Tag Archives: Matthew 6

Misplaced loyalty?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..

(Matthew 6.9)

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world. to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(John 18.36&37)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Philippians 3.20&21)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 11.15)

Who is really in charge? Who truly wields power in the world today? On one level, the answers are obvious – money is power, our multinational corporations are virtually a law unto themselves; military might gives power, the threat of destruction creates domination and control; ideology drives men and women to act in ways which create power, they terrorise and destroy in order to realise their vision.. The ballot box, in a democratic society, is power surrendered to the people, but it depends on their intelligent approach to the use of their votes, on their willingness to vote, and on the integrity of those who are elected to represent them..

I am thankful to live in a society where military might is not abused, where ideology is still restrained from creating chaos, and where legal systems to hold money to account, to prevent the multinational corporations from getting away with any and every form of exploitation. But am I in danger of forgetting that all these are only by the providence of God? Am I at risk of putting my faith in the ballot box, in education and information as hope for the future of my children and neighbours? Our secular society would have us believe that all we have is the result of our own labours, and that we can, with the right tools and time, sort all the problems that remain.

The bible tells me differently, and I think that many would agree on a second look at the state of the world today. Humanity is improving the lot of millions, through technological advances, through education and development. BUT we continue to destroy our planet in our greed; to destroy one another in our selfishness, prejudice, and refusal to love and forgive. The scale of human suffering today is unimaginable, in spite of all the tools available to us to create prosperity, health and stability. Why? Because the problem lies in the heart of humanity, and no system, no power that ever existed can change the heart of man – only God in heaven, its creator, has addressed that brokenness and until we accept his diagnosis and his offer of saving, transforming life through faith in Jesus, we are ultimately hopeless.

I have a duty, as a citizen of my country, to vote, to act responsibly according to the laws of the land and to seek the good of my people as far as it lies with me to realise it. I have a responsibility to pray for those who are willing to shoulder the burden of elected representation – a thankless task, one which brings much frustration and can damage those who undertake it. These people need my support, and encouragment as they(broken and weak human beings) seek to do their best, in a situation where much is outwith their control.

But my ultimate loyalty is not to the nation of my birth, but the kingdom of which I am a member by faith in Jesus. It is the eternal security of that realm which gives me hope for the future, in spite of the growing darkness and unease of the world in which we live today. I believe in a God who is just and good, and who will never leave his people unaided.

Let me not allow political uncertainty, and the abuse of power – of any kind – to undermine my confidence in the absolute security which I have in Christ, my place in the kingdom of God, an eternal inheritance of which I have already received the guarantee. Because of him, in this world of fear, hostility and inequality, I can have peace as the flag flying high over the castle of my heart!

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When you pray….

..when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words…God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this –

Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.

(Matthew 6.7-13, JB Phillips – The New Testament in Modern English)

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

(1Thessalonians 3.12&13)

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2Thessalonians 1.11&12)

Do you notice anything about these prayers? Anything unusual in your experience of praying and hearing others pray? On a purely superficial level, we could note the complete absence of the word ‘just’, and also ‘bless’…both useful in their place, but perhaps too frequently on our lips to add much to the sense of our words!

Seriously though, what do we find? Our Lord Jesus in teaching his disciples to pray sends them straight to the heart of the gospel – that God might be glorified, lifted up, recognised and worshipped as God above all, mighty, merciful, holy and pure.

How is this to happen? By the coming of the kingdom which has been ushered in by Christ, and which will be fully realised when he returns from glory to wind up time and bring his people into the eternal joy of life with him. We can pray for this to happen – we are commanded to pray, to do our part in furthering God’s great plan for the world in this way. We may not see immediately how we are part of the process, but if we faithfully pray for it to be happening, we are obeying Christ and that is enough.

In order for us to play our part, we need food (and a few other necessities of life), so we ask in full confidence for God to provide these, but move on swiftly to a greater need – forgiveness (and the reminder that our willingness to forgive others shows the extent to which we are aware of our own great indebtedness to God). God’s work in realising his kingdom is accomplished through forgiven human beings, who know that all they are is God’s gift to them. It is right to continually remind ourselves of this debt. And finally to acknowledge our ongoing dependence on God to make any progress in our spiritual lives and to achieve anything in his service – it is his power which enables us to follow Jesus’ example and resist temptation; his power in Jesus which has defeated the Evil One and protects us in turn.

Do you find that we pray for one another like this? Or in the wonderful ways that Paul prayed for his young churches – who faced persecution and hardships that most of us will never know? He makes no mention of praying for their safety, or their health, the schooling of their children or the security of their jobs!

