Monday, May 28
Read: Matthew 6:1-6
Consider: The Jews of Jesus’ day—his people—engaged in a number of rituals and customs. These were part of their religion. Some were annual events, some were celebrated each week, and some were observed every day. The rituals reminded them of who God is and how they could live in a covenant relationship with him. Rituals can be tremendously positive. (For example, parents who have developed bedtime “rituals” with young children—reading, story-telling, praying, etc.—give their kids a sense of security that is a wonderful asset in those young lives.)
But beyond the religious rituals was the daily walk of obedience. For first century Jews, this included three very important disciplines—giving, praying and fasting. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he addressed all three and it is very clear that Jesus cared deeply about the motives behind the practices. Motives matter.
In fact, if you were to read the entire sermon (Matthew 5-7) you would see that Jesus consistently spoke about our actions and the motives behind them—our flesh and our spirit. He said that refraining from murder was not the goal. We must learn not to hate (5:21-22). The physical acts of adultery are wrong, but consuming lust is the toxin behind sexual sin (5:27-28). The ethic of sacrificial love—taught and modeled by Jesus—cannot take place on the outside if we have not allowed God to do his work on the inside.
So, when it comes to our “acts of righteousness” (6:1), such as giving, praying, fasting and many others, we want them to be so much more than exercises or rituals. We want God to do an inside-out work for us, rather than striving to do the right things on our own strength.
When we get the “why” of our actions right, we are less concerned about the “how” of them. We then find new freedom, power and joy as we journey with Christ and with one another.
Pray: Ask the Lord to help you search your motives. Don’t do this in a manner that is self-punishing or that takes away your freedom and confidence. Rather, ask the Lord to help you recognize any legalism or other kinds of motives that may be stealing your joy in serving him.
Tuesday, May 29
Read: Matthew 6:1-6
Consider: As we consider the motivation behind our spiritual practices, one word stands out to me in Jesus’ sermon as he instructs us about giving, praying and fasting. In this passage he repeatedly speaks about the “rewards” that accompany our actions, both good and bad.
In speaking about the results of false motives, Jesus said that there is, in fact, some reward to be found. Duplicitous people who simply try to gain the approval of others will probably gain that approval. But that’s it — “they have received their reward in full” (6:2, 5, 16). Jesus then contrasts that with the reward given to us by the Father (6:4, 6, 18).
But he stops there. Jesus does not tell us what that reward is. How will the Father reward those who engage their spiritual practices with a pure heart? What benefit is in store for those who honor him in secret?
Here’s where we get a little uncomfortable. If we’re not careful we may look for the wrong kind of rewards. If we do that, then again, we’re dishonoring God with our motives. The scripture warns against those who think righteousness is a ticket to material riches. And Jesus said the recognition of others is a hollow reward. So what kind of reward does the Father have for us? Is there something for us today or is it only for the life to come?
Sometimes I think we can understand rewards and punishments best by looking at them in terms of consequences. We have all seen the consequences of sin. We know that God does not have to punish us when we reject him. We punish ourselves. The sin that separates us from God sabotages our lives at every turn.
So, what would be the consequences of a pure heart? What would be the consequences of uninterrupted fellowship with God? What would be the consequences of intimacy with God that was free from duplicity—a relationship that grew from sincere motives?
I believe that kind of relationship is the reward. What more could we want?
Pray: Today bask in the purity of your private prayer time. No one is watching. You don’t have to perform in a certain manner. You’re not going to be timed to see if you pray long enough. You can simply convey your heart to God. Thank him for the reward that comes with the intimacy that you can experience with him this very day. He is that reward.
Wednesday, May 30
Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Consider: In the passage we looked at Monday and Tuesday, Jesus spoke about “your acts of righteousness” (Matthew 6:1). Referring to giving, praying and fasting, he taught us about the motives and attitudes that should accompany what we call “spiritual disciplines.”
Now I know that the term, “spiritual disciplines,” may not work for everyone. To some, “discipline” conjures images of punishment, as in a harsh parent disciplining a child. To others, discipline brings to mind the things you have to force yourself to do because you hate doing them so much. So, if “spiritual disciplines” doesn’t work for you as a designation, find another term, like spiritual “practices” or spiritual “exercises.”
Whatever we call them, there are physical and spiritual practices that we can engage in that profoundly impact our journeys with Christ. But what is the final goal of the spiritual disciplines or practices? What do they, taken together, do in our lives?
Of course, there are many things the spiritual disciplines do for us and in us. But, for me, what is most important is that the disciplines bring us into a relationship with God in which we live in a constant and continual awareness of his presence. We see the big picture every day because we see Christ working in us and through us every day. We see Christ in others. We see the Creator in all of creation. We “practice” spirituality to train our spirits to live in unhindered relationship with Christ.
Paul instructs us to “Rejoice always” and “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). I believe that continual prayer is Paul’s way of speaking about continual awareness of God. In the chaos of life, it is possible to have an underlying confidence that God is with you and to experience his peace no matter what is happening around you. Brother Lawrence called this “practicing the presence” of Jesus.
The various spiritual disciplines make this possible. And that powerful sense of God’s presence makes life what God intended it to be.
