Monday, January 11, 2016

Approaching the King

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 10, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Who spent much of the holiday season watching Hallmark Christmas movies?

(Who won’t admit it, but your spouse says yes?!)

Every movie follows a familiar formula. What is it? What makes it work?

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus offers a formula for effective prayer and how we are to connect with God from the heart through prayer and fasting.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 6:1-34

*** We continue our study of the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

*** In Matthew Chapter 6 Jesus describes the proper motivation of a Christian's practice of faith.

*** Jesus gives us instruction on effective prayer and fasting.

BETWEEN HIM AND US (Matt. 6:5-6)

5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

*** Everyone! Look at me! I’m super!

--- Jesus calls out hypocrites who are full of pride praying without sincerity just to get the attention of those watching.

--- True righteousness emanates from a desire to honor God, not a motivation to get public accolades.

*** Top secret.

--- Jesus stressed that our relationship with God is private and intimate.

--- One advantage of removing yourself from others to pray is that it reduces disturbances and the temptation to pray to impress others.

--- Your only audience is God. The reward is a richer relationship with your Heavenly Father.

--- Jesus didn’t prohibit public prayer, which has an important place among worship and groups of Christians gathering in Jesus’ name.

*** Question - What can you do to protect your regularly scheduled prayer times from distractions?

HONEST COMMUNICATION (Matt. 6:7-8)

7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

*** Babble, babble, babble.

--- How many times have you rolled your eyes or chuckled at someone’s prayer in church? Either it goes on for a long time, they say “Dear God” after every sentence (guilty?), or they use flowery language such as “O God, Eternal Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, we beseech Thee this day that Thou wouldst bestow up us, Thy vassals, benedictions of mercy and grace, commensurate with thy great loving-kindness.”

--- The disciples heard a lot of bad prayers in their day, especially by pagans who thought they could manipulate their gods through meaningless speech. (You know, sort of like speeches in Congress. Boom!)

--- Question - Do you find yourself using the same words or phrases often in your prayers? How might you go about freshening up your prayers by limiting the use of tired, worn-out phrases?

*** Stay on target.

--- Jesus says that God already knows what you need, so don't beat around the bush. Stay focused and be honest. You aren't fooling Him.

--- Luke 18 stresses that we should keep asking God for what is believed to be His will. Jesus here is telling us that God isn’t impressed with quantity of words.

*** Question - If God knows our needs, then why is prayer important? Why does God want us to approach Him?

--- Prayer is a matter of relationship, not ritual.

--- When we pray we’re admitting that we meet our spiritual needs. We are dependent on God.

RESPECTFULLY REQUESTED (Matt. 6:9-15)

9 Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] 14 For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.

*** Follow me, I know the way!

--- This is called the Lord’s Prayer, but God doesn’t need to pray it, we do. This is a model for our prayers.

*** Glory to God.

--- Look at all the great prayers by the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament authors, and it’s about how awesome God is, not any kind of “name it and claim it” self-indulgence.

Ex. Jeremiah 32:17-25. Jeremiah sits in prison and prays, giving God glory first and foremost. Jonah chapter 2, Jonah praises God with thanksgiving while he’s in the belly of a fish.

--- Jesus also stresses that we address God as our “Father.” God’s not distant and cold. God says to call him “Abba,” the Aramaic word for “Father,” the same word Jewish children used on their dads.

--- The focal point of the prayer is on the glory and the kingdom, the honor of God, the extension of His kingdom, for God to rule over the world.

--- This is not about getting what you want, but His will. We need to pray and read the Word so that we know His will.

*** God provides relief.

--- Now we’re talking about petitioning God for His favor:

(1.) Day to day we need God’s help to keep us from an empty stomach. You never know what circumstances come up. (Illness, losing a job, etc.).

(2.) Sin separates us from God. We need His forgiveness. As a believer who has repented you have been forgiven, so you are to forgive others just as God showed you mercy.

(3.) We need God’s help to keep the Devil at bay. We’re going to be weak, and we need God to strengthen us in those times to endure the trials and testing. Jesus picks us up when we are knocked down, but when we pray to keep evil away we can knock down the devil!

***Question - Verses 14-15 emphasize the importance of forgiving. Why is this important as we prepare to approach God?

(((We make ourselves out to be hypocrites if we ask God to forgive us when we aren’t willing to forgive others.)))

Is there anyone you have had trouble forgiving? Consider how this creates barriers in our prayer lives.

WITH RIGHT MOTIVES (Matt. 6:16-18)

16 Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

*** Keep it secret. Keep it sacred.

--- In addition to praying with the wrong motivation, religious leaders were hypocritical in their fasting.

--- The context here has to do with the Pharisees. In Jesus' day they fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12). Instead of using these days as times for genuine prayer and heart-searching, they had a holier-than-thou attitude to impress people with their super-duper spirituality.

*** Question - How did the Pharisees call attention to themselves when fasting?

((Made it look like they were starving themselves instead of just letting the previous night's chili cheese fries settle.))

--- Are you looking to be sincere, or make it a good show for others? The reward is between you and God.

*** Not just about food.

--- In the Bible a fast is understood as abstaining from food. But we can give up anything that we see as turning our focus from God.

*** Question – Where else in our lives can we show discipline in an attempt to get closer to God?

(((What else? Technology. Hobbies. Work. ...))))

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Thursday morning Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong announced that he was stepping down to become the head of security at St. Jude.

In his press conference at City Hall, Armstrong repeatedly stressed that he has been praying about this decision for the past couple of years.

An emotional Armstrong publicly thanked his mother, who died last year, and his family for understanding that heading up police in Memphis is a "calling, not a job."

"I'm just grateful to God I have another calling now, a calling that's going to be just as purposeful as this has been," he said.

Armstrong said that he has prayed for God to show him his next step in life, and he prayed and prayed, and then, boom, this opportunity opened up and he felt God’s unmistakable tug in that direction.

*** Think about any ways you may need to improve your prayer life and make adjustments.

*** We can learn to be better at prayer. Practice makes perfect. If you aren’t sure about how effective your prayers are or how to talk to God, then practice!

*** Read the Bible, focus on how godly people prayed, follow their example.

*** Try a time of fasting as a way of growing closer to our Mighty God.

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