Day 78 – Get Ready to Pray
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you. whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:22-25
There are many places in the Bible where prayer is urged and taught, and even more instances where it is modelled. In this instance, our Lord – as is common with Him – packs a lot into three sentences.
Essentially, He has two words of instruction about prayer: have faith and forgive. He is telling us how to prepare for prayer. These two commands are not about the content of our prayers, but rather about how to get ready to pray. Just like you were taught about how to cross a street, so, too, we are to stop, look both ways, then, if it’s safe, cross.
First, have faith in God (Mark 11:22-24). You are about to ask God to move a mountain. Well, do you really believe He can and will do it? You have a need in your life or the life of someone else. Do you really believe that you can ask expecting to receive it?
He uses the picture of a mountain in the same way that we say about someone who is full of cares: ‘He is carrying the weight of the world on his back;’ or of another person who needs some big obstacles removed in order to move forward: ‘She’s being pushed to the wall right now.’ I can’t imagine that you have escaped these kinds of situations. Jesus knows that troubles haunt us through life. How can we face them? “Have faith in God.” In the 19th century, railways were built through the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. You couldn’t go around them. You couldn’t go completely over them. So, engineers designed trestles around mountain ledges and over deep canyons, or they cut granite and made passes through those mountains. Jesus went a step farther and imagined a mountain that was completely moved and tossed into the sea! As impossible as that appears to us, so impossible also it seems to the person facing some overwhelming obstacle that it be removed. In prayer, God asks that we believe He can do the impossible. We could use other words for “faith” to help us apply this to our situation:
Have confidence in God’s care, resources, and ability to more than meet your problem.
Have understanding about the infinite power of God.
Have a vision of God as the One who can find a solution to the unsolvable.
Approach God in that way.
Then, the command is, ‘Forgive.’ Is there someone who has caused you great hurt? Forgive. Or maybe it is someone who has hurt a person close to you. Forgive. You may even harbour some resentment towards God for leaving you with a burden you think is too much for you. We cannot have answers to our prayers if we are holding onto bitterness. Such an attitude is abhorrent to God.
Luke 17:3, 4 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother_sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven_times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Hebrews 12:15, 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it_many become defiled.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin_against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do_not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Ephesians 4:31-32, 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as_God in Christ forgave you.
Thus, because God forgives, we do also. Because God is forgiving, He expects us to ask in prayer, forgiving those who have sinned against us.
Once we understand who God is and believe in Him, and once we have dealt with the bitterness in our soul, we can pray.
- Read Mark 11.
- What mountain facing you needs removed? What raw deal have you received form someone recently?
- Now, ask yourself what character traits of God the Father relate to your need right now?
- Is He asking you to trust Him for something? Is He asking you to change your attitude about something?
- When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with honouring God’s name, and with desiring God’s kingdom to advance. Only after those considerations did He say we were to ask God to supply our needs. How do you prepare for prayer? How do you begin your prayer time?
Day 79 – Pay Your Taxes
Canada’s Parliament, Ottawa
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17
Whether we like it or not, everyone has to relate to government. There are no doubt many ways we can do that. There are good social causes to support and there are social injustices to oppose. There are philosophies of social engagement that are worth considering and promoting and some not so much. Some of our response is personal and some might be collective. As we consider the commands of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Mark, what did Jesus say we should do with respect to government?
In Mark 12, He was presented with a question asked by religious leaders of His day: 13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
The text goes on to say that Jesus knew their hypocrisy and that they were putting Him to the test. His hearers lived under foreign control. The Roman government was hated for its abuses, which were many. Taxation was one especially egregious area of abuse. The government hired tax collectors who charged people more than the government required and became wealthy with the profits. If Jesus said, “Pay your taxes” would the religious leaders smirk and think that His answer would make Him unpopular with the people? If He said, “Rome doesn’t deserve your payments”, would the soldiers arrest Him? It was a ‘got you’ question. Nonetheless, the Lord called for a coin, asked whose inscription was on it, and hearing someone say “Caeser’s”, said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” In other words, “Pay your taxes.”
So, we are to pay our taxes even if we live under an abusive or misguided government that spends some of those dollars on causes we disagree with. This is a principle re-stated in other places in the Bible.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those_who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to_bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.
I Peter 2:13-15
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil_and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you_should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
I Timothy 2:1-3
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Why did Jesus speak like this? Notice the I Timothy 2 passage quoted above. There is a dot dot dot at the end of the quotation. The remainder of the sentence says this: “…4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The main drive of the Christian is to earnestly help others come to Jesus for salvation and and a knowledge of God’s truth. So, though a political policy or social cause may be worthy of our support, our first priority in life should be to direct folk to God. And as the verses above suggest, doing good, praying for the government authorities, living peaceably, pleasing God, and showing courtesy to others in society, all will help people see Christ in us.
