Prayer over Ukraine: 1. Ukraine is still among the top daily news stories on a regular basis. Russian takeover of Crimea, war in eastern Ukraine, etc. 2. In that climate, the church gathers in Kiev to consider how to reach their communities and still be a sending nation. 3. The role of our beloved Bret & Katey Laird is significant: now and is significant in how the church has gotten to this point.
Ministry Opportunities Before we get started this morning I want to talk about our community here. One of the goals of this church is to meet a need that we all have for meaningful relationships. God intends that we share our lives with other people. We are not meant to be alone. We need one another to help in pointing our affections to Jesus Christ. That's not always easy. One of the reasons this is difficult is that we always have new people coming.
Sitting in this room are people who have been here since the first day 15 years ago and there are other people who this is their first Sunday and everything in between. So how do we accomplish this goal of a tightly knit family community. I want to address 3 groups of people. (1) Newcomers - if you are new here, I want to welcome you. Please, if you have not introduced yourself to me, or if you think I might have forgotten your name, introduce yourself again!
I wanted to give all you a chance to mark your calendars Friday Sept 30th for a newcomers fellowship dinner at our house. This is a chance to just meet Lisa and I in our home, learn more about our church, meet some great people and enjoy one another's company around a meal. So mark your calendars for that and there will be some RSVP information to come but for now just mark your calendars. 2. The second group I want to address is those of you who are
consider yourself new within the last two years of our church. To you I want to say, take the next step in connecting. First, if you do not receive our newsletter, please do. It's the main way we connect with people in our church. To sign up you can contact the office or you can go to our website and click on the I'm New button and sign up right here:
The other thing I want to say to this second group of people is this, begin to use your gifts. Begin to serve in some way. If you are an encourager, start to have people over to your house and encourage. We have needs for ushering. We have needs for Sunday school teachers. If your not sure how to take that next step come talk to me and I'll help you. 3. The third group of people I want to talk to is anyone in our church who considers this their church home but has not taken the next step of membership. If you are not a member and would like to become one, we are having a membership class on October 9 and October 16 immediately following the 2nd service, so mark your
calendar for that.
Another random, somewhat related thing for you if you attend here regularly and have not added yourself to the online directory could I please ask you to do that? That would be great help to all of us as a way to both have your contact info, but also so that we could put names with faces! It works both ways. It's helpful for you to get to know people, but its also helpful for other people to get to know you. There will be a reminder for this in the newsletter this week. Finally, this is for everyone. Small groups are starting up soon. We would encourage everyone to be involved in a small group. It's an excellent way to use your gifts, serve, learn from God's words, apply and grow. We have online sign-ups beginning not this week, but next week.
One of the things my kids have to constantly put up with is dad's insistence on precise language, especially when it comes to motives. If they say, "I wanted to read my book but then it just got late and I forgot." I'll say, "No you didn't want to read your book, because if you did want to read your book you would have." So it's probably better to say, "I wanted to do other things more than read my book and now I realize I should have chosen differently."
Now all of us do this. All of us cloak, disguise and hide our embarrassing failures beneath something more respectable. We don't sin, we struggle. We aren't snobs, we are discerning We aren't cheapskates, we are wise
It's doctoring up language. It's another form of what we talked about last week, this idea of image projection. We want a good public image. We want people to think about us in a certain way. What's at the heart of all this image projecting. There's something we are wanting to hide, cover up - something we are not proud of. What is this thing we are we really embarrassed about? If you boil it down, distill it down, the real reason we are in the business of image management is that we are embarrassed at our truest objectives. We are embarrassed at our real target, our real aim, our real goal, the thing we really love and really are striving to achieve. What do I mean by that? Do you remember this from last week? Last week we looked at Matthew 6 where Jesus warns us to not practice our righteousness
before men 'in order to be seen by them.' The main problem with people who give in order to be seen by men is that they have the wrong target. What they are aiming for is men's applause. Last week we asked the question, "What's your target? Whose your target? Whose eyes are you after? Do you want man to see you or do you want God to see you. An honest answer to that question can be very embarrassing. I think nearly all of us in the room would be embarrassed to say, "I don't really care if God sees me. The only thing I care about it is the eyes of man." Only an honest Sunday school kid can say that. We can't say that. We know that's not the right answer. We can't just admit it. The implications of admitting that are pretty serious. So what we would rather do is project. We'd rather come off like we are living for God's approval all the while truly and secretly seeking man's.
