Prayer (Luke 18:1-14)

Prayer can be challenging for a lot of Christians. We don’t totally understand how it works. We ask God for things, but He doesn’t always give us what we want or when we want it. We don’t always know what to pray for or even how we should pray. The truth is that just as Christians struggle to grow from personal Bible study, they struggle with their prayer lives. Some don’t even try, while others want to pray but find themselves too busy to follow through.

But the Bible includes examples, stories, and even some direct instruction on how to pray. Great prayer warriors are also great students of the Bible. If you develop a habit of carefully reading the Bible each day with a heart open to doing God’s will, you will grow in your prayer life. The Holy Spirit will use the Word to connect you to the mind of Christ even if the passage you’re reading is not about prayer.

However, for today I picked two related parables that each offer important concepts to help us pray more biblically. In the first parable, Jesus challenges us to carry on with our prayers continually, even when it feels like God isn’t listening. If you are seeking God in His Word and He keeps putting people or things on your mind to pray about, then keep praying! In this story, the widow gets her request answered because of her persistence, even though the judge she petitions is not a godly man. How much more will God, who is good and loves His children, be willing to answer our prayers when we faithfully bring them before Him each day? He may not answer our prayers as we want, but a lot of times He does – once we have asked Him long enough for it. Even if He denies our request because it is not in His plan, our continual prayers will deepen our relationship with Him as we look for His provision for our physical and spiritual needs. We learn how much we need Him. The second parable builds on this point. In this story, the self-righteous Pharisee is not just blinded to his own sin – he offers fake prayers that express no need for God. By contrast, the tax collector is broken over his sin and knows that he needs God’s mercy and grace. In our prayer lives, we grow as we learn humility before the Lord. Humble prayer is not about dwelling on all of our sins and failures, but fixing our eyes on our kind and loving Heavenly Father as we acknowledge our dependence on His grace.

The Text (Luke 18:1-14)

1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”

6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Questions to Think About

1. How is your prayer life right now? When do you pray? How do you pray? What kinds of things do you pray about?

2. Did you ever have a time in the past when God answered a request that you had been bringing before Him for several days, weeks, or even months? How did it feel and what did you learn from this experience?

3. Do you find your prayers to be more like those of the Pharisee or the tax collector? How can you tell?

Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

One of the strongest evangelistic messages I have ever heard in my life was on the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. I am sure that I had read this story before hearing it preached during a chapel at my Christian college many years ago. But I had never understood it as a lesson about salvation. Peter has just asked Jesus how often he needs to forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus replies by saying that we must always forgive others (“seventy times seven” was an idiom that basically meant “infinity”). He then illustrates His answer with a story about a man who was forgiven a tremendous debt by his master, only to go out afterwards and refuse to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him by a fellow servant. The main point of the parable is simple but deep. God (the master) has forgiven all of our sins against Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must be willing to forgive our fellow Christians when they sin against. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Got it.

But the evangelistic nature of this passage shot me right in the heart that morning in college chapel when the speaker highlighted two key details and then drove home a painful application. First, the debt was not just great, but astronomical, totally unpayable. A talent was equal to about 15 years worth of salary for a working man back then. And this guy owed his master 10 thousand talents! We’re talking billions or trillions of dollars in today’s money. National governments couldn’t pay this debt, let alone a poor slave. But more amazingly, the second detail I had never seen was that the guy says, “Be patient with me – I am going to pay it all back.” Pay it back? Impossible! But this is how we try to deal with the sin debt that we owe God. In our fallen minds, we fail to see to grasp the enormity of our sinful offenses against God. We think that our sins are not as bad as other people’s sins. We think that if we just try a little bit harder, be a little bit nicer, be a little bit more serious with our religious devotion, do a few more good deeds, then we can some how pay off the debt and make things right with God. Wrong. Jesus is saying here that the only way to God is through forgiveness by the blood He would shed on the cross. Our only hope is to throw ourselves at His feet and beg for His mercy and grace.

That day in chapel, I see now that God was awakening me to my need for salvation. He was working hard on me. We heard a lot of evangelistic messages that year, powerful stuff that drove the gospel home to my heart (and I would bet the hearts of many of my classmates, too.) My Christian college in south Florida had a lot of students like we have at NRCA – students with some or a lot of biblical knowledge from families with some or a lot of money and a commitment to moral values. But a lot of us were blinded to the wickedness of our own hearts and our deep need for God’s forgiveness and spiritual renewal from the inside out. The salvation application of this story is seen in the servant’s harsh treatment of his colleague and friend. He did not forgive his friend and ended up being punished by the master, which I believe is a metaphor for hell, being outside God’s salvation. The debtor was not condemned because of his refusal to forgive his brother. Rather, his refusal to forgive his brother was proof that he was already condemned because he had never truly understood the great debt that he owed the master. He had never really received God’s forgiveness and been given a new heart, so he was not able to forgive others. The real message of this story is that if you find yourself always full of bitterness and unable to lovingly forgive others, watch out! That could be a sign that you’ve not yet understood with your heart the astronomical debt that Jesus paid for YOU on the cross.

