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.

Matthew 6: 6


The way that we approach prayer can be a very interesting and highly variable subject. There are a great many ways to engage in prayer. Most people pray in ways that cover a wide range of styles and intensity. Some people express themselves in very formal and proper ways and some are highly emotive or truly casual in their attitudes and words. This is how it should be, for God made each of us as an individual and He relates to each of us individually. However, there is one thing that I believe is universal. That is the simple fact that God is neither impressed nor is His attention gained by the cleverness or by the form of our words. The point of engaging in prayer is not so that God would be aware of us. We are instructed by God to engage in prayer in order for us to become more deeply attentive to God.


In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not teaching against public or group prayer, for there are other instances when He engages in very public prayer. He is teaching us to approach prayer in a manner that runs against our culture. Christ wants us to understand that God is infinitely more interested in the relationship with us than He is in the form of our engagement in that relationship. The Father is fully aware of who we are, of what is happening in our lives, and of what it is that we truly need. He is also completely secure in who He is; thus, God does not need for us to express words of praise and adoration to Him. It is us who do need to recognize the character of God and to acknowledge His nature so that we can enter more fully into a life that reflects the love and righteousness that the Lord is pouring out upon us.


So, why does Jesus tell us to go into a private place and pray words that only we might be aware of? This is an issue of intimacy and of trust. The Father desires for us to drop our guards and to become utterly vulnerable before Him. He wants us to stop being wise, all-knowing and competent in the ways that our world teaches us to be in order for us to be able to recognize the sort of absolute dependence upon God that leads us to the surrender of our hearts and our minds completely to His will. When we pray to God in our own words with no other audience in mind than the Father, what we say may come out in unstoppable torrents or it might be uttered in only the sounds of the silence of inexpressible emotion. Form carries no weight with the God who already knows everything that is on our minds and whose intent is to bless us with the abundance of His grace, love and provision. Jesus is sharing with us what He already knows to be true. Prayer is an unending and unrelenting dialogue with God the Father, and it is a fundamental aspect of living in a very real state of present-time, deeply intimate relationship with our Lord and King.



God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4: 24


Sometimes we think of worship as something that takes place at specific times and in specified places. It is something that we do on our day of gathering and it happens in church. Yet, that is not even remotely how God intends for us to view this aspect of our relationship with Him. Worship is an expression of the way that we view its object, in this case God, and it is a means of taking the beliefs and the feelings that we have regarding God and making them known. God commands us to worship Him, but His heart desires that these commands would be fulfilled by us out of a sincere desire and even from a need to let out what is contained within us. The Lord wants for us to respond to His love, grace, mercy, and the rest of His character and nature by entering into this thing that we refer to as worship.


The character and the nature of God are much too large, great, and all-encompassing to be confined to a specific time or to be considered as a part of what happens in a designated place. God is not an object that we can place on a shelf, pedestal, or the wall and come to when we decide that we should engage in religious practices. His nature as spirit makes God impossible to contain or to curtail in this manner. The Lord is present and is sovereign ruler everywhere on this earth and in the universe. There is no place where He is not present and there is nothing over which He does not have final authority. This means that we can bring all that is before us in life to Him and that we can trust God with our most precious and deepest aspects of our minds, hearts, and souls. God rules over all with the sort of Creator’s love that seeks after the healing for all that is broken and for the redemption of all that is lost.


So, worship is something that takes place everywhere and in all of the circumstances where God is present, which means that for a follower of God, worship in its true form is a part of the totality of life. As we breath, so, also, we can worship the Lord who gave us each of those breaths. The realization of God’s total sovereignty and also of the absolute totality of His presence is the foundation for entering into God’s truth. There is only one author of truth in the universe, and the Lord is also the sole place to go to test the veracity of what we hear, how we are thinking, and the conclusions that we are forming about the conduct of life. Thus, seeking after truth is a form of worship, and doing this in submission to God’s Word and His Spirit is an expression of that worshipful heart. The Lord values truth as much as He does love, and He is blessed when we worship Him with lives that are dedicated to love, grace, mercy, justice, and truth.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18


This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.


Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.


It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Now, I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all

His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.

Daniel 4: 37


Here are the words of one of the most accomplished men to ever walk on the face of the earth. He had empire, position, and wealth. Anything that he commanded was done without question, and Nebuchadnezzar had been able to surround himself with splendid buildings that were monuments to his leadership and power. Still, God wanted something else from him, and the Lord continued to pursue him with a relentlessness that was even greater than King Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to build monuments. God spoke to him, He provided human testimony, and compelling examples of His might and sovereignty. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was strong, and he continued to know who God was, but he didn’t submit to the Lord and so actually know Him.


So, God humbled the great man. The Lord took him quite literally to his knees, and forced him to depend totally on the protection of others and on the grace of God. Thus, these words are the deeply felt utterance of a man who has plummeted from the peak of his own success to the depths of living in a pasture, and who has been restored totally by God’s unending love and total grace. This is the story of an ancient king that applies to our world as much as it did then, and it is a story of how God continues to work in the lives of everyone regardless of station, status, or rank.


There is almost no one alive who does not deal with issues of pride and self-sufficiency. We are made so that survival and even dominance are wired into us, and we are taught and trained to seek after the results of our efforts that would seem to provide the highest degree of worldly success. Yet, these results are not always what honors God, and they are not usually the way that our Lord would have us travel through life as followers of Christ. Now most of us do not require as dramatic an experience as the one that Nebuchadnezzar underwent in order to relent, repent, and turn away from our own way. However, God is ready and willing to do whatever it might take to get our attention and to cause us to turn toward Him in humble submission to His will and in willingness to serve His kingdom in whatever way the Lord desires. If we are open to hear, Christ does speak His will to us, and as we surrender to His will, He empowers our service in the name of the Lord.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2: 4, 5


These are complex words, I readily admit that; yet, the thought here is fairly straight-forward and direct. Christ is the foundation and the basis for everything that is holy, righteous, and true in our world, and He has been established in this manner by God for our benefit. As we enter into this idea and embrace it as the basis for all that we think, say, and do, Christ works in and upon us to reshape and to form us into people who are ever more fully conformed to the character and the nature of God. We do not become gods as some would believe, but we do live out our days in a manner that brings the presence of Christ into the lives of others.


The primary sacrifice that we bring is ourselves. In following Christ, we are called upon by Him to set aside the rest of our lives with the thoughts and deeds that we hold as dearly important, and we are led into a life of service to God as we respond to the needs of all of His creation. It is in service to God’s kingdom on earth that we are shaped and polished by the Spirit so that the selfish and self-directed form of our previous natures is reshaped and redirected in a manner that is along the lines of the God ordained and righteous beings that each of us has the capability to become. This is how our lives leave the realm of the worldly and earth-bound and begin to dwell as holy priests at the altar of our Lord and King.


As we serve Christ and engage in this new way of living that is for Him and that follows His lead in all matters, we need to keep in mind the fact that this world rejected Jesus and that it did so to the point of brutally murdering Him. Little has changed since then when it comes to the responses of the world to the love, grace, and truth that Christ seeks to apply to life here. Thus, we should also expect to encounter various forms of rejection as we throw ourselves into living out our days in service to Christ. However, in the weakness that comes through being rejected by the world we are entering into the center of Christ’s strength, and so, He becomes ever more our capacity as He leads us into living out His calling for us. The lives that we then live are blessed by God, and we, in turn, bring the blessing of the eternal into direct contact with the brokenness and the lostness of this world.

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 11


John is giving us a proverb here. He is setting out a very simple and direct statement about an aspect of living in conformity with God’s will. This is the sort of thing that is intended to guide a follower of Christ into engaging with the world in a manner that will actually make a difference in this place and that demonstrates Christ to the people that we meet. What John tells us might seem to be very easy to agree with, for most of us would say that we do not go about looking at evil actions and embracing them as the model to follow for the day at hand. Yet, is that really true for the manner that each of us does, in fact, conduct life?


