Prayer, Giving, and Fasting

It’s Monday morning again…that weekend went by really fast. Oh, well. And welcome to August, already.

We had another great message at The Exchange Church yesterday morning, this one by pastor Joel. He spoke to us about genuine conversion, not so much to get anyone to doubt their salvation, but to encourage us, and, perhaps, to get us to take a good look at areas where we might be lacking. The main theme of the message, and I know I’m not quoting this exactly right, was “When Christ converts a soul, that soul cannot remain the same.” And this is so very true. I keep saying I’m going to take a notebook and take notes, but I keep forgetting. There was a lot of good stuff in this one. The one down side yesterday was that our worship leader resigned. But the rest of the band is still there, so someone will step up and fill in. He has done a great job, though, and even though we have only been there a month, it hurt to see him leave because his leadership has blessed us so much.

Today’s Bible readings from Discovering the Bible, by Gordon L. Addington:
Matthew 6:1-18
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

There are so many things I could say about these four verses. But the key is that we are not supposed to flaunt our “righteousness.” Remember…somewhere in Isaiah, we are told that our righteousness, before God, is no better than filthy rags. So even when we do “good” things, like give to the poor, it is still flawed. And see what Jesus says? If you you do it for the praise, then that IS your reward. I once knew someone who took this passage so literally that he didn’t even declare his offerings on his tax forms! He always gave cash anonymously. I won’t take it quite that far. However, I’m quiet about it, and don’t desire any accolades for anything I do. And when I’m leading worship, I don’t really desire to have people come up and tell me what a great musician I am or how good my voice sounds or anything like that. If someone comes up to me and tells me they really worshiped or felt the Lord’s presence during worship that I was leading…that’s something that gets me pumped up, because it’s the Lord that’s getting the glory, not me. But when we give gifts, either offerings to the church or gifts to the needy, it is to be between us and God.

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Here, Jesus moves from giving to praying, but still within the context of what we do for what reasons. I still remember, from my childhood, people who loved to pray “in church.” They would put on their “prayer voice,” and pray for 15 minutes. And the same people would pray pretty much the same exact prayer every time they prayed, too, with a few variations. And once again, Jesus talks about our Father rewarding us for doing something “in secret.”
Prayer is a strange thing. We are told to pray, but it really seems to be an individual thing. Even that very popular passage, Matthew 18:19-20, is taken severely out of context by many people. Hear me well, here: THOSE VERSES ARE NOT ABOUT PRAYER!! Those verses are about church discipline and dealing with a brother who sins against you. According to Jesus’s instructions, prayer is to be done by the individual, in his own room (or even closet, if you’re reading KJV).
Then Jesus gives us the Model Prayer. Many still call it “The Lord’s Prayer.” But notice: He said “pray LIKE this.” He didn’t say, “Pray this exact prayer every time you pray.” It’s a model. A pattern, if you will. We should start with some praise, acknowledging God for who he is. Then we move to submission, desiring his will to be accomplished. Then we move to asking for daily needs, which, apparently, our Father desires for us to do. We can ask for forgiveness (if we have forgiven others!), and then we can ask for protection and guidance. Jesus is quick to point out that, if we are not able to forgive others, then we cannot claim to be forgiven, ourselves. Once again, these are very difficult teachings. This prayer is also found in Luke 11. And apparently, that part about “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen” was added in later manuscripts by someone else.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus gives pretty much the same instructions on the subject of fasting. If you’re going to fast, don’t make it obvious. If I am fasting, I am not to walk around with a sad face, looking miserable because I’m so hungry. Once again, it is to be a private thing, between me and my Father.