After all, in Mark 12:17, did not the Lord end with “Render…to God the things that are God’s”? He brought us back to the priority of living in harmony with and submission to God, regardless of the type of government we have to live with on earth.
- Read Mark 12:13-17.
- We sometimes say that we believe in the separation of church and state. How far do we go on this? How do you sort out what political actions may be a defiance of that principle and which ones may be an honouring of it?
- Georgi Vins (1928-1998), a Russian pastor in the Soviet era who spent years in prison for his faith, said, “We obey every law in our nation, whether it appears to us to be just or unjust, except when we are told that we cannot worship God or obey the Scripture. But if we are persecuted, put into prison, or killed, it will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because we violated some law in our nation.” Do you agree with that approach? Does it fit what Jesus taught?
Day 80 – Love God and Your Neighbor
New York City skyline, August 30, 2014
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered them, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
In Mark 12, Jesus answered a question about the reality of the resurrection from the Sadducees. Now, it is the Pharisees’ turn. I have a grandson who is quite interested in superlatives – the type of thing you find in the Guiness Book of World Records – the fastest this, the biggest that, etc. The Pharisees asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus appealed to the recognized scripture and provided an answer from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The commandment of first importance is to love God alone (no false gods are allowed to claim our affection), and to love fully, with HEART, SOUL, MIND, and STRENGTH.
The HEART refers to our affections and values.
The SOUL –refers to our inner self; our personality; the part of us that can relate to God – our spirit. Psalm 103:1 uses the term “my inmost being” to define the soul.
The MIND refers to our intellect, our reasoning ability. Blog writer Deb Wolf explains, “Having faith does not mean giving up knowledge and understanding. Mind loving includes Bible study, prayer, thoughts, and conversations that help my faith grow in ways. ‘Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.’” Colossians 4:2. (Deb Wolf at https://countingmyblessings.com/heart-soul-mind-and-strength/ )
The STRENGTH refers to our decision-making or what we do about God. It is using our abilities and opportunities for Him.
So, the greatest commandment is to love God with the totality of our being.
Then, Jesus continued His answer by saying, the commandment of second importance is to love your neighbour as yourself. Elsewhere, the Lord illustrated that “neighbour” means the person in need whom you encounter along the way (Good Samaritan). We are to use our heart’s affections, our inner self, our intellect, and our energy to help our neighbour.
Jesus emphasizes there are no other commandments greater than these. That means this kind of love surpasses social convention, what others think, etc. It might mean that I lose money or reputation. For example, the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper to look after the injured man and Jesus’ reputation suffered when He talked to sinners and tax collectors. Essentially, it means combining these four elements, not isolating one of them.
Thus, we don’t let our emotions run amuck, or our action to be limited by too careful reasoning. At one time a man asked me for gas money. I offered to go with him to a nearby gas station where I would buy him gas. He refused. Another time, a couple with a baby in arms, asked my wife and I for diaper money and, again, refused our offer to go with them to WalMart to buy them some. In both these illustrations, we were dealing with strangers. In these cases we combined heart and mind, you might say. At other times I’m sure you have simply given someone some change and been content with that, especially if it is someone you know and whose situation you are aware of. At other times, you might have been like me the time I was asked for some change as I entered a restaurant. I didn’t give the man anything but thought about it while inside enjoying my meal, determining to give the man something when I left. But by then he had moved on and I had lost my opportunity to help him. In that case, my “strength” was not mobilized in time to be of help.
Love should be soft-hearted but not unmindful. Love should be refection of an inner personality of generosity and care. Love should be ready to spring into action.
- Read and reflect upon Mark 12:28-31.
- Can you think of times when your failed to love wholely – that is, when you omitted one of the four elements of love (heart, soul, mind, strength)? Which of these four elements most guides your choices when it comes to loving God or your neighbour?
Day 81 – Watch and Pray
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38
The context of this command is Jesus in Gethsemane where He is praying to the Father that He be spared the cup of suffering that was imminent, but not at the expense of the Father’s will. Peter, James, and John are nearby, drowsy and unable to stay alert. The other disciples are nearby, too. Shortly, Judas will betray Him in this place and the religious authorities will arrest Him. The Lord knows the seriousness of the hour and urges watchfulness and prayer upon His closest followers, even as He spends time in urgent prayer.
