Be Still and Know
Day 86 - Issue 38

Day 86 - Issue 38

September 24, 2021

Matthew 6.26-27 NLT

'Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?'

The most useless thing that you can say to a person who is worrying is, “Don’t worry.” No doubt it is meant kindly but you are actually increasing the person’s problems, because you have done nothing to stop their worrying and now added a layer of guilt on top! I love Jesus’ approach. He tells his followers that they have no need to worry because God will provide for them. If he is able to look after the birds and the flowers, he can certainly cope with their problems. Trusting God is the answer. Worrying has never, and can never, build anything.

I do realise that those wise words don’t in themselves solve the problem. Worries will still come knocking at the door wanting to claim our attention. So what shall we do when the next worry turns up as it is bound to do? The best thing that we can do is to bring that worry to God in prayer. Perhaps it’s a worry about your health. Give thanks to God for the gift of your life and remind yourself that every single day is a gift from his hand. You have never deserved to be alive and your body is a gift from him. Give thanks to God that he is at work in your life right now and that you will continue to be his child for all eternity. Having prayed those prayers your concerns for your health won’t suddenly evaporate but it is possible to keep the worries away. They don’t need to dominate your life. Perhaps your worries are for other people. You are powerless to change their situation but as you pray for them you start looking at their lives in a bigger perspective. You can leave them in God’s hands knowing of his love for them and his desire to bless them. Your loving concern for them will, no doubt, continue but you don’t need to worry. You can give that burden to the Lord.

QUESTION: What are you going to say when you are next tempted to say “don’t worry”?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you that you perfectly provide for my needs and that I have no need to worry. Amen

Day 85 - Issue 38

Day 85 - Issue 38

September 23, 2021

Matthew 6.20-21 NLT

'Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.'

What matters most to you in your life? It could be any number of things – your family, possessions, relationships, career, hobby, sport, reputation, political convictions or your faith. The point that Jesus is making here is that whatever matters most to you will shape the way in which you live. So it is vital that you fix your sights on something that will last. The truth is that most things about this life are temporary. Our possessions are a blessing to us because they are part of God’s gift to us, but they have a short shelf life. They are either attacked by moths and rust, or could be stolen. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is encouraging his followers to keep their eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God because that is a treasure that will never let them down. It will last for ever.

I have always been inspired by the story of Jim Elliot. He was determined to share the Good News of Jesus with the Auca Indians in Ecuador. They lived, and continue to live, totally separate from wider society and speak a language that is not related to any other known language. But Jim was not put off by this or by their savage reputation. He and his four missionary colleagues seemed to be establishing an increasingly warm relationship with the tribe but in February 1955 they were all murdered by ten tribesmen. Jim was 29 years old. Some years before that Jim had reflected on the dangers of the ministry in which he was engaged and wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim knew where his treasure was. Our lives may look very different from his, but it is still the key question for us.

QUESTION: What is your treasure?

PRAYER: Loving Father, help me to seek your Kingdom before anything else. Amen

Day 84 - Issue 38

Day 84 - Issue 38

September 22, 2021

Matthew 6.16-17 NLT

'And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and dishevelled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.'

Fasting formed a significant part of Jewish life. Solemn fasts were held every year on particular days such as the Day of Atonement, the New Year and the anniversaries of notable calamities in Jewish history. In addition special fasts were called when there was a particular emergency such as the autumn rains failing. Stricter Jews would also fast weekly on Mondays and Thursdays. In the early church many Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. So fasting was a regular experience for Christians and Jesus did nothing to discourage it. But his concern was the way in which it was done. He taught his disciples to be completely private about it. Because it was to be entirely between them and God, he encouraged them to go out of their way to hide the fact that they were fasting.