Secrecy So what are you secretly seeking? That's the issue. In your secret place, what happens? What's your target? That really represents the interpretive key for understanding this passage. When there is no consequences one way or another, when you have no external forces restraining your behavior, when you have no possible way of someone knowing, what are you secretly seeking? That's what today's passage is all about. Let's take a look.
Jesus begins here like he did earlier now focusing on prayer. The formula is the same. When you pray to be seen by men, you have your reward in full. Now that word reward is interesting. I didn't pick up on this last week but this word reward is a technical term for commercial transactions and means to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” It's the idea that the transaction is over. There is nothing outstanding. You gave money, and the goods were given. Mark it paid and put in the stack of receipts. It's done. I think the reason this word is chosen is because what's going on here is a transaction. When a hypocrite gives, he's not giving. The truth is, he's buying. He's purchasing the praises of men; he got what he paid for. When he's praying, he's not praying, he's working for the applause of men. When he's fasting, he's not fasting, he's laboring for the approval of men.
It's a transaction, a contract, a negotiation scheme. I'll pay with my prayers, fasting and money and you give me admiration. God says, don't do that. He offers a better way. He says, when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret. The Jerusalem Bible clarifies it, ‘pray to your father who is in that secret place’ implying that this is where God is to be found. In the same way that you'd have to go into your bosses office to talk to your boss, you need to go into that secret place to talk to God. Secrecy is a very fun concept to think about. Why do we do stuff in secret? Doug made a great comment two weeks ago, "He said, if you find yourself trying to do something in secret. Watch out. Somethings going on." That's so true. If you find yourself wanting to: buy something secretly, put on sunglasses so that your eyes can't be seen, cover up your web history, secrety throw something away, destroy the paper trail, cover up the evidence wait till nobody's looking before you show your face, somethings amiss.
The question has to be asked, "Why can't you show your behavior? Are you ashamed of something? Is there something you know others wouldn't approve of? The hypocrites were very public with their acts of righteousness, but very private with their sins. The truly righteous man is the opposite. He's very public with his sins and very private with his acts of righteousness.
The hypocrite wants men to assess him from his public life. The righteous man wants God to assess him from his private life.
But here's the cold truth. The cold truth is the only way to assess a person is through their private life, those things that are done in secret. One of the most eye opening quotes I ever heard was this: the man who you are when nobody is looking is the man who you are. Let's do a little thought experiment. What if you had a button that you could push that when you pushed it all possible evidences, all traces of what you just did would be erased. Nobody could possibly find out what just happened. Memories could be erased, tracks covered over and evidence shredded. When you press this button, what you did was virtually invisible to the entire world, undetectable, untraceable, purely unknowable. What would you do? Would you pray? Was that the thing that came to your mind when I said that? It's easy to have a negative thought in your mind but it doesn't have to be that way. This little thought experiment isn't setup negatively. It's just a question. It's like the person who says, "Just remember, God is always looking." It's just a truth that has varying implications depending on how you are living your life. That is a blessing to those who are serving God in secret and suffering for him. The saints in Revelation take comfort in this reality knowing that God saw their suffering; but this same statement sends a shiver down the spine of the one who is secretly sinning. But the statement is just a statement.
