By: Sarah Norman
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives us a blueprint for how to pray. We have been exploring this the last few weeks. We've learned how to surrender our wills to God by praying for His will, not ours to be done. We've learned to pray for God to give us just exactly what we need, no more and no less, lest we forget to rely on God. We've learned to pray for forgiveness as well as forgive those who've sinned against us. This week, we learned about temptation. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, he says, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” (Matt 6:13). If I am being completely honest, the judgmental, legalistic side of me automatically thinks of all the people I think who need to hear this message and flee from temptation. I forget about my own sins and temptation I struggle with. And when I remember, I realize how much I've allowed my religion to influence how I live rather than allowing Jesus to influence how I live.
In the world we live in, temptation is everywhere. But it has been that way since the beginning of time. A look through Biblical history shows us that temptation was there in the very beginning. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent and promptly shirked their own responsibility of their sin. Adam blamed Eve, but also blamed God for giving Eve to him. Eve then blamed the serpent for her sin. Neither took responsibility, and thus began the pattern of sin for every person who's ever lived. We see it in all the the stories of the Bible, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Sampson, David, Solomon. The list could go on and on. All were tempted to sin, all gave into sin. The difference is, some realized it. Some allowed God to change their hearts. Some saw their temptation, saw their sin and knew it went directly against what God wanted because they had a relationship with God.
In this prayer, Jesus invites us into freedom. He invites us to pray a prayer that gives us a freedom from the bondage of sin. He invites us to flee from the temptations that are around us every day and to run toward Him. This world makes sin so enticing. When we are looking towards this world, choosing to follow people in this world, social media influencers, politicians, pastors, whoever it is we let speak into our lives, we take our eyes off of what the Bible says, off of what God is speaking to us, and so easily begin to follow what may seem good and right, but is contrary to what the Bible says. The world tells us to do what makes us happy, “you do you” as I said last week, follow your heart for it can never lead you astray. But God does not tell us to do what makes us happy. He doesn't tell us to follow our hearts. We read in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our hearts will lead us into sin every single time. I have been there. I've chosen many times to listen to my heart. I did what I thought would make me happy. And it did for a while. I had some happy times knowing I was sinning. But that happiness always ended. And then I was left with emptiness, and yearning for more.
We are designed to be filled with something. This world makes it so easy to be filled with the things of this world, money, sex, alcohol, drugs, entertainment, anger, gossip, again the list could go on. We get our fill, think we're satisfied, but we're never done. There will always be another temptation, always be another thing we think we need to fulfill ourselves. Jesus, in this prayer, is inviting us to something different. He's inviting us into a relationship with Him that will fully satisfy everything we need. He's inviting us to flee temptation, to flee the sin that holds us in bondage and run towards Him.
Justin spoke today about a commandment that is in every single Gospel. It's the only one repeated in all 4. Matthew 16:24 says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus wants us to follow him. He wants us to walk as he walked, do as he did, say what he said. Jesus was gentle, was meek, was a servant. He loved those who were untouchable, he gave humanity to all the dehumanized of the culture. He gave up His throne to walk this earth. He was tempted, he had emotions. Yet, through all of that, he was without sin. And he says to “Follow me.” That is his command.
This is not something we can do on our own. He tells us to pray “Lead me not into temptation.” He doesn't tell us “Just don't sin.” He knows we need help. He knows we can't do it without Him. He never intended us to do it alone, just like he was not alone. He prayed to God the Father daily. He modeled this so that we could see how we were intended to live this life.
Now if I'm being honest, I don't always want to pray, “Lead me not into temptation.” Sin is just easier in this world sometimes. We live in an incredibly forgiving, permissive culture of grace. We live in a culture where everyone is praised for being authentic and real without ever expecting anyone to then say, well how are you going to be different now that you know you shouldn't have screamed at your kids, or drunk that bottle of wine after they went to bed, or watched porn when your wife was out of town, or flirted with that coworker while your wife was watching the kids. It's good to be authentic and real, to share your temptations and sins, but Jesus didn't just leave us there in our sin. When people share their struggles, we should love them, not judge them, but gently point them toward Jesus. There is grace when we sin and there is forgiveness when we sin, but just as Jesus told the woman in John 8:11 “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” that should be our response, and that is hard. I think that's often why we don't pray this. We are comfortable in our sin. We know what to expect. But to live a life following Jesus, making the choice to not do the things we may want to do, that is hard, that is unknown to us. But it's what we are called as Christians to do.
