Monday, February 25
Read: Matthew 6:1-6
Consider: Before Jesus gave us a simple, beautiful model prayer, he shared some wisdom about how that prayer—and the life that prayer reveals—is approached. He said, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door…” (6:6).
I used to read this instruction simply in terms of the quiet space the closed door gives us. There’s so much noise in our world, so many things clamoring for our attention. The solitude of the closed door is an invitation to shut out the noise and give our full attention to communion with the Father.
Sometimes I can talk over the noise. But I can’t listen. The closed door quiets my heart to hear my Father speak his love into my life.
But Jesus had more in mind than simply quiet time and space. In these initial words on prayer, he talked about those who practiced their religion in public—those who loved “to be seen by others” (6:5). Don’t go there, he said, “do not be like the hypocrites” (6:5).
When we are worried about how others perceive our faith, we’re in murky waters. Whenever we become centered on perception, we neglect reality. If I give attention or energy to how people perceive my relationship with Christ, I begin to sabotage that very relationship.
Jesus wants us to be free. There is bondage in pretense. There is freedom in closing the door. We don’t have to perform. We get to enjoy the presence of the One who loves us more than we can imagine.
Pray: “Lord, today I close the door. As you help me to close out the noise and chaos of this world, help me also to close the door on false expectations of what it means to commune with you. Help me to simply enjoy the knowledge that you are with me right now.”
Tuesday, February 26
Read: Matthew 6:5-6
Consider: One of the potential pitfalls on our journey with Christ is the performance trap. Even though we believe in God’s grace and we know that we don’t earn his favor, we are constantly tempted to measure our walk with him in terms of the things we accomplish. We’re tempted to see holiness as something we attain—something we achieve—by doing the all right things and avoiding the wrong things. In fact, Christians often ask each other, “How are you doing spiritually?”
This “doing” and “accomplishing” often invades our most intimate moments with God. We wonder if we’re spending enough time alone with God, if we are praying in a way that pleases him, if we are doing it correctly. We think our spiritual disciplines don’t measure up to those of other believers. We chastise ourselves for being too shallow. And, if we’re not careful, we sabotage all that he wants to do for us because we trying to do it ourselves.
This perfectionism—sometimes called “moralism”—is not what prayer is about. Prayer is practicing the presence of Christ in our lives. Prayer is living with an awareness of his presence and gratitude for his presence. Prayer was beautifully described by Paul when he said in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
So how do we escape the performance trap? “Go into your room, close the door.” Close the door on false expectations. Close out the “relationship rules” you or others have placed on prayer. Stop making prayer something you do and accept it as the gift of his presence—the presence he gives, not something you attain.
The door is closed. No one is looking or judging. You are alone with the One who already accepted you. Nothing to earn. Nothing to prove. Enjoy your time alone with God.
Pray: Thank the Lord for inviting you into his life.
Wednesday, February 27
Read: Psalm 23:1-6
Consider: Jesus said…
“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.” (Matthew 6:6)
Be careful how you hear those words. Over the past two days we’ve looked at the performance trap—the danger of seeing our spiritual practices as vehicles to earn God’s favor, to gain human approval, or to simply make us feel good about ourselves. Because we so quickly fall into that way of thinking, it would be easy for us to hear the word “reward” in that manner. We are tempted to think that if we pray as Jesus instructed us to, he’ll later reward us with some kind of blessing. It may be earthly, or it may it be in heaven, but we’re working for some future prize. We see prayer as “I perform, then he rewards.” But I think that misses Jesus’ whole point.
The hypocrites that Jesus referred to saw religion in that quid pro quo manner. Because of their pretense, he said, they got a flimsy reward—they impressed people and impressed themselves. Big deal. But Jesus’ “reward” is different. His reward is his presence. When I close the door and get alone with God, I receive the greatest thing that could possibly be given to me—the awareness of God’s presence.
Listen to what that means.
“I lack nothing…he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1-5)
Could there be a greater reward?
Pray: Take some time to meditate on that great poem—Psalm 23. Get alone, sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and picture the “green pastures” and the “quiet waters.” Let him lead you there. Let him “restore” and “refresh” your soul. Picture yourself in those places of beauty with Christ by your side. That is the purpose of the poetry of the Bible. It is intended to help us see God in new ways and to understand our relationship with him beyond what we can grasp on an intellectual level. And remember, you don’t earn the refreshment of your soul. He leads, he guides, he restores.
Thursday, February 28
Read: Matthew 6:9-12
Consider: As we’ve seen in recent weeks, every phrase of The Lord’s Prayer brings with it a call. We begin the prayer with worship (6:9). But worship is a call on our lives—a call to give ourselves fully to God so that our worship is authentic and true. We ask God for his kingdom to come to earth and for his will to be done here and now (6:10). This calls us to commit ourselves to the work of the kingdom—to be agents of his love and grace. We pray for our daily needs to be supplied (6:11), but in so doing, we are called to simplicity and trust. We’re called to put our wants and our needs in proper perspective so that we can recognize God’s work as he supplies all our needs—as he gives us our “daily bread.”
