Thursday, March 15, 2018


Truly learning to live by the Bible can be broken into three distinct aspects. Reading the Bible exposes us to the contents. Studying the Bible brings understanding of its principles. And applying the principles helps transform us into the people God has designed us to be. Far too many people are content with reading (or hearing content) and not moving to true understanding. For these individuals, any attempts to apply what they have read/heard is often abandoned when resistance is met or they often focus on applying minor details rather than major principles. Those who move to studying the Bible may have a better understanding, but the danger is that by knowing more one must develop a stronger fortitude to withstand the challenges that will come. Regardless, the Bible is not meant to be a book of entertainment; rather, it is to encourage, exhort, or even inspire us (for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways)  to apply the principles to our lives.

For the last couple of months, I have been preaching a series from Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount). Like many long-term Christians, I have read this sermon many times, studied parts of it multiple times, reviewed all of it a few times, etc. But like many who have read certain parts of the Bible many times, sometimes as I read, or even study, I do not take sufficient time to dig deep enough into the meaning and then rush off to another task without giving myself enough time to properly apply what I have learned. As I mentioned in the post a few weeks ago, being a teacher or preacher adds an measure of accountability (see James 3.1; to view the prior post, click here). As a person who espouses Kingdom-first for our church and in other conversations, I am paying particular attention to what I am reading, studying, and teaching in expectation that I will not just preach what Jesus preached, but will better live out what He preached (and how He lived).

So, this past Sunday’s message was on praying righteously (Matthew 6.5-8, and the Disciples’ Prayer – vv. 9-13). These verses should be convicting in themselves. Before giving the model prayer to the disciples, He mentions not praying “empty phrases” (ESV) or “vain repetitions” (KJV). In other words, don’t just say your prayers, and don’t simply repeat the Lord’s Prayer (or Disciples’ Prayer as I call it – we have no record of Jesus praying it, just telling the disciples how to pray – Matthew 6, Luke 11). We should be intentional in praying to God (and not simply for ourselves) and in what we pray. After the prayer, Jesus then elaborates on our need to show forgiveness to others as part of our being forgiven by God. Again, all of that is, or could be, convicting for myself or any number of people. But...

What truly struck me last week was a particular comment found in the commentary on Matthew from the Intervarsity Press. Craig Keener wrote the following note related to verse 5: “Because prayer promises the hearing of an Advocate more powerful than any other, it goes without saying that those who spend little time in prayer do not in practice believe much in a God who answers prayer;....”(1) Keener continued the paragraph with the basic thought of how foolish (my word, not his) are those who pray for their prestige rather than truly praying to God.

Now, I hope I am not guilty of praying to make a scene. I do not believe I am, but I can recall times in the past I was concerned with what others might think of my prayer. That is not something I think about now. I pray enough or do I “spend little time in prayer” per Keener’s comment? No, I do not. And thus, in His words, I am a functional atheist in the power of God as it relates to my prayer life. I do not dismiss these words as hyperbole. I think Keener is right in general, and has nailed me specifically. To pray righteously begins with praying to God (Matthew 5.5-6) and with intention (Matthew 5.7-8), but it must include a belief AND A FREQUENCY that proves belief in who God is.

Apart from Jesus, I doubt anyone will ever stand before God and say, “I prayed enough during my lifetime.” We cannot change the past, but we can alter our projected future. As I consider what Jesus said about prayer and what Keener wrote about being a functional atheist, I have been convicted. But that is simply the reading and the studying portion of learning. Next, I must apply the principle in order to truly make it stick and become the man God wants me to be. It begins now with one small prayer (to be more faithful in my praying), but if I follow through, I will reap great rewards because I will know my God much more intimately than I do now. And isn’t that the point of a conversation – to know more about one another? He may already know everything about me, but the fact He wants to hear from me, and wants to share Himself with me is a pure reflection of the love that He has for me. And, of course, the same is true for all who believe.

So, how you do respond? I hope you will be like me and choose to pray more, pray longer, and perhaps pray better. But, however your prayer life needs to improve, it can only do so if you do one thing – pray! Again, that is why I intend to do and this post is my public commitment to do so.

(1) (Keener, C. S. (1997). Matthew (Vol. 1, Mt 6:5). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.