If you claim Christ as your savior, following Him is not an option. That's another thing we've learned from this sermon series. He tells us to do some really hard things, but He doesn't leave us to do them alone. He's not going to tell us to do something and then just leave us to figure it out. He tells us to pray “Lead me not into temptation,” because He knows we need Him to help us, to lead us out of temptation. He knows we can't say no to it all on our own every single time.
If you're struggling with temptation or habitual sin patterns, God has not left you or forgotten you or counted you as too far gone. This prayer invites you into freedom from your sin, whatever that may be. This prayer invites you into a new kind of life, not one that looks like the world, not one that is easy, but one that you will find the satisfaction that you have been searching for. This prayer is meant to give you life abundantly.
By: Sarah Norman
We are not a society that values dependence. Dependence on anything is seen as weakness. We are told from day one to work towards independence. So we save and we scrounge and we make sure that we can take care of ourselves. What if I told you that may not be what God wants for us? Before I go any further, know that I'm talking to myself here as well. I value independence. I value self-sufficiency. I value the bootstrap mentality. I don't necessarily believe all of those qualities and values are wrong in and of themselves, but when we divorce them from God and start believing that we can take care of ourselves, that we earned every single thing we have, then our values begin leaning towards prosperity theology rather than the Gospel. This is why we are learning about prayer. We're learning to not constantly ask God for things and expect He will give us exactly what we want as long as we live a good life, but that prayer is surrendering our wills and our lives to God. That type of prayer is very different. That type of prayer is something I've only just begun to learn about.
Last week we began learning about the model of prayer that Jesus gave the disciples. We learned that the disciples saw that Jesus had a very different relationship with God than what they did and they wanted to learn how to have that for themselves, so Jesus taught them how to pray. We learned that part of prayer is surrendering your will to God's will, not trying to bend God's will to yours. After we learn to ask for God's will to be done, not ours, we see Jesus say something that goes directly in the face of our American excess mentality. He says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (emphasis mine). They lived in a very different society. Saving up food was not an easy feat. They didn't have pantries and refrigerators and freezers. They didn't have bank accounts and savings accounts. And they'd been told the stories all their lives of how God saved his people in the desert by providing their daily bread. He provided manna from the sky daily. Just enough every day to keep them alive till the next day. This concept is so difficult for our 21st century, American brains to comprehend. But this is not a foreign concept to much of the world. Much of the world have no idea where their next meal or drink of water will come from. And much of the world's Christians rely solely on God for those things. But us, here, living in our houses, with our savings accounts and a grocery store on every corner that we can go to any time we need anything, we don't understand this mentality. I'm not saying that what we have is bad. Having enough food to feed our family, running, clean water, heat and air conditioning are good gifts from God, but how often do we acknowledge they are gifts? How often do we find ourselves congratulating ourselves for having all we could ever desire? How often do we really have to trust in God for what we need today?
Translating this into 21st century America is not an easy task. I'm not saying that we need to begin only having enough food in our house for today, that we need to get rid of our freezers, or close our bank accounts...unless that is something you feel God telling you to do, then by all means, listen to God and trust Him for what you need. But in light of learning how to pray and thinking about what God gives, He gives us what we need for today. He gives us grace for this day. Not for tomorrow, not for next week, not for someone else's day, but for our day, today. My husband and I are praying through a big decision that would drastically change our lives. It's a decision that, if I let it, would cause anxiety and distress because it's not a decision that will be made for another few weeks and I don't yet know which way the decision will go. I don't yet have grace for that decision because it's not something I need today. I have grace to get through this day, this specific moment with my husband half way across the country and my children running around me screaming and yelling because that's what little boys do. God gives me what I need today, the grace and patience to parent alone and love my boys exactly how they are, that is what I need today. What is it you need today? Not what you want or think you may need. Spend time with God and ask Him what it is you need. He already knows. Trust that He will give you exactly what you need for this day.
