An interesting connection seemed whispered to me in last night’s Christmas Eve service that I’ll take a few lines to unpack.
Many times in scripture someone was told not to be afraid. Sometimes it was from a leader to his people; sometimes it was from a writer to his reader. In the scenes of the Christmas story (Matthew 1, Luke 1-2), Joseph and Mary and the shepherds were are told this same message.
After Joseph was told not to be afraid in Matthew 1, Isaiah is quoted that “they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.'” Interesting. If God is with us, do we need to be afraid? Is it possible that we get afraid because we believe God isn’t with us? Or at least we get our eyes on something huge like the unexplainable pregnancy of a fiancé and forget that God is with us?
Some have endured the holidays being afraid. And humanly speaking, who can blame them? A recent widower, a confused parent, a lonely senior couple. Pray for them that they experience God is with them.
As you look into 2019, what might you be afraid of? Finances, health, relationships, job security, looming transition? How could you remind yourself that Jesus’ coming made it possible for God to always be with you?
You don’t have to be afraid. Immanuel came. God is with you.
(Post from a youversion reading plan by Adam Stadtmiller)
God answers prayer, but asking prayer is not primarily about answers. Asking prayer, like all other forms of prayer, is about relationship. If you make asking prayer about answers, you’re moving into dangerous territory.
When prayer is primarily about answers, our relationship with God becomes results focused. When God says no or works outside of our time schedule, we desperately question why and are tempted to feel inadequate or unloved by God. Be assured that as you grow in the area of asking prayer, the Devil will seek to shift the focus of your prayers from relationship to results.
Christ was well aware of the relational purpose of asking prayer. In the seventh chapter of Matthew when Jesus dared His followers to ask for things – big things – like “elephants” in prayers. He immediately transferred the focus from the asking to the fatherly or paternal relationship that surrounds each request we make.
Jesus was saying that whenever you ask in prayer you open up the familial lines of communication and put yourself in a position to experience relationship with a loving and compassionate Father.
When God answers your prayers in dramatic fashion, you will grow in the knowledge of His power and care for you. When God works on His schedule instead of yours, you will come to know more about His sustaining power. And when God says no and your dreams die or perhaps you lose someone close to you, you will come to know the God of all comfort who weeps with you. If you want to know God as Father, begin to assault the throne of heaven in asking prayer.
When we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we come across his teaching on prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer. There is a lot to learn from that section of the sermon.
One of those subjects is forgiveness. When we pray “forgive us as we forgive,” I’m not sure we fully appreciate the level of forgiveness in that thought. And I’m pretty confident we fail to appreciate the amount of grace it requires.
One test we can administer to check our personal understanding of grace is found in this question: Do I give others the same amount of grace that I give myself?
For example, when we decide to give ourselves grace to eat whatever we want for the 96 hours of Thanksgiving, do we give that same grace to others we observe eating whatever they choose for one meal at the “all you can eat” special on a random day in August? Or when someone messes up on the job, do we give them the same amount of grace that we give ourselves when we mess up?
Taking this a step further in the direction of Jesus’ teaching, what if we practiced giving grace at the level we have received it? He taught more about this in another passage recorded by Matthew, chapter 18. Verses 21-35 tell the story of a guy who was forgiven a $100,000 debt, yet he wouldn’t forgive a $10 debt showing he didn’t know how to give grace even though he had received it. ALERT: This guy had a grace equality problem!
Not sure about your grace equality? Try test number two. When’s the last time you had to work really hard to give grace to someone? Compare that to the last time you gave yourself grace and that difficulty level. What’s the gap between the two and what’s it going to take to close it?
Here’s a suggested addition to your daily prayer: “Father, thank you for your endless grace. Deepen my understanding of it. Grow my grace equality.”