Fasting continues to be important for many Christians. It isn’t a requirement, but many find it to be a blessing. It’s a time to focus attention on the Lord and to listen to him. The moment it becomes a public spectacle, or is used as a way of showing others how deeply committed your faith is, it loses its blessing. The attention moves from the Lord to yourself. When you fast you are telling God that he is more important than food, and freeing up time to nourish your spiritual life. Some people use it as an opportunity to read Scripture or a devotional book, or to have unhurried time in prayer. The choice is yours but the focus is God.

QUESTION: In what ways is fasting a blessing to you? And if you don’t fast, in what ways do you think you might be blessed by doing it?

PRAYER: Lord God, we thank you for the blessing that you bring to your people when they fast. Amen

Day 83 - Issue 38

Day 83 - Issue 38

September 21, 2021

Matthew 6.13 NLT

'Don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.'

When we prayed for our sins to be forgiven and for us to forgive others we were looking to the past. Now the Lord’s Prayer looks to the future. Once again the prayer is fiercely realistic. Although we have had the privilege of our sins being forgiven, we haven’t overcome the problem of sin. Every day we will still face temptation to be less than the best. We will be tempted to cut corners, to be selfish and to neglect the needs of others. However, we can look to the future with confidence because God promises to be our rescuer, if only we place our lives in his hands.

Temptation is incredibly subtle. The evil one knows our weaknesses and he will exploit them in every possible way. As we face up to these temptations we have the wonderful privilege of knowing that Jesus understands exactly what we are going through. In the letter to the Hebrews the writer says that Jesus, “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4.15) The writer is making the point that it is Jesus’ complete understanding of our human condition which enables him to be our saviour. We are not dealing with a God who gazes at life from a huge distance but one who has actually shared our humanity with us. What an encouragement it is to know that Jesus understands fully the temptations that we live with. In fact, he knew even more about the temptations than we do. The reason for this is that all too often we give in to temptations and so we don’t experience their full force. Jesus, however, never succumbed to temptations and so he experienced their full power.

As we look to the future we don’t need to be fearful that one day we will be overcome by evil. As we look to Jesus we can be confident that, however great the challenge, he will deliver us from the evil one.

QUESTION: What is the greatest temptation that you face, and how are you confronting it?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you understand the challenges of life. Help me to stand strongly for you, however great the temptations. Amen

Day 82 - Issue 38

Day 82 - Issue 38

September 20, 2021

Matthew 6.12 NLT

'Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.'

The Lord’s Prayer has its feet firmly planted on the ground! It talks about our everyday life and here it faces up to the horrible but undeniable fact that sin forms a big part of our lives. But here’s the good news. Through our faith in Jesus, sin is no longer an overwhelming problem. Before we met Jesus sin defeated us but now, through his death on the cross, we can claim his forgiveness. We no longer need to trudge through life with the burden of our sins and failures. If we own up to our sins, he is willing to set us free from them, so that we can be fully alive.

God’s forgiveness is a wonderful gift but if we are willing to receive it, it places a huge responsibility on us. We have to share it. Day by day we need to be ready to pass it on when people offend us or deliberately trip us up. This is the tough bit. When we are deliberately wronged everything in us cries out for justice. We want the perpetrator to be punished. But the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that just as we received forgiveness as a free and totally undeserved gift, we now need to pass it on to others. C. S. Lewis wisely commented, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”

Forgiving others rarely involves words. Forgiveness is something which happens in our hearts and expresses itself in our attitudes and actions. When someone has wronged us, our forgiveness will be shown in the kind and thoughtful way that we respond to them when we next meet. Our loving words will show that we have truly forgiven them and moved on. There’s nothing easy about forgiveness. It wasn’t easy for Jesus and it won’t be for us, but it’s the way of liberation. It’s the way to find life in all its fulness.

QUESTION: What has been your own experience of forgiving others?

PRAYER: Lord God, give me strength to pass on your gift of forgiveness to others. Amen

Day 81 - Issue 38

Day 81 - Issue 38

September 19, 2021

Matthew 6.11 NLT

'Give us today the food we need.'