In Luke 11:5-13, the parallel passage to Matthew 6 where Jesus is teaching about prayer, He describes a father who's child is asking for something he needs. Jesus says of course the father will give the child what he needs and not a snake or a scorpion. And then he says “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” I read that correctly today, for the first time. I've literally never read the words Holy Spirit or if I had, they have never registered with me. Which might be why I've never really understood this passage. Anyone who has prayed for something and not gotten it has probably gone to this passage and asked God, “Why?” God doesn't tell us that he will give us everything we want, or even that He'll give us all the good things like the father. He says he will give us His Holy Spirit, which I would argue, is worth far more than anything else I could ask for. The more I learn about the Holy Spirit, the more I love the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit's power that we are given daily. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.” These are things I need on a daily basis, and without the Holy Spirit working in me, they are impossible. These are the things I need from God, and he says He will give them if we ask.
The next thing Jesus tells us to pray is “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus puts these 2 things together because we cannot have one without the other. As a follower of Jesus, I know what it means to be forgiven. We celebrated Easter a few weeks ago. We celebrate that there's an empty cross and an empty tomb. What Jesus did on the cross bought us forgiveness of our sins. For that I am so very thankful. But because I am forgiven, I have to extend that forgiveness to others. I cannot withhold forgiveness when people wrong me. Ephesians 4:32 tells us “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is not an option, this is a command. Someone's transgression against me is not greater than my many, daily transgressions against God. I am not better than God or more deserving to hold a grudge than God. If God can forgive me, I have absolutely no reason not to forgive others. That does not mean the relationship has to continue, that does not mean that earthly consequences don't need to happen. If the transgression is in the form of abuse in any way, yes you need to forgive and God will help you do that, but you need to also be safe and allowed to be a whole person which may mean pressing charges or cutting off contact with that person. You can forgive while also making sure you are safe. Those 2 things do not need to be separate.
Justin ended this week's sermon with asking us to pray a prayer. I want to end my blog today with that same prayer. When we are used to believing one way about something, it's hard to allow God to change our hearts. When our culture tells you one thing, it's very difficult to do the complete opposite. But consider today where you may be following the culture. Consider how our 21st century American ideals inform your Christianity rather than allowing Jesus to be the one to inform you on how to believe. May this be the prayer we can all pray, “God, you're so good. Fill me with your goodness. Give me just enough of this world's good, but not too much, lest I forget that you are greater. God, make me forgive others, lest I become bitter. Help me to be better so that both of us might get better.”
By: Sarah Norman
We are a culture that is constantly plugged in. We are always consuming media of some sort, social media, podcasts, radio, TV, news, and books. We plug ourselves into all these things then allow them to shape the people we are, allow them to shape what our lives look like, what we believe, what we stand for. So often, as we are plugged into the influencers and important people of today's world, we forget who it is we should be plugged into. It's easy to allow ourselves to be swayed one way or another by the people we are constantly listening to without seeking God. Rather than first turning on the news, opening your phone, consulting social media, we should first and foremost turn to God.
We see this modeled in scripture by Jesus. Jesus was revolutionary in so many ways, the most impactful being making God the Father accessible to people. Jesus showed his disciples that prayer wasn't just part of a religious ritual, it wasn't empty words repeated over and over. Prayer was a relationship with God the Father. Jesus took time to pray before He did anything else. Mark 1:35 tells us “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” This wasn't just a ritual for him. No one gets up super early in the morning for something that isn't meaningful to them. Jesus got up because He needed that connection with God.
This is not something that comes easy to us. We live in a world that tells us to do what works for us, “you do you”. I know I have said this often, and sometimes it is good advice. Not everyone is suppose to be living out their spiritual life the same. But, at the same time, prayer and a relationship with God is not optional for those of us who claim Christ as our Savior. So then, if it's not optional, what does that look like? How do we pray?