I am deeply challenged by these prayers, as I respond to the needs around me, and the challenges faced by friends and family.. Do I pray for their faith to grow, their love to be strengthened and for God to be glorified regardless of what happens in their lives? What is most important in the light of eternity? How do I pray for my children – that they might be successful, or that they might be godly, faithful, recklessly obedient servants of the King of heaven?

Is it not good to think before we pray, and put God’s priorities for his children at the top of our prayers for them too?

Oh Lord, let us become wiser in our praying, discerning those things which really matter, and praying your promises for one another that our lives might show more and more clearly your love, power and holiness, and bring you glory.

Solomon…in all his glory

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 

And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

(Matthew 6.28-30)

Solomon…a name which conjures up images of wealth, splendour and majesty on a scale which was never duplicated in the history of Israel. He was the King who carried his nation to giddy heights of prosperity and influence, achieving great fame for his building projects, his wealth and also for his understanding and wisdom.

Wisdom and wealth, two things which we aspire to, thinking that in them we will find security and peace. And yet here we find Jesus dismissing Solomon’s greatness as nothing beside the fleeting yet breath-taking beauty of the flowers  growing wild in the hills of Galilee. Jesus’ words give the idea that God himself has designed the colours, shapes and textures of every flower with just the same care as the most exacting fashion designer. It is God’s infinitely creative nature which is at work all around us, revelling in the possibilities, and improbabilities that he has at his disposal.

The bible teaches that all of creation, all that we have discovered and are yet to learn about our world and the incredible cosmic context within which it is held, everything was made to provide humanity – the pinnacle of God’s handiwork – with a home, a place to belong and to share with him. How easily we dismiss such thoughts, forgetting to take time to wonder at what has been made for us to receive from our loving Father. Every single part of this creation bears the fingerprint of the maker, reflects his character and expresses his inherent qualities. He has literally taken limitless trouble to provide for us – and has delighted to do so.

In the same way that a master craftsman will take great pains with even those parts of a design which are unseen, because the perfection of the whole depends on that inner integrity: so also our God has seen fit to bestow his detailed attention on the humblest elements of the world he has made for us. It all matters.

And so, Jesus makes his point to the listening group, do we! In fact it is clear from the words he uses that he is trying very hard to make them realise how much more we matter than these other beautiful things.

The wealth and wisdom of Solomon did not prevent him from losing sight of the truth about God, that he must reign alone in our hearts, and we must never place a higher value upon anything else. In time, that great monarch would permit the worship of other gods, and it is sadly recorded that he followed his many wives in such idolatry – surely a warning to us to be alert to our own particular tendencies to rely on ‘other gods’.

Nothing on earth, and no one in the world will ever, or can ever, love us like God does. So why do we so readily value anything else above him? Why do we chase after even modest wealth, and pursue wordly wisdom – the latest techniques for self-improvement, for making friends and influencing people, the best ways to resist ageing and fight disease?! The list of alternatives to God’s ways is very long, we are forever adding to it, and losing sight again of the truth. The truth as revealed in our world, and ultimately in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is that God cares passionately about us, and we can and must trust him passionately, the only one who really cares about our lives.

Let these diamonds, strewn liberally over the wayside flower yesterday morning by the rain, remind me of the riches which God has in store, and which are freely available in Christ – forgiveness, new life, hope for the future, strength for today, and a joy in living which surpasses all that wealth and wordly wisdom can supply.

We are so much richer than Solomon…in all his glory, let’s enjoy it, and thank our bountiful God for all his grace!

End of chapter…

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.

Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

(Matthew 6.19-21)

Moving house is a time when the quantity of stuff one possesses is frighteningly visible, being gathered onto a large lorry by a whole squad of people. It is  good to take stock and think about what is really necessary before adding to the heap of stuff to be packed, and we have given a good deal of time recently to doing just that.

There have been trips to charity shops, the recycling facility and the local dump, but also opportunities to help local organisations with things that we don’t need and they can use. It is a great blessing of our era, that social media and the internet allow us to find ways to make sure resources can be reused as often as possible. But some of the things are hard to let go….

The treasures I am reluctant to lose are largely connected with the raising of my children – books, toys, games and craft materials, all bearing witness to hours spent together and reminding me of their growth and development. But if the children – now both young adults in reality – are willing to let these things go, why am I struggling? We are passed those stages now, the colouring books and magnetic puzzles, the model-making kits and boxes of brightly coloured beads are redundant.