But the next petition is even more strongly and explicitly connected to a call. Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (6:12).
This must be awfully important to Jesus. For, just in case we don’t fully comprehend the connection between forgiving and being forgiven, he added this statement after the prayer…
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (6:14-15)
Wow! Jesus is serious about forgiveness.
Of course, we all know that forgiving can be extremely difficult. No human knows the betrayal you have experienced except you. No person understands the wounds you have suffered except you. So, when Jesus calls us to the hard work of forgiveness, he is not talking about an easy forgiveness that ignores the depth of evil in our world. He is not saying that one day we are going to flip an emotional switch so that we can freely and easily forgive. No, the one who was on his way to the cross knew the terribly hard journey of forgiveness. And he invites us on that journey with him.
Forgiveness is usually a process. It is fraught with pain that eventually alleviates pain. But it is necessary. It liberates us from the bitterness that can consume us. It sets us free. But it must be undertaken by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t do it on our own. When we invite God into this process, he makes the impossible something that you and he can accomplish together.
Pray: “Lord, even though I may not have fully forgiven those who have harmed me, I am willing to learn how to forgive. Teach me. And thank you for forgiving me when I did not deserve your grace.”
Friday, March 1
Read: Matthew 18:21-35
Consider: Yesterday we considered the fact that forgiveness is often a process by which the Holy Spirit patiently teaches us and guides us on a healing journey of forgiveness because of great sins that have been perpetrated against us. But in today’s parable, Jesus seems to speak about a range of sins that we must forgive, including the small indignities of life. The debt that the servant owed to his king was a debt so huge—millions of dollars in contemporary terms—that he could never repay it. But the debt that was owed to this servant was just a few bucks. It was not a life-changing amount. It should not have been a big deal.
That’s descriptive of our lives. While there are times when we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive in heroic ways, most of the time we need to have the integrity, discipline and self-control (which also come from God’s Spirit) to forgive the small stuff.
So, we need to see forgiveness as a lifestyle. That’s right, a lifestyle—part of the ebb and flow of everyday existence. Remember, Jesus said, “seventy times seven” (18:22).
I often say that if we’re going to be friends for any length of time, we’re going to have to forgive each other repeatedly. Most of the time we’ll need to forgive without being asked. We’ll need to overlook one another’s flaws, understand each other’s bad days, and give grace to each other when we struggle. We’ll need to understand that we often misinterpret one another’s words, actions or lack of action. No family, no friendship, no relationship of any kind can survive without the continuing humility to ask for forgiveness and the continuing grace to grant it.
I think that’s part of the beauty of The Lord’s Prayer. It’s not a prayer that is intended to be prayed once in a lifetime. No, it shows us the way we should pray every day. For just as we’re taught to pray for “daily bread” (6:11), we’re taught to pray for daily forgiveness and for grace to forgive every day.
What a great way to live!
Pray: “Lord, today is another day in which I will have the opportunity to be like you. You are the One who forgives. Give me the grace today to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Help me forgive people’s small mistakes that complicate my day. Help me to learn how to forgive the great injustices I’ve endured. And teach me how to forgive myself.”
Saturday, March 2
Read: Matthew 5:7
Consider: We’ve all experienced the awkwardness of praying The Lord’s Prayer in a setting other than our own church. When we get to the part about forgiveness, we get a little tentative because we don’t know if the leader is going to say, “forgive us our debts” or “forgive us our trespasses” or “forgive us our sins.” As soon as we get to “And lead us not into temptation,” we’re home free.
So, what does the New Testament say? Well, in Luke’s account Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (11:4). In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Does it matter which way we say it? No. Generally speaking we get the same message, because Jesus made it clear at the end of the prayer that “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (6:14). But there’s a context here that is helpful to our understanding of forgiveness. It helps us to see that sometimes forgiveness is the act of showing mercy.
In Matthew’s account, when Jesus spoke about “debts” and “debtors,” his listeners probably took those words at face value. They didn’t look at “debt” as a poetic way of talking about sin. They were thinking about economics. Jesus was speaking to people who had a heritage of living in community. In those small villages they shared chores, possessions, child rearing and life. But Jesus spoke to them at a time when Caesar and Herod were bleeding them dry through outrageous taxation. Because they had lost so much, they were tempted to hoard what they had. Community gave way to “every man for himself.” So, Jesus was not only telling them to remember that God had cancelled their debt of sin, he was also reminding them to be people of grace and mercy in all areas of life. God watched out for you. Watch out for each other.
At times, forgiveness can be best understood as being willing to cancel what someone owes you—whatever kind of debt that may be.
Pray:“Lord, teach me how I may show mercy to someone today. Perhaps someone will withhold kindness that I deserve as a child of God. Perhaps someone owes me gratitude for something I’ve done for them. Help me to remember the debts you cancelled for me and teach me how to forgive the debts of others. Thank you for your grace.”