June 7, 2010 David Balzer

Matthew 6:5-15: Starting the Ultimate Relationship

If you want to know what it’s like to climb Mt Everest, you ask someone who’s DONE it. You don’t ask someone who’s greatest climb is up Mt Druitt – wherever THAT is.  If you want to know what it’s like to hold someone’s life in your hands, you ask a surgeon. You don’t ask someone who’s greatest surgery was pulling a splinter, or applying a band-aid.  If you want to know what’s going to happen to the share market, or with your superannuation, you ask somebody who KNOWS. You don’t take advice FROM ME for example.  Actually, I’m not sure ANYONE knows what’s going to happen to the share market, but you get the point. If you want to know about something, you ask someone who KNOWS. Someone with the EXPERIENCE, or the CONNECTIONS.  And it’s the same with GOD. Ask the one who knows him  If you want to know what GOD’S like, you ask the one who KNOWS him. From the INSIDE. The one who’s spent all eternity with him. Who says he’s come from the Father. Who says he’s ONE with the father. And who says he’s the image of the invisible God. And that’s Jesus.  It seems pretty obvious, and yet, so often, people follow a DIFFERENT plan of attack. Defining God by consensus, by preference, or by creation  Some people think you define God BY CONSENSUS. That if most people THINK God is something, then he must BE that. That if the majority of people think God is pro-women or conservation, or anti-abortion or – then he MUST be. But I’m not sure God READS surveys.  Others think God is a matter of PREFERENCE. I’m sure you’ve heard people like this. “I like to think of God as…. Fill in the gaps. A life-force, or a big cloud, or a bit like Santa, or a judge with a giant set of scales, or a watchmaker, or an old man with a long beard… The list goes on. But God’s none of the things WE imagine. That’s simply making God in your own image. Something he said NEVER to do.  Then there’s others who think you catch a glimpse of God from CREATION. And there’s even some evidence in the Bible for that idea. Like Ps 19 v1.  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  Or Romans 1:20  20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine re-have been clearly seen, BEING UNDERSTOOD FROM WHAT HAS BEEN MADE,  And I reckon that’s true. The intricate design of the eye, or a snowflake point to God’s wisdom and love and creativity. The energy of a storm, or a volcano, or the sun point to his power and strength. The sheer size of the Universe, as we look into the night sky give us a hint of eternity. God’s eternity in being, in power, in perception, in space.  But all of those things in re are just HINTS. And sometimes hints can be deceptive and confusing. Is God the God of the beauty of a rosebud, or the brutality of a lion an antelope. Is he the gentle rain that brings the desert to life? Or the violent storm that destroys buildings? re can send confusing messages. Because it doesn’t use WORDS.  If we’re going to find out what God’s like. It’s going to take him TELLING us. With WORDS. Not leaving it up to us to GUESS.  And what we get in these few verses we’ve just read is EXACTLY THAT. The inside story on God. Straight from Jesus himself. The one who’s spent all eternity with him. Who says he’s ONE with the father. Who says he’s the image of the invisible God. The Word of God as a human being. He can be, and wants to be, communicated with (5)  The context is about how you PRAY. How you COMMUNICATE with the God who made you and everything else in the Universe. See there at the start of v5? Jesus is talking. “And when you PRAY”.  Which is a pretty amazing characteristic about God to BEGIN with. That whatever God’s like, it’s possible to COMMUNICATE with him. In fact, he WANTS to be communicated with.  If you write to THE QUEEN, you might JUST get a photocopied standard reply from a junior assistant under-secretary. But just imagine the Queen sent you a hand-written letter saying, “I’d really like to be your pen-pal. Here’s my address, write to me anytime. Tell me all about what you’ve been up to. I can’t wait to hear from you.”  That’s the sort of incredible turn around it is when Jesus invites us to PRAY. That the infinite, holy God crossed the gap into time and space, and REQUESTED AN AUDIENCE WITH US. To know what we thought, and what we wanted.  First thing about God. He CAN be, and WANTS to be, communicated with.  Relationship not religion (6:5-8)  And here’s the NEXT surprising thing Jesus says about approaching God. And it goes completely against what every other philosophy and culture has ever said. He’s interested in A RELATIONSHIP, NOT RELIGION.  God’s not impressed with a self-satisfied, self-centred self-righteousness. Whether it’s trying to impress HIM, or other people. Special words, or places, or rituals, or external deeds. Multiple repetitions of phrases every day. Earning brownie points before God.  None of it matters to him. It’s water off a duck’s back. See there in V5?  5 “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 MEN. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, DO NOT KEEP ON BABBLING like pagans, for they THINK THEY WILL BE HEARD BECAUSE OF THEIR MANY WORDS. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  RELIGION / is striving to approach God by DOING. Trying. Working. Reaching. Jesus says, Give up, it doesn’t work. When other people see you TRYING SO HARD, and nod their head in appreciation, Jesus says, that’s the only reward you’ll get. It won’t work with God.  When you get your name on the donor’s plaque on the building wall, that’s your only reward. When you don’t miss a Sunday in church, and get the attendance award. Or you turn up every Wednesday to Rotary. And get nominated for chairman. That’s all you’ve got coming. It earns nothing with God.  They’re all good things to do, but they mean nothing if your heart’s wrong. If you’re trying to impress OTHERS. Or to approach God on your own merits. That’s RELIGION. And God’s not impressed.  Instead, he wants A RELATIONSHIP. “Go to your room” says Jesus. Where no one else notices. And talk to YOUR FATHER. Call him DAD. A Father who wants to know you. To hear your struggles, your thanks, your victories, your requests.  FATHER.  (pause) And while it might be hard to get the attention of your EARTHLY Father. If he’s watching TV, or reading the paper. It’s not like that with your HEAVENLY Father. There’s no performance to work through. No need to put on a song and dance.  Jesus says use SIMPLE words. Quiet words. Short and uncomplicated. You don’t even need to use your MOUTH. Because your HEAVENLY Father HEARS you.  And while you might be able to fool your EARTHLY Father, it won’t work with your Father in heaven. He SEES you. V6. Sees EVERYTHING. Not just public deeds, but private ones too. And not just deeds, but even THOUGHTS.  Which is both comforting and confronting in equal measure.  But if your goal is pleasing HIM, rather than OTHERS, then he’ll REWARD you for what he sees.  And not only is he a Father who hears and sees. But he KNOWS. V8. Knows YOU, knows YOUR SITUATION, knows you INSIDE OUT. You don’t have to keep babbling because you Father KNOWS what you need before you ask him.  Which begs the question, I guess: Why does he WANT us to pray? If he already KNOWS.  Because he’s OUR FATHER. He wants A RELATIONSHIP. He wants to HEAR us. He wants us to be expressing our dependence on him, our thankfulness. Our honour and respect. He LOVES it. He KNOWS what we need, but he loves to hear us ASK for it ANYW
AY.  (PAUSE) And so we come to THE PRAYER ITSELF. And what’s interesting is that Jesus presents it as a CONTRAST to the sort of ritualistic, repetitive prayers the PAGANS, or the religious leaders, were offering. An example of simple words, simple requests. AN EXPRESSION OF HUMBLE DEPENDENCE, NOT A STATEMENT OF RELIGIOUS PRIDE. A SHORT prayer because God sees and knows ANYWAY.  He says to address God as your Father in heaven. Which we’ve already seen. And then he follows with three short requests about GOD, and then three short requests about OURSELVES.  And the first three requests really merge into one. Look there from the end of v9.  Hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The first request “Hallowed be your name.” In other words, “God, may your name, your reputation, be honoured. May people recognise you, and revere you like you deserve.”  And you can’t be praying that IN GENERAL TERMS / unless you want to be doing that PERSONALLY. To be recognising who God is, and VALUING him, appreciating and allowing him to rule YOU. Making his reputation HOLY in your words and deeds and thoughts.  And because it’s Jesus telling us to pray like this, it means God WANTS his name to be honoured. For YOU to honour it.  Jesus goes on. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  For God’s kingdom to come is a prayer for God’s RULE to be seen EVERYWHERE.  Which must mean, whatever the world is like at the moment, there’s a sense in which God’s will ISN’T being done. This world is a PLAN B world. A world that’s FALLEN from God’s design.  But praying for God’s kingdom to come ALSO MEANS / the world WON’T ALWAYS BE like that. So, in ONE sense, it’s a request for judgment day to come. For God to END all the suffering and sin, to bring JUSTICE. To set wrongs to right. To begin an eternity where he rules COMPLETELY over EVERYTHING.  But it’s also a request that in the MIDST OF THE MESS OF THE WORLD AT THE MOMENT, that people would begin to recognise God’s rule, and begin to live with his as king.  That little areas of God’s kingdom would begin springing up all over the world. Little candles of light in the middle of a dark night. Little kingdoms of peace, and love and patience and forgiveness.  Which is really how the THIRD request fits in. Because God’s kingdom COMES/ when people are DOING HIS WILL, the same way it’s being done in heaven. “May your will be done on EARTH, the way it’s done in HEAVEN.”  