Normally we think of secrecy as hiding things we are ashamed of, but this passage is redeeming that idea. It's saying, love the secret, because the secret reveals who you really are. Use the secret as a test of your real character. Use the secret place as the evidence of what you really love. The idea of being secret is being singularly motivated. There are no conflicting motives. The only reason I'm praying right now is because I want to. I don't get any social kickbacks. The only reason, I'm crying out to you God is because I want to bend your ear. Do you see the point of the secrecy? It would be easy to take this verse too far and say we should never pray in public. But praying in public isn't wrong. In fact, praying in public is very good. We have dozens of examples of it in Scripture. Praying in public is just more complicated. You have to manage conflicting motives. What if I said to you, hey, we need a guy to close our service this coming Sunday. Would you be willing? And tell you what, as a thank you I'd like to give you 1000 if don't mind. Could you ever sort out your motives? Why am I praying? For the money or because I'm seeking the face of God. Well the praises of men are just like that. In certain situations, your prayers can elicit the praises of men which can feel like wads of 100 dollar bills flecked off in your direction. 'man your prayers always encourage me so much.' 'he just laces scripture in and out effortlessly.' 'boy that prayer was so perfectly timed, perfectly natural. It's almost like he just breathes it.' 'I can tell he really knows God. His prayers are just conversations.' But there can't be external motives in secret prayer other than the motive to know and communicate with God. That's the only possible
motive. Secrecy is revealing because it removes alternate explanations as to why you might be praying. There is a purity in the pursuit because there are not other conflicting motives. The motive is the thing itself. Or to state it in terms of the text, the reward is God himself. Do you see how again, this is a question of target. What is your aim? The eye of man or the eye of God. The aim determines the reward. C. S. Lewis talked about this very thing in his essay entitle, ‘The weight of glory’:
So if we were draw the parallel to our passage we would say, "It's not the proper reward of prayer to be given the praises of men. We'd call you a mercenary if you prayed for that reason. That's no way to pray at all. But there is a proper reward of prayer.
Prayer, like love or education, has a reward, an ultimate conssumation. And you know what that is, of course. It's knowing God, actually communicating with the God of the universe. And it's for that reason and that reason alone that you pray. That's what your seeking. That's your target. Have you ever had the experience of just loving to learn? I remember at one point just fascinated with the solar system. I remember cracking open astronony text books late and night and reading material. There was no test. I had other things I should be doing; I was going to get a horrible sleep but I didn't care. Nobody knew about it. but I just did it. Just for the sheer joy of it, just for the sheer delight of learning your subject. It's the joy of reading a novel, or playing your sport or whatever it is. That's the kind of secrecy and the kind of reward being talked about in Mt. 6. It's the ultimate consummation when you finally have achieved your target.
Are you really seeking Jesus? So with this idea let's be honest. Are you really seeking Jesus? Do you want to know God and find him? Or are you more like a kid who says, "I wanted to do my homework but then got distracted." What does your secret life tell you about your greatest loves? David in the Psalms has such a simple line but it captures the essence of what we are talking about here.
What it means to seek the Lord, to pray to the Lord, to make the Lord you reward is to pursue him and wanting his perspective, his word, his thought to shape and change you - every last one of them. It's one thing to glean wisdom from someone. To eat the meat and spit out the bones. But it's another thing entirely to absorb every word as pure truth, golden words off the tongue. Let me explain what
I mean by that. Most of the time we are modes of pretty heavy discernment. But there are certain times in life when that filter has been dropped entirely and we are just drinking unfiltered and heavy. Have you ever had moments in your life where you are listening to the words of some man and his insight so perfectly intersects your need for that information that you sense your brain working in a special sort of record mode? You certainly don’t have to be told twice. Your mind is drinking in every word and taking it straight into the treasure storehouse. You know you have come to truth, an articulation of which cannot be improved. Your mind is beautifully stained. Somehow the words are so perfectly spoken, so directly addressed your need, so aptly answered these burning questions within you that you devour them with relish! There is no questioning, debating the truth of it. You have bumped up against an absolute. You feel it, you sense it, you love it. That's the attitude of prayer. You need to come to God with that mindset. God is not on trial. Your on trial. Your feelings are on trial. Your thoughts are on trial. And you come to God and say, I am all messed up now fix me. Fix what I love. Fix what I care about. Fix what I don't care about and should care about. Fix my emtions. Fix my mental objections. Teach me. This describes the attitude of a man seeking. We need to come to the Scriptures in this way. We need to pray in this way. We need to come expecting to find answers to our questions. When we run into obstacles, things that don’t make sense, seeming contradictions, the last thing we do is cross our arms in skepticism and demand that the God explain himself to us. We assume the problem is with us. Our
loves must be disordered causing blindness! We have some deficiency that is creating this point of tension. And we come. Now I think it would be a very grave mistake to come to a message about prayer and not actually pray. And we will do a little bit of both secret prayer and public prayer.