Prayer and the Golden Rule
|John Goh||012 207 email@example.com|
|Dr Lee Fook Sin||019 230 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Moh Ee Lin||019 273 email@example.com|
|Ng Cho Hoo||012 878 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Susanah Ng||012 email@example.com|
Kindly contact any of these Gamma Facilitators. They will be hosting Zoom meetings for Discussions every Wednesday starting from April 1, 2020.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS – STUDY 15
Please look at the questions and discuss the answers. The case histories are designed to let you apply what theoretical knowledge you have gleaned from the study. There are intentionally many more questions and case histories than you can manage in one session but this is designed to
cover the many and varied needs of the individuals in the church hence please pick and choose which ones to discuss as long as it gets people sharing and applying the Word to real life situations. Never feel obligated to finish all the questions. The answers will be posted on the web the next day
f these verses on their own without the context of the entire sermon on the mount it will lead us to beleive that this exhortation to pray is focussed on the utility of prayer or on the power of prayer how it really works to fulfil all our desires. Its like a satisfaction guaranteed kind of assurance to make our dreams come true. Then when we actually pray as fervently as this prayer suggests we find out that it does not exactly work out that way which will lead to consequences.
For some of us who read this passage prayer is like the proverbial raincoat that hangs in our closet…its there we know it is a good rain coat but we don’t wear it when we go about our daily life because it is after all a rain coat only to be used when it rains, when you step out and the clouds are gathering and a storm beckons around the corner we then instinctively grab our rain coats we start to pray…when the sun shines and it is smooth sailing we leave the raincoat the prayer behind in the closet. It is a secret weapon to be used only in emergencies.
The reason this is so is because we have always operated our lives and done things for ourselves with our own efforts that we really don’t feel the need to be dependant on God. We feel we are fine, we have got this ..Lord, we will take care of the small stuff and when we can’t cope, when it rains and we get wet then we will pray and use the rain coat. This is an inadequate view of prayer simply because ..it leaves God out of the intimate details of our daily life.
In the Lord’s Prayer we are asked to pray for our daily bread…not monthly supply, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil is meant to be a daily prayer because we are surrounded by principalities and powers beyond our comprehension and ability to withstand. Our lack of prayer simply reveals our lack of dependancy on God because we fail to understand the constant hidden danger of what the Devil can do to us.
On the other end of the spectrum is a whole host of other people who pray all the time who really emphasise the power of prayer. For them prayer is not a rain coat it is like a vending machine, you just come to the God and lay down your requests like inserting a coin into the slot, choose your selection and press the button and God will provide everything you need.
They will take this very verse 7
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
The way they approach it is that it would seem like God is this stingy old Father who likes to see us grovel or beg hard enough and long enough before He will give us what we want. The treasure is there all ready to be dispensed to deposited into your account all you have to do is pray hard enough, persistently enough and long enough and you will get.
For them the focus is on us, God is this vending machine and you just need the right coin and the right coin is …your faith.. if you believe and you demonstrate this by the persistence, and vigour in which you pursue your request then you will receive and if you don’t have enough faith ..not enough coins then you get nothing. So you pray hard, some of us even fast..40 days and 40 nights and knock on the doors of heaven.
These folk us this exhortation to prayer as a way we exercise our will over Gods will. This kind of prayer is not what Jesus meant as it would make God our servant or genie..rub the lamp and God is obligated to grant your three wishes.
This sort of approach to prayer cannot be what Jesus meant because in the Lord’s Prayer. He already said “Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done….hence this prayer, this ask, seek, knock cannot be for just anything we want. All prayer must align with what God wants.
There are consequences of these common misunderstandings Our enthusiasm for prayer will be directly correlated to the number of positive answers we have from God and if we get answers we get really excited and prayer would seem to be like a special formula..we pray this way for this long and fast and we unlock the powers.
On the other hand which is more often the case ,when we don’t get the answers we want then our enthusiasm for prayer begins to cool because although we outwardly profess to believe but our prayer less-ness reveals our inward attitude that it is no use , He never really answers the way. I want it to go, may be because I don’t have enough faith or may be I am not good enough or holy enough or have prayed enough. Prayer becomes a spectator sport when we are always watching other people testify or prayer becomes a raincoat only to be used when I no choice as last resort as what else is there to loose.