They are not perhaps the treasures that Jesus was particularly referring to, but I feel that his words here do apply to my situation as well. I have a choice here: I can cling on to the relics of childhood (telling myself that one day, someone else might come and use them, which is a delusion), or I can accept that this chapter of life is now closed, the story has moved on, and I must too. If I refuse to let go of these things, I am placing too much importance on what has been, instead of embracing what is, and looking to what will be.

My Father in heaven knows my mother-heart, he made it, so that I might love and raise these young people for him. He knows that I have many good memories, of simple days and the glorious free laughter and love of young children. Those were sweet to my spirit, and I am right to treasure them. But he has new blessings for me here, now, with the teenager and the young man who are increasingly independent, who laugh more at their little mother than with her, but who I am proud to call my own.

So what does it mean, as a mother, to store my treasures in heaven? Perhaps it is the literal and continual committing of my children into God’s hands, reminding myself that they were his before they were mine, and that his love for them is so much greater than mine. The love I bear for them, and the joy they bring me, are treasures which I can only keep sweet, healthy and clean by continually bringing them before God, to cleanse me of selfishness and the desire to control or manipulate their lives according to my own will.

I must also guard against allowing love for my children to become an idol, so that unless God gives them what I want for them, I cannot trust him. I have seen that happen, and it is such a painful situation, when God’s dealings with a child become the wreck of a parent’s faith. Ultimately, my treasure in heaven must be Christ alone, and my allegiance to him cannot be conditional upon my children’s prosperity, health or happiness.

So I will get rid of the stuff that my daughter is happily throwing out, to make room for her new life in our new home, and then the exciting adventure which will lie ahead after that. I will seek to walk gladly with her into the next chapter, thankful for the past but not clinging onto it, and trusting our loving Father for all our futures.

Morning (and evening) glory!

Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord.

I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.

But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.

He keeps every promise for ever.

(Psalm 146. 1-6)

Do you ever feel a little ashamed of being happy, or deep-down glad ? It can be a temptation to allow the very real cares and troubles of the world to cloud our own lives to the extent that we are never joyful, because there is always someone, somewhere who is in distress. Perhaps it seems holier to be always solemn, and in earnest about the burdens of our suffering world, than to allow ourselves to be caught up in gladness and wholehearted praise?

I believe this is a clever, but crippling deceit of the enemy of our souls, a means by which we are robbed of the joy and rightful lightness of heart which belongs to God’s redeemed children. Our Lord Jesus taught his disciples that they were to resist the temptation to be weighed down by the cares of the world.

In the long address known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and money, we cannot have divided loyalties in our lives. If we are genuine followers of Jesus, then we are able to shake off deep anxieties about our needs for food and shelter, about our future and that of our families. God’s provision for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air should reassure us that He knows what we need and cares to provide for us – as we are so much more valuable to Him than they are! All our worry cannot add even a minute to our lives, or change the circumstances which are shaping them. Our priority must always be to live in the present in a way that demonstrates our confidence in God to keep and deliver us through even the most desperate times, into His glorious presence.

Yes, we are to care for one another, and when possible to provide for one another’s needs. But this need not be a source of continual anxiety either! If the way to bear our own burdens is to bring them to the cross and allow Jesus to take them, then surely this is also how we support one another? The suffering of others should always be a prompt to prayer, reminding God that each human being is a precious child, needing to know His love and imploring His aid for their needs. Perhaps there will also be practical things which we can do to relieve suffering. BUT, it is wrong to get so bound up in suffering with others that we fail to give their burdens to Christ to carry. It is a false kind of pride to take such responsibilities upon ourselves. Only God can deal with the scale of suffering in the world, and we must not try to act and think as though it were all up to us.

The author of the psalm which I quoted today was surely not ignorant of the realities of pain and injustice in the world around him; he probably had witnessed at first hand the effects of sickness, war, oppression and starvation – in ways that many of us have not. And yet, he pours out words bursting with delight in the great God whom he worships. He has not allowed the real shadows of suffering to dampen his joy and gladness, nor to repress his praise.

I think that times like this come to all God’s children, moments or hours when we are simply so full of deep joy in the goodness and greatness of our Father, of delight in the depth and strength of our Lord’s love, that the worship which the Spirit is always stirring up in our hearts simply has to pour out – in music, words, actions or even wrapt silence and contemplation. I believe these times are a gift from our loving Father, a great refreshment to our spirits, and cause for great thanksgiving. Let us not feel guilty when we are filled with gladness, not spurn the gift of sheer joy in giving praise to one who is entirely worthy. In these moments, our duty as well as our delight is to join the psalmist in saying,

The Lord reigns for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 146.10)