Designed for times like these to help us meditate upon the sovereign care of God as Father, this is the second post in a three-part series based on the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.
Check back tomorrow for post #3. Click here
for post #1.
When I set out to start Creekstone Church in 2009, my sending congregation required that I raise a substantial amount of funding to see us through our first three to five years. In any entrepreneurial venture there often are significant start-up costs including equipment purchases, meeting space rental fees, staffing, etc. The same is true with a new church.
In the process of fundraising, I sought out help from experts who collectively gave me the same advice. At some point when meeting with potential donors, you have to “make the ask.” You must give them a specific need to meet or goal to reach.
These experts also were big into connecting with people whom they called “high capacity donors”—people with uniquely significant financial resources.
Jesus teaches us in the second part of the Lord's Prayer is that a big part of knowing God as Father is recognizing our relationship with the highest capacity donor of all time, the one who is able to "do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20).[i]
In Matthew 6:11-12, Jesus teaches us how to "make the ask" as we pray our needs.
11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.[ii]
The first of three things Jesus teaches us about praying our needs is to…
Pray with a Posture of Childlike Dependency.
The very nature of asking for someone to give implies an inability to provide for one’s self.
In the days before mechanical irrigation systems, farmers had no recourse except pray to God for rain to water their crops. If you watch a documentary such as The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns, you will see what childlike dependency looks like as farmers prayed for what could only be given from above.
Usually, the provision we need doesn’t fall out of the sky or show up unexpectedly in the mail. The means God uses to provide most commonly involves our participation or at least involves us using other gifts he has given, such as a mind, hands, and feet.
Sometimes, and especially for those with special physical needs, God provides what we need through the generosity of others, who become for us surrogate hands and feet. In a crisis such as we are experiencing, with economic earthquakes and shortages of various essentials, if a Christian is going to hoard, it should be to give the stockpile away to those who are unable to provide for themselves. For those who have resources, hoarding in crisis is a form of stealing from one's neighbor rather than loving one's neighbor.
For those of us who are tempted to think that it is our own self-determinism and hard work that has made us successful, it would do us well to remember that even the ability to earn a living is made possible by gifts we have received from God, whether physical gifts, intellectual gifts, or personality gifts. They are all gifts. Meaning, there really is no such thing as the self-made man or self-made woman.
Speaking to the wealthy, the apostle Paul wrote through his disciple Timothy,
“17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”[iii]
Whether I’m born into financial privilege in America or born to an impoverished family in Tibet, the truth is that we all are ultimately dependent upon our Father to provide for our needs. Some of us are learning this lesson in acute ways in the wake of the recent Wall Street quake.
The challenge is to have the wisdom and discernment to distinguish between needs and wants. This is why, secondly, we are instructed to...
Trust the Father with Our True Needs.
In the second part of verse 11, Jesus makes it clear that there is a distinction between needs and wants by making "bread" the object of our asking. Bread is basic and simple, representing what is essential and necessary.
In 1 Timothy 6:7-8, Paul wrote, “6 We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
This sense of contentment with the basics is not common but learned, as he tells us in Philippians 4:12-13,
“12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
In the same what that I laugh at my wife when she says she needs a new pair of shoes, she laughs at me when I claim to need a new Bluetooth keyboard. If Kristy has a hard time passing up a stop at TJ Max or one of her favorite thrift shops, I can’t resist a walk through Best Buy (at least during seasons of normal human contact as opposed to our present season of "social distancing").
I’m a tech junkie. And we are both helpless in COSTCO. Who knew you needed so much that you didn’t you know you needed until you walked in?
In that moment you would tell me, "McKay, what you really need is not another gadget; you need perspective."
This is what Jesus is telling all of us. Let’s be honest. We tend to live with first world problems. Much of what we consider needs are really wants or preferences. Take note of the language we use when we say we need something and do an honest evaluation as to whether it really is a life necessity. Is it bread (the necessity) or is it butter (the luxury)?
During a quarantine, it may seem as if everything is a need. Rather, quarantines reveal just how little we actually need. It brings the essentials into focus.
It is certainly appropriate to bring all of our needs and wants before our good, good Father. Jesus himself was known to approach people with needs such as blindness and ask, “What is it you want?” The obvious answer, “Sir, I want to see.” If he asked you, how would you respond?
- I want to get married.
- I want to have children.
- I want my children to be happy.
- I want physical healing.
- I want a fulfilling career.
- I want a comfortable retirement.
These are honest desires with which we all can relate.
The issue in prayer is being able to be ruthlessly honest about distinguishing wants and genuine needs. Here is why: Perspective on what is a need vs a want will help us process the grief of loss… and process the feelings of despair and anger when our will (our desire) is not fulfilled.
Maybe that is why the first part of the prayer calls us to surrender our wills as children and pray for our Father's will be done.
Our Father in heaven knows best. While he may not give us everything we want, he will provide what we truly need – what is ultimately good for us.
In the ancient world, there weren’t refrigerators or canned food. There weren't IRAs or stock portfolios. Most people didn't make annual salaries they could count on. They lived day-to-day.
