Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Approaching God in Prayer - Part 1
What is a relationship with God like? In the past few chapters we’ve seen Jesus talk about and the disciples encounter those who are deciding whether to enter into a relationship with the Messiah, but starting here and following we get a glimpse of what it’s like to be in that relationship. At the heart it’s really about God invading our value system—it changes how we see ourselves and the world around us.
We humans are very self-focused by nature and so understanding a God who loves even His enemies and lays down His life for them, is very foreign to us.
Last time we saw Jesus rejoice that to understand the Messiah you have to let go of that default human natural tendency and approach God with the innocent, trustful wonder of a child. Trying to figure out Jesus using the thought patterns and tools of this age isn’t going to cut it.
So today we’re going to look at two encounters with the Messiah Jesus that illustrated how different our patterns of thinking are when it comes to relating to, and approaching God.
38 – 41
Jesus had very few close personal friends while He walked the earth. Among them was a family who lived in Bethany, a small village just over the Mount of Olives and about 2 miles east of Jerusalem. The family consisted of three siblings: two sisters and a brother named Lazarus. You’ll recall the name of Lazarus because in John 11:1-44 is the story of the man’s death and Jesus raising him out of the grave.
The family could almost be a demonstration of how we relate to the Messiah as humans. Martha, in this picture, represents the person who works hard and can’t understand why God isn’t impressed with her efforts. Mary, on the other hand, represents the kind of person who is so impressed with Jesus that their whole being becomes consumed with knowing Him—and that’s a good place to be. Lazarus represents us humans who are dead men walking and must be called forth from the grave by the Messiah. Anyway, I get ahead of myself.
So here Jesus has come to visit His friends and they want to be good hosts. But Mary and Martha interpret that differently. Martha is “distracted” (over-occupied about a thing) by the many chores in the household and treating their house guest well. While there’s nothing wrong with that, Mary realizes that discipleship is more important than service, and remains at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words.
Martha comes to complain that Mary is being lazy. I’m not sure why she didn’t just speak directly to her sister, but at least that’s not what Luke records. I’m sure she thought Jesus would rebuke Mary but instead it is Martha who receives the rebuke.
First Jesus identifies the problem. Jesus tells Martha she is “worried”. The Greek word means “to be anxious”. It comes from a word meaning “a part as opposed to the whole.” We might say someone is being “pulled apart” or “pulled in too many directions.” Her focus on serving has pulled her away from the most important thing, a relationship with Jesus. All Martha can see is her busyness and Mary’s lack of assistance. This has lead her to be “upset”, which is a Greek word that means “liable to die”. Most of the time it’s translated “mortal” but here means: “to disturb”. Martha’s hyper-focus on her efforts and Mary’s lack of them has disturbed her, upset her, and I can imagine the tone she takes with the Lord.
Jesus sets her straight by first confronting her with the results of her own attitudes, then focusing her back on what Mary was really doing. She wasn’t ignoring her duties as a host but she had realized there was a more important duty—to be a disciple. Jesus says only one “duty” is vital, and that is to listen to Jesus (as the Father said on the Mount of Transfiguration). Martha tried to please God through her actions, but actions are meaningless unless there is first a relationship and discipleship.
It’s understanding priorities. First we need to attend to our relationship with Jesus, then we can better focus on the service the Lord wants us to perform. We can’t get the cart before the horse. You can’t serve others unless you first love the Lord. Our default human nature drives us to do. Jesus wants us to be first, and then serve. There is nothing wrong with service, but it should come after discipleship and as a result of our love for Jesus, not our sense of duty. Focusing on doing can become an end in and of itself—to the detriment of our relationship with Jesus.
Here’s the bottom line: Martha was trying to please God by what she did. This was her offering. Mary’s offering was herself. As Paul would later write in Romans 12:1 “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
I think this drives Luke’s next story, of how to access God’s kingdom—and what you get from that.
Of course, this is known as The Lord’s Prayer and has probably been memorized by a vast majority of those living on planet Earth. Luke’s version of the The Lord’s Prayer is shorter than that found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13).
It wasn’t meant as something to recite, but as a model to understand ourselves in relationship to God’s kingdom, what’s important to Him, and how those priorities should affect our prayer life as well.
The Lord’s Prayer actually is the first of a three-part exhortation on approaching God. We’ll get to the other two parts next time.
The first part of the prayer is upward, the second inward, and the third outward.
- God is Father
First we need to recognize God as our Father—something the Jews did not do but Jesus does regularly. Father is a good way to look at God if you have a relationship with Him. He is provider, nurturer, and protector.
- God is holy
The Holman renders this part: “Your name be honored as holy”. Other translations make it “hallowed by Thy name”. This speaks to the character of our Father. He is pure and we need this understanding in order to set our world and our human nature in proper context. The prayer is that God’s name be honored. Is it on this planet? Not very much, so we also pray that God would come back to rule so that His name would be honored.
- God is King
As we’ll see working through the rest of the prayer—the world we live in is not pure, but God in His purity is bringing that character into His coming kingdom. This age will not last, nor will the lack of holiness around us. As we pray we need to keep this constantly in mind—especially when we face temptation and persecution and difficulty. The Book of the Revelation ends with “Come, Lord Jesus”. We should always desire for God to set up His kingdom on earth.
Verse 3 speaks of giving us what we need to make it through each day. This includes physical needs (not necessarily wants) but I think it goes beyond that. We’ll see what Jesus means next time when He talks about God giving to us of the Holy Spirit. As we pray we need to recognize that God is the provider, even of our most basic needs.
Verse 4 I think speaks to our greatest need: that of forgiveness. The things we think, do, and say that are outside of God’s character the Bible calls “sins”. We owe a debt to God personally for those things and cannot expect to exist in His coming kingdom if we have sin in our lives. The forgiveness comes from God through the agency of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not conditional in that God withholds forgiveness if we have an unforgiving heart, but we need to realize that the first cry of true prayer is that of mercy. The idea here, I think, is that if we hold sins over others when we have been forgiven them from God through Jesus, how can we expect to experience the benefits of forgiveness ourselves?
Let’s say I said something mean about someone behind their back. I repent, and God has forgiven me through the blood of Jesus. Then I find out another Christian has said something mean about me. Though they too are forgiven and have repented—we hold a grudge against them. This impacts us—it puts a bitterness in us that keeps us from really experiencing the joys of forgiveness. A person who is ruled by bitterness cannot fully experience joy—so too a person ruled by unforgiveness cannot truly experience the forgiveness of God.
Forgiveness means you don’t hold their wrongs against them. It isn’t the same as trust. You can forgive the person who robbed you, but it doesn’t mean you trust them alone in your home. Trust is earned, forgiveness is given. Trust gets rebuilt with repentance, discipleship, and time.
Luke 17:3 “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
The final part of the prayer is interesting. James 1:3 says God does not tempt anyone. So why would we need to pray that God would not lead us into temptation? I think the best way to understand this is that we pray that God would help us not succumb to the temptations we will face.
Let’s take another look at what James says about temptation:
James 1:13 “No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”
So in our prayer life to God, we should ask Him to help us break that cycle—knowing that temptations come, it is in combination with our own “evil desires” that it can lead to sin. Our aim should be to insert God’s values and desires—into that space normally occupied by our default and defective human desires, and thus help us not give in when tempted.
- Focus on relationship first, service second. Present yourself to the Lord, not your works
- Pray! (many of us skip that step)
- When we pray as God to bring glory to His name, and to bring His kingdom to earth
- Pray also in the meantime to provide what we need to do His work in terms of physical needs, and what we need to have His character (the new nature increasing, the old-nature decreasing in it’s hold on us)