The other consequence of us you who don’t really pray much is although we believe God is all powerful and sovereign and He is really going to do what He is going to do anyway with or without our help so why bother. Perhaps we have prayed before and were disappointed and got no answers, God has let us down we have decided in our hearts but we will never admit it openly but we have decided based on our past experience how we have prayed very ernestly and yet God took away our loved one or we have prayed for so long and God has not answered. We look at the world today and how it is unraveling all over the world with so much suffering and pain and we have decided either God is asleep (we secretly believe this but won’t admit it ) or He knows and has some deeper plan which we cannot understand but it surely involve a lot of suffering hence my prayer is not going to make much difference so I will pray ..but minimally when I remember and out of guilt. Oh.. I forgot to pray and God is going to be very angry with me. I better pray or prayer meeting is coming and if I don’t attend something bad will happen if I don’t pray …so I will pray because it is expected for all disciples to pray but if you ask me honestly…it is boring and hard and it is not going to make much difference in my life nor the rest of the world.
This passage like all Scripture must always be understood within the context of the sermon on
What is the sermon on the mount about?
It is about true righteousness in the life of the disciple. The disciple is described as blessed when his faith and life is authentic where both outward behaviour and inward disposition are totally in sync.
As such the description of such a disciple is both beautiful to us and yet devastating. It’s s beautiful because we see the vision of humility, total spiritual dependance, meekness, who is peaceful, merciful yet courageous people who hunger and thirst for righteousness and who are willing to suffer for it.
We see a vision of disciples who do not even to hate in response the very people who hurt them who actually practically love their enemies, who speak with integrity ,whose lives are an open hand of generosity who live in quiet trust instead of anxiety and greed.
On other hand this same vision is equally devastating because we are not poor in spirit, we are proud, we hate those who persecute us, we even hate those who are a different colour to us, we even dislike our fellow church members and we are still nursing the hurts that have been unrighteously dealt to us and when we see the vision of what a true believer is like and when we compare it to what we are …condemned to never being able to live up to this glorious vision of what we should be. Hence with these two reactions will then compel us to seriously reach out to God to desire this vision for ourselves.
So the call to ask, seek and knock is to be captivated by the picture of true righteousness in the life of the disciple and to desire it and pray for it to be fulfilled in our lives. We must first be slain by the vision, acknowledge that the picture of true righteousness is unattainable by our own spiritual efforts …we realise our spiritual poverty and inwardly expressed in prayer actively thirst and desire for this life style of righteousness in our lives.
Additionally Jesus had already taught us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer , well above any of our petitions for ourselves there is the priority of worship and prayer to desire His kingdom and His will. This has already been established hence there is no need to specific the precise items that we need to pray for for what ever we pray for must be in line with His vision not ours
Jer 29: (ESV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
This passage in history was when God dealt with the rebellion nation of Israel sent into exile for their sin. He challenges them to repent and turn back to him as they should not fear that He has evil in store for them. Their exile and destruction of Jerusalem was the consequence of their sins not God’s evil desire to frustrate them.
It has been in God’s purposes all along from the covenant of Abraham to bless them to give them a future and a hope …to give them all good things. However this vision and hope could only be fulfilled if they turn back from their sins….they have to call on God, pray to him, seek Him and seek Him with all their hearts.
This is precisely the same language and sentiment that Jesus uses when he tell us to pray “to ask, seek and knock”.
We misunderstand the call to ask , seek and knock as a method of prayer to badger a reluctant. God to get what we want in life as if he is a stingly reluctant God. Nothing can be further from the truth.
If we parallel the Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount with Jeremiah we realise that the language of “ask, seek and knock” is simply prayer that authentically reveals an inward desire to desire and seek Him above all things in life. Ask, seek and knock equals seek for Him with all our hearts..it is not the mere presistance but the persistence as a reflection of our burning pursuit of God. It’s not about what words we use to pray or our performance it’s about our love of Him. The fact that we not only ask , but more than that we seek and more than that we knock…describes persistence , motivation to seek the heart of God. If our hearts are on fire for God, we will not do our prayers as a duty or to absolve ourselves of guilt or use it as a halfhearted attempt to get something for ourselves.