It’s the way God CREATED the world to BEGIN WITH. With Adam and Eve. And it’s the way his world will FINISH UP. Into ETERNITY. And he wants his people working at bringing about that sort of world NOW. Praying it. Working at bringing it in. That we’d be hallowing his name, living in his kingdom, and doing his will.  It’s really what we should be on about at church. It’s the BIG PICTURE of what all the little things we do in church week to week. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So what about you?  Next, Jesus moves onto three requests about US. So what about YOU? What all of this KINGDOM talk will look like on A PERSONAL LEVEL. “Give us our daily bread. Forgive our debts. And don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  First. Look to God in DEPENDENCE. It’s arrogance to think YOU provide what you need. In one sense you DO work for your money, and spend it to buy stuff. But it’s God who gives you a healthy body to work, who provides a job, who causes rain to fall, and food to grow.  It’s God who ensures we have stable government and resources and loving families and supportive friends. It’s God who makes sure cars and fridges keep working, that houses keep standing, and taps keep running. It’s God who makes sure your heart keeps beating, your brain keeps firing and your lungs keep pumping!  So look to him in dependence.  God wants us to RECOGNISE his hand in everything. To ASK him for it, even though he KNOWS we need it. To turn to him with open hands and bended knees. And then to THANK him for it.  Second thing he wants us to do is to repent from our sin (v12). “Forgive us our debts.” He’s in HEAVEN. He’s HOLY, or HALLOWED. And we’re NOT. We fall SHORT of his standards. We fail to do his will, to bring his kingdom in.  And so we need to TURN AWAY from that.  It’s a request that says something about the re of the Christian life. The old bumper sticker’s TRUE, “Christians aren’t PERFECT, just FORGIVEN.”  We’re not suddenly transformed into perfection. A kingdom life, a God-honouring life, will still be marked by mistakes, stumbles, failures. Daily. Don’t give up because living God’s way is HARD. That’s the re of it.  And don’t be TOO disappointed when OTHER Christians don’t always respond PERFECTLY. They’re a work in progress TOO.  Second, the request for forgiveness says something about the RE OF THE RELATIONSHIP. Jesus says to ask for forgiveness, but we can STILL CALL GOD “Father”. Building up a debt with our heavenly Father doesn’t destroy the relationship.  Which shouldn’t really surprise us when we think about the sort of debts children build with EARTHLY fathers, and the fathers just keep right on LOVING them.  And that’s Jesus’ promise about us as children of God.  If our basic orientation is dependence on God, looking to him for all we need, looking to see his name honoured/ then our failures and sins don’t break the relationship.  Which is GREAT NEWS to HEAR from God himself.  The third request Jesus makes concerning us is there in v13. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  Looking BACK, we turn away from the sin we did YESTERDAY. Looking FORWARD, we ask for God’s protection for the temptations and trials we’ll face TODAY.  It’s a request that says something about THE RE OF THE WORLD.  Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee an easy life. In fact, for MANY Christians life / gets MORE difficult. Apart from the PERSECUTION that comes our way because we follow Jesus. We’re not immune from unemployment, cancer, marriage breakdown, kids going off the rails, mental illness, bad investments, disasters.  And the prayer that God would lead us away from temptations or trials is a recognition that God’s got today and tomorrow in his hands. That he’s guiding it all for his purposes. That we’re NOT in control, and he IS. It’s a recognition that we’re WEAK, and he’s STRONG. A recognition that we NEED to be protected from the worst of what might come our way. So that we might live FOR HIM, rather than fall into the traps of the EVIL ONE.  And, like the REST of this prayer, it’s a great request for the Christian to make EVERY DAY.  Every day we need to be praying for God’s name to be honoured, for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done. In OUR OWN lives, as well as the lives of people the world over.  EVERY DAY, we need to be praying that we might live dependently on God for everything, that God would deal with the sin of yesterday, and the trials of today.  4 Start the Ultimate Relationship?  But it’s also a great prayer to be praying for the FIRST TIME. To START the ultimate relationship.  And perhaps that’s something you want to do NOW.  (pause) We’re going to close with a prayer that’s BASED on the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that YOU can use to START the ultimate relationship. Or to CONTINUE that relationship.  Let’s PRAY  Dear Father in Heaven,  Help me to treat your name as holy,  Help me to recognise your rule,  Help me to do your will.  Please look after me physically.  Please look after me spiritually. Forgive me– because of Jesus’ .  Help me to forgive others. And keep me from being led away. Amen

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