2 Kings 15
Back to the history for a time, we see Azariah becoming king of Israel in Jerusalem. Only 16 when he became king, he reigned for 52 years. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (v. 3)
During Azariah’s 38th year, Zechariah became king over Israel in Samaria. This is not the same one that was a prophet, made especially obvious by verse 9, which says he did evil in God’s eyes. He was assassinated by Shallum, who reigned in his place. Please note that some of these kings seem to go by more than one name. Because it is said that Shallum became king during the 39th year of Uzziah’s reign. So Uzziah must be another name for Azariah. But Shallum only reigned for one month because he was killed by Menahem. He also did evil in God’s eyes. He apparently just died, so his son Pekahiah reigned in his place. He was killed by Pekah, who then reigned in his place in the 52nd year of Azariah’s reign in Judah. He also did what was evil in God’s eyes. (And when he sneezed, it was a “Pekah-choo.”) (I’m sorry…I couldn’t help it…shout out to anyone who gets that reference.) Pekah actually managed to reign for 20 years. He was struck down, though, by Hoshea, who reigned in his place. But before we can talk about Hoshea, we find that Jotham, the son of Uzziah begins to reign in Judah during Pekah’s second year. He did what was right in God’s eyes.
This is all so convoluted. All these evil kings in Israel, and even the “good” kings in Judah do not remove the “high places” and still make offerings on them. Can this all be traced back to Solomon’s failure to follow the Lord’s commands? I don’t know.

Ecclesiastes 10
This chapter contains more “proverb-like” sayings, most of which continue the last them of chapter nine, dealing with wisdom versus folly. One noteworthy verse, though (not that any of them aren’t, mind you), is verse 20. Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter. Be careful what you say, and to whom you say it. Best to not even think bad thoughts about the “ruler” (in our day, this would included our bosses, I would think). You never know who you can trust.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Dennis Jernigan writes a devotion for today based off of this Scripture, in his book, Daily Devotions For Kingdom Seekers. At the outset, I think that he has, perhaps taken it slightly out of context, based on translational differences. He quotes the NASB, which uses the word “speculations” where the ESV uses the word “arguments.” Now, the KJV uses the word “imaginations” at that point, so who knows? Nevertheless, the devotion, I believe is worthy of a look.
Dennis speaks of constantly looking back in our lives…hashing and rehashing events of our past. Then he speaks of looking forward, as well…trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the future. Both of these activities are vain. We cannot change our past. There is nothing that can be done about it. Other than repentance and accepting the Lord’s forgiveness, and moving on. Or forgiving when we need to forgive, as well. We cannot see what the future holds. We believe that we can prepare for the future, but can we really? I can save all I want for that “rainy day,” or that “emergency,” but I really don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Perfect case in point…millions of people pretty much lost their entire retirements in the recent stock market crash. They thought they were prepared for the future, but they had no idea what the future would bring. Only God knows what is coming in the future. (I think this is where the “speculations” part came in…trying to “speculate” on what would be coming.) But what we DO know is that God holds our hands. He holds the future, and he will do what is best for us in his plan. We need not waste time trying to figure out what’s coming. We need to focus on what is here and now. “Jesus is constant and He is our hope. Anything else we place our hope in is vain imagination.” Amen, Dennis.

Father, I sincerely pray that you help me avoid the two traps that Dennis has spoken of. I can’t change the past. I can repent (and have, many times) and I can accept your forgiveness (and forgive myself, as well). I can forgive others (which I have also done). But nothing can be changed, therefore, it is pointless to worry about it. I can’t even change the future, because you have that pretty well set in order, as well. Therefore, any kind of worrying or fretting that I can do in either direction is, purely and simply, sinful! I pray by your Spirit that I will be able to focus only one now. You have me in your grasp, and you will never let me go. That is pretty much the ONLY aspect of the future that I can be sure of. I praise you for that, and ask again that I might have the wisdom to live in that truth.
Father, may I live by the teachings that Jesus brings us in Matthew. In our giving, in our prayers, and if we should fast, let them be in private, between you and us, only. (Hmmm….so here I am, putting my prayer on the Internet, for all to see…) On that subject, Father, I think motive is the key. I don’t do this so people will think I’m holy. I don’t do this to appear “uber-spiritual.”
I pray for wisdom, Lord, as described by the “preacher” in Ecclesiastes. Let me not be guilty of “folly.”

Father, I pray for this day. I pray that Christi will have a good day at her job, with little stress. Let my work day go smoothly, and I pray for Stephanie to day, at home, that she might be able to keep herself occupied and maybe even do something constructive or productive. I pray for her upcoming school year. Make it her best one ever.

Am I violating the principles of Christ here? That’s a good question…one which I must ponder deeply.

Grace and peace, friends.