Have you ever wondered why we ask God for food on a daily basis? Why not ask him to supply us for a week or even a month? It’s a perfectly sensible question and the answer is clearly that God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to live in continual partnership with him. Every day we need to turn to him to obtain the nourishment that we need. This applies in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Just as we need to eat each day so too we need to ensure that we are receiving spiritual nourishment. However excellent last Sunday’s church service was, or however blessed you were by yesterday’s time of prayer, you need to open yourself to the breath of God’s Spirit today. You need him to strengthen you to live for him in the particular challenges and opportunities of this unique day.

I am struck by the fact that everything in this prayer is plural. The prayer begins with the words “Our Father in heaven” and here we pray for the food that we need. The moment we start praying we identify the fact that we are part of a family and when we think about getting fed it isn’t just about my empty stomach or my spiritual needs but about the feeding that we all need.

Physical food is available in abundance in this world but people have very unequal access to it. In some countries even today there is starvation, and in others including our own there are immoral levels of waste. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are taking our share of the responsibility for ensuring that food is made generally available to everyone throughout the world. When we pray that God will feed us spiritually we are expressing a longing that he will nourish everyone else as well. If you are feeling thoroughly well fed in body, mind and spirit that’s excellent but it isn’t enough. We pray that that same blessing will extend to men and women everywhere. What we are learning is that the Lord’s Prayer is incredibly radical. We are praying that God will fundamentally change our world.

QUESTION: In what way do you need to be fed today?

PRAYER: Lord God thank you that your understanding of me is so complete that you know exactly how I need to be nourished today. Amen

Day 80 - Issue 38

Day 80 - Issue 38

September 18, 2021

Matthew 6.10 NLT

'May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.'

The Lord’s Prayer, in common with the whole of Jesus’ ministry, is focused on the Kingdom of God. So we need to have a very clear idea what this kingdom is. In essence, the Kingdom of God comes wherever God is recognised as King. When his rule is accepted, the results will be immediately seen because it will be marked by peace, love, joy, truth and justice.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are saying that we have signed up to working for this amazing Kingdom and we want to bring it about here and now. We want the Kingdom to be established in our family, our community, our work-place and our church. In this
life, the Kingdom will always be under attack just as it was throughout Jesus’ ministry, but we need to keep our focus on the King as we seek to encourage every evidence of his Kingdom.

Some years ago, I was sent a wonderful press cutting which gave me an insight into what the Kingdom could look like. It was the report of the stone-laying of a church in Plymouth in 1905. It was a wet day but even so the event went ahead and the Mayor of the city kindly attended. He was clearly a Christian man and he declared that the more widely the good news of Jesus Christ was proclaimed the less would be the work of the police, the less would be the work of the magistrates and the less claim, he ventured to say, would be made on the poor relief of the town. Speaking generally he said “the proclamation of the Good News made municipal work more easy and the rates more light.” I love that! What he was saying was that the church’s business was to introduce the Kingdom of God and that would have an impact on the whole community. With less crime council tax would come down! Too often churches turn in on themselves and forget that God’s desire is that we should work for the coming of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

QUESTION: In what way are you working to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you that you have invited us to work with you to bring your Kingdom to our world today. Amen

Day 79 - Issue 38

Day 79 - Issue 38

September 17, 2021

Matthew 6.9 NLT

'Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.'

The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful model prayer and has been central to Christian worship from the earliest days. In the previous verse Jesus told his disciples that they didn’t need to inform God of anything in their prayers, because he already knows everything. Here he spells out what they should pray about. In the first century there was a guide for Christian living called the Didache which recommended that the prayer should be said three times a day. Christians will vary in their use of the prayer but, whenever we use it, it is exciting to reflect that it takes us back to the words of Jesus himself and to the heart of the kingdom. It is often helpful to pray the prayer very slowly and to use each sentence to trigger our own personal prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer is all about relationship. It begins by looking to God because everything in this prayer flows out of our intimate relationship with our heavenly father. As an Aramaic speaker the word that would have been in Jesus’ mind was Abba. This would have been the word that he had used to address his father, Joseph, and it literally means daddy. It is a warm and intimate word and Jesus is clearly wanting his followers to enjoy that kind of closeness to God.