This is why Jesus instructs us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
The implication is that we will connect with our Father in prayer as each day begins
, arising with the heart of childlike dependence upon our Abba, knowing that he is able to do more than we can ask or imagine, and that we can trust him for whatever comes our way that we wish wouldn't... or what doesn’t come our way that we wish would.[iv]
- Whether we are healed or must continue to endure suffering.
- Whether we get the job or must keep submitting applications.
- Whether a friend receives the grace of God for salvation or whether we have to keep asking, and sharing, and loving.
- Whether we can find hand sanitizer at the store or not.
Did you know that Jesus actually called himself bread, “the bread of life?” He knew that the essential need for physical life was bread made of grain. He also knew that the essential need for spiritual life and eternal life, is not grain, but grace.
This is why in the final lesson about praying our needs is to...
Recognize the Depth of our Greatest Need.
This greatest need is described in verse 12 not as a physical, material need, but as forgiveness, where we pray, “Forgive us our debts.”[v]
In his novels, Charles Dickens wrote often about the debtor’s prisons in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England, during which time 10,000 people a year were imprisoned for debts they could not pay. In prison, they would work to pay their board as well as to begin paying off their debt. For most, the only way out of debtor’s prison was for someone on the outside to pay the debt for them.
The same thing is true with forgiveness. The only way out is for someone else to pay.
This is what Jesus has done for us. He endured the debtor’s prison of the cross, canceling the record of my sin.[vi]
And this is what we are to do for one another. We are to cancel the record of their sin against us. This is expressed in Jesus’ words in verse 12, “as we have forgiven our debtors.”
This is far easier said than done.
After all, since it took Jesus' death to pay our debt, should we think that forgiveness will come easy? Not at all. Forgiveness is a decision to sacrificially absorb someone else's debt against us so that they can be free of our condemnation and judgment unto the restoration of the relationship. Forgiveness buries the offense six feet under, not six inches under. It is to promise to never exhume the stench of the offense again.
A refusal to forgive reveals that I do not grasp the gravity of my own forgiveness. I am living with gospel amnesia, forgetting the magnitude of God’s grace toward me. This is why forgiveness is a litmus test of sorts to determine whether I actually understand the gospel, because the only way to genuinely forgive someone else is if I am consciously aware of how much I have been forgiven in Jesus.
The Diptheria Epidemic of 1925
On January 21, 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome, Alaska and affected the lives of a huge portion of the population. To make matters worse, the frontier, gold rush town did not have a sufficient amount of antitoxin for so many patients, which as I understand, included dozens of children. Dr. Curtis Welch telegraphed other cities in Alaska asking for help. The only remaining serum was in far-away Anchorage.
What normally required a month to travel took only 127 hours, as mail carriers with dog sledding teams relayed the serum over 674-miles of forbidding Alaskan wilderness, facing blinding blizzards in sub-zero temperatures.
The medicine arrived, and the people were saved
What the residents of Nome needed was not better internet, new shoes, or a Bluetooth keyboard. In that moment of crisis, they needed what would save their lives. They needed the serum.
The same is true for us. There are so many things I think I need, but when I am forgiven and reconciled to God as Father, the only thing I ultimately need is the blood of Jesus — the serum of grace -- it is the one thing needful… the one thing that will sustain my eternal life.
And this is what God has provided in Christ through his cross. Everything else is a bonus. My health. My family. My job. My tech. It is all gravy. It’s extra; not essential.
If we can trust God to meet our greatest need, we can trust him with our lesser needs.
The question is: Have you trusted him with your greatest need?
In 1759, Jospeh Hart published a hymn, Come Ye Sinners. One of the stanzas speaks to where you may be right now. He writes,
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
If you feel your need for a Savior, will you just ask? If you will, the promise is that you shall receive the forgiveness of God that will set you free and give you a new life with a new perspective on what it is to know God as Father and trust him with your needs.
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In yesterday's post, we learned that a good place for prayer to begin is by digging deep into our deepest desires… a longing for God to be honored, longing for his kingdom to influence the world with the message of grace in Jesus, and for him to enable us to follow his revealed will as fully committed disciples who have been saved because of the full commitment of Jesus to us. It is in this context of God and grace-centeredness that Jesus teaches us how to pray about our needs.
I Timothy 6:17 (NIV)
Sometimes, what we need requires unpleasant medicine. It doesn’t taste good, but it is ultimately intended to do good.
There are circumstances in our lives that we would not choose that our Father gives us that don’t taste good. But as Paul says in Romans 8:28, God somehow is working in these unpleasant circumstances for our good, even if that good is having earthly security and prosperity removed so that the dross may be removed from our faith, enabling us to more fully enter into a childlike knowing and trusting of our Father, where Jesus himself becomes the only bread we really need.
While some translations read “trespasses” in verse 12, I think the best rendering is debt, as two well-known Greek lexicons define the Greek word opheilema
as “the moral debt incurred as the result of sin” and “to owe,” or “be under obligation.”
Paul describes this in Colossians 2:13-14, where he writes that God has “forgiven us all our [sin], 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
[vii] Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois; source The 1925 Serum Run to Nome