If I give it some careful thought and consider each interaction that happens during my day, I start to lose confidence in the nature of some of those engagements. Then, when I play back my internal audio track that records what I was thinking during some of those moments, it gets worse as I hear the negative, defensive, and down-putting words and feelings that went unspoken during those instances. So, it would seem that there are times during the course of my days when I am imitating the words, manners, and way of that which God deems to be evil, and if that is true then I am certainly not imitating Christ, who is the totality of goodness, during these times.


John’s proverbial warning is essentially a cautionary statement for each of us as we seek to live out our days as a follower of Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment in the sort of worldly thinking and acting that pulls us off of our Lord’s righteous path and that, in so doing, diminishes the credibility of our witness to the love, grace, and redemptive nature of His Gospel. Evil does surround us, and its words of negativity and death saturate the very air that we inhale; so, it is easy to be influenced by it. However, God and His word of truth is even more present and is much more powerful than all that evil can throw at us. God’s Word itself provides guidance and encouragement to love others and to engage with creation as Christ does. The Spirit dwells within to speak truth and grace into each encounter and engagement that we face during our day, and prayer is our way and means for bringing all that Christ provides to us by way of goodness to bear upon every moment of the journey that our Lord is taking us on. So, the goodness that we are called upon to imitate is with us, and in so imitating it, we truly do see God and so does the world around us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 14


We might think that words are a small thing in the grand course of the affairs of our world. They are so easy to throw out, and there certainly are many of them in the air at all times. Even the ones that are written down in some form or other are as numerous as those ancient sands on the beach. Most of us say things that we do not really mean, and we enter into discussions wherein the way that we engage with others is not well considered or given much weight. We humans just tend to be careless with our words. But carelessness is really no excuse, and thoughtlessness is no reason for us to put out words that are harsh, demeaning, and rudely inconsiderate. I don’t think that it is accidental that David not only prays for the words that he speaks but links them to the things that his heart contemplates. Our words are a reflection of the state of the heart, and the state of our hearts is influenced greatly by what we say and how we say it.


With the wonderful complexity of the languages that God has given to us for use in expressing ourselves, there is really no excuse at all for using words and expressions that are demeaning or imprecise unless that is exactly what we intend to do. So, when someone makes reference to others in ways that set them apart as inferior or as undesirable, this is not a casual event or just a picturesque way of speaking; rather, it is a deliberate attempt to set up the speaker as the superior being and the object of the statement as the lesser form of humanity. This sort of thing is directly opposed to the way that God views others and it is also a specific contradiction of the manner that Christ has instructed us to view them. In simple terms, thinking and speaking of people in a derogatory manner is sinful and stands under God’s condemnation as such.


Like all sin, there is grace for the sinner and repentance brings that person under the restorative care of Christ. But that is the only answer to this pervasive problem in our world. The use of our words for the sake of diminishing others and thus for building up ourselves, the application of coarse and vulgar speech, and the harsh nature of our rhetoric is a pervasive concern in our day. This sort of sinful behavior is coming out of the mouths or presidents and kings, and it has infiltrated into our houses of governance and of worship. It is time for us all to repent of this sort of thinking and the words that flow out of it. It is time to say “enough, stop!” to all of this sort of interchange. We do not need to listen to it, and we certainly must not engage in it. All who do engage in this sort of behavior are sinning in the eyes of God and their thoughts and words should be rejected as those of the ungodly so long as they continue in this manner. Human nature is no excuse, and passion is not a valid reason for this sort of thing, for the Lord has granted to us His Word of life and His words for use in expressing love, edification, encouragement, and praise. Let’s make those Godly thoughts and words what we reflect upon and the manner of expressing what our heart contemplates.


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