged in prayer. Is our desire such that we can bring it repeatedly into the presence of God?

This is the confirmation of praying without ceasing.

Jesus here lays down the twin facts that God will always answer our prayers His way, in wisdom and in love. We bring to God an undiscouraged life of prayer, which tests the rightness of the things we pray for, and which tests our own sincerity in asking for them.

A repeated desire, tests the depth of desire. Prayer will get rid of the baggage, the superficial worries and the fleeting cravings.

MOMENT OF PRAYER : Ask in the Name of Jesus. As if He is standing here and asking you – What would you like Me to do for you?

 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. John 14:12-14.

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: We might always feel unworthy. If sin is the barrier – confess.

Hear the words of Jesus:

 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer. Matthew 21:22

 

77. In the secret place of the Most High.

It doesn’t sound like much. Kneeling by a bed behind a closed door and speaking to the God of heaven and earth. It is after all the image we grew up with, if we had the privilege of being raised in the home of praying parents. We might even have the memory of a mom or dad close to us, guiding and participating, probably assuring us of the angels around us in the room to protect us against the fear of the dark.

For the first century Jew, it was not a familiar image. Prayer was mostly in public at set times during the day. When Jesus taught the disciples and the audience of the Sermon on the Mount to call the revered and holy Jahweh Dad, He cut to the core of their most deeply ingrained customs on prayer.

Jesus came with another revolutionary idea. Praying in private – secret prayer.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:5,6)

This was difficult. Most houses had very little privacy. Common houses had only two rooms, one for eating and one for sleeping. In summer months the family ate on the roof for coolness. The room Jesus mentions here, or the closet, like the KJV says, was a little storeroom where food and other household stuff were stored. It was a revolutionary idea to pray where other people would not see you. As if you should go into the “unseen”, out of the public eye into the secret place.

It is into the closet that the presence of the Father shines. It is not your cold heart and discouraged, battered soul that determines your prayer. It is the Father’s heart that determines prayer. It is how much He has for you, that brings you to the closet, not your failures and fear. His presence is not dependent on your righteousness. It is your acceptance of the Cross, the Truth, His beloved Son, which guarantees the intimacy of the closet experience. There you will find the joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is only your humble heart that He wants.

How do you go in there?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,

A broken and a contrite heart—[feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt]

These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

The best way to start is confession.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The Greek word for “confess” is homologeo. It means, “to speak the same thing.” That is, to say about sin what God says about it.

Confession involves being honest, forthright, and not excusing yourself either to God or to your own conscience.

If the Father says, “I don’t want you to do that,” then you respond, “Lord, I don’t want to do that.”

Prayer needs to be honest – not accurate.

 MOMENT OF PRAYER: Ask – write down your wants, needs and worries. (Get it out of the way.)

Just make it practical for a moment. Take a glass of water in your hand. How much water is in the glass – 6oz or 9oz? You can take a guess on your own size glass. You can stand with it for a while with no effect on your hand or arm. If you have to hold it for an hour, your arm will get tired and numb. If you hold that glass of water for a day, the effect on your body will bring you pain and suffering. When you put the glass on the table, it will not matter how heavy the glass is anymore. It will have no effect on you! There could just as well be a mountain in the glass!

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

So – put it down, otherwise it will make you sick.

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence:

The God to whom we pray is a God of love who is more ready to answer than we are to pray.

Isn’t it wonderful that we have the Holy Spirit and can make any space our secret place? Our prayers are mostly secret in these modern days. Seek your privacy, create your space and put your burden at the foot of the Cross.

We have spoken about Nehemiah and his shotgun-prayers; those one sentence calls to the Almighty in the moment of need.

Our secret place is so easily accessible. It is only the move in our thoughts to take them captive and experience the loving presence of the Father, who is always with us. Surrender your imagination to God and “feel” His presence change the atmosphere around you, wherever you are. Imagine Jesus with you. He is there, but we “see” into the unseen with our inner being, our imagination. (Ephesians 1:18)

It is the safest place ever.

You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence…. (Psalm 31:20)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
(Psalm 91:1,2)

 

 

76. Our secret power of life.

 “Ask, and it will be given to you;

seek, and you will find;

knock, and it will be opened to you.

 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7,8

The divinely targeted life seeks the way of the Lord revealed by the Spirit in prayer and obeys the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word. Jack Hayford.

Prayer is a life-style.

If you have it, you have everything else. I you don’t have it; it doesn’t much matter what else you have.

Andrew Murray writes this:

It is fellowship with the Unseen most holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its [prayer’s] disposal. It is:

the very essence of true religion,

the channel of all blessings,

the secret of power and life.

Not only for us, but also for others, for the church, for the world, it is to prayer that God has given the right to take hold of Him and His strength.

Ask, Seek, Knock – three words from Jesus himself. He is teaching the people of the old Israel in the traditional mode of instruction. The principle is stated and then repeated. The people there did not sit with notebooks. In fact they had very little or in most cases, no access to Scripture. The scrolls were carefully preserved and maintained by the Scribes and the Pharisees within the confines of the synagogue. They were the leaders, powerful and prescriptive. Ordinary men had no source of the Word of God available to them. They fully relied on their leadership to prescribe a godly life – and the leadership did not disappoint – they prescribed!

Jesus came from a nation that loved prayer. No nation ever had a higher ambition of prayer than the people of Judea. They ranked prayer as the highest priority in their religious duties.

But certain faults had crept into the Jewish habits of prayer. They are not the faults of neglect; they are the faults of misguided devotion. Prayer tended to become formalized.

There were many who loved the formal prayers and who repeated it with reverence and adoration and love. Inevitably there were also those who rambled through it, to hasten on to more pressing matters.

