Matthew 6: 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.” By Lisa Espinoza If you liked Batman Begins and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, you’ll love this month’s Prelude to a Prayer. We’ve been looking at the Lord’s Prayer since January, but Christ’s instructions in Matthew 6:5-8 are just as important as the prayer that follows. Ironic, isn’t it. Jesus prefaced a model for prayer with a lesson against using prayer as a showcase for piety. Who would do such a thing? Oh, come now…admit it with me. The pastor closes with, “Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer together.” While others may hesitate, especially at “forgive us our trespass—uh—debts,” we never skip a beat, moving smoothly from one phrase to the next regardless of the chosen translation. Boo-ya! Not quite the spectacle Jesus mentions in verse 5, but you get the idea. Jesus wanted to steer us away from using a mere form of prayer that left out the main ingredient—a sincere relationship with Him. So in a take-off of the hit TV show What NOT to Wear, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5-8 how NOT to pray. Week 1 Read Matthew 6:5-8. Three times in this short passage, Jesus refers to God as “your Father.” How would a father feel if the only time his child approached him was to conduct a transaction? Can I borrow the keys? Can I have some money? Can I go to the movies? God is our Father and desires relationship with us that is built on more than a series of transactions. Can you heal my back? Can you send me a job? Can you show my spouse that I’m right? Of course, God wants us to present our needs and desires honestly to him, but He also wants to just hang out with us. This week practice hanging out with God as a Father who loves you and desires your company. Week 2 This week’s experiment in prayer is this: abandon everything you know about prayer. Don’t lean on your extensive grasp of Christianese or formulas you’ve used in the past. If prayer is new to you, or you’ve struggled with prayer, set all that aside. Come to God humbly, like a little child, asking, “Father, teach me to pray.” At the end of the week, write down what God has taught you. Pray for the grace to remain each day with Christ in the lifelong school of prayer. Week 3 Read II Corinthians 4:18 Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6 to pray in secret for an audience of one—our “Father who is unseen.” These passages reveal to us a kingdom reality that contradicts everything we learn here on planet earth. Success, material possessions, status, accomplishments—things we can see and measure—are what matters. Jesus reminds us that God is unseen. He is the ultimate reality. A life of prayer, of nurturing the inner life with Christ, is a decisive statement that we truly believe that what is seen is here only temporarily, while that which is unseen is eternal. This week, set aside time to nurture your inner life with Christ. You won’t land on the front page of People magazine or get paid overtime for it. But your relationship with Christ is real, and it is eternal. Week 4 I heard a famous motivational speaker once say in all seriousness, “It’s important that we appear to be sincere.” Jesus is saying the opposite in Matthew 6:7,8. Repeating the right words and keeping up appearances doesn’t impress Him in the least. God is after the heart. Each day this week, pull out your journal. Forget about saying the “right” things. Pour out your heart to God. Tell Him your fears, your struggles, your joys, what you’re angry about, who you’re ready to punch in the nose…even if He’s the one you’re angry with. God won’t be surprised by any of it, and your honesty will open the door to a deeper relationship with Him.
Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” By Lisa Espinoza Lord, please don’t let one more double fudge brownie pass through my lips. God, help me not to cheat on my taxes…again. Please help me keep my thoughts in check when that cute new co-worker walks by. At first glance, it seems simple enough. We just figure out what “no-no”s trip us up and ask God to keep us from falling prey to them. Right? Not so much. This passage speaks not to a set of vices but rather to the real heart of the matter. Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart says, “This is the basic idea back of all temptation: God is presented as depriving us by His commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what He has said.” This month we ask God to reveal the specific areas in which we doubt His plan for us and instead are chasing after fulfillment our own way. Week 1 Read Matthew 4:1-11 Every temptation we face can be described in one word—detour. Satan’s goal in tempting us is that we would choose an alternate route for fulfilling of our needs and desires than that which God has planned for us. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus refused to take the “detour” to power, sustenance and ego fulfillment. He chose to trust that God’s way was best, and he remained obedient to the Father’s plan to glorify his Son through the pain of the cross. Write out Hebrews 4:15, 16 and keep it with you this week. Each time you feel tempted to take a detour, read this passage and allow God’s strength to help you stay on the right path. Week 2 The face of temptation is most often not grotesque and evil, announcing its intention upon first encounter. Instead it is a “girl next door” sort of appeal that draws us innocently into an idea…a plan…a choice. It’s the desire for financial security that results in unscrupulous business practices or the need for love that results in inappropriate relationships. How is the face of temptation disguising itself to you? This week spend some time quietly reflecting and journaling about this question. Week 3 Often our greatest temptations emanate from our deep need for unconditional love. We search for that kind of love, and when we fail to find it, we begin substituting other things—food, money, relationships, accomplishments, busyness. In his powerful book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen writes, “I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?” This week carve out an hour away from work, family, and other responsibilities. This is your time to meet with the Father. Pour out your heart to Him. Tell Him all the ways you’ve been searching for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Come home to the Father. Week 4 Step One in the life-changing 12-Step recovery program basically says, “We admitted we were powerless…” When we pray, “Don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” we are admitting our own powerlessness against temptation and acknowledging that only God has the power to keep us from being overcome by temptation and falling into sin. When we truly fall into the sufficiency of God, we find life-giving freedom. Pull out your journal and finish this sentence: God, I admit that I am powerless against the temptation to … Each time this week you face this temptation, picture yourself falling into the arms of God and saying, “Father, I’m powerless, but your are powerful.”
Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” By Lisa Espinoza Last month we acknowledged our deep need for God’s forgiveness. This month we come face to face with the inconvenient truth at the end of verse 12. Jesus instructs us to accept the grace He’s poured out on us and extend it to those we least want to bless—those who have wronged us…our “debtors.” I don’t know about you, but it’s a bit irritating to me that Jesus would ask me to do such a thing. Why didn’t he at least make it optional? Because Jesus knew that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The choice to forgive doesn’t mean forgiveness is deserved or that the wrong never occurred. It means we are making an effort to follow the example of Christ who looked at the very ones who hung him on a cross to die and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It means we recognize that we are the ones who suffer most when we refuse to forgive. This month we ask God by His grace to help us do the hard work of forgiveness. Week 1 Often the last person we are willing to forgive is ourselves. In a sense, we are saying, “God, I know you’ve forgiven me, but I’m going to continue to beat myself up because I deserve it.” We redefine grace so that we can wrap our minds around it rather than letting it be the truly mysterious, amazing, freeing force that it is. Read Colossians 2:13, 14. Draw a simple cross from top to bottom of your journal page. On that cross, write down every sin from the past that haunts you. As you write, imagine each sin being nailed to the cross of Christ. Begin every day this week with this prayer, “Thank you, God, for the grace to forgive myself as you’ve forgiven me.” Week 2 Each day this week, read the parable of the servant who was forgiven of his debts (Matthew 18:21-35). Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal something new about this story each time you read it. Week 3 Read Mark 11:25. Think back to last week’s daily reading about the unforgiving servant. Now close your eyes and put yourself in the story. From whom are you demanding payment for a debt that Christ is asking you to forgive? Write it down. It could be a person or a group of people, an organization or even a church. Whatever or whomever, pray for them each day this week, that God would bless them in whatever ways He sees fit. Week 4 Forgiveness for most of us is a process. We say, “I forgive,” but the thought or mention of that person who wronged us produces a knot in our stomach, and we experience all the feelings we felt before we said those two magic words. That’s because they’re not magic at all. The act that hurt us doesn’t cease to exist—an act that violated, humiliated, left us feeling irrelevant or cost us something precious. Forgiveness is not a feeling or an excusing or forgetting of the wrong done to us. We choose to forgive precisely because we acknowledge the wrong and say, “No more. You will not have power over me any more.” We may have to pray many times over a period of years, “God, I choose to forgive ________ for ________.” If you struggle with extending forgiveness, I encourage you to read Forgive and Forget—Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis Smedes.
Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts…” By Lisa Espinoza A while back there was a country song about a guy who cheats on his wife—imagine that, a country song about cheating. He’s asking her to forgive him and she replies, “Forgive…that’s a mighty big word for such a small man.” Touché. Take that, cheater. Yet in my smugness, it occurs to me that God could say the same thing when I go to Him and ask forgiveness yet again, maybe for the same thing I’ve asked a hundred times before. He doesn’t have to grant forgiveness to anyone for anything. By His grace, however, He has chosen to make a promise to us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9) This month we focus on our utter lack of resource to “pay off” our debt to God—our spiritual poverty—and His ever-present grace in the face of our need. Week 1 Brennan Manning writes, “If we only pretend to be sinners, we can only pretend to be forgiven.” It’s easy to think if we haven’t committed some egregious wrong that we’re in the black on the spiritual ledger. Or that if we have all our ducks in a row, so to speak, that must mean we’ve moved ourselves from spiritual poverty to spiritual Bill Gates-ness. This week ask God to give you a glimpse into your own spiritual poverty—your desperate need of God’s forgiving grace. At the end of each day this week, write down any sin that you become aware of that needs to be confessed or anything God teaches you about your moment-by-moment need for grace. Week 2 Last week we asked God to reveal to us the nature of our spiritual poverty. Open your journal and reflect on what you wrote. Now imagine God’s grace pouring over the page, covering up and saturating every word on the page. On the bottom of your page write, “Forgiven. Debt paid in full.” Write a note that says PIF (paid in full) and put it in a prominent place so that each time you see it, you will rejoice in the Lord’s abundant provision for your need. Week 3 To ask forgiveness is one thing. To live in it can prove quite another. You can be confident that the enemy of our souls will seize every opportunity to throw our failures at us and try to make us doubt the reality of our forgiveness in Christ. When this happens (when, not if), we must promptly shut him down. How do we do that? By imitating Jesus’ strategy in the desert when He was tempted by Satan. We combat the lie with the truth. This week memorize I John 1:9 to use as a powerful weapon each time Satan tries to tempt you to doubt Christ’s power of forgiveness in your life. Week 4 Read Colossians 2:13, 14. Each day this week, sit for a few minutes with these words. Write out the passage; say it aloud; pen your own paraphrase. Let it’s truth sink into your soul, infusing life and hope into every part of your being.
Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.” By Lisa Espinoza This little verse packs quite a punch. At first glance, it appears Jesus is simply teaching us to ask each day for the food that will nourish and sustain our bodies. That’s just scratching the surface. This verse is about dependence. It’s about acknowledging that everything we need to sustain us—spiritually and physically— comes from the hand of God. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” James 1:17 This month we focus on placing ourselves daily before our heavenly Father in a position of utter dependence. Begin each day with this statement, “Lord Jesus, I trust that everything I need today is in you.” Week 1 Read John 6:35 In a day when bread was considered a basic means of physical sustenance, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He wanted them, and us, to see beyond the physical and to recognize our deeper need…the need for healing in our souls. Jesus has provided everything we need, not only to sustain our lives, but also to bring us abundant life—salvation, hope, grace, mercy, peace, strength, joy. What kind of bread do you need today? Each day this week, write a prayer beginning with, “Jesus, you are my bread of life. Please sustain me today with your ________________________.” Week 2 Read Matthew 6:26-29 Little did Jesus know His teaching, at least on some level, would resound in the modern anti-anxiety anthem, “Don’t worry…be happy.” Jesus basically says, “What good does worrying do you? Look at these birds and flowers—they’re completely dependent on me for what they need, and look at how well they’re doing.” This week let every bird and every flower you see be a cue to remember Jesus’ teaching on worry. Recognize any anxious thoughts that are trying to camp out in your head and picture yourself handing them over to God. Week 3 Read Philippians 4:6 Did you know that doctors often recommend keeping a “gratitude journal” for their patients struggling with anxiety? It’s difficult to dwell on your worries when you are counting your blessings. Each night this week, make a list of everything that day for which you are thankful. Recount even the smallest details with gratitude—the refreshing iced tea at lunch, the call from an old friend, or the pair of shoes you’ve been wanting—that went on CLEARANCE! You will be amazed at how your “gratitude journal” opens your eyes to the many ways God meets you and provides for you throughout your week. Week 4 Jesus could have taught us to pray, “Give us everything we need for the next year.” Instead, He has chosen this day, this moment, to pour His grace upon our lives. He wants us to live today, not waste our moments fretting about how we will live tomorrow. This week, practice being in the present moment. When you are having quiet time with the Lord, spending time with friends or family, or even sitting down to lunch alone, be there. Resist the temptation to rethink the past, plan the future, or worry about what you “should” be doing. Allow God to meet you right where you are—in the present moment.