Specifically, Christ speaks of the danger of temptation. There is a watchfulness that will save us from falling to the temptations of life. We may want to be strong. Did not Peter declare (and the others affirm) his desire and determination to go to the death for their Lord? (see Mark 14:31)
The disciples knew this was a precarious time. The chief priests and scribes had determined to kill Jesus (14:1) and the Lord had just told them that they would fall away from Him (14:27). Now, they could see that He was agitated (14:33-34).
Have you not been in a situation of danger, disturbance, discomfort, disorientation? This can be the case for so many reasons – a physical danger, a family disturbance, a sense of unease and discomfort over some situation, a loss of direction. Into these situations comes a temptation to deny the Lord, to try an easier (though ultimately ineffective) way. What Jesus is saying is that we need to be ready for such times. We should not consider temptation a surprise when it comes. We need to be on the lookout for it.
When we fall into temptation and sin by denying His rule and His way, we are really denying the Lord. We are not identifying with Him as His friend. We are like Peter who later that same evening said, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” (14:71) Also like Peter we would say before the temptation strikes, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (v. 31), but we fail to prepare for the challenge that is just around the corner. We do not watch and pray.
What is about to happen in your life? What situation might you find yourself in in the next few hours or tomorrow? What habit do you prefer over prayer? What distraction occupies you so that you are found to be unwatchful?
To Timothy Paul wrote that we live in perilous times, times when vast numbers of people are ignoring Christ and His message, and times of potential persecution (II Timothy 3:1-13). In such times, what did he instruct Timothy to do? Paul wrote, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.” I Timothy 3:14) and the way to continue was to know and depend on the holy scriptures which would equip him for the battle (3:14b-17) and to heed God’s calling on his life (in Timothy’s case, to preach the scriptures, 4:1-2), thus fulfilling his ministry (4:5).
To do this, we will need to pray as part of being watchful of the temptation to turn away from God’s calling.
- Read Mark 14:32-42.
- Think of an area of your life where you are particularly vulnerable, where you often find yourself asking for forgiveness. How could you be more watchful of this lurking temptation?
- Being watchful might mean fleeing a person or group or place or activity that pushes you into life choices that are wrong. See I Cor. 6:18; I Cor. 10:14; II Tim. 2:22. Will you?
- How does prayer help in these dangerous times? Think of prayer is an expression of dependence upon God rather than on our human resolve.
Day 82 – Go
“”But Go, tell His disciples and Peter…Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:7, 15
We come to the last thing Jesus told us to do – as found in Mark’s Gospel. We have considered the following:
Repent and believe
Do God’s will
Receive and Give
Get ready to pray
Pay your taxes
Watch and pray
And now, “Go.”
Sometimes we need to flee the world and its temptations (see Day 81). Other times, we are to go into the world. Specifically, the women who met Jesus after the resurrection were to go and “tell” His disciples and Peter where to meet Jesus, and His followers were to go and “proclaim” to the world the good news. In the one case it was a going that would help other followers of the Lord in their faith. In the other, it was a going that would introduce the world at large to the Saviour.
These commands were lived out in the Book of Acts. In chapters one and two, for example, we see the company of believers gathered together, learning from and supporting one another, and we also see them proclaiming boldly how the Old Testament scriptures were being fulfilled in that day and that Jesus had died and rose again for all who would call on His name.
The message includes all nine of the previous commands of Jesus. It is a message that is for two audiences: the world which has not yet believed and fellow believers whom we are to disciple. By obeying the Lord in the other nine commands, we become prepared to go.There can be no effective service without obedience. Obedience not only prepares and equips us for proclaiming, but also becomes our joy as it unites us more and more with Christ.
- Read Mark 16.
- In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells us we are empowered by the presence of his Holy Spirit and then sends us to an ever-widening circle of people. Think about what constitutes your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and uttermost parts of the world. How can you “go” to these places?
Day 83 – Forgiveness
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
Indulge me, please, in some random thoughts on forgiveness.
Some people think of the Bible as a book of prohibitions, accusations, condemnations, and anything else you might consider a negative. Those who think like this have somehow missed the teaching on God as a God of forgiveness.
Another thing that seems to be missing is a willingness to face one’s failures honestly. We hear it said when a public figure is accused of wrongdoing, “If I have offended anyone, I am sorry.” The “if” negates the apology – the person is saying, “I’m not sure that what I did or said was wrong and hurtful, but, just in case, I’m sorry.”
And a third misconception, I observe, is confusion over the two separate concepts of forgiveness and consequences. In Texas, a police officer shot and killed an innocent man. In court, the deceased man’s brother (Brandt Jean) spoke to the guilty ex-officer (now sentenced to ten years in prison), saying, “I forgive you, and I know that if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you. I’m speaking for myself and not behalf of my family, but I love you just like anyone else, I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you.” (reported by many news sources, Oct. 3, 2019). The condemned man received forgiveness from this brother, but he still faced the consequences of his action.