It is only when we are seeking God with all our hearts for which ask, seek and knock is the outward evidence of is when He will respond to us ….with His plans for our welfare, not for evil but to give us a future and a hope. Note it is His plans and not ours.
We all have our own understanding of what good things are …a 10 bed room house by the beach, a great holiday in Europe….but is that what Jesus means by good things? R C Sproul a famous theologian once described the purpose of prayer as “ for Gods glory and our benefit or our good”.
When God created the world in Genesis 1 after every stage of creation He declares “it is good”. It is good when the thing he creates functions to its original divine specification. The thing we need to realise is that God’s glory and our good are not separate things. We think if I do something to glorify God….help my neighbour paint his house or deliver food to people who have been laid off work in this Covid crisis.
Once this is done I can ask God for something for myself. A new car perhaps? He can give you 2 million today but it will be like drinking seawater it will make you more thirsty and it will never ultimately satisfy you and you will want more and more. The truth of the matter is that Gods glory and our good are one and the same thing. We wrongly believe that they are separate but in reality they are not. It is because we are made in the image of God …we are made to reflect His glory ,designed for it and until we fulfill our God given function we will never ever be satisfied.
So when we bring food to feed the poor or visit the sick it glorifies God it pleases Him, it shows the world His love but at the same time these are the only kinds of things that we do that are truly good because they bring eternal value to us
Matt 10: 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
The only good thing that will ever make an eternal difference in our lives is to ask the Father to change our hearts to be that person that blessed disciple who truly reflects Him. The sermon of the mount is about painting a beautiful glorious picture of what the true disciple is like, not to condemn you but so that we are so enthralled by this vision that we will ask, seek and knock for this to happen in our lives. Prayer is for God’s glory and when we seek Gods glory it becomes our good.
Some people will look at this passage naturally ask the question that “Is prayer so powerful that we can literally change the mind of God? and if we can change the mind of the sovereign God can He still be sovereign?
If we are really persistent and urgent to ask , seek and knock. Will it change the mind of a sovereign God. For example in Deut 9, Israel whilst waiting for Moses to descend from Mount Sinai committed the dreaded sin of idolatry by worshipping a golden calf.
In Deut 9: 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’
This is the expressed will of God to destroy the nation of Israel and start again with Moses as the forefather of a new nation.
Moses responded in horror Deut 9:25 So I lay prostrate before the LORD for these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage.
This is precisely the kind of ask, seek knock kind of prayer…urgent ,persistent relentless that Jesus is speaking about and the result was that God relented and did not destroy Israel. Did God change his mind because of Moses prayer?
In the Lord’s Prayer he asks us to pray —-Thy kingdom come, they will be done and in this part of the sermon he tells us to ask, seek and knock. This tells us that God brings about His divine purposes all over the world through the prayers of His saints.
Now we can see in retrospect that it was in God’s plan all along not to destroy Israel after all He did make a covenant with Abraham ,although their sin was so grievous that it did warrant their total destruction but God used Moses to pray to save them and God responded to that prayer. What if Moses did not pray? Our prayerlesness in no way thwarts God’s plans in the world but it deprives us of partnership with Him in the great work of bringing about the kingdom of God in to this world.
A very useful spiritual exercise if to mediate on Francois Fenelon‘s exhortation to a kind of intimacy on prayer. Read this quotation carefully meditate on it before your bible study and try practicing it and share with each other whether it makes a difference to the way we pray. In what way is this quote helpful or not please discuss in the group.
Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them: show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability… Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others.
If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subjects of conversation. They do not weigh their words, for there is nothing to be held back; neither do they seek for something to say. They talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration they say just what they think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God!
~ Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), Spiritual Letters of Archbishop Fenelon
You see the “Law and the prophets “ that is the whole Old Testament does not record in laborious detail how one should love one’s neighbour because it cannot possibly cover every single detail in life. The law cannot anticipate giving pizza to homeless people on the streets of New York City thousands of years later on. God gives us principles and the golden rule is the principle that guides us in expressing how we should practically love our neighbour. If is superior to Confucian ideals because not doing evil to others falls way short of love which is a positive action not a negative prohibition.
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