We Christians cannot really criticize. For everything that has been said about formally gabbling through any of the prescribed prayers of Judea, can be said about grace before a meal at the family table.

Repetition of the formal prayers can become something like a superstitious incantation of a spell.

Further, the Jewish liturgy supplied stated prayers for all occasions. There was hardly an event, which had not a formal prayer. There was prayer before and after each meal; there were prayers regarding the light, the fire, the lightning, seeing the new moon, rain, storms, when one sees the sea, lakes, rivers, on receiving good news, on using new furniture, on entering or leaving a city. Everything had its prayer.

It really was something very dear and beautiful. Every happening in life was brought into the presence of God. But just because the prayers were so meticulously prescribed and stated, the whole system lent itself to formalism. They focused on the right prayer for the right time.

The pious Jew had set times for prayer. The hours were the third, the sixth and the ninth hours, that is, 9 am, 12 pm and 3 pm; wherever a man found himself he was compelled to pray. He might be genuinely praying to God, or he might be carrying out a formality. The Jews prayed standing, with hands stretched out, palms upwards, and head bowed in plain view of every passerby.

To these people Jesus teaches on prayer in the chapters of Matthew 6 and 7.

We live in the dispensation after the cross of Jesus and know that satan was defeated by the resurrection of Christ. Jesus taught His disciples a ground-breaking, theology-shattering prayer – to call God Father. For the Jews at the time, God was a distant, untouchable, holy and strict God-figure. They could hardly call Him by name. They prayed their daily prayers fulfilling the requirements, mostly in public. His name was written with consonants only. The vowels were left out in reverence.

They never dreamed of calling God the Father DAD. Jesus said that whoever have seen Him, have seen the Father, Creator-God, the high and holy One, living and breathing amongst us. John 14:7:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

Jesus WAS God the Father. The Trinity is integrated, not so detached as we might have come to think. It is as if God tore His own heart out and put it in the human body of Jesus and said – I’ll show mankind my heart.

He taught them to pray the iconic prayer in Matthew 6. It is a wonderful discovery to study the “Our Father” in detail and learn to pray from Jesus Himself. It is a powerful and most well known prayer, prayed in the most difficult and darkest circumstances over many centuries. It has been used and abused and has not lost anything in the process. Our Creator, our Maker is our dad, papa, pappa – the warmest closest words you can find for the man who is your father.

He is infinitely more than the best you can imagine.

Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.” (Matthew 19:17, The Message)

 Next time: Prayer in secret.

75. He is good, good, good – always.

What do you “see” when you think of God the Father? Do you have a picture of Him? Do you see Jesus or is He sort of separate? What is this Trinity-doctrine with which the theologians shape our God-concept?

Stay with me in these chapters of Exodus; in this most dramatic scene that will shape future generations in prayer.

Moses is in conversation with God. God has just told him that He would not go with them into the promised land with an uncharacteristic reproach: (33:1,3)

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt…

 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

 Now suddenly they are Moses’ people. How could this happen? God knows what Moses can take? He is God’s good friend remember?

So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Exodus 33:11)

He is also all-knowing and stands outside of time. He knows what His reproach will stir in Moses and knows the plea that is about to put Moses’ life on the line.

Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” (Exodus 32:31,32)

Moses stands as a true and strong prophet. He puts himself literally between God and the people.

What a miserable mess is this consequence of their sin? God looks fierce and vindictive. He is angry and blaming.

Moses reacts without fear towards this almighty, punishing God. He pleads for the people with full knowledge of God’s holiness and anger. He even reminds God that they are not his people, but God’s people.

He pitches his tent outside the camp – a separation from sin and evil. The people have the opportunity to separate themselves from their deeds and go outside to Moses. Whenever Moses goes into the Tabernacle, the pillar of cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, descends over the door. He prays:

Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.(Exodus 33:13)

Even in the midst of great evil and sin, in God’s disappointment, His presence does not leave the camp. He is where His people are.

 He is, where one heart seeks His favour and grace.

MOMENT of prayer: Show me Your way, that I may know You and find grace in Your sight.

 PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: Moses brings the people the image of the Father.

They have experienced God’s disappointment and consequences of their sin. The gold they had to drink is symbolic of the deadly effects of our sinful deeds in life.

God knows what they need to see, when He shows Himself to Moses.

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you… (Exodus 33:19)

God will reveal His goodness to you in the fullness of the moment.

His character is the answer to every prayer.

In the midst of failure and disappointment, He showed His people His goodness.

When God revealed himself to Moses, He said of Himself:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in [unfailing] love and faithfulness, Exodus 34:6 Also translated: goodness and truth [KJV & other translations]

These words can be summarized in the Hebrew word – hessed. which includes every possible aspect of covenant loyalty. When the people asked Moses, what God looks like, he said He looks hessed. Moses saw His character! God will do all that He is and said He would do. He is the Source of goodness and truth.

Whatever He does cannot be anything else than goodness and truth.

In prayer in the Presence, God will reveal Himself to you. In Him are all the answers, all the power, all the strength you will ever need. Get to God Himself. He is truth. He cannot lie. Where He is, every promise of the Word is real.

How can we pray to enter into the Presence of the Most High and sit in the secret place of the Almighty?

MOMENT of prayer: The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18

Contrite means feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming; ashamed, remorseful, hangdog, guilt-ridden. Remorse means a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs.

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: This is a once off – not a continuous life of guilt; quite the opposite. Confess and carry on to victory. Confession is a step forward, not wallowing in the cauldron of poisonous culpability.

Prepare to see God in His glory so that His goodness can pass before you. You can never doubt your life lived under the full impact of His glorious love for you.

The image of the Father? “See” the father of the prodigal son waiting for you to come home and running out to meet you with outstretched arms…