The Bible has many examples of forgiveness. Joseph forgave his brothers who had sold him into slavery. Jesus forgave several who came to him: e.g., the woman caught in adultery; the ones who nailed Him to the cross; a paralyzed man; Peter for his denial. Paul urged Philemon to receive back his irresponsible servant, the repentant Onesimus. Paul also instructed the Corinthian church to forgive and restore the unnamed member who had greatly sinned against the Lord and the church but had now sincerely repented. The Lord clearly stated, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14 ESV) And, in the model prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Forgiveness is to be repeatedly offered. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus taught Peter that we are not to count how often we forgive someone who frequently sins against us. “21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”” There is no doubt that this is difficult. An article in Psychology Today even advises six reasons not to forgive – but such advice is not biblical teaching [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/is-psychology-making-us-sick/201409/6-reasons-not-forgive-not-yet]. Columnist E. J. Dionne in The Washington Post reflected on forgiveness as difficult but as a sign of strength, confidence and hope [https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/forgiveness/2011/09/11/gIQA3zyeKK_blog.html]. The writer to the Hebrews adds, “15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” The warning here is that a lack of forgiveness does something damaging to our soul and has the potential of hurting others around us as well.
So, as hard as it is, forgive.
- Read Matthew 6:5-15.
- The photo above is of a broken side window on our van – the result of an act of vandalism, we assume, done by someone while my wife was inside a café enjoying lunch with a friend. The brokenness illustrates our often-broken hearts experienced when someone sins against our inner soul.
- What is the most hurtful thing you have experienced? Have you come to a place of forgiveness of the offender?
- Recall also a time when you felt compelled to seek another’s forgiveness. Think about the difficulty both parties face – the offender in seeking forgiveness and the offended in offering it. Now, consider the forgiveness God offers us, freely. Have you agreed with Him that your sin requires forgiveness? Have you accepted that it took the death of Jesus on the Cross to provide it?
Day 84 – Peacemakers
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
When were you last in a situation that required some peacemaking? I bet it was very recently! Sadly, we encounter conflict and separation all too often during the day. Perhaps it was hard to get the kids off to school this morning, or to hurry everyone out the door on Sunday morning and off to church without some consternation.
In secular society, peacemaking usually refers to conciliation efforts between nations. A peacemaker is an arbitrator or a mediator, one who facilitates the lessening of conflict and the strengthening of cooperation. Sometimes in secular society, and almost always in the Bible, this concept refers to correcting broken relationships between people. In these circumstances, peacemaking is an expression of conflict resolution.
We often hear that the Old Testament Hebrew word “shalom” ( ), often translated “peace”, speaks to a completeness or wholeness and well-being. The New Testament Greek word for peace is “eirini” (εἰρήνη, ης, ἡ), which also carries with it the idea of wholeness or a joining together of parts meant for each other. These original Hebrew and Greek meanings thus convey more than the absence (or fixing) of conflict. They look to internal health within individuals that leads to external healthy relationships with others.
All of this helps us to understand what the Lord meant when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peacemakers reflect inner wholeness of soul and spirit and seek to help others find such wholeness for themselves. That, in turn, leads to good relationships. That is why the Bible emphasizes right living. Also, such wholeness begins with the right relationship with God. Colossians 1:20 says that God set out to reconcile [meaning, to make peace] all things to Himself, “having made peace through the blood of His cross”. II Corinthians 5:18 adds, “Now all these things come from God, who reconciled [i.e, made peace for] us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
The wonderful next step is that people made right with God through Jesus should manifest peace and be interested in peacemaking. James 3:18 links “peace” and “righteousness”: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Isaiah 32:17 also states, “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”
The Beatitude in Matthew 5 then goes on to say that people know us as children of God when we practice peacemaking: “…shall be called the sons of God”. In reverse, we have I John 3:10: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: ‘Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.’ ” So, whom do you want to be identified with – God or the devil? If God, then the next time (probably sometime today) that you see conflict on the horizon, will you choose peace and take the part of the peacekeeper?
- Read II Corinthians 5.
- What kinds of words or actions show a lack of peace? What kinds of words or actions show the concern of a peacekeeper?
- Consider Hebrews 12:7-17, noticing especially verse 15: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” How do you mix in discipline (which this passage talks about) when the aim is peace?
- Consider the Prayer of St. Francis. Is this your prayer today?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.