Jesus explains those answers for us. Typically when we think about prayer, we think about asking God for things, wanting to bend God's will to ours. Or we ask, but don't really expect an answer, wondering if God is really listening. Sometimes we even wonder if there's a point when we've prayed for something for so long. Justin made several great points in Sunday's sermon about our typical approach to prayer and how we so often get it wrong. First, Jesus tells us how not to pray. In Matthew 6, he tells us to not be like the hypocrites, praying loudly for all to hear how righteous you are. Jesus is not impressed by our big words, by our intellect, by the time commitment, or by the social spectacle we can sometimes make of prayer. Jesus tells us to go in a room, shut the door and pray in secret. He wants us to get rid of distractions and focus on Him. I am a mom. This is a hard concept, as I am sure it is for many of you. Getting in a room, completely by myself and no one interrupting, that is almost impossible. I don't really know the practicality of this, but I think the biggest point is that He wants us focused on Him, not on everything around us, not on the notifications on our phones, not on the constant lists we make in our heads of all the things we have to do, but on God. No one does this perfect, we're not asked to be perfect, but we are asked to try.
I think so often when we come to God in prayer, it can seem like God is not listening to us. It's where the grocery list of prayers idea comes in. We ask for all the things we want or think we need and then we're done and then we do it again the next day and the next and eventually wonder if God is listening because nothing seems to be happening. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:7-8 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” (emphasis mine). When we pray, God already knows what we need. He knows our hearts, he knows what we will ask and he knows what's best for us. Do you believe that? Honestly I wonder. I wrestle with God knowing what's best because so often I think I know what's best for my life and I wonder why God doesn't do it, why it seems like He is silent. There have been times in my life when God clearly said no to something I thought was exactly what I needed. I have been blessed with the hindsight to look back and see that God actually did know best in those situations because my life would have looked drastically different otherwise. So when I have those clear examples, why is it still so hard? I think it can be hard because I'm constantly plugged into things other than God.
When I listen to things other than God, I forget that God's will is rarely what the will of this world is. What makes sense to God, doesn't make sense to us. Jesus goes on in Matthew 6 to say “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God's kingdom does not look like this world's. All we have to do is turn on the news or open Facebook or Twitter to see that the world is vastly different than God's kingdom. And I don't believe it's our job to make the entire world look like God's kingdom, but we can allow God to transform our own lives into what God's kingdom should look like. That transformation starts with prayer and a relationship with God.
We don't pray to change God's mind. God is God. He knows what we need before we ask. He knows what we need even when we don't ask. And I honestly believe He will give us what we need whether or not we ask. Prayer is about surrender. It's about surrendering our wills to God's will. It's about allowing God to change our hearts and make us more like Him. It's about seeking God first, and allowing God to show us how we can live our lives best for Him. We cannot learn this on social media. We are not able to learn this from books, (aside from the Bible). We will not learn this from movies or TV. We will not learn this from reading the news. We learn this from seeking God and surrendering to God. We learn this by asking God what His will is and not by telling God what our will is.
God wants a relationship with you. His word is full of examples of how Jesus was in relationship with God the Father. As Christians, we are suppose to follow in Jesus' footsteps. Jesus modeled this relationship for us so that we could live in the freedom of seeking God's will for our lives rather than constantly living in the bondage of the webs we create.
How tangled are you in the webs of your own creation? Are you willing to surrender to God's will for your life?
By: Sarah Norman
In the last several weeks, we have asked lots of questions in learning why God came to this earth. If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Would you ask why there was so much pain and suffering? Why did COVID-19 have to happen? Why did your loved one have to die? Would you ask why God chose to do things the way He did? When you ask God your question, will you trust His answer?
God has spent all of time showing us He is trustworthy. From the first garden, the Garden of Eden, to the garden where Jesus was laid, we see that God had a good plan in the works. He knew when he first made Adam what Adam's choice would be, yet He still created him. He made a creation that He knew would betray Him, would cause Him pain, yet He still chose to enter into relationship with us. He chose to do that because He had a plan to save us.