As we pray to our heavenly daddy we are fully aware that he has a unique status. He is holy, and set apart from anything that is imperfect. So we begin the prayer by affirming that he is to be totally respected, or “hallowed” to use the language that many of us were brought up with. This isn’t merely a recognition of the importance of respecting God’s name but also of the necessity of being obedient to his will. As we pray “our father” we are also affirming that we have brothers and sisters and that we are part of a community of people which wants to live for God.

The Lord’s Prayer should never be said unthinkingly or quickly. It is the prayer for those who are fully committed to putting their heavenly father first in their lives.

QUESTION: How would you describe your personal relationship with God?

PRAYER: Loving heavenly father, we thank you have invited us into such an intimate relationship with you and one another. Amen

Day 78 - Issue 38

Day 78 - Issue 38

September 16, 2021

Matthew 6.7-8 NLT

'When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!'

Prayer is often described as being like talking to a friend. There is much that is right about that description apart from the fact that God is totally unlike any friend that you or I have ever had. For a start, he knows everything. One of the key features of a conversation with our friends is that, wonderful as they might be, they don’t know everything. In a conversation we spend plenty of time-sharing information with them. So the big question is this. If God knows everything, what is the point of praying? The answer is a wonderful one in that, relieved of the necessity of informing God, prayer is all about relationship. As we pray, we affirm the fact that we are his children and that we are totally dependent on him. That’s why it is so important to spend time alone with God. Time to be completely honest and time to listen.

The joy of our relationship with God is that we can be completely sure that he knows our situation more intimately than we know it ourselves. So we don’t need to “babble on” for ages! The background to this verse is that some religions taught that the worshipper needed to address the right god by the right name so, in order to ensure that no one was missed out, all the gods and their titles needed to be recited. It was a long and exhausting business, so we can be relieved that we don’t need to do this! The moment we come into God’s presence we can be sure that we are enveloped by his love and totally understood. Isn’t that wonderful?

QUESTION: In what ways are your quiet times with God important to you?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you that you know everything about me and yet still love me and want to fill me with your life. Amen

Day 77 - Issue 38

Day 77 - Issue 38

September 15, 2021

Matthew 6.6 NLT

'But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.'

Jesus was reacting against the people who made a great show of their praying. They prayed in the synagogues and at street corners because they were looking for an audience. Jesus obviously wasn’t saying that it was wrong to pray in synagogues and at street corners but that it was wrong to turn prayer into a religious act which is totally focused on people, and not on God. So Jesus drew attention to the importance of private prayer which reveals where the heart is. Without that personal relationship with God, prayer has no meaning. It’s just an act.

Jesus’ continual concern was with what we would call religion. He could see that many of the most religious people in his society lived their lives furthest away from God. The word religion means to “bind back”. It ties people down to a particular set of beliefs and practices, but it is easy for religion to become merely a performance. Jesus’ desire was to renew people’s hearts so that through their relationship with God, they would want to honour and serve him. At the end of the day anyone can pray a long prayer, give money or fast but what matters is where their heart is.

In recent years, there have been many Christian leaders who have put on an impressive performance, but who have later been discovered to be abusing children or adults or embezzling funds.

We should always be desperately disappointed when these things happen. However, we should never be surprised, because we should be aware of the power and destructiveness of the sin which lurks in all our lives. Such sad moments should drive us back to Jesus’ teaching here in the Sermon on the Mount reminding us that we all need to go to the quiet room and spend time with our heavenly Father in private. Without those times alone with God we all run the risk of going off track.

QUESTION: Where do you find it best to have quiet time with God?

PRAYER: Lord God, help me to live so close to you that my words and actions flow out of my relationship with you. Amen

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