Pray: “Lord, teach me your ways. Teach me to pray. Teach me to listen. Teach me to wait on you. Instruct me and empower me to practice your presence every moment of this day.”
Thursday, May 31
Read: Acts 2:29-39
Consider: On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood before the crowd and proclaimed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He boldly spoke to those who had colluded with the empire, saying, “You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death” (2:23).
At that point, they could have attacked Peter and the other believers. But the Holy Spirit was at work, so instead of being filled with rage, “they were cut to the heart” and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (2:37).
Peter’s first response was, “Repent” (2:38). That’s the way it’s translated in English, but I fear that our translation is not as meaningful as when Peter said it. In the original language of the New Testament that word literally means “change your mind.” What makes it so powerful is their concept of the mind.
We tend to speak about the mind as the place of thought. But it had a broader meaning to first century Greek-speakers. When they spoke about the mind—the nous—it encompassed thinking, understanding, feeling, and meaning. To change your mind was to change who you were. That’s why we often speak about repentance as turning around and changing direction.
So, Peter said, “change your mind”—change your being. And Paul would later tell us what that means, when he said that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Imagine that. The call was for the people who crucified Jesus to become like Jesus.
That is the call to all of us, whether we have committed the huge sins that wreaked havoc on other people’s lives or we simply committed the sin of living for self. And no matter where we are at on this beautiful journey, we are always called to change our minds—to grow and allow him to conform us to his image.
That hunger to change and grow is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and it is this same Spirit that empowers us to change.
Pray: “God, I have so much to learn. I need you to change me and conform me to the image of your Son. Thank you for your patience with me. Help me to be patient as you continually form me to have ‘the mind of Christ’.”
Friday, June 1
Read: Acts 2:36-41
Consider: Peter pleaded with the crowd…
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” or “this perverted age” (2:40).
That sounds ominous. To hear someone stand before a crowd and beg the people to save themselves would be chilling. That would be hard to hear.
I think Peter’s words are difficult to absorb because each one of us may have a different concept about what is perverse in our day. From what do we need to protect ourselves?
There are the obvious perversions—those personal sins that can sabotage our lives: sexual promiscuity, debilitating addictions, destructive gossip and festering anger, just to name a few. But when Peter used the word “generation” or “age,” he was also pointing to a larger picture—a broader perspective. I believe he was also referring to the corruption of values that causes systemic sin and not just personal sin. Sometimes those cultural values can be so subtle that wrong looks right.
Take, for example, the materialistic, consumer-driven world we live in today. It is so much a part of our cultural landscape, that we seldom question it. Excessive accumulation doesn’t seem perverse to us because we live in a day when that is honored and sometimes even seen as a sign of God’s approval. Another example is that putting ourselves first—our nation, our tribe, our people—is seen as a godly thing to do, when Jesus clearly taught that we are to give ourselves to all people, not just to those who are like us. These perverted values breed poverty, racism, the de-valuing of human life, violence and a host of other sins that destroy God’s purpose for his people and his creation.
The subtle and blatant values of our culture can ensnare us on a personal level and can keep us blind to needs of our world. That’s why Peter “warned them and he pleaded with them” (2:40).
His plea was to “repent,” or as we saw yesterday, to take on a different mind — “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). That new mind is necessary if we are to answer our call to be light in this dark world (Matthew 5:14).
Pray: “Lord, empower me and guide me to protect myself and those I love from the distorted values of our culture. I don’t want to respond out of fear or by trying to escape the realities of our world. I simply want to have ‘the mind of Christ’ that sees and hears the direction of the Father.”
Saturday, June 2
Read: Romans 11:33-12:2
Consider: For the past couple of days, we’ve been considering the challenge of seeing life through the eyes of Christ. This new way of seeing—this way of living in the new kingdom—is beautifully expressed in Paul’s writings.
Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Paul asked the Roman believers, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (11:34). It’s the same question he posed to the Corinthians, but to them he gave an immediate response.
“‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)
We have the mind of Christ. That may sound like a reality for only a select group of people. Perhaps mystics, contemplatives or other “super saints” gain that perspective. We don’t usually think of ourselves as having that level of insight.
And yet, Paul was not describing some kind of esoteric knowledge. He was not putting this in the domain of a few special people. He was proclaiming this truth to all of us. We can have the mind of Christ. Christ can and will reveal himself to us. But how?
Usually the secret is found in simply clearing the clutter—getting all the junk out of the way.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
When we consciously choose to reject the old, tired values of this world, our minds can be renewed. (See Thursday’s meditation about the meaning of “mind” in the New Testament.)
With that renewal comes the liberation of transformation. We are no longer burdened by fulfilling the expectations that the world lays on us. We no longer have to prove our worth. We no longer look for our significance in the quality of our “performance.” We are free to be in Christ as Christ is in us (John 14:20).
While Peter warned us yesterday to protect ourselves from the perverse value system of our culture, Paul invites us to shed it all for the daily renewal that Christ has for us.
“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (12:2)
Pray: “Lord, I’m humbled by your great grace. Today I want to carry your values, being conformed to you, not to the patterns of this world. Transform me on this journey so that I may have ‘the mind of Christ’.”