The last words Jesus said while He was dying on the cross were, “'It is finished'. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (John 19:30). Jesus didn't just come to die, to experience what dying was like. He actually died. He was dead for 3 days. He experienced what no one living currently has experienced. As Christians, we observe Good Friday because we know what's coming and we celebrate Easter because of the miracle that happened, but we often don't talk about or think about what happened on Saturday. Jesus was dead. They laid his lifeless body in a tomb and still expected him to be there Sunday morning when they went to finish the burial. Saturday is the messy middle, the in-between place that we most often live. It's the place where we question God, where we cry out in our anger and sadness over whatever is happening. We see Mary Magdalene, John and Peter on Sunday morning but what was Saturday like for them? They spent 3 years following Jesus around, learning from him, hearing his teachings, hearing the prophecies, and yet they still didn't quite understand. They were heartbroken, probably asking the same questions of God that we often ask, Why did this have to happen? What does it all mean? What do we do now? We all have our Saturday's, our in-between, messy middle times in life where we have no answers and no solutions other than crying out to God, wondering what we should do next.
But the amazing thing about this story that is not just a story, but historical reality, is that Sunday came and Jesus was not there. John 19:41 says “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” Jesus was not placed in a graveyard, he was not burned as was custom of victims of crucifixion but rather, he was placed in a tomb in a garden. Graveyards are where people go to die and stay dead. Seeds may be buried in a garden, but they don't stay buried. They sprout new life. Jesus was buried in a garden. That was not done by accident. He never intended to stay dead for long. On Sunday morning when the women went to finish the burial they went into the tomb and saw a man dressed in a white robe. He said to them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” (Mark 16:6) Do you think the prophecies finally made sense? Do you think they finally began putting the pieces together. They were told to go and tell the disciples so they did. Mary Magdalene chose to see the tomb in the garden, not the grave. After she saw Jesus, she ran to the disciples and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).
We know the story from their. Jesus did not stay dead. He resurrected from the grave. He defeated death. He did that so we may know new life in Him. He experienced death, suffering, separation from God, the weight of the sin of the world so that we could know Him and live with Him. Our faith means absolutely nothing if this did not happen. We would be worshiping a man still in the grave, able to do nothing because he would just be bones, degraded over 2000 years. But instead, we worship a risen Savior.
In the first garden, there was a tree that ended Adam's life, cursing the entire world. Near this garden, there was another tree that ended Jesus' life, saving the entire world. (Justin's Message 4/4). Jesus did not die just for the Jewish people, as we learn later in scripture. He did not die just for the men of his time as we see in his appearance to Mary Magdalene first. He did not die for one race, one class, one gender, but for all the world. Our faith is open to every person and is the answer to whatever question you have. God is not afraid of your questions, even the hard ones. He's not afraid of your anger, your hurt, your disappointment. God is big enough to handle your big stuff. We know that because of Easter. Jesus rising from the dead and ascending to Heaven, doing what no one else had ever done or has ever done is the reason I know things will be ok. It's ok to be in the messy middle. It's ok to ask your questions, to even wonder at times what the point of it all is or if God even exists. God is not afraid of those questions. But if you're going to ask, then trust God's answer. Trust that because of what he did on the cross, being willing to step into our pain, step into death, experience those things alongside us, then He has the answer. He sees you in your pain. He hears you crying out. He is not ignoring you. He is the answer to your questions.
So are you in a Saturday season right now? Are you in an in-between, messy middle place? Are you questioning God, wondering why? Don't be afraid to cry out to him. Don't be afraid to ask him your questions. Look to the cross and the empty tomb for your answers. Will you choose to see the tomb in the graveyard or the garden? Will you choose to see that Jesus died to bring new life to this world, a new covenant, not born out of empty rituals but a lasting relationship with Him? He wants to be in relationship with you where you are, rather in your in-between place or on the other side. He wants to walk with you through it. The cross and the empty tomb in a garden are what make that possible.