The Text (Matthew 18:21-35)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Questions to Think About

1. Are there any people in your life right now that you are having trouble forgiving? The speaker I mentioned above also said that when we forgive others, we set a prisoner free. That prisoner is ourselves. How do you think forgiving these people might change you?

2. When do you find it easier to forgive someone? When do you find it harder?

3. Why do think that forgiveness is such an important concept for Christians to understand and accept? (The New Testament and in fact the whole Bible emphasizes forgiveness and grace a lot.)

I pray that all of us will let God change our hearts this week to be able to forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ.

Lost and Found (Luke 15:1-8)

The hardest obstacle for peope to overcome in finding salvation is realizing that they need it. We are so quick to judge and condemn others for their sins, but so slow to see the depth of our own wickedness. In the two short parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the key to understanding their meaning is found in the context given by verses 1-2. The religious leaders are angry that Jesus is spending time with people whom they saw as obviously bad. The tax collectors basically cheated and stole money from the Jews, giving Rome its share but keeping extra for themselves. The other “sinners” mentioned may have been petty criminals or simply poor people who did not keep all of the ceremonial Jewish laws and customs. Regardless of how many or what specific sins the people near Jesus had committed, their sins were public enough to draw hatred from these outwardly righteous Pharisees and scribes. The religious leaders did not think that such people deserved God’s love and forgiveness. But Jesus confronts these hardhearted haters with their own need for forgiveness through the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (mentioned in an earlier post “The Parable of the Father’s Love”).

With both the lost sheep and the lost coin, the main point is that everybody is lost and needs to be found by God’s amazing grace. God’s heart is full of compassion and mercy toward lost sinners. He eagerly waits for us to recognize our sinfulness, humble ourselves, and come to Him in repentance and faith. His angels rejoice when even one lost sinner comes home. He wants to send His ambassadors, Christians like us, to bring His offer of free grace to everyone we know, pleading with them to turn from their sins and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. When you were lost and did not want God in your life, He sent people after you. When I was a teenager who did not know the Lord, people from a healthy church came looking for me. I was the lost sheep and the lost coin, and so were you. Even if you were raised hearing the gospel from a young age, God was still patient and kind with you until the light bulb went off and you saw your own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. He continually sent loving people into your life – parents or teachers or coaches or friends – who showed you the truth of the gospel in the love and joy they poured into your life. It was God’s kindness that led us to repentance. In fact, it is only the people who have not seen their own lostness who are unable to be saved. You must realize that you are lost before you can be found.

The Text (Luke 15:1-8)

1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:

4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Questions to Think About

1. When did you first begin to understand your own lostness and need for God’s forgiveness and love?

2. Are there any people in your life that you are judging or condemning right now? If so, how would God want you to handle those thoughts and feelings based on today’s passage?

Too Busy For God? (Luke 14:15-24)

We will resume our study of 1 Peter after Spirit Week. With Fall Break this coming Thursday through Monday, I figured that many homerooms would only be able to fit in one of the blog devotions for this week (“By His Stripes You Were Healed”). Next week, things will be very busy each morning with Spirit Week costume judging, and I really want as many of our students as possible to pick up the study on time with chapter three. The next 1 Peter post will be on Friday, October 27th for discussion on Monday, October 30th. Until then, hoewever, I plan to post a few devotions from the parables of Jesus for those of you who want them. Some homerooms may be able to use the devotions between now and the 30th, but even if your homeroom does not, you can read them on your own if you like. There are also over 50 Mark devotions from this past summer that are available, too. My point is that I strongly encourage you to stay on track with your daily time in God’s Word, either with the blog or your own devotional Bible reading plan. As Psalm 1:1-3 reminds us, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Today’s parable is a story about people who were too busy for God. In the past six months, I have learned a lot about our school’s spiritual culture from the spiritual life surveys that all of the current middle school students have now taken and from many individual and small group conversations with students. I am now convinced that the extreme busyness of our students is the number one obstacle to our spiritual growth as a school. Our lives are so jammed up with stuff that we simply make no time for God. Personal time in His Word is not happening at all for at least half of our students. Even with those who are reading the Scriptures, they are giving about 5 minutes at most to one random verse from a devotional book. Compared with 2-3 hours spent soaking in the world through electronic rectangles and another 2 hours practicing on teams filled with unbelievers, the intake of God’s Word is like a tiny piece of spinach in a diet filled with burgers and pizza and fries; it is not enough to make a meaningful difference. If we want God to change our lives, we have to make ourselves available to Him by changing our priorities. How we spend our time shows more about what we value than anything else in our lives.

While attending a great dinner party, Jesus told a story about the greatest of all dinner parties. The invitations went out to the guests and they all RSVPed saying, “Yes, we’ll be there.”  But when the day of the party arrived, everybody bowed out with a different excuse. When the rubber met the road to follow through on their commitments, the people simply weren’t willing to do it. As amazing as the great party was (it is a metaphor for heaven), the more amazing thing was that the original guests (people with religious upbringings who had heard the gospel many times) rejected the master (God/Jesus) and His free invitation. Why? They just had other things that they wanted to do, and they really weren’t even very good excuses for missing the party. People inspect land (like new houses today) and work animals (like cars today) before they buy them, not afterwards. And most wives would generally be happy to join their husbands at big dinner parties. So the master gets angry with the guests and rejects them in return; he instead opens the party to everybody else (people without any real religious background, like a lot of Americans today), even the most despised and rejected members of society. They get to go the party simply because they are willing. They are thankful just for the chance to go.

Now before we get too judgmental of the foolishness of the guests in this story, we have to ask ourselves the question: Are we ever like them? Are we too busy for God right now? Do we live like we believe a home in heaven and a relationship with Jesus Christ are the most important things to us? Would anyone who knows us well say that we live like that? I encourage you to read the story below and spend some time thinking about how you are spending your time and what really matters most in your life.

The Text (Luke 14:15-24)

15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

Questions to Think About

1. Do you have a regular time reading God’s Word each day? If not, what can you do to make that happen in your life? If you do already have a devotional time, what can you do to protect that time better so that you can be more consistent with your daily Bible reading?

2. What changes could you make in your life so that your relationship with Jesus Christ can be your top priority? Are you willing to do what is necessary to follow Christ?

By His Stripes We Were Healed (1 Peter 2:24-25)

We can’t live the Christian life without Christ. To help us remember that very important truth, the letters of the New Testament constantly talk about what God has done for us through Jesus, especially His death on the cross for our sins. Even in sections of the epistles where we are being given commands about how we should live now that we’ve received Christ, the writers will often pause their exhortations to refer again to that salvation that God has already provided for us. Paul, Peter, and John never stray far from Christ crucified and risen from the dead as the one and only source of our salvation.

That’s why, right after telling us in verses 13-23 to follow in Christ’s steps by submitting to our authorities and suffering patiently for what is right, Peter takes us back again to the why and the how: Jesus took our sins onto Himself upon the cross. We all had wandered away from God like lost sheep, chasing after our idols and sins. But Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, to take their burden from our souls and bring us back to our heavenly Shepherd. When can never spend too much time reflecting on Jesus’ death for us. Any time we feel overburdened with the commands of Scripture, we can lift our eyes again to the cross. When we struggle with sin and feel out of fellowship with God, we can remember Christ’s words from Calvary about the salvation that He has already accomplished for us: “It is finished” (John 19:30). God has already won the war for our souls; He will be faithful to carry us through the daily battles, too.

The Text (1 Peter 2:24-25)

24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Background and Observations

• The Greek word choice and grammar in verse 24 convey the idea that Jesus carried our sins all the way onto the cross and then left them there once He died and gave up His spirit. Our sin is no longer on Jesus – He has paid the price once and for all. When Jesus rose from the dead, our sin had been wiped out by His blood. He rose in total victory and now sits again in perfect righteousness beside the Father in heaven.

• Peter was clearly thinking about Isaiah 53, especially verse 5 (“by His stripes we are healed”), as he wrote today’s verses. Isaiah 53 is a messianic passage from the Old Testament, which means that it contains prophecies about Jesus. Hundreds of years before Jesus actually died on the cross, Isaiah was moved by the Holy Spirit to write about the Christ who suffered for our sins.

• As verse 24 reminds us, Jesus died to rescue us from the penalty and the power of sin. When you came to Christ for salvation, you did not just want to go to heaven and avoid hell. You also came to Him wanting to be free from the dominance that sin had on your life. When you first believed in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, God put His power in you to resist temptation and live a godly life that pleases your Father in heaven.

Questions to Think About

1. Do you ever struggle with being too critical of yourself when it comes to your walk with Christ? How can today’s verses encourage you when you start to get too down on yourself?

2. In what ways did you feel like a “lost sheep” before coming to faith in Christ?

3. Can you think of some areas of your life where you have experienced Christ’s power in setting you free from slavery to sin?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel