Prayer and love tend to unite people. Perhaps we need to do more of both at church on Sunday. Prayer should be a never-ending two-way conversation. Perhaps my most frequent prayer request should be "Lord, teach me to pray properly and what to pray for." Maybe knowing exactly what to pray for is what James had in mind when he said we should pray for wisdom. (James 1:5) What does God do when I pray and ask for something that is against His will? Nothing! He simply ignores such requests and gives me what is spiritually and eternally best for me. But if my prayers always include a sincere request to learn to pray better, He will grant that request and I will not offer as many ill-conceived petitions. In order for a prayer to be effective, the attitude must be correct before the words are spoken. To "say" a prayer without having the proper attitude is simply "word uttering" and is worthless. Passionless people pray powerless prayers. My prayers must not be so much an attempt to get God's attention, but rather a response to the fact that He has already gained my attention. He knows me completely before I pray, but I need to clearly identify and express my wants and needs so He can show me the difference between them.
A man hired a carpenter to build him a house. He described the house he wanted and told the carpenter "Give me a list of everything you will need. I will get it all delivered." Six weeks later all the material was assembled and the carpenter went to work. A week later the man drove up to the site with a spray can of red paint. He started walking around the stacks of lumber marking some of them with the paint. The surprised carpenter asked "What in the world are you doing?" "You cannot use any of what I am marking. If it has red on it, don't use it." The carpenter did as he was told and finished the house as best he could with the limited material. When the owner saw the house he was disappointed and complained about the carpenter's work. Do we do this with God? He has provided all that is necessary to make us into the person He intends for us to be. Then we withhold part of ourselves - our attitudes, preferences, opinions, prejudices, habits, likes, dislikes - and wonder why we are not as happy and content as we would like to be.
Regular faith allows us to look back at past unpleasant times and say "God, I see now that you were teaching me and growing me. I understand now at least part of what you were doing. Thank you." Great faith allows us to look at current unpleasant times and say "God, I guess you are teaching me and growing me. Keep it up until I have learned all I need to learn. Thank you!" Somewhere I read "Faith and obedience will remove mountains of evil. But they must go hand in hand." I like this thought, but is faith without obedience really faith? The primary purpose of strong faith in God is not so that He can do more work through me, but so that He can do more work in me. My lack of faith hinders my effectiveness as his servant and it also blocks my becoming like him. I do not need to develop a plan for my life...month...week...day...hour. Instead I need to discover God's plan, which has been in existence for thousands of years. I need the faith to believe his plan is better than mine and the courage to put it into practice. Faith says to God "If it is your will I will attempt the impossible and accept the uncomfortable."
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus called his disciples to a spiritual level higher than that of their religious leaders. He was asking the disciples to grow beyond those who led their times of worship and taught in their synagogues.
To the disciples this must have sounded impossible. Those religious leaders very carefully followed the law of Moses and the many interpretations thereof. They were the theologians and seminary professors of their day. They wrote the Sunday School literature and scriptural commentaries. They tithed, attended all the festivals, gave special offerings, prayed three times every day, fasted several times each year, and sacrificed at the correct times and in the appropriate manner. How could these “working stiffs” ever exceed such righteousness?
They could love their neighbors!
Jesus did not fault the actions of these leaders. Their actions were impeccable. But He knew their hearts (Luke16:15). He called his followers to a set of attitudes that were more pleasing to the Father. He called them to love others.
If God were to call us to judgement today, would we want him to judge us on our actions or our attitudes? Which come closer to the meeting his standards?
What should be our primary attitude toward God? Love! (Matthew 22:37)
What should be our primary attitude toward people? Love! (Matthew 22:39)
What actions should we take to show God we love Him? Obey Him! (John 14:15)
What actions should we take to show others we love them? Serve them! (John 13:4-5)
Goodness and holiness are not the same thing. In fact, in the life of a child of God, good may actually hinder holy.
Goodness refers to those acts of kindness we do in order to help others. Holiness means being set apart and used for God’s glory. Goodness does not always produce holiness.
In Mark 9:41, Jesus talked about giving a cup of cold water “in my name.” Goodness prompts the giving of the water, while holiness causes that water to be presented in the name of our Lord and Savior. If we give a cup of water, provide free babysitting for the single mother who lives next door, visit a follow church member in a nursing home or help a stranded motorist change a flat tire – and don’t mention the name of Jesus or give God any praise – we are being good. But we are not necessarily holy.
Our good deeds may hinder increased holiness because such deeds cause us to feel gratified and pleased with ourselves. We may continue to look for ways to help others and overlook opportunities to glorify God
There are many good non-Christians in the world. Only the redeemed children of God are holy. We must allow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to show us how our good deeds (which bring recognition only to ourselves) can become holy deeds which bring glory to the Father.
The Holy Spirit creates a greater degree of holiness in our lives when we allow him to change the motive for our good deeds. Good deeds done in Jesus’ name and for the Father’s glory become holy deeds.
Are we willing to go beyond good to holy ?
When we look at a sinful world…the lying, injustice, greed, murder…do we feel more anger and outrage toward the perpetrators than sympathy and compassion for the victims? Do we want to punish more than help? Do we want to accuse, blame and hate more than we want to empathize, assist and love?
In Matthew 16:22 Peter contradicted Jesus because what Jesus was saying differed from what he had been taught as a child, what he had believed all his life. Do we sometimes let what we have been taught in the past interfere with what God wants to teach us now? Do we let old attitudes and opinions keep us from accepting new revelations?
It seems we Christians are more willing to hate the things God hates – sinful behavior-than we are to love the things God loves – sinful people. Why? Could it be that loving costs more money, time, energy and commitment than hating does, and we are unwilling to pay the extra price?
When I sin, I want to find excuses for my behavior and put the blame on outside explanations and circumstances. In sports jargon this takes the form of “It took a bad bounce” or “The sun was in my eyes” or “The referee made a bad call.” But when I do good, I want to take all the credit and pat myself on the back because I am such a “GOOD” person. God hates this attitude.
Is the term “proud servant” an oxymoron? Not for the Christian! I am a servant, but I am proud of the one I serve. I am a servant, but I am proud to bear my Master’s name. Being a servant is not a bad thing because I have the perfect boss.
Do I dare claim His name and not care for others? Do I dare have His joy and not pass it on? Do I dare know His peace and not tell my neighbor? If I don't care for others, do I dare? Do I dare claim His name and not care for others? Do I dare ask His help and not share His Word? Do I dare take His blessings and not help the lonely? If I don't care for others, do I dare? Do I dare claim His name and not care for others? Do I dare call Him Master and not be a friend? Do I dare seek His power and not spread the Gospel? If I don't care for others, do I dare?
A woman had three sons, each of them married with children of their own. All three were scheduled to arrive at her house at 11:00 for lunch on Thanksgiving Day.
For days she carefully planned the menu. Most of Wednesday was spent cooking desserts. She put the turkey in the oven at 5:00 Thanksgiving morning. The table was adorned with her best dishes and gleaming, polished silverware. By 10:45 everything was ready. She had done her best and she was pleased with her efforts.
Then she heard voices and strange noises from the area behind the house where the trash cans were stored. When she looked outside she could hardly believe her eyes. There were all three of her boys, along with their families, sitting in a circle around the trash containers. They were eating from the trash cans.
Using the can lids as serving trays they were eating potato and apple peels, carrot tops, and orange rinds. As she watched they scraped out what was left from the discarded vegetable cans and frozen food boxes.
She rushed outside, horrified at their behavior. “All of you come into the house this instant,” she cried.” This is crazy. I have a wonderful meal for you in there. Why would you want to eat garbage out here when I have turkey and mashed potatoes and hot rolls and apple pie on the table in the kitchen?”
The oldest boy replied “I’m sure you have a good meal inside, but we don’t deserve any better than this. We have neglected you lately and this is all we have a right to expect. It’s good enough for people like us.”
The middle son also refused. “This is really not so bad, Mom. If you’ve never tried it you don’t know what you’re missing. Would you like to join us?”
The third boy confirmed the decision to stay outside. “I’ve talked it over with my family and we don’t believe you really have anything any better inside. You can’t prepare a meal like you described. We think you are lying to us.”
The foolish, ungrateful behavior of these children causes us to feel outraged. But we act in similar ways toward God when we refuse the banquet of blessings he has for us and accept, instead, the trash offered by the world.
God prepares a menu of blessings for us every day. (Psalm 23). He knows we don’t deserve it but He continually offers us the best He has. Of course we don’t deserve his goodness, but He chooses to bless us anyway. To say He cannot bless us is to deny his power. To say He has not or will not bless us is to contradict his word. When we live in guilt, ignorance and denial we are as foolish as the three sons.
As God’s children we give Him many things. We give him our intellect as we study his Word and memorize passages of it. We read theological literature and get exposed to the thoughts of religious leaders of the past. We allow Him to shape our minds.
We give Him our money. We tithe, donate to mission offerings, support building programs and contribute to programs that support the homeless and unfortunate of our society. He has access to our money.
We gladly allow Him a reasonable amount of our time. We attend Sunday School and worship services each Sunday. We go to choir practice and prayer breakfasts and home Bible-study groups. God is allowed to guide us during large chunks of our time.
We make our physical strength and abilities available to Him. We spend two Saturdays a year helping out at “Repair and cleanup” day at our church. We help neighbors with yard work and other chores when necessary. We help rebuild homes and churches in hard-hit areas after weather disasters. God can use our hands and feet.
But a part of us that we tend to withhold from Him is our attitude. We balk at allowing Him to control, and maybe change, our feelings and reactions toward church staff, family members, people of other races, those in certain economic levels and members of various political parties or religious groups.
In Mark 2:22 Jesus taught the futility of putting new wine in old wineskins. It may be that our attitudes are the old skins of our day and the new wine is further revelations of Himself that the Holy Spirit cannot show us because of our mental rigidity.
Inflexible attitudes cause us to whine when God expects us to shine. Which of our attitudes are we refusing to yield to Him?