There are things that confound, that seem impossible, that beg the constraints of reality in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew. When He points out that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, when He says we must not judge, when He tells us how hard the true life in Him will be; we tend to find some way to brush off these things in some metaphorical fashion or say, "He really meant this or that.".
What if He meant every word of it? I was reading what follows here, trying to unlock the meaning since I have to teach this Sunday and it struck me how sterile and un-Christian I am. I had to ask myself if I am really a doer of the Word or if I just like to talk about it a lot. I do like to talk about it, but I am negligent in doing it. Perhaps this conviction is the whole point of the sermon?
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If
you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jesus is, of course, talking about prayer activity in verses 7-12. He is talking about a prayer life that goes beyond rambling on about our day or the needs of the family or the church or the missionary or the sick. He seems to be saying that prayer should involve your entire being and senses. We should not only mutter the words verbally; we have to assault the things we pray about by physically seeking answers to those issues and we must be persistent in our pursuit. Knocking at God's door is a start, but the path God wants us to take will lead to other doors. More knocking will be required and we may receive hostile answers at first. We must be do all these things for prayer to be effective. God gave us all brains. He expects us to use them in conjunction with prayer. Our pursuit of what we pray about must involve our own activity. He will open the doors if we will pursue the 'prayed for' outcome.
I believe this is what is missing from my prayer life. It is probably why I am having issues praying. I can get through the thanksgiving portion and I am thankful, but I can not seem to work out the rest. I have always kind of been at a loss in knowing what He wants from me or if He really wants anything besides my obedience. And what does obedience involve? Actively pursuing what Jesus commanded. Love God and love your neighbor. If you take that one seriously, it's a bunch of work.
God is not a cosmic vending machine where we put in our prayers and pick up our goodies in the slot below. We need to pray prayers that will involve ourselves in their completion. We can't just stand back and wait or watch. The answers to our prayer may be 'no', but we will not know that for sure unless we actively participate in the answers.
Verses 13 and 14 are tough. Don't kid yourself, they are tough. Entering the narrow gate refers to following Christ. He makes the degree of difficulty sound very high and I think it is. In later scripture Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship, about leaving friends and family and things that are familiar to serve the Kingdom. This is that narrow gate. Taking up a cross and following Jesus is more than just dragging around a heavy piece of lumber. It is dying on that cross to all the things that keep us preoccupied doing other than kingdom work.
I find myself saddened like the rich young ruler. I do none of this. My prayer life is as dry as a bone and my cross is made of styrofoam. I am convicted.
Lord, what will I do about it